There are few better aromas than that of freshly ground coffee and buying whole bean means we can experience it on a daily basis, while making sure our brewed coffee is always as fresh as it can be. Often coming in larger packs, it can feel like a gamble to select the best coffee beans for our morning cup.
The two main species of coffee Arabica and Robusta can be harvested in a number of ways, roasted to different levels and then are often blended! This can make selecting whole bean even more difficult, so to help you; as well as reviewing some top sellers, we take a look at coffee in some detail, including the bean itself, how it is roasted and what flavors different coffees offer.
For an organic caffeine-boost, the Death Wish Coffee Co. whole bean (32 oz) will give you small batch freshness and a satisfaction guarantee.
The Smart Ass Kicking Horse Coffee whole bean (10 oz) will give you a sweeter aroma and flavor in its organic and Fairtrade beans.
Table of Contents
- Quick Comparison: Top 10 Best Coffee Beans
- 1. Death Wish Coffee Co. Whole Bean
- 2. Smart Ass Kicking Horse Coffee Whole Bean
- 3. Lavazza Super Crema Coffee Beans
- 4. Death Wish Coffee Co. Valhalla Java
- 5. Koffee Kult Dark Roast Beans
- 6. Cafe Don Pablo Subtle Earth Organic Coffee Whole Bean
- 7. Cafe Don Pablo Signature Blend Whole Bean
- 8. Peet’s Coffee Big Bang Whole Bean
- 9. Coffee Bean Direct India Monsooned Malabar Whole Bean
- 10. Imagine Kona Whole Beans
- Things to Consider Before Buying Coffee Beans
Quick Comparison: Top 10 Best Coffee Beans
1. Death Wish Coffee Co. Whole Bean
The Death Wish Coffee Co. whole bean (32 oz) contains double the amount of caffeine of a typical coffee. These beans are USDA Certified Organic, and Fairtrade and each batch of coffee is tested to ensure consistency. If you are unsatisfied with this smoother coffee with its chocolate and cherry notes, then the manufacturer will refund your order.Some buyers who have tried this for the higher caffeine content have been less than satisfied and the taste may not be as bold as expected.
2. Smart Ass Kicking Horse Coffee Whole Bean
The medium roast Smart Ass Kicking Horse Coffee whole bean (10 oz) is bright and has chocolaty, red currant and sugarcane notes with a sweet vanilla bean and stone fruit aroma. The Arabica beans are sourced sustainably from Africa, Central and South America, and this coffee is USDA Certified Organic and Fairtrade. It is also certified Kosher.Some coffee drinkers have found that these beans are bitter and may arrive close to their expiry date. It may also lack some aroma.
3. Lavazza Super Crema Coffee Beans
The Lavazza Super Crema coffee beans (2.2 lb.) is an Italian medium coffee blend that gives a creamy, smooth and mild espresso roast. With flavors of almonds, honey and dried fruit, it has an aroma level of 4 out of 5 and the beans are sourced from 60% Brazilian and Columbian Arabica, and 40% Indonesian and Vietnamese Robusta. These beans produce a rich crema when ground for espresso.A number of buyers have found small quantities of grit/gravel when grinding this coffee, so it is worth checking the beans carefully before putting them through the grinder. It is also worth checking the date on these as well, as some stock may be older which means the beans are far from fresh on receipt.
4. Death Wish Coffee Co. Valhalla Java
The Fairtrade and USDA Certified Organic Death Wish Coffee Co. Valhalla Java (12 oz) is an ultra-strong ground coffee blend. This blend was created for the guitarist Zakk Wylde (of Black Sabbath) and as a medium-dark roast, it has chocolate and nut flavors.
This is a caffeine-rich blend and it contains around twice the amount of caffeine than a ‘typical’ cup of coffee, although some drinkers consider that this is not as strong as expected and when compared with other blends and that it lacks in body of flavor.The company do offer a satisfaction guarantee though and will refund the cost if you do not like this blend.
5. Koffee Kult Dark Roast Beans
The artisan Koffee Kult dark roast beans are 100% Arabica beans sourced from Colombia, Guatemala and Sumatra and roasted in South Florida. These dark roast beans give a smooth yet bold flavor with low acidity. This coffee is delivered as fresh for minimal shelf life, although some have experienced being at least a month old at delivery.There is a risk of occasional gravel/grit, so like any beans, it is always worth a careful check as you add them to the grinder. Some buyers consider that this is a lighter roast that is more medium than dark, so may not give the body or flavor expected. These beans also come with a satisfaction guarantee.
6. Cafe Don Pablo Subtle Earth Organic Coffee Whole Bean
The Cafe Don Pablo Subtle Earth organic coffee whole bean (2 lb.) is a medium dark roast of pure Arabica beans. These are USDA Certified Organic, and free from any GMO ingredients. These beans sourced from Honduras will give a rich and chocolatey flavor with a velvet body and low acidity. Some may find that the beans are burnt, and others note that this is lacking in any real flavor.
