Quality of coffee

The quality of a brew depends on the following factors (in no particular order):

  1. Time since coffee roasting
  2. Time since grinding the beans
  3. Cleanliness with brewing equipment
  4. Coffee Bean quality
  5. Water quality

Coffee Storage

With proper packaging, whole bean coffee can be stored up to 4 weeks in valve-seal bags and still be full flavored, though aiming for drinking within 2 weeks is ideal.

Coffee Freshness: Time Since Roasted

For freshness, at home it is better to buy popular blends that move fast, while in a supermarket vacuum packaged containers with expiration date are your best bet although all canned coffee will be stale to some extent. It should be noted that in order to vacuum pack coffee industrial coffee producers actually let the coffee sit before it is packed. As soon as coffee is roasted it starts to release CO2 in a process called outgassing. This actually helps to protect the bean from staling. Unfortunately for the people vacuum packing coffee or putting coffee in tins this also will inflate the bags. This outgassing is the reason that you will see one way valves on some coffee bags. These valves allow the CO2 to escape while keeping oxygen out of the bag.

Chances are you will not get truly fresh coffee in a supermarket. This is an absolute fact if it is pre-ground. In a coffee house look for a shop that roasts in-house and ask what was roasted that day. If the person behind the counter does not know, ask to talk to someone who cares about coffee. If no one knows, go somewhere else. As a side note, it should be mentioned that coffee is at its best after a rest of a few hours. This is one of those places that a knowledgeable roastmaster can help you. As a general rule most coffees are improved with a rest time of 12 to 24 hours. Some coffees, particularly musty or earth coffees actually mellow for the first two to three days making a longer rest better. This means that buying fresh roasted coffee online (say, Guatemalan coffee for example) and having it shipped to you provides just enough time for the coffee to develop before it arrives at your door.

Quality: Arabica Coffee Beans

Fact: If you are buying “good” coffee, bean quality is the least important of these factors. The best bean will taste bad if any one of these other characteristics is out of place. Not all coffee beans are equal but the other 4 keys to quality will even the field. I will take a lesser coffee that has been freshly roasted and ground any day over coffee that was roasted and ground then left to get stale no matter how good it was when it was fresh.

Fact: A coffee can in the supermarket often contains large amounts of robusta, low quality Arabica coffee beans and past crop (old) coffee beans. To make things worse there is no way for the major coffee companies that roast and ship all over the country to get you truly fresh coffee.

NOTE: A coffee can in the supermarket often contains a blend of Arabica and robusta coffee beans while most coffee houses sell only Arabica beans. Arabica beans are usually flavor rich, while robusta beans have more caffeine, less flavor and are cheaper to produce. The exception to this rule is that some very good espresso coffees will have small amounts of the highest quality robusta beans on the market. This is not a guarantee that a coffee house will have any better coffee than the diner down the street. If any of the previously discussed items, such as cleanliness or freshness, are not in order then the best coffee can be made to taste bad.

When you buy coffee beans, whether in a coffee house or in a supermarket, you want to get 100% arabica, except for espresso blends, which may be a combination of both. Whether good quality robusta improves the flavor of espresso is up for debate but in all likelihood this is a debate that will linger for quite some time. The robusta does contribute heavily to the crema and caffeine content of an espresso however, and is considered vital to a proper blend.

Water Quality and Equipment Cleanliness

Fact: Once you have freshly roasted and ground coffee, good water and equipment free of oil residues from the last brew, the quality of coffee beans makes a huge difference.

Coffee Grinding

A final point is for best results grind your own coffee beans. Buying fresh and then having it ground defeats the purpose. Ground coffee only lasts a few hours or one day at the most if not properly protected in a valve-seal bag.


15 thoughts on “Quality of coffee”

  1. What about the filter?

    These are the 5 main components of coffee. But how about the quality of the filter? Does that matter? If so, how would I go about choosing the appropriate filter for my coffee maker?

    Another question. What is your view on tin coffee compared to vacuum sealed coffee grinds from the supermarket?

    And I just read your post on not freezing coffee..but a bit late, my coffee is already in the freezer, is it a bad idea now to take it out?


    1. RE: What about the filter?

      Yes the filter is important. I like a good gold permanent filter. You should be able to pick this up at most stores that have a decent selection of kitchenwares. I’m not sure if the discount stores will have them or not. I do not like the plastic filters because they are much more difficult (impossible) to clean.

