3 Tricks of the Trade (Things to be aware of when buying coffee)

Though 99% of my encounters with coffee professionals have been wonderful, I have seen people (typically large companies) try to pull the wool over the eyes of their customers to increase their profit margins. Here are, in my opinion, a few things you should know about and be aware of:

“Best By” vs “Roasted On” dates

Freshness is key to a great cup of coffee. Every coffee professional knows this, but nobody wants their product to go to waste. The longer the shelf life, the less waste and the more money that can be made. Unfortunately, there has yet to be a coffee bag designed that can truly keep coffee from degrading once it’s roasted. When you purchase a bag of coffee in July and see a “best by” date of December, you’re being lied to. You don’t have to be a coffee professional to notice the difference between a coffee that’s 1 week old and a coffee that was roasted a month ago. Most “best by” coffee is stale before you buy it.

Any roaster worth their salt will tell you when those beans were roasted. If you don’t see a “roasted on” date, put the bag down and walk away. Just walk away.

Dark Roasts

Though many hipster coffee snobs would disagree, there is nothing wrong with a dark roast. I have no problem offering dark roasts. I always have offered them and I’m sure I always will. In fact, some coffees are better suited for a darker roast and some people’s palates simply don’t agree with lighter roasts. So please, if you enjoy a dark roast, don’t take this as an attack on your personal taste.

The problem with a dark roast isn’t the roast itself, it’s the reason some people do it. You see; dark roasts can be used to mask flaws in lower grade coffees and/or hide the fact that they have nothing interesting to offer (taste-wise). A dark roasted coffee will, for the most part, only taste like roast. Whereas, with a light to medium roasted coffee, you can experience delicate citrus and floral notes, flavors of nut and caramel, and earthy or grassy undertones. Each coffee growing region tastes unique, and every coffee has a story that it tells in the cup.

The misuse of darker roasts is something found more often in large coffee chains than in small, artisan coffee roasters. The easiest way to avoid these deceptively dark coffees is to buy your beans from local small roasters, like Old Town Roasting! (See what I did there?)

“Made with pure Arabica beans”

It should be!

There are over 100 coffee species.  The two which are most widely produced are Coffea Arabica and Coffea Canephora (also known as Robusta).

Arabica makes up approximately 70-75% of the world’s coffee production. This species is far more delicate than Robusta and costs twice as much to produce (thanks to lower yields, higher sensitivity to insects and the need to be grown at much higher elevations). All the extra work and expense is worth it, as Arabica has a far superior taste. This is due to the fact that Arabica contains almost 60% more lipids and twice the concentration of sugar than Robusta. This isn’t to say that all Arabica coffee is good. Not by a long shot. But, the best coffees in the world are Arabica.

Don’t be fooled by clever marketing or a lack of information. I promise you that the more you learn about coffee, the more you’ll love it. Besides, you work too hard for your money to waste it on mediocrity.

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5 replies on “3 Tricks of the Trade (Things to be aware of when buying coffee)

  • Terry Weaver

    Dude learned so much that I had no idea about about beans from this post. Thanks for sharing. Love to see some videos of your tasting notes on your blends and roasts . Maybe a video on how to make the perfect cup. I can’t be more excited for you as you pull back the curtain on the secrets. The best is yet to come for OTR!

  • Nicole Nichols

    This is awesome information!! Maybe I’ll stray from my dark side and try a lighter roast. I’m eager to see if I can tell the nuances now. Question though Shawn – how do I store your awesome beans if I won’t be grinding them for a couple weeks…I’ve heard mixed info in freezing them.

    • oldtownroast

      Great question Nicole. Air is coffee’s enemy. Take the bag of beans and place it in a ziploc bag or tupperware container. Something air-tight. You do want to keep the coffee away from heat, but do NOT put it in the freezer. The next step, which it seems you’re aware of, is to only grind the beans when you’re going to brew. Whole bean stays fresh MUCH longer than ground coffee.
      I hope that helped!

  • Ashley

    I started making my own lattes at home when I asked for an extra shot at starbucks and I watched them pour a shot of prepared and labeled “iced coffee” into my macchiato. I’m not a coffee snob, but I do not enjoy watered down macchiato. I get that drink for a reason. I also now only buy coffee from a local Columbus place called Impero. No best by dates. Only Roasted On dates. And they openly advise you to not buy it more than a week out from consumption. I just love this post.


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