Choosing Coffee Beans




Introduction: Choosing Coffee Beans

About: Made in Canada, I grew up crafting, making, and baking. Out of this love for designing and creating, I pursued a BFA in product design from Parsons School of Design in NYC. Since then I've done work for Mart...

If you are a pedestrian coffee drinker like I am, facing the decision of which beans to buy for home brewing can be daunting. There are too many brands and too many variables to make immediate sense of it all.

So I turned to my friends Joe Speicher & Mark Wickens of Ground to Grounds (, a rad online coffee publication, to come and help me get a handle on where to start when choosing the best (for me) coffee beens.

Step 1: Learn What You Like

There are only two types of commercial coffee beans available, Arabica and Robusta. Arabica is grown in high altitudes and is known for it's smooth, slightly acidic taste. Robusta is grown in lower altitudes and is known for it's stronger, more bitter taste. From what I understand Arabica is considered a higher grade bean, but that again depends on how it is grown and treated on it's journey to the roaster, and doesn't necessarily guarantee a quality product. (As an example, Maxwell House instant coffee is 100% Arabica...) So unless you plan on becoming a connoisseur, I would suggest not worrying about the type of bean, and instead focus on finding a (local & ethical if possible) brand/roaster that looks after that for you and makes a quality bean that meets your caffeine content and taste bud needs.

How to determine what you like:


If you're like me, you want that first coffee of the day to be consistently delicious. Finding that dream cup will take some trial and error.

Since most coffee drinkers have been to a Starbucks at least once, an easy place to start is for me to ask if you like their house coffees. If the answer is no, then you are most likely going to want to be on the look out for a light colored and dry bean (as pictured on left). This is going to offer you a smoother taste, with different levels of acidity depending on how it was roasted without that classic Starbucks dark, bitter bite. If your answer to my question is yes, then chances are you are going to like a bean that has been roasted longer, which brings more oils to the surface of the bean giving it a dark and shiny appearance (as pictured on right) and a bold, bitter taste. It's worth figuring out that out to start and then you can delve into the subtleties within each of those groups to find 'the one(s)'.

Caffeine Content

Contrary to common sense,dark roasts actually have less caffeine than medium or light roasts - light roasts having the most of all three. Espresso beans tend to be in the medium roast realm, so if you are looking to maximize your caffeine intake that way, go for a medium-light roast. Medium-dark will offer fewer high kicks.

Step 2: Ground Vs. Whole Bean

If you prefer to buy pre-ground beans, another way to tell the difference between the dark/oily beans and light/dry ones other than color, if they're too close to tell by looking alone, is to test the consistency of the grounds. If when you tip the bag the grounds are sticking together and moving in crumbly clumps, then that's the dark/oily bean (as pictured on left). If when tipped, the grounds all run smoothly downhill as sand would, then that's the light/dry bean (that's them on the right).

Without a doubt the freshest and best tasting coffee is going to come from beans that were ground only moments before being used (for either espresso or drip coffee), so buying whole beans is highly recommended. But whichever choice you make, try and make sure that what you're getting is fresh. Fresh means that it hasn't been on the shelf for more than a week before going home with you. I would recommend asking for the best selling bean to start your taste testing, as that will undoubtably be the most replenished = freshest!

I would like to thank Joe & Mark from Ground to Grounds ( once again for giving me the seeds of info I needed to start making better decisions for my morning brew!

Now go forth, explore your local roasters, and find your favorite!

For my Instructable on How to Pack an Espresso Shot, click here!



    • Fix It! Contest

      Fix It! Contest
    • Tiny Home Contest

      Tiny Home Contest
    • Creative Misuse Contest

      Creative Misuse Contest

    23 Discussions

    A well explained article on coffee beans. If you are a coffee fan visit and grab the rich collection of coffee and coffee beans, <a href="">buy coffee online </a> and enjoy the best flavours.

    So, where does someone in a very rural area find good beans to roast at home? And how would it be done, in a hot-air corn popper, or other common kitchen hardware? Anyone? I would love to give it a try!

    6 replies

    Try or for green coffee. I used hot air popcorn poppers for about ten years. Need to make some modifications to roast beans, and need to know what you're doing. Plenty of youtube stuff out there to see others work. Using a purpose made GENE roaster past 3 years.

    I use a hot-air popcorn popper from a thrift store. I get my green beans from (No affiliation...I've just been a customer for the last five or so years.)

    Thanks! I should have one around here, somewhere! How do you judge/time the roasting? Aroma and practice? :)

    Research info at Sweet Maria's, and

    Search for first and second crack. Those sounds are how you tell how deep the roast is. Don't go nuts at first, thinking that dark roasts are better. Historically (unless you're talking about espresso) dark roasts are used to cover up the poor taste of inferior beans.

    And, as someone has already said, let the beans "de-gas" for 24 hours or so before grinding. Freshly roasted coffee de-gasses carbon dioxide for a while. That's why coffee bags have those one-way valves built into them. Hence, canned coffee is already stale.


    2 years ago

    Thanks for the post. I have never tried any of Starbucks house coffees. I think it would be a good idea to try and few and see if I like the flavor. I really like the light colored and dry bean. I don't know if I would enjoy the taste of bitterness, but I guess I wont know until I give it a try. I also had no idea that a darker bean has less caffeine. That's something I may like about the darker coffee.

    Good general explanation for coffee! Thanks!

    Coffee beans differ depending on where they're grown. Which coffee bean is the right one for you? Here's what you should look for

    Thank You, I've learned something new today. so i guess my next step is finding the right balance of caffeine and smoothness. taste test, YUM!

    you forgot the first phase in choosing the right beans... 1) avoid damaged/ broken beans 2) get rid of beans with ''borer'' holes.

    There's an Italian coffee brand that has computerized mechanism that chooses the right (almost perfect) beans as they pass through the conveyor. And there's another one coffee company here in the Philippines that uses the same technique but manually.

    Very informative instructable, thank you. Also learned quite a bit from commenters. Never gave a thought to roasting my own beans...something to consider, though!

    Good coffee will have a roasted on date, and not an expiration date. Coffee is stale a few weeks after it is roasted, and is also stale a few hours after it is ground. So for really good coffee you need a burr grinder and coffee that you know when it was roasted. I roast my own, I give it a couple of days to rest after roasting.


    4 years ago

    BARKing is incorrect, the best coffee is not brewed 30 minutes after roasting. For proper coffee, the beans need to be exposed to the air for 12-24 hours to degass its CO2. Once they are degassed, they should be placed in a sealed container for another 24 hrs to develop aroma and flavor. of course you can drink it immediately after roasting, it wont compare to result of the proper way.

    Highly astute observation about the respective properties of the ground beans. Excellent explanation.

    I'll 3rd what BARKing says. I've been home roasting for ten years. Until you've tried fresh roasted (I prefer to let it offgas for 12-24 hours before brewing) you have no idea what coffee should taste like. Stale coffee has no resemblance.

    Thanks for the info. I enjoy coffee. Thanks for posting.

    best yet is to roast your own prices aren't too much more than regular coffee three dollar popcorn popper (hot air with side vents instructions can be found at sweet Maria's) and about five minutes and you can be gaurenteed fresh coffee every time