There is an absolute plethora of coffee beans available on the market. This provides a huge range of choice that is great for consumers in one way, but in another way, such an array of beans can be daunting. Which ones should I buy? Are these good? HELP ME!
Never fear – we are here to give you a helping hand. We drink a lot of coffee thanks to our roles here as coffee blog snobs at Bravo Tango, and have tried a huge range of different beans – so we believe we are pretty well qualified here.
What to look for in a coffee bean?
There are three main types that coffee beans are available in – Arabica, Robusta and a blend of Arabica and Robusta.
These are the highest quality beans available (hence why all of the coffees we’ve included on this list are 100% arabica).
Robusta beans have a higher caffiene content so are typically used in stronger coffees (you’ll find most of the strongest coffees you can buy use robusta beans). But they typically are not as high quality in terms of flavour.
Naturally, some producers who are looking to make a strong coffee but don’t want to sacrifice flavour too much, may blend the two beans together to provide a reasonable balance.
Some coffees use beans sourced from a single location (or single-origin coffee), some use a blend of beans from different locations. Neither is really ‘better’ than the other, because as long as all the beans are arabica and created by an artisan roaster rather than cheaply mass-produced, they will generally speaking taste good.
It really depends on your preference. If you are looking for a specific flavour (for instance, deep and dark) then you may want to go for a single origin coffee from Brazil. But if you are looking for a more complicated flavour profile, a blend may be right up your street. The best thing is to experiment to find what you like – and indeed, isn’t trying lots of different coffees to hone in on your favourite one of the most compelling things about the drink?
HOW TO CHOOSE AND BUY COFFEE BEANS IN THE UK
You can easily get fooled into thinking that you should always buy dark coffee beans in order to make a great espresso because when you go to any of the high street chains that is what they use because dark roast coffee beans are the cheapest way to get consistency at a low cost.
The best way to learn how to choose and buy coffee beans is to experiment with different types of bean. We are creatures of habit so when we find something we think is ok we stick to it. With coffee beans change is good.
At the end of the day Starbucks, Costa and Caffé Nero are in it to make money so they have to use cheap beans otherwise they would not be profitable but by understanding how to choose and buy coffee beans in the UK you will be able to buy your own coffee and enjoy a drink that you never imagined possible.
Once you get used to something you think that it is the norm and it would be reasonable to expect a high-quality coffee bean to be used when you are paying upwards of £3 a cup.
You can expect to make around 50 double espressos from 1 kg of coffee beans based on an average of 20 grams of ground coffee beans per coffee. You can then add milk to create the drink of your choice such as a cappuccino or latte.
If you choose to pay £20 for a 1kg bag of coffee beans then you are paying £0.40p for a cup of coffee. £20 per kilo will get you coffee beans that are significantly better than the beans used in the high street coffee chains and you are paying a fraction of the price.
The good news is that coffee taste is a very personal thing. It is very possible that you could prefer a coffee that costs £12-£15 a kilo over coffee beans that cost twice that amount or more. The best advice is to try a range of different types of beans at a range of different prices and eventually you will come across a couple that you absolutely love.
There are many hundreds of different beans from dozens of countries with different roast types so you will have to navigate your way through the maze of all the different options.
Here are some of the most popular coffee beans in the UK that are tried and tested by ourselves and many thousands of happy customers. They are proven winners and worth experimenting with to see if they suit your palette.
HOW IS COFFEE GROWN?
Coffee is grown on large plants and it grows in bunches like grapes that are called coffee cherries because they are harvested when they reach a cherry-like colour like in the image below and inside each coffee cherry are two beans that is the raw product that then gets roasted and turned into the coffee beans that we are all familiar will and come in different shades of brown
WHY ARE COFFEE SHOP BEANS ALWAYS DARK BROWN IN COLOUR?
There is a very specific reason why the coffee chains serve you up dark roast – it masks the quality of the beans.
All coffee is roasted by taking the raw beans from inside the coffee cherries and heating them at around 175 degrees until they reach the desired colour.
The longer you roast them the darker they will become and the more bitter the flavour. Contrary to popular belief, lighter roast coffee beans tend to be better quality and have a sweet taste to them as opposed to a bitter taste in darker roast coffee.
