Dish of the Day: A user’s guide to buying coffee beans

Jeremy Torz
coffee 300x199 Dish of the Day: A user’s guide to buying coffee beans

(Getty Images)

If you are really into your coffee, you will want to buy whole beans. But why should you bother in today’s age of pre-prepared, portioned and packaged goods?

It all comes down to taste and flavour in the cup. Ground coffee will go stale five times more quickly than whole coffee beans, as the much larger surface area of ground coffee becomes exposed to oxygen more easily. During the roasting process, many delicate and perishable compounds are created, which oxygen destroys.

Secondly, the coffee gadget we use at home (cafetiere, espresso machine, etc) should determine the size of the ground coffee. Using the correct grind will ensure you extract the best flavours from the coffee in your machine, and any unwanted bitter or earthy remnants are left behind – so it shouldn’t be ‘one size fits all’.

Whole beans and a home grinder is the perfect combination to enable the home brewer to explore the various characters of the coffee.

Here are some tips on how to discover which ones will do the best job:

1. Look for the roast date. Ideally you want to buy coffee that has been roasted within two to three days for purchase. Online sellers will deliver much fresher beans that are often roasted daily.

2. Ask how long the beans on display have been open. Beans on display in jars or hoppers on the wall may have been delivered in gas flushed foil bags to protect the coffee from air, but once opened for display, the clock is ticking for quality

3. Consider provenance. Accreditations such as Fairtrade and Rainforest Alliance do not automatically denote high quality, ask questions to find out how the farmers who produce the beans are supported to produce a superior crop

4. Get a decent grinder! Avoid the cheap spinning blade types that irregularly chop the beans. Instead opt for a ‘Burr Grinder’ that uses metal discs similar to millstones. These control the separation of the discs to achieve coarser or finer grinds and these are very consistent.

5. Store whole bean coffee in the freezer. It is fine to grind and brew straight from frozen! Freezing coffee beans helps reduce the reactivity of the flavourful oils in air and slows the staling process. Beans can be stored in the freezer for up to six to eight weeks without significant loss in filter cafetiere brews.

Jeremy Torz is Co-Founder of Union Hand-Roasted Coffee and a self confessed Coffee Addict

Follow Jeremy at @unionroasted

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  • Jon Dalladay

    Thank you for reminding me to put a Burr Grinder on my Christmas list…

  • robertinspain

    The coffee I make which is as good as any “shop” coffee uses inexpensive ready ground coffee which is stored in an air tight jar in the fridge. I use an inexpensive Delonghi EC152 coffee machine and follow the given instructions. Why waste money and time when there is no need?

  • coalitionkid

    I just buy a block from the supermarket keep it in the fridge then open it up and stick it in an airtight container in the fridge – I use a stove top Bialetti

  • bigbutchboy

    Your choice of grinder is fine (excuse the pun).

  • scottlee67

    I have a serious problem with this “freezing” & “refrigerating” coffee beans.
    Freezing them turns them into bullets and can damage some burr grinders, believe me I have seen the damage when they are returned.
    keeping coffee in a fridge is only necessary if you are an intermittent coffee drinker, if you are buying small bags and keep them in an airtight container you shouldn’t have any storage issues.

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