      Take a look at my comments about filters in the Drip section for more in depth discussion of the pros and cons of paper vs. permanent filters.

  2. “Whether good quality

    “Whether good quality robusta improves the flavor of espresso is up for debate but in all likelihood this is a debate that will linger for quite some time.”

    Yes; as stated elsewhere on this site, robusta beans have qualities that differ from arabica beans. They produce a tighter crema and have more strength and smoke in taste compared to arabica. That is why they are part of many great espresso blends.

    In southern Italy, around Naples, you’ll see blends that contain up till 40% robusta and still, probably much thanks to the pro baristas, they taste better than the average “100% arabica true-italian-pro-coffee” you find in your average supermarket.

    In my opinion, what’s most important when it comes to brewing great coffee is using the best brewing technique available today, which is espresso style.
    Fast extraction times is a good way to keep bad taste out of your cup. And it’s a friend of your stomach too, believe me!

  3. Bitter coffee

    Why is the taste of coffee frequently so bitter? Is bitterness a valued quality and is it preferred by the majority?

  4. coffee origins

    Hi. Im doing a reseach on coffee quality, i just wanted to know why there isn’t anything about the coffee origins in your list? i believe it is of great importance when talking about quality of coffee.

    1. re: coffee origins

      Yes origin is important. There are parts of the world that never produce a good product. For example Vietnam to the best of my knowledge is 100% robusta and low quality by even robusta standards. On the other hand most “good” origins vary from farm to farm and year to year. So it is pretty much impossible to make a canonical list of good origins. It’s a natural crop so you have variation from year to year and farm to farm.

  5. Vacuum storing roasted beans, good or bad?

    I purchase my Seattle Mountain 100 percent Arabica whole beans from Costco where they are roasted on the spot. They are sold by the 2.5 lb. bag that lasts us about three weeks. I’ve been storing them at room temperature in a vacuum and grind them just before brewing, am I doing more damage then good by vacuum storing roasted beans?

    1. Vacuum

      I would say probably not. There is an argument that the vacuum storage will cause the beans to out gas faster due to the pressure but I’m not sure that will override the advantage of removing oxygen. The one suggestion I would make is that you store 2-3 days worth of coffee in a container ans store your coffee in multiple containers. If you put everything in a big jar and vacuum the air out just to open it up every day you will reintroduce oxygen thus destroying much of the advantage of vacuum storage.

  6. Quality Vs. Quantity

    We sell only 100% Kona Coffee and believe me, coffee quality is the most important thing to our customers. Not to mention that people are tired of getting ripped off at starbucks for a $3.75 cup of coffee. I can’t understand how people are willing to pay those prices for garbage coffee when they can brew a fresh pot at home. Not to mention these “blends” that are out there… a blend just means that they put some cheap coffee in with the good stuff. Here’s to 100% Kona 100% of the time 🙂 Jim

    1. Coffee Beans

      There’s a lot more to why people spend their money than what you see. Let’ me help you understand the $3.75 and its value. It’s the “what, when, where, how, and with whom” that people pay for and enjoy their coffee, or anything else they purchase. People spend their money on their level of attainment and if they are uncomfortable with another person’s choice, they grumble to make themselves feel better about their own choices. Personal choice should not be measured or judged. I bet if you conducted a customer survey in your establishment, asking why they frequent your place, you’d find there’s a lot more than your Kona coffee going on that brings them back – it’s probably you, and something they get from their experience at your place. Good Job!
      There’s a lot more to Starbucks than just coffee as well! Obviously there’s something to learn from Starbucks. It’s always upbeat there, happy, nice. Not all people like that vibration. But not all people share the view of “ripped off” by Starbucks either!
      In all due respect, why are your customers even talking about Starbucks anyway? And if everyone stayed home to drink coffee, in all due respect, I don’t think you’d have a business either.
      Another point, you have no idea how HAPPY the entire taveling world was when Starbucks went into airports. For years, people were paying more than $3.75 a cup for dishwater turned brown, boiled and served up as coffee!!! Then there’s the people that pay a good price for coffee in those Starbucks “wanna-be” places who put no effort into their businesses, serve less quality coffee, have dirty, disheveled, environments (and tables), negative conversations abounding, and still charge Starbuck’s prices!? And guess what? They have customers!
      It’s simple. People spend their money where they want to be, and on how they want to feel, and at their level of attainment. There’s a lot more to Starbucks — and probably a lot more to you too…
      Thanks for letting a customer brew and steam…

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