What is the best coffee?

he answer to this very good question, some say, is a bit like asking what's the best colour! Whilst it's true that, just like a paint chart, there are myriad options where coffee is concerned - choosing a great coffee, one that you find delicious and satisfying that you'll love to drink time and time again, is helped by a bit of simple know-how. 

We think it's true to say that most people have never tasted really fresh high quality coffee. The great news is that BlindMan Coffee can help you discover amazing, freshly roasted, exceptional coffee that may well be far better than you've ever had. After all, when you know what to look for, you have a much better chance of finding it.

Let's get into it. Quality. Quality. Quality! These are the three main things to be mindful of whenever you're thinking coffee. This applies to the type and quality of the beans (more about that below). And the freshness of both the beans and the roast. In other words, exactly when were the beans roasted?

Generally speaking, there are two main species of coffee consumed in sizeable quantities around the world; Arabica and Robusta. Both fall into two categories of coffee in terms of quality - commodity grade and, so called, speciality grade. Below is a bit about both grades:

Commodity grade makes up the vast majority of coffee produced. It is cheap because it's grown in massive industrial volumes and traded on stock exchanges around the world along with other mass produced commodities like iron ore, rice and coal. Usually grown at more easily manageable flatter and lower, warmer, altitudes than speciality coffee - in conditions ideal for insect pests to thrive. Bean yield per plant, lowest cost harvesting and corporate profitability are absolutely paramount and so it's quite likely that chemical fertilisers and insecticides are used to maximise these factors. Harvesting of the coffee cherries is likely to be done cheaply, by machine, not people, which means that all the cherries will be harvested in one fell swoop whether they are ripe and ready or not. All this has an an enormous effect on the flavour of the end product, the coffee you drink. Think of the flavour difference between green under ripe tomatoes or peppers and their red ripe counterparts. 

Speciality grade coffees, on the other hand, are much more likely to be grown at higher altitudes, often by single farm owners or families who might have owned the land for generations - often just very small family plots. Such cooler climbs mean fewer insect pests which reduces or even eliminates the need for chemicals to control them. Such small farms are precious to the growers and often provide their only source of income so a healthy, productive life-giving soil is everything. Expensive (in such small quantities) chemical fertilisers that do little or nothing for the soil and next generations of crops are neither affordable nor desirable. As a result of the careful, more traditional way it is grown, speciality grade coffee tends to possess a far superior flavour compared to commodity grade. This applies equally to both Arabica and Robusta (the two main species).   

In a typical large supermarket we are frequently confronted by a wall of big coffee brands trying to seduce us with expensive looking packaging, arty designs and all manner of colourful logos. In some advertising we are even treated to coffees associated with sex or a Hollywood celebrity!

On the other hand, whilst even the most simple packaging and labelling are not a guarantee of the high quality of the coffee or that the roasters spend more of your money on the actual coffee than packaging (sometimes that's true, sometimes it isn't), expensive looking packaging, clearly, takes cash to produce. That cash that has to be recouped from somewhere to produce profits - and that's very often from the low quality commodity grade coffee they are trying to seduce us into buying - dressed up as a quality product.

Freshness: When you pick up a pack of coffee from a supermarket shelf it's just not possible to know how old the beans were before they were roasted. Or even how well they were stored to keep them in excellent condition (we know both about our beans, BTW!) What every coffee shopper should be told, however, is exactly when they were roasted and how fresh that roast is.

The Roast: Simply owning a roasting machine is not, in itself, evidence that the beans will be roasted well. The skilful, accurate roasting of coffee beans is absolutely essential to achieving a great flavour in your cup. Even the highest quality beans can (and frequently are) ruined by poor, inexperienced roasting. You'll be unsurprised to hear that over roasting usually leads to burnt flavours whist under roasting can often produce sour, 'green' flavours. It's important to know that cheap and/or low grade coffees are frequently over-roasted so they can be marketed as, what is frequently called, 'Italian Roast', a very dark and frequently quite bitter brew. That overly dark roast is a great way to disguise the poor flavours inherent in the coffee - especially if it's a low quality Robusta - as many are. 

Text box informing that BlindMan Coffee roast every bean to order.

Any respectable coffee supplier will be proud to show, in fact, insist on showing, the roasting date on the pack, right there on the front label for all to see - not just the mandatory 'Use by' or 'Best before' dates. You will rarely see this because, again, for economies of scale and maximisation of profit, their coffee is roasted in very large industrial sized batches. These coffees might be sitting on warehouse shelves for months before being shipped to shops where they might sit for weeks or months before being sold - to you! By the time you brew this stuff, the flavours and aromas have substantially disappeared and you'll find yourself drinking stale, 'dead' coffee and wondering why!

Frequent, small batch roasting is essential. This is why we at BlindMan Coffee roast every bean to order - every order - no exceptions.  

There are, of course, no rules. But our suggestions are - try to ignore the alluring packaging designs and the logos. Look instead for the roasting date. If it’s on the pack you know the roaster cares about freshness. Then for the type of roast you prefer (medium, dark, continental etc), the origin or the coffee should you have a preference and, above all, look for a roasting date