7. Cafe Don Pablo Signature Blend Whole Bean
A blend of Colombian, Guatemalan and Brazilian Arabica, the Cafe Don Pablo Signature Blend whole bean (2 lb.) offers a medium to full bodied coffee with a chocolate finish and low acidity. These beans are GMO-free and are roasted in small batches for freshness, although some buyers have noticed a difference in taste between batches. Some have also found that the beans may be burnt.
8. Peet’s Coffee Big Bang Whole Bean
A medium roast blend of Latin American and East African beans, the Peet’s Coffee Big Bang whole bean (12 oz) has aromatic and sweet citrus notes. Some buyers have experienced this coffee arriving a few months past its manufacture date, or even close to their expiry date.
9. Coffee Bean Direct India Monsooned Malabar Whole Bean
The Coffee Bean Direct India Monsooned Malabar whole bean (5 lb.) is a distinctive coffee which is harvested in India. The green coffee beans are then exposed to the annual Monsoon winds. This causes the beans to expand in size due to the moisture in the air and to take on a unique flavor. This smooth and earthy flavor is similar to Indonesian coffees.This is a lighter blend, although some have noted that the roast is darker than they would expect from this type of bean. You may also find its earthy aftertaste a little unusual, depending on which coffee you regularly drink.
10. Imagine Kona Whole Beans
The pure Arabica Kona whole beans (8 oz) are grown in Hawaii. This coffee is a medium-dark Full City Roast which gives a sweet and robust taste with low acidity and bitterness. Some drinkers have commented that this coffee has a stale taste and that it may be over-roasted as a medium to dark.
Things to Consider Before Buying Coffee Beans
The Coffee Plant and Bean
The name coffee appears to come from the Arabic word qahwah, also used to describe wine. This became the Turkish kahveh then the Dutch koffie, and from this the English word, coffee.
Coffee beans are the seeds of a genus of plants known as Coffea. It is estimated there are between 25 and 100 species of coffee plants in the world. First described by the botanist Carolus Linnaeus in the eighteenth century, there have been disagreements ever since around the classification of coffee plants - they can be tall trees or small shrubs and have a variety of colors.
The most important species in the coffee industry are Arabica and Robusta.
From the original coffee trees discovered in Ethiopia, Coffea Arabica offers an aromatic, mild and fine coffee making up around 70% of global coffee production. Arabica needs mild temperatures and around 60" of rainfall a year. They are susceptible to heavy frost.
Arabicas that are high grown (over 2000 ft above sea level) tend to be better Arabicas and because of this they can be expensive to cultivate as the terrain that they grow best in is steeper.
Some of the main varieties of Arabica include Tico, Jamaican Blue Mountain, Mundo Novo and Bourbon.
Robusta is s stronger and slightly harshe coffee, and it has around twice the amount of caffeine than Arabica.
Robusta is less susceptible to disease than Arabica, and as it grows at a lower altitude, it also costs less to produce. The main variety of Robusta sold is Coffea Canephora.
The fruit of the coffee plant is called a coffee cherry; this cherry contains pulp, membranes and two beans which are covered by a membrane called the silver skin.
Some coffee cherries may only contain one bean. This is a natural mutation, and called peaberry, these are believed to be sweeter and are often sold separately.
Harvesting and Roasting
Beans are picked by hand, with a coffee picker being able to pick up to 60 lb. per day. Once picked, the cherries are sorted depending on their taste. Some will be sent to storage for up to seven years to reduce their acidity. Others are sent for wet or dry processing, and after the beans are processed, they are cleaned, sorted and graded. These green beans are now ready for export and roasting.
Beans tend to be roasted in the import country so that they reach the consumer quickly. Dry heat at 550°F is used alongside agitation to make sure they are heated evenly. After roasting, the color of the beans can be light golden brown to almost black.
As well as the color, the roasting time affects the flavor and aroma. After roasting, beans fall into three main categories of light, medium or dark.
The light roast is often more acidic and because more of the original bean flavor remains, it has a delicate and lighter flavor. Roasts such as American, Cinnamon and New England are light roasts and these beans are dry as the oil has not been extracted.
A medium roast will be less acidic, dry, have a full flavor and be a chocolate brown color. The flavor is slightly sweet and a little toasty. Popular in the coffee market, roasts such as Breakfast and Full City are medium roasts.
The dark roast has a strong and smoky flavor, and because less of the original bean flavor is used, lower quality beans are used. As the beans darken the sugars have started to caramelize and the oils have risen to the surface of the bean to give an oily appearance. Typical dark roasts include Espresso, Italian and French.
