Top tips when it comes to choosing your coffee beans

A good cup of coffee is a real thing of beauty. With its rich aroma, complex flavour notes and energy-boosting properties, a morning coffee is a routine cherished by countless people across the world.
As proper bean boffins, one of our favourite things about coffee is the fact that no two speciality brews are exactly the same. When you buy fresh speciality coffee beans, every single cup is unique in its flavour. This rather incredible property comes as a result of a variety of factors, including brewing methods like grind size and brew time, as well as the bean’s origins, roasting profile and variety.
So, when it comes to choosing what beans to use for your next cup of coffee, we think that it’s high time that this selection process is shown the respect that it deserves. Much like fine wines, each bag of coffee beans can be recognised for the unique properties and flavour notes that they bring to the cup.
Over the last decade, the UK speciality coffee scene has experienced a boom in popularity. Now, coffee is paid far more respect - the increase in personal bean grinders and brewing machines have provided home brewers with a far more decadent option than bog-standard instant powder. While we’re still in lockdown, and many of us are having our office coffee breaks at home, we recommend seizing the opportunity to invest in some quality coffee. That way, you can take a proper break from the day, by indulging in an altogether far more luxurious experience.
With this respect for the humble coffee bean in mind, we’ve dedicated this blog post to provide you with a handy bean buying guide. This way, when you next set out to choose some coffee beans for your home brewing, you’ll be far more well-equipped to make an informed (and pretty excellent) decision.
This guide is designed to help you get to know coffee beans a lot better. Below, we’ll be covering everything from how a coffee’s origin can impact its flavour and a guide to flavour notes, to different brewing methods and a few key definitions to help you understand what the labels mean.
So, without further ado, let us delve into the intriguing world of speciality coffee.
Country of origin
The world’s top coffee-growing countries include Brazil (which is the most popular source of the globe’s coffee), numerous countries across Africa (like Ethiopia, Angola, Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda and Tanzania), Vietnam, Colombia, Indonesia, Honduras and India. As you can see, these coffee origin countries are spread all across the globe.
The taste and profile of coffee from two different countries can vary dramatically. If we take a look at African coffees as an example, you can clearly see this principle in practice.
Angola’s coffee is renowned for its characteristic earthy notes. Whereas, in coffee grown in Kenya, the coffee boasts tropical and blackcurrant notes. Or in Ethiopia (heralded as the birthplace of coffee, and the source of some of the world’s finest beans), is famous for delicate florals and the rarest flavour profile of them all - blueberry.
This gives you a clear indication of how much of a difference the country in which the coffee was grown has on the end result of the coffee. The diversity of the climate across Africa, as well as the high altitudes at which their coffee is grown, are key facilitators of this complex range of coffee flavours.
As global coffee consumers, the most common preferences tend to be heavy sweet notes - with the likes of chocolate and spice that Brazilian coffee provides, and the toffee and caramel notes of Columbian coffee proving ever-popular amongst coffee chains.
Bean Variety
Take apples for example - some prefer Golden Delicious, some can’t get enough of Pink Ladies. It’s very much the same with coffee.
We tend to forget that coffee beans actually come from a type of fruit and that, as such, different varietals have drastically different flavours.
The world’s most common varietals of coffee are Arabica, Robusta, Bourbon, Typica and Caturra. Then, at the other end of the spectrum, Ethiopia’s Geisha varietal is one of the most popular amongst coffee connoisseurs. Or, you could even opt for an ‘heirloom’ bag of coffee beans (this label means that the beans’ genetic provenance is unclassified, as yet).
Learning about the variety of coffee types out there is an exciting revelation for any coffee-lover. As you set out on your exploration of the world’s coffee types, we recommend tasting the different coffee varieties that exist (maybe even treating yourself to a pricier variety as a treat every once in a while) and taking notes of your favourites.
Climate, Altitude and Preparation Methods
The soil in which a bean is grown has a huge effect on the end result. The main factors that contribute towards this differentiation are acidity, the climate of the county and the altitude at which the coffee is grown.
The best coffee tends to come from higher altitudes, as the higher altitude at which a coffee is grown, the sweeter the coffee and the more refined its acidity. So, we’d suggest keeping your eye out for coffee that’s grown above 1500 metres above sea level.
In terms of the preparation method of the coffee fruit, you can choose between the process of either ‘washed’ or ‘natural’ / ‘unwashed’ coffee. When the coffee is washed, the fruit of the coffee cherry is removed by washing. Whereas for natural coffees, the fruit is slowly dried out in the sun in a fermentation process which gives the bean a more complex, dynamic flavour.
Tasting notes
A coffee tasting note gives you an indicator of the flavours and aromas that you can find in a particular bag of coffee beans. In one coffee roast, you can find a number of delicious-sounding flavour notes. As a result of the complexity and wide breadth of flavours that the world’s coffee can boast of, there is a huge number of possible tasting notes that are out there.
Below, we’ve listed a few common flavour notes, alongside a few that might take you a bit by surprise!
Sun-dried tomato, Soy sauce, Clove, Curry, Ginger, White pepper
Lime, Grapefruit, Clementine, Tangerine, Red apple, Watermelon, Green grape, Lychee
Cacao nibs, Dark chocolate, Vanilla, Nougat, Honey, Marshmallow, Cola
Lavender, Hibiscus, Rosehips, Lemongrass
Earthy, vegetable or herbal
Hops, Olive, Leafy greens, Mushrooms, Tobacco, Soil
Brewing methods
Once you’ve got yourself a bag of beans, deciding how to prepare your coffee is another key factor influencing the taste, aroma and properties of your beverage.
The most popular brewing methods that you can try out at home include:
  • Percolators
  • AeroPress
  • Filter
  • Espresso
  • French Press
  • V60
  • Chemex
  • Our own Smarter Coffee machine
The great thing about coffee is the way in which you can experiment with each of these different brewing methods. Make a habit of shaking things up from time to time. Then, once you’ve found the brew methods best suited to you, try altering the recipes and quantities that you use, and see how this affects the taste of your cup of coffee. The chemistry that goes into coffee making is a wonderful practice to get excited about. And, with the UK’s dynamic and innovative coffee community behind you, you’re in good company.
We hope you’ve enjoyed this little tour around the world of speciality coffee and that now, with this guide to hand, you’ll be able to identify some of the coffee properties that you particularly enjoy in your morning brew.
When it comes to adding a bit of extra luxury to your coffee routine, we’ve gone about upgrading the beans that you use, so now it’s time to take a look at your brewing method of choice. While we spoke about the wide variety of different brew methods that you have to choose from, we’re proud to say that ours is the only one that you can control remotely with your phone.
With Smarter’s Coffee, you can experiment with the different approaches that we’ve detailed above, to set about creating your idea of a perfect coffee. With this innovative machine, you are provided with full flexibility with your coffee. Smarter coffee’s beans personalisation allows you to pick your grind size, and you can choose your strength and brew type.
What’s more, you can ensure that this delicious coffee is readily available whenever you fancy. It’s an app-controlled device, which means that you can get freshly made, piping-hot coffee just by tapping a few buttons on your phone (or, even through your voice-activation devices).
So, if you’re looking to invest in making your experience of home brew coffee the best that it can be, have a look at our Smarter online store, where you can treat yourself to one of our bean-to-cup Coffee machines.