Know What You're Buying
How to Read a Bag of Coffee Beans
When staring down a wall of jargon-strewn bags filled with small-batch coffee, it’s difficult to know where to start. There’s no harm in grabbing whatever seems most interesting, but isolating certain details — such as roast date and country of origin — can give you a better sense of what you’re buying, and the kind of coffee you’ll ultimately brew from it. Thomas Costello of Counter Culture Coffee, a North Carolina–based roastery that heralded coffee’s third wave in 1995, outlined three pieces of information to look for on a bag of coffee beans that are most often reflective of quality.
Packaging contributes to freshness, as well. Counter Culture’s beans are packaged in non-porous Biotré bags with a one-way valve, preventing air from passing through but allowing carbon dioxide to escape during de-gassing. Look for a resealable container, whether a zip closure, twist-tie or tin.
More often than not, flavor and country of origin go hand in hand. As a general rule, Kenyan coffees skew savory, Colombian coffees have chocolate-like notes, and Ethiopian coffees tend to be fruity. Sampling single-origin coffees is the best way to understand and appreciate regional differences among beans.
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