Step number one in making decent coffee at home is, unsurprisingly, getting your hands on some good coffee. Lots of people sell the stuff, each one using different metrics by which they profess the quality of their own product. So much so that it’s sometimes difficult to separate the marketing speak from the meaningful information. Telling what a coffee is going to be like by looking at a bag is nigh on impossible, so how do you make sure you’re getting the good stuff?
Know your Roaster
There’s an element of trust in buying coffee. If you recognise a roaster and you’ve liked their stuff in the past, then it’s a reasonable bet that mostly anything they produce will be of a comparable standard. Of course, this approach means buying lots of different coffees blind and just trying them. We have some really excellent roasters here in the UK that produce some really wonderful coffees so here’s a brief (and by no means exhaustive) list of people I think are worth trying:
Union Hand-Roasted (full disclosure here, Brew Lab is part of the Union family since January 2018)
Trusting your roaster is rule number one in buying good coffee. There’s a plethora of other things that will influence how a coffee tastes, but good roasters acquire good coffee – it’s literally their job. Trust in that and you’ll find it difficult to get a coffee that’s just plain bad.
Try lots of coffees
Ok, so you’ve found a few roasters that you like, and by and large everything they produce is decent. Can you narrow it down any further? Well sure! Pay attention to origin – most good roasters will tell you what country your coffee is from, with many even specifying what farm or region it’s from. I’ve bought coffees based on what farm it’s from simply because I had an amazing bag from the previous year’s crop.
Also look at processing methods. We’ll talk more about processing at a later date, but you might find that you particularly like natural process coffees. Or that washed process is more suited to your taste.
Looking for a date?
One thing you’ll notice about any decent roaster is that they all proudly display the date on which the coffee was roasted right on the bag. This is important for a few reasons. Firstly, because fresh coffee tastes better (more on that later), and secondly, it means that the company actually know how old their coffee is, and they want you to know that too. There are varying opinions on how old is too old, but a general rule of thumb that I adhere to is to not buy coffee that more than a month past roast date. Now having said that I’ve had coffee that was six months past roast that was perfectly fine, but by and large, if you’re concerned with getting the best bang for your buck, a month is a good cut off.
And the rest
Of course there are lots of other factors that go in to picking a coffee that you might like (process, varietal, roast profile etc) but each one is a subject in itself. We’ll come back to each of these at a later date. For now, grab something from a roaster you enjoy.