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How To Choose Your Coffee

We all have different tastes and it can be hard to find that “perfect cup of coffee” for your palate.

It becomes much easier when you understand how coffee is prepared and presented.

Then you can start to sift through the information overload and make decisions on what to try and what to pass over, for now at least.

  1. The freshness of the roast. It is a bare faced lie that coffee is no good if you use it more than 2 weeks after it was roasted. It’s told to sell more coffee. That doesn’t mean that freshness isn’t important, it is. The nearer the roasting date – the better the coffee will taste. Ideally, pick yours up fresh from roasting and never buy coffee that doesn’t list the roasting date on the packaging. It does taste best 7-14 days from roasting and after about a month, it will start to lose a lot of flavor.
  2. The kind of coffee you want. There’s a big difference between an espresso and a filter coffee. A good roast can only serve a single purpose. I prefer espresso in the mornings and after a meal – it gives a nice jolt to the system, but I drink filter for most of the day; so, I buy two roasts, one for each.
  3. Blends or single origin coffee beans. Blended coffees when done well can be absolutely superb and they offer a well-rounded drink that can really stand out and many espresso drinkers are going to prefer a blend to a single origin coffee. The reverse is true for filter coffee lovers – they tend to prefer the subtle distinction of single origin coffees. If you add milk to your coffee, you may find that you don’t much care either way as milk can really upset the flavor balance of the beans.
  4. Where do they come from? In a nutshell – you have three main regions for coffee: Central and Southern America, Africa and Asia. Coffee from the Americas tends to offer a cleaner, sweeter taste profile and people often pair these coffees with desserts and candies. African coffees are stronger and fruitier and Asian coffees are earthy and very bold. You’ll need to play around a bit to find the right region for you.
  5. What varietal is it? Coffee is a fruit. Fruits come in different varieties. No surprises here; there are different varieties of coffee fruit and good coffee roasts will tell you which varietal of bean was used in the making. Geisha is in high demand as it’s sweet and clear tasting and it costs a lot more too. More common varietals are Bourbon, Caturra and Typica – the more you experiment that more you’re going to be able to tell what works for your taste buds.
  6. How was it processed? Washed coffees have the fruit removed and then they’re washed and left to dry. This leaves a clean flavored bean behind. Natural coffees are dried with the fruit still attached and unsurprisingly, they have fruitier flavors.
  7. What altitude was it harvested at? This is a much bigger deal than you would expect, and the rule of thumb is: coffee becomes sweeter and more acidic the higher it was harvested at. With 1500 meters above sea level offering a dividing line between the two main taste sensations.
  • Fresh coffee is good. Don’t drink coffee more than a month after roasting if you can help it.
  • Espresso or filter? It’s a good starting point to make choices.
  • Blends are best for espresso. Single origins for filter.
  • The Americas for sweet coffees, Africa for fruity coffee, and Asia for earthy coffee.
  • Varietal matters but you’ll need to experiment to find your favorite.
  • Washed coffees are cleaner tasting than the fruity natural coffees.
  • Go above 1,500 meters above sea level for cleaner more acidic coffee.

Classic Coffee Drinks

Coffee drinkers seem to be split into two distinct audiences. The classic folks who like the coffee beans to do the talking and the wilder people who like to throw a lot of other stuff in the glass and see how it all gets on.

We begin with a look at some of the classic coffee drink recipes.

The Espresso

An espresso is a strong concentrated coffee which is, generally, served in “shots”. It forms the base of many fancy coffee recipes and many of the “wilder recipes” but it can also be drunk in pure form.

The ideal ratio of ground coffee to a shot is 7 grams of coffee to one shot. You can make your espresso in anything from a single portafilter machine all the way through to a multi-thousand dollar professional espresso machine.

I wouldn’t recommend the latter unless you’re going to open a coffee shop. You can make a perfectly decent espresso at home by spending much, much less.

The Filter Coffee

The other main traditional drink is the filter coffee, and this is something of an American classic. Europeans seem, by and large, to have drifted to “if it’s not espresso, it’s not coffee” but we’re happy to embrace either and the “cup of Joe” is almost as ironically American as Coca-Cola.

We encounter 7 grams (because it’s roughly a tablespoon) of coffee again for filter coffee but that’s how much you use to make roughly 3-3.5 ounces of coffee. That’s a fairly small cup of coffee and we expect most people would use substantially more.

Milk and Sugar?

You can add milk and sugar to coffee but by doing so; you destroy the underlying taste of the coffee.

It’s fair to say that classic coffee drinkers tend to prefer their caffeine fix black. It only takes a very short period of adjustment to appreciate and enjoy black coffee.

  • There are two classic coffees – the espresso and the filter coffee
  • Purists avoid milk and sugar and take their coffee black

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