So why aren’t all beans just roasted lightly? Because coffee produced in massive quantities on coffee plantations for massive coffee companies tend to be of lower quality and you will not get a sweet and balanced flavour out of roasting them lightly.
To understand this properly we have to use an analogy with steak. Imagine you are in a restaurant and you order a fillet steak and the person you are with orders a rump steak.
You both ask for them to be cooked medium-rare. When they arrive they will both taste significantly different. The fillet steak will be soft and juicy and you will be able to cut through it like butter with an incredible explosion of taste with every bite. The rump steak will be ok but a bit tougher to cut into and certainly not as much flavour.
But now imagine you both order each steak very well done. All of a sudden it will be hard to taste the difference between the two and the fillet steak will taste very similar to the rump. If you cook the fillet too long the flavour is ruined but the rump doesn’t change that much.
The same thing applies to coffee. Mass market beans grow and mature very quickly and don’t get the necessary time to absorb the fruit of the coffee cherry that they come from and as a result lack the flavour of beans that are grown in the shade and take longer to mature and therefore have much more flavour.
There is absolutely no doubt about it, the old adage of “you get what you pay for” definitely applies to coffee.
WHICH COFFEE HAS THE BEST FLAVOUR?
There are a number of things you should take into consideration to get the best possible flavour from your coffee
One of the most important factors which should not be underestimated is how long ago the coffee beans were roasted.
If you really want to experience a fantastic tasting cup of coffee then only buy coffee that has been roasted within the last 4 weeks. The difference is huge.
We have become accustomed to looking at the use-by date when buying all types of products for human consumption but this is simply not applicable when it comes to coffee.
Take a look at any packets of coffee beans the next time you are in the supermarket. You will always find the use-by date because it is required by law but it is extremely unlikely you will find any that have the “roasted on” on “produced on” date. All of the beans on the supermarket shelves could easily have been roasted six months ago – or more.
Remember, for the best flavour, you need to be drinking it within about 4 weeks of the roasting date. If you don’t know the roasting date don’t buy it.
Some of the premium supermarkets like Waitrose and M & S may have some that have the roasting date on them but if you live in or around a larger city then you should be able to get your coffee from a local coffee specialist that roasts their coffee themselves. You will pay more but it will be worth it and it will still cost much less than a coffee chain coffee but it will literally taste 10 times better.
HOW TO ENJOY COFFEE AT ITS BEST
You absolutely do not have to spend a lot of money to enjoy coffee at its best. There are a huge array of different types of coffee machines to choose from and it can be a maze that is extremely hard to navigate through.
The most important rule regardless of the type of coffee machine that you use is to grind the beans yourself and then secondly buy them as freshly roasted as you possibly can and that puts you 70% of the way there before you even start brewing.
If you don’t have much money or you simply don’t want to spend much money but you love a good cup of coffee then you can start with a cafetière or stove top coffee machine and for a very low initial cost of £20 or less, you will be good to go.
If you go down this road you’ll also need a coffee grinder to grind your beans just before you brew. A burr grinder will do a better job but if you are on a budget then a blade grinder will be just fine.
Filter coffee machines are also a good way to enjoy coffee cheaply. They start from around £20 and can be used to make anything from 2 cups to 12 cups of coffee at any one time.
If you enjoy espresso-based drinks such as cappuccino or latte then you can go for a pod machine like a Nespresso or Dolce Gusto which is an extremely convenient way to make a coffee but bear in mind it’s not fresh and has been pre-ground before being vacuum-packed into a pod.
If you want to move more towards making your coffee in the same way as they do in the coffee shops then you can consider a pump espresso machine. You will need to put in a little work and it may take a few minutes to make your coffee but it’s worth it.
If you want the benefits of a pump espresso machine but you don’t want to go through the hassle of grinding your beans and emptying the coffee grounds from a portafilter and clearing up after every drink you make then a bean to cup coffee machine does it all for you.
As long as you choose your beans carefully then whatever method you choose to make your coffee will be a huge improvement and will certainly turn drinking coffee into an experience rather than something you just do each day as a habit.