Great quality coffee beans are actually quite easy to find these days, even if you don’t live anywhere near a specialist coffee shop or roastery there are plenty of online suppliers selling outstanding coffee. The problem though, especially when buying online, is understanding the difference between them and making sure you pick something that you’re really going to love.
Trying to read the label on a bag of coffee can be incredibly confusing if you don’t understand what all the terms mean, so here’s a run down of the things you need to know to avoid spending any hard-earned cash on the wrong kind of beans.
Many people don’t really understand the difference, but there are actually several different species of coffee plant and knowing exactly what you’re buying is very important. Most high quality coffee beans are Arabica, which is known for it’s flavour and aroma, however you will also often find Robusta beans, which tend to be a little more bitter and have a higher caffeine content. There are other less common species and hybrids out there as well, but until you know exactly what you’re after it’s probably safer to stick to Arabica.
There are different varieties of each species as well, which is often the cause of most of the confusion. Some of the common ones you may see are Bourbon, Geisha, and Typica, but don’t worry too much about these until you’ve tried a few and know what you like. Look instead for tasting notes for a better description, or speak to someone at the store for a recommendation.
You would think that the description of how the coffee is roasted would be quite simple, but you would be wrong! It’s common sense that light roasts would generally taste fruitier and more floral than the more intense dark roasts, but the issue is that nobody seems to agree on what to call them. Each brand seems to label things a little differently, but here’s a list of some of the more common terms you will see to describe the level of roast.
Light roasts – “Blonde”, “Light City”, “Half City” or “Cinnamon”.
Medium roasts – “City”, “American” or “Breakfast”.
Medium-dark roasts – “City Plus” or “City Plus”.
Dark roasts – “Espresso”, “Italian”, “French” or “Vienna”.
Single origin or blend
In a way this works in a similar way to whisky, with a single origin (or single estate) coffee being like a single malt. When a coffee bean is from a single area or even a single farm it has a unique flavour profile for that specific region, species and variety. Blends are generally made to give a consistency of flavour to ensure that the end product always tastes the same. Blends are therefore more common in coffee shops where consistency of product is important for keeping your customers happy, but often specialty shops will also have single origin beans available for those of us who like to experiment a little more with the flavour of our coffee.
This is often the most confusing part of the description due to the terminology that’s used. Generally the processing refers to the way in which the flesh of the coffee fruit is removed, and different parts of the world end to do this in different ways. It’s included on the labels as it can have an effect on the flavour, but unless you’re looking for something specific then it’s best just to worry about the variety and roast. Here are a few of the terms you might see:
Wet/washed – This means the flesh is removed with water before the beans are dried.
Dry/natural – These beans are dried in the sun while still inside the cherry, making it a very environmentally friendly approach.
Honey/pulped – This is somewhere in-between natural and washed, with some of the flesh removed and some left on while it dries.
Now you know how to properly read a coffee label, there’s nothing stopping you from getting the perfect beans for your morning brew. If you’re getting the best beans though, you need to be confident that your coffee machine can make the most of it and consistently make a great tasting cup of coffee.
WMF coffee machines are easy to use, clean and maintain, and produce high street quality drinks at the touch of a button, no matter who’s operating them. Download a brochure to see the whole range.