Coffee is, as I’m sure you’ll agree, the one. There are around 210,000 people in the UK working in the coffee industry, given that we drink around 95 million cups a day in what is supposedly tea-central we’ve got to ask, is that enough?
80% of households in the UK are buying instant coffee for drinking at home. Especially those over 65, while the millennial generation, aged 16 to 34, are driving the ground coffee and – eco-gasp – single-serve coffee pods consumption. Not to be a hipster, but it really is better than instant, and we’ll follow through on that flippant remark by setting out some coffee beans, coffee brands, what the hell a roast is and what you should be using to make the ‘proper’ sludge.
Once past the hurdle of instant versus ‘proper’, what next? You’ve got a cafetiere, a Moka pot percolator, and for some reason, an AeroPress has appeared in your cupboard. In terms of simplicity, a cafetiere or a filter and some biodegradable filter papers are the best option.
Ground or Beans?
Coffee must be ground at some point. So what’s the brouhaha about beans being better than pre-ground? Well, it all comes down to control. Control over the freshness, control over the size of the grind.
A coffee bean is one of natures natural packagings. Whilst whole the bean retains the freshness, the oil, the oxygen within it. As soon as you grind it you’ve set the timer running down on quality. Of course, is this all a mental bias? To an extent, yes. Coffee drinking can become a hobby, there’s nothing wrong with taking it a little less seriously and buying pre-ground.
Not everyone has the time or interest, though a grinder and some whole beans make a lovely routine, and brew, on a day off. When it comes to grinding, there’s only one hard and fast rule. Only grind what you need right now.
Types of Coffee Beans
Coffee beans come from the coffee plant, of which there are many different species, but for the most part you are going to run into two beans.
Arabica and Robusta.
Arabica is the most common coffee bean used today. These beans make up around 60% of the coffee consumed every day. The flavours are more complex than other beans, within the many varieties of arabica the profiles are incredibly diverse. As they are so delicate and complex adding milk and sugar is considered a faux pas – but everyone does it anyway.
Robusta beans have a much stronger flavour and double the caffeine of the Arabica bean. As a result, they can taste bitter to the tongue. They’re mostly used in espressos and the really strong coffees.
Growing a robusta is easier than the arabica, they’re hardy plants with a wide tolerance of climates and altitudes. So they can be grown around the world.
Liberica and Excelsa
After the two leaders are beans like the Liberica and Excelsa. In botanical terms, the Excelsa is a sub-type of the Liberica. But in flavour terms, they’re completely different who is right? Oh, the epistemology of coffee.
The Liberica came through when the Arabica was decimated by coffee rust in the late 19th century. The Philippines cranked up production first and became a major supplier – however, once they gained independence from the United States, they lost access to a huge market and in the meantime, Arabica recovered and dominated since then.
If you can source some Liberica beans they have a full-body, a smokey flavour and a floral aroma.
Excelsa, on the other hand, are easy to find, as they are often used as a way to add complexity coffee blends. They are rarely sold on their own. They have a light flavour even when roasted to a darker point.
Types of Coffee Roasts
Roasts, there’s a hefty bit of science behind unlocking the flavour and aroma in coffee. The spectrum runs from light to dark. An analogous concept is cooking a steak – rare or well done. Coffees roast differently depending on their specifics to unlock the multiple sugars within.
The 15 Most Popular Coffee Beans and Blends
Here’s our take on the most popular coffees of 2019, and likely beyond.
1. Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee
This coffee, grown in the Blue Mountains of Jamaica is highly sought after and one of the most expensive coffee beans in the world. Grown at a high altitude with cool misty rainfall creating a light and bright flavour.
Over 80% of the coffee is exported to Japan, who go wild for its mild flavour and minimal bitterness. If this sounds too exotic, you may have already tried Jamaica Blue Mountain as it forms the flavour base of coffee liqueur, Tia Maria.
Jamaican Blue Mountain is certified, much like champagne, so make sure you go for the real deal companies like Volcanica.
2. Lavazza’s Super Crema Espresso Coffee Beans
These beans are a blend of Central American mild and Brazilian velvet. You’ll have an espresso to your liking whether you’re a coffee buff or a complete novice. A trusted ‘big name’ in the game, Lavazza is a good choice if you can’t find a local roaster.
3. LifeBoost’s Medium Roast
Coffee can be a dirty business, so it is important to make sure you’re not left with a bad taste in your mouth when you find out about the labour practices of your grower. LifeBoost is a FairTrade certified company who are also Certified Organic. LifeBoost roast at different levels, but the medium hits the mark with a smooth rich caramel and a ping of berry.
4. Whittard’s Santos and Java
Damn. This