Ask These 4 Questions to Help You Buy Better Coffee Beans

updated May 1, 2019
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(Image credit: Janelle)

How do you know which coffee beans to buy? If you’re standing at a coffee shop looking at all of the options, it might seem hard to choose, but the best way to know what to buy is to simply ask. That’s the beauty of going directly to the place that roasted your beans, or to a place that specializes in stocking beans from a few different roasters; they know their product and they know it well.

Here are four questions to ask to help you get what you want to drink each and every time.

There is no “best” coffee out there. You might love a certain coffee, while your best friend is going to choose something entirely different. Ultimately the best coffee is the coffee that’s best for you. And how are you going to find that coffee? You’re going to taste a lot of coffee!

There’s no assuring that you are going to love a certain coffee before you taste, but that being said, there are a few questions you can ask your roaster to ensure you are at least headed in the right direction.

1. When were the beans roasted?

Freshness is key in ensuring a good cup of coffee. Most roasters will note on the bag when a certain coffee was roasted, but if you can’t find that information, don’t be afraid to ask. Here’s a pro trick: I like to look at the coffees at the back of the shelf, as those tend to be the ones roasted the most recently.

2. What beans are good for [insert your brewing method here]?

Nowadays, most specialty roasters don’t roast for a specific method, but there will be coffees that will do better in some brew methods than others. For example, if you are used to making a French press in the morning, you might not want to buy the espresso blend. Some roasters may indicate on the coffee bag what type of brew methods will work best. Ask your roaster if there are beans that will work particularly well for the brew method you are planning on using.

3. I like [insert your favorite coffee here]. Do you have anything similar?

Think of buying coffee like buying wine. If you were in a wine shop, you would tell the person working what things you like in wine — a fruitier red or a dry white, for example. Or you might tell them a specific wine you really like in the event that they will have something similar you can try. Do the same with your coffee. If you aren’t comfortable with the exact coffee vocabulary, pick a specific coffee that you have previously consumed and liked. This will help the person selling you your coffee guide you in finding something else you will enjoy. I find it’s helpful to keep track of the coffee you try (if you really want to geek out, get a 33 Cups of Coffee book). That way you’ll have a list to remind you of all the coffees you have really enjoyed.

4. What’s your favorite coffee right now?

Want to break out of the box? Ask the roaster what they are really enjoying right now. They are the ones who have cupped all their coffees and know them inside and out. Let them point you in the direction of their current favorite. You might discover a new coffee you wouldn’t have tried on your own.