I get asked the question all the time, “How do I pick a good coffee?” This is a hard question to answer because everyone has a different palette and/or is in a different place on his or her “coffee-drinking journey.” That said, I will try to give an answer that will hopefully encompass the large majority of people reading this thus helping give you an adequate answer to the posed question.
Many of you reading this are what most would consider a coffee connoisseur, meaning you know more about coffee than many of your friends and have at least a fair understanding of coffee and how to order your beverage regardless of the coffee shop you choose to frequent. (If you do not fit into this category don’t worry, we still like you and will keep everything relevant to both groups. ☺) Many people in this category find what they like and stick with it. Though there is nothing wrong with this, I say with a smile on my face and love in my heart – Please, TRY SOMETHING NEW! For the rest of you I am glad you are here and will expand on some key selection points to help you as well.
For the sake of making it a quick and easy on-ramp for you I have separated my answers into categories. Plus I tend to be a little long winded and this way you only have to read the over analyzed answer that applies to you. You can skip ahead to the applicable category or read all of them just because you like my writing that much! ☺
When selecting a new coffee a beginner should consider a few things.
1) What am I trying to accomplish with this cup of coffee?
Depending upon how you answer this it will deeply affect the direction you choose to go from here in the coffee section process. If you are drinking coffee just for the caffeine then honestly why bother? Just take a caffeine pill, it’s easier, cheaper, and takes up way less of you time and energy. If this is you and you desire to move past this stage then we are still friends. ☺ If you are still reading I will assume you are.
2) Dark or Mild?
Bold: I personally think one of best regions to start with when you are new to trying coffee, whether black or with cream and sugar is Africa. African coffees typically have a low to medium pleasing acidity with some very intriguing notes, which range from fruity, citrus, spice and are complex enough to keep your palete guessing. They also for the most part have a clean finish meaning they don’t have that bitter bite most beginners are trying to avoid. A favorite from this region is Kenya.
Mild to Medium: If you are willing to spend a bit more money to avoid any bitter flavor and enjoy a clean finish then I would direct you towards a 100% Kona Coffee or a Jamaican Blue Mountain.
In this category I think we have two main groups of people. We have the mocha, blended coffee, extra sugar, 1 pump this, extra this, barely any coffee taste person who know exactly how to order any drink no matter how complicated. We will call this person, “The Modifier” And we have the other person who likes black coffee, dabbles in a little cream or sugar and who knows when a coffee is good but not really to familiar with growing regions and/or why coffee has the flavor it has. We will call this person, “The Purist”.
If this is you and you are looking for a coffee at home I can’t help but try to redirect you away from using cream and sugar. Coffee is an amazing flavor all by itself. There are so many nuances and flavors that you are missing out on. If you insist on depriving yourself of the true flavor of your coffee with sugar please do me a favor. The next time you are preparing your coffee at home or in a coffee shop give it a sniff before you add your modifiers. Notice the aroma coming off the coffee and describe what you smell. Then take your first sip, notice where it hits on your tongue and describe what you taste. As you do this more you will start to be able to define what it is exactly that you are enjoying in the coffee itself and help you find your “favorite blend or region”. This will also give you a more clear view of not only what coffee but why you like your coffee.
This category of person is the most interesting to me personally. You know you like the coffee flavor and might even have at least a small understanding of why but one of the biggest slumps you fall into is what I call “The Coffee Rut”. You get stuck drinking the same few coffees everyday because you have found what you like and want to stick with it. Let me say something as loudly and clearly as I possibly can, Stop it! You are depriving yourself of so many wonderful tastes, flavors, experiences and conversations I cannot begin to describe what a huge misnomer it would be if you continued on this path the rest of your natural born life. Try, experiment, experience and enjoy the journey.
The Wrap Up
Now that I have fully rambled on the different experience levels of coffee drinker let me try to wrap this up. Whatever your level of experience there are three main things that will help you in selecting the coffee that is best for you.
1) Try new coffee on an at least semi-regular basis
This is so important, how will you know what your favorite is unless you have tried them all at least once? Plus the fact that your palete is constantly changing and developing as you try new coffee.
2) Try your coffee without cream and sugar, well at least on the first couple sips.
This is the first step to truly knowing what you coffee actually tastes like!
3) Revisit, Compare and Talk.
Revisit some of your favorite coffee, compare it to a new coffee you are tasting and talk about what you find with your friends or leave a comment on this and other coffee blogs.
Anything to Add?
How do you select your coffee? Have any additional points that you think would be helpful? Please leave them in the comments.
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