How to Buy Coffee Beans
Unlock the Lingo
Coffee lingo can be tricky, so we're breaking down eight of the coffee label terms you need to know including seasonality, origin, fair-trade, bean type and more. With our crash course, favorite coffee roaster picks and how-to coffee videos, you'll be a coffee connoisseur before you know it!
Like all fruits and vegetables, coffee beans have growing and harvesting seasons. Though beans marked "in season" aren't guaranteed to taste fresher or more flavorful than unmarked ones, a seasonal tag means the company rotates its offerings based on small harvests that happen throughout the year. It's a way of saying to consumers, "Buy this bean type now, because the small supply we have won't be available forever!"
Intelligentsia's in season designation is only given to coffees that are less than 9 calendar months from the completion of harvest. This designation means that their coffees are only offered when they are freshest and most vibrant.
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While serious java heads might appreciate a detail as specific as the town where beans were grown, simply seeing the country or continent of origin can be enough to clue the rest of us in to a bean's flavor. Latin American beans tend to taste sweet and bright, African beans have a fruity acidity, and Indonesian beans are earthy and robust.
Counter Culture takes pride in sharing their experiences in the places where their coffee is grown. In addition to traveling to the origins and learning about the environment and culture, Counter Culture also sells single-origin coffees.
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Coffee plants are often heavily treated with harsh pesticides and fertilizers. A USDA Certified Organic label indicates that the beans inside were raised without excessive use of these, to benefit the health of the farmer and the land. They're also spared from your cup!
Opened in 1971 in Bellingham, WA, Tony's Coffee has roasted coffee in small batches since the beginning.
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Spotting this Fair Trade Certified stamp -- a mark that only appears on officially accredited bags -- should be a green light to buy. It means the bean farmers received wages above market price (a practice that's rarer than you might expect).
Some coffee brands -- mainly those from specialty roasters -- tell you the specific varietal of a bean, such as bourbon or typica. While fun to rattle off, unless you have a serious coffee palate, they're not that significant.
Turns out all of them are varieties of a single species, arabica, and the average coffee drinker wouldn't detect their subtle nuances. (Budget coffees usually use robusta beans instead of arabica; those brands' labels rarely refer to varietal at all.)
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The higher up beans are grown, the smoother a cup they'll likely brew. Why? Because of milder temperatures and lower oxygen levels, which result in beans that are more concentrated and dense, making for a smoother roast. But beware: Roasters pay top dollar for these sky-high beans, so the bags have price tags to match!
Founded in Brooklyn, NY, Gorilla Coffee is an independently owned and operated coffee shop and micro-roastery.
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Roast types may sound daunting (and infinite!), but here's all you need to know. From lightest to darkest, these common ones usually rank as follows in increasing body (thickness or syrupiness) and robustness: American, full-city, viennese, french, italian and spanish. Remember, they may vary slightly from company to company, so sampling a few types from one roaster is the best way to learn its style. (Twist our arm!)
Our pick: Eight 'o Clock
Founded in 1859, Eight 'o Clock coffee is the 4th largest volume national coffee brand.
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Coffee connoisseurs swear beans are at their tastiest within two weeks of roasting. Freshness-obsessed brands will print the roast date on their bags. If your favorite coffee retailer doesn't, buy from a shop with a high turnover and aim to drink your way through a bag within the two-week timeline for the strongest flavor.
Forty Weight Coffee
Dedicated to only selling the freshest and best coffee, Forty Weight Coffee "refuses to see old beans!"
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