How Can You Tell the Quality of Coffee Beans?


You’ll admit it about yourself – you’re a bit of a coffee snob. You can’t help that you adore the delectability of a quality cup of coffee and that you want nothing less. Although it’s easy to find cafés with delicious coffee, sniffing out high-quality beans at home has proven more challenging. How do you know you’re buying the right coffee beans?

You can determine the quality of coffee beans in the following ways:

  • By sight (should be glossy)
  • By feel (should produce an oily residue when handled)
  • By smell (should have a complex yet pleasing aroma)
  • By taste (should not be stale or acidic)

Ahead, we’ll elaborate further on how to tell high-quality coffee beans apart from the not-so-good ones. We’ll also discuss methods for maintaining coffee bean quality through proper storage, so make sure you keep reading! 

4 Ways to Determine the Quality of Coffee Beans

If you could have a magical power, what would be it? Some of us would want to fly or turn invisible. You’d like to be able to instantly pick out which coffee beans are the best versus the worst.

Fortunately, it doesn’t take superhuman abilities to do that. You just have to know what to look out for. Here are four ways to find the best coffee beans. 

Sight

Some people who roast coffee insist on using green coffee beans that they grind and brew themselves. Others skip a few of those steps and opt to buy coffee beans after they’ve been roasted. 

If you’re in the latter camp, then the look of your coffee beans is the first factor that can help you find the good ones. A quality coffee bean is going to have fresh color and a glossy sheen. The bean should be light to dark brown but not pitch black.

Blackened beans might still be shiny, but they’ve also been over-roasted. By that point, you’re more likely to taste a flavor like charcoal than you are a nuanced coffee taste. 

If you’re not sure if the coffee beans are past the point of no return after roasting, buy another pack of beans for comparison. Beans that are lightly roasted are denser than darker-roasted beans. The blackest and most overdone coffee beans will have less mass and density, which is a clear sign you shouldn’t grind nor brew them.  

Feel

Although you usually shouldn’t play with your food, you can make an exception in your quest for high-quality coffee. 

When you hold the coffee beans in your hand, do they leave a residue behind on your skin that’s slick like oil? Although you might think this is a sign of a defective coffee bean, it’s actually the opposite.

The best coffee beans have plenty of acids and oils. Through roasting the beans, they get coated in the oil. It’s that oil that lends a high-quality coffee bean its trademark shine. 

Smell

That’s right, you can sniff out high-quality coffee beans. The beans will have an acidic scent, but it shouldn’t be too pungent. If it is, that’s a sign the coffee beans have gone rancid or soon will, which means you want to stay far away from those beans. 

Most of the time, the flavor notes of the coffee beans will come through in their odor. Thus, how your coffee beans smell will vary depending on the type of bean and its flavor profile. You might pick up on some smoky aromas or even floral ones. 

Taste

Then there’s the biggest and best way to ascertain coffee bean quality: to taste the coffee the beans produce. 

Rancidity from the oils means your coffee is of poor quality. That’s also true if the flavor is stale even if the beans are fresh and you just ground and roasted them today. 

As we said in the paragraphs above, the flavor profile of coffee beans wildly varies, but there are some ways to be sure you got the good stuff. If you taste a smidge of bitterness, for instance, this isn’t a bad sign.

Bitterness is a quality of good coffee if the taste is on the pleasant side. As soon as the bitterness veers into sharp or rancid territory, then it’s a sign that your beans should not be used for brewing coffee any longer.

Wait for the aftertaste of your coffee as well. Do you taste fruity, earthy, or nutty notes? This too is an indicator of good coffee beans. 

How to Keep Your Fresh Coffee Beans in Good Shape with Proper Storage

Here’s the thing about coffee beans, they’re a bit temperamental. Even if you start with great-quality beans, if you fail to store them properly, then their quality will begin to degrade. After a few days and especially after several weeks, you could brew your bitterest and stalest-tasting cup of coffee yet.

We’ve touched on coffee bean storage here on the blog before, but it seems worth recapping now. 

Maintaining the quality of your coffee beans is all about avoiding three elements: light, heat, and moisture. The best means of storing your beans is in an airtight, opaque container. Colored Tupperware is one option, but you should not be able to see the beans inside.

If you plan to use your coffee beans within the next day or two, then it’s okay to store them on your counter or in another room-temperature area of your kitchen. 

What if you want to save the beans for when you’ll have more time to savor your coffee, such as on the weekend? You can freeze coffee beans. You’ll once again need an airtight, opaque container, and make sure it’s freezer-safe too.

Using plastic bags is another option, but we suggest vacuum-sealing the bag to ensure there’s no air in there. The bags can’t be transparent, either. 

Remember that light is one of coffee beans’ biggest enemies, even if that light is from the freezer and not the sun. Keep your frozen coffee beans safeguarded from the freezer bulb.  

In your freezer, your coffee beans will keep for upwards of three months!  

Here’s Why It’s Worth It to Be Picky about Coffee Beans

Tracking down high-quality coffee beans does require more of your time and effort, but the results are often worth it. Here are three benefits of only allowing the best coffee beans to go into your cup. 

Unsatisfactory Coffee Leaves You Craving Something Better

When you have a food craving, does it tend to take up too much real estate in your head? Trying to fulfill your coffee craving with a low-quality cup is only going to ramp up the cravings even more, keeping you distracted. 

Once you treat yourself to a real cup of coffee, you’ll find that you don’t need it anymore, you simply want it. (Unless you’re hooked on caffeine, which is a whole other can of worms.)

Higher-Quality Beans Are Healthier

Coffee is loaded with antioxidants such as polyphenols and hydrocinnamic acids, the latter of which can lessen oxidative stress and reduce the effect of free radicals. When you buy high-quality coffee beans, you can count on the beans to contain more antioxidants that can protect your health. 

Because You Deserve It!

Honestly, you don’t need an excuse to buy high-quality coffee beans. You love coffee, it’s something that’s important to you, and thus, you deserve the best coffee you can get your hands on (that’s within your budget as well).

Bean quality doesn’t dictate caffeine content, so you won’t feel more energized by the caffeine, but you will undoubtedly have a little extra pep in your step when you start your morning with high-quality coffee! 

Final Thoughts  

Finding the best coffee bean quality requires visually assessing, smelling, and touching the beans, not to mention tasting them. Now that you know what to look out for, there’s no stopping you from buying only the best coffee beans from here on out! 

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