If you drink coffee or espresso regularly, then chances are that you are aware of all the different types of coffee beans available for consumers. However, most coffee connoisseurs run into some trouble when they want to make their favorite kind of coffee because they don’t know what beans to choose! I find it easiest to explain bean selection like this: We all know there is huge selection of espresso machines available on the market today. However, there is undoubtedly ten times as many coffee beans to choose from. And just like selecting an espresso machine, getting your hands on the right type of bean takes a little bit of research and knowing what you want. It’s no secret that coffee beans can make a significant difference in the taste of your espresso, so it is essential to buy high quality coffee beans. But how do you know if a coffee bean is “high quality”, you ask? Let’s get right into it:
Starting out simple, there are a couple of basic types of beans to choose from. Although coffee beans are usually available in pre-packaged and pre-ground servings, you will also find whole coffee beans. With whole coffee beans, you need to grind the beans yourself. Although not as convenient as purchasing pre-ground coffee beans, most serious coffee drinkers will tell you that once you begin grinding your own beans, you’ll never go back to purchasing pre-ground beans ever again. Coffee lovers that grind their own beans also do this so they can have more control over how fine or coarse they would like their coffee beans to be.
In most cases, you can purchase pre-ground coffee beans in a grocery store or online. Unless you know you are purchasing from a highly reputable coffee bean retailer, I would avoid ordering coffee (pre-ground of whole beans) online. The key to high quality espresso doesn’t stop at having great equipment. You must also find the freshest coffee beans available.
If you’re looking to a find a source offering the freshest coffee beans, start local! My Espresso Shop always try to encourage everyone to seek out coffee bean roasters in their local area and pay them a visit. (“No farmers, no food.” No coffee bean roasters, no fresh coffee!) The main reason for checking out your local roaster is that they will be able to tell you about their beans, how old they are (a major factory in freshness), the roast level, the flavor profiles, their personal brewing method, etc. Like I said before, there are certainly online retailers that sell high-quality beans, but I have always found "local" to be fresher.
(Pro Tip: Single Source vs. Blend: Single source beans will give you more defined flavor than blends. Blends can certainly be good, but if they aren't blended well, you are likely to encounter extraction that alters the flavor adversely.)
Finally, a note about the age of your coffee beans: For the best results (especially for a bold shot of espresso), try getting your hands on coffee beans that are within a couple days of roasting. And for best results, try to use them before they are about ten days old. Any longer, and we tend to notice a slightly ‘stale’ flavor set in.