How to Find Good Quality Coffee? Basic Guide for Coffee Lovers

When I was a reporter for a financial newspaper, I attended a press conference about coffee. Organizers were exporters of high quality coffee and they gave us a cup to try. That’s when I realized my daily coffee was a bad and low quality one.

Where can I get this delicious coffee? I thought. This happened 10 years ago. Since then, I’ve always looked for the best coffee possible.

But, how can you find it? Thanks to all of these years of searching and training, I can provide you with this simple guide to help you find the best coffee available:

1. Do not look for coffee only at the supermarket

Although there are some miracles among the shelves of the supermarket, generally the coffee we take from these places is commercial coffee (not export or high quality) and many of them have been stored for quite a while (therefore, some of these coffees will have a metallic flavor and aroma).

We are in the Third Wave of coffee! Now we can go to the nearest specialty coffee shop, and most certainly they will have ground or whole bean coffee for you to take home, and without a doubt it will be high quality coffee, like the one they have at their hopper.

Another option we have is to go to specialty coffee roasters or to the coffee producers themselves (this last privilege we have in Costa Rica and in many producing countries). Remember that in this new movement, there are many small producers who not only grow, but process and roast their own coffee; these are called micro mills and several of them I have written about in my page.

Go to coffee festivals or expos. Here in my page I’ll  keep you informed of when and where! At these coffee events you can meet producers, roasters and give yourself the pleasure of buying great quality coffee. Also places where they sell organic products are a good option to find fresh coffee.

Can I give you one more recommendation? This Cafeographer sells coffee directly from small coffee producers in Costa Rica. We send it direct to your home or office. Look our options here.

2. Read the label, ask for information

Do not buy based on a catchy name or a nice package; do your research. When we talk about specialty coffee, information on the labels becomes essential. The consumer seeks traceability. This means that you want to know where the coffee comes from and how it was processed. Therefore, it is normal to see coffees that specify the name of the producer, farm, region, altitude, processes …Signs of a good coffee inside.

But if you do not see this information, ask the seller:  What region is this coffee from? Is it washed, honey, natural? What is the elevation of the farm? Is it a medium roast (see why I always recommend the medium roast)? If they have adequate answers to these questions, you are in a good place.

3. Search for freshness  

A fact that you shouldn’t miss when buying coffee is the roasting date. Most of the packages do not say it, but if you cannot get that information, check the expiration date. Usually, a coffee has an expiration of 1 year, but to consume it fresh it should be not more than 3 months after it has been roasted (some even speak of a month and a half as the adequate limit to obtain all the flavors and notes of the coffee). With the expiration date, you can calculate the date of roasting and draw your conclusions.

If you’ve already found a good specialty coffee shop or local roaster, wonderful! Make friends with the barista or the roaster, and then ask them when they will have the next freshly roasted coffee. In our online store we also always have freshly roasted coffee, ask for our items in stock!

4. Look for coffee beans

Most consumers do not have a coffee grinder at home. But if, like me, your palate is addicted to coffee freshness, invest in one. You will not regret it.

What happens is that the coffee bean keeps all the flavors and fragrance, all the richness that you get from a roast well done. Once ground, all these treats are released ready to be consumed. Ground coffee then deteriorates faster, it is meant to be prepared at the moment. There are super sophisticated grinders and there are even manual grinders, it is a matter of budget.  (Actually, there is a lot to say about mills, but this is a basic guide, right?).

5. Buy according to your consumption

As you see, the subject of freshness is important to consume a good coffee at home. Therefore, my recommendation is to buy according to the amount you consume. Buy small packages to try, large packages if in the house or office there is a high consumption of coffee. That way you will not have old coffee waiting in the pantry.

6. Try and find your own flavor preferences

Here in Costa Rica we have not 1 but 8 different coffee regions. Each region has different flavors and aromas. It is fascinating! And that wide range of flavors happens in almost every producer country.

Copán, una de las 6 regiones de Honduras.

So, I recommend that you do not stay with only one region or one country. If you have always liked a brand of coffee, I challenge you to try something different. Speaking about Costa Rican coffee: try Tarrazú, but also Occidental Valley, drink coffee from the Central Valley, from the Brunca region. You will begin to taste the differences. If you are reading me from another country, I recommend not to stay with only one origin, each coffee latitude has its distinctive flavors.

Dare to try a coffee in honey process, another in natural process. These are incredible experiences! Your palate is going to thank you. And you may find a new favorite coffee.

7. Train your nose and your palate

Even though at the beginning we all experience the same thing: every coffee smells and taste the same, when you start trying good coffee you’ll have to retrain your sense of smell and taste. Through them you can distinguish when a coffee was toasted excessively, when it’s getting old, and of course, one that is worth it.

Good coffee packaging has a valve. The real purpose of it is that coffee can continue to release gases after toasting (yes, coffee is a food that changes over time), but we can use it to smell the fragrance of the coffee before buying it.

8. Create a coffee budget

Finally, it is important to know and recognize that if you want to drink good coffee, you have to pay for it. Just as you pay for other high-quality products, such as wine. There are cheap coffees, there are medium priced coffees, there are more “expensive” coffees, specialty coffee. Remember, if you pay and consume good coffee from small producers, you are recognizing the hard work of coffee producers who work hard to raise the quality.

Many years ago, most people consumed only the lowest quality coffee and the best one went exclusively to few consumers. Today we are having the opportunity to taste a coffee recognized worldwide and that is worth paying for.

I hope these tips help you the next time you go and buy your coffee. I’d love to hear your experiences and what coffee did you buy after following this little guide.