Single origin beans means that they have come from the same coffee growing origin.
Blends can be made from different beans roasted at two or more roasting levels as this gives a more complex flavor which cannot be achieved from just one roast.
Beans that are decaffeinated must meet at a minimum the international standard of less than 3% caffeine remaining. Beans are usually soaked in water to allow the caffeine to come out of the beans. This liquid is then filtered or mixed with a solvent to remove the caffeine yet leave the other compounds in the liquid untouched. This liquid, now caffeine-free, is put back with the beans so that they can re-absorb their flavor.
Discovery and Development of Coffee as a Drink
There is myth around the discovery of coffee, but one popular story is that an Ethiopian goat herder first discovered its use. The goat herder, Kaldi, found that when his goats ate from a certain tree they were energetic and did not want to sleep at night. After reporting this to his local Sufi monastery, a disapproving monk threw the beans onto the fire, but when an enticing coffee aroma arose, he ended up making them into a drink. Its consumption then spread.
Coffee production and trading was known on the Arabian Peninsula by the fifteenth century and it began to be served in public coffee houses. These began to spread, and by the seventeenth century, coffee was in Europe. The coffee house became a key social center and coffee began to replace the normal breakfast drink of beer or wine.
Coffee plantations were beginning to be developed elsewhere, such Indonesia and Martinique. The French were unwilling to give seeds to Brazil, but as the wife of the French Governor was captivated by the Brazilian representative, Francisco de Mello Palheta, she passed some coffee seeds to him hidden in a bouquet of flowers! Brazil grows the most coffee in the world today – around a third of the global supply.
Various leaders have tried to outlaw coffee in the past, including those who thought it stimulated radical thinking and rebellion!
Coffee in the US
Coffee arrived in the US in the mid-seventeenth century, although tea was still preferred until the 1773 Boston Tea Party revolt against the British Parliament’s tea tax; after this, coffee became the first choice drink of Americans.
Kona coffee is grown in Hawaii, where the equatorial and volcanic climate is well suited to coffee growth. California also has a small number of coffee farms and produces some artisan coffee.
Storing Coffee Beans
Heat, light, oxygen and moisture can all affect the flavor of coffee. Most coffee is sold in vacuum bags with one way valves that allow gas to escape while keeping oxygen in.
Once the seal is broken, it is best to use beans within two weeks or so and they should be stored in an airtight container in a dry, dark and cool place. Although some of us prefer to store in the freezer or refrigerator this can subject the beans to extra humidity or even absorb odors from other foods being stored.
Grinding Coffee Beans
The burr coffee grinder has two burrs that rotate in opposite directions, and the beans are pulled between these to break them up until they are small enough to pass through. A blade coffee grinder works in a similar way, except it has steel blades to grind the beans down.
If you want to grind for a French press or a percolator, then a coarse grind is better. Some drip coffee makers are usually better with a medium grind, and a fine is needed for espresso.
Contrary to popular belief, the food processor is not the greatest way to grind coffee beans as it cannot give a consistent grind. If you do attempt this, then the best you can hope for is a medium-fine grind, which you can use for a pour-over but will be too fine for a standard drip brew. A food processor will also subject the beans to more heat, which can affect the beans.
Coffee and Mold
Although coffee is known to be rich in antioxidants, there has been some publicity around the mycotoxin content of coffee. Mycotoxins are formed by molds when crops such as coffee or grain is not properly stored, and these mycotoxins can also be found in beer, raisins, peanut butter and dark chocolate.
If you ingest too many mycotoxins, they can cause poisoning or even chronic health issues. Aflatoxin B1 and ochratoxin A are the two mycotoxins most common to coffee. Aflatoxin B1 is a carcinogen (cancer-causing agent) and does have harmful effects. Ochratoxin A has not been researched as much; although it is believed to be a weaker carcinogen. As long as your exposure remains low, your liver is able to neutralize mycotoxins.
Wet processing of coffee beans removes most of its molds and mycotoxins and roasting also kills mold. Many countries have level standards, and if a crop breaches this it will be discarded. Decaffeinated coffee may have slightly higher levels of mycotoxins as caffeine will inhibit mold growth. However, as long as mycotoxin levels are below the safety limit, then the coffee is classed as being safe.
In this article we have taken a look at the two main types of coffee, how coffee beans are harvested and roasted, as well as the role that coffee has played in society over the centuries. We have also discussed some of the current concerns around the levels of mold and mycotoxins in coffee, and what coffee producers do to ensure that these remain at safe levels.
Although it can be difficult to select the best coffee beans, you may find it helpful to first choose the roast that you prefer and then after that, think about what notes or flavor you enjoy the most. Hopefully, this will not only fill your kitchen with the aroma of fresh ground coffee but will also give you a great start to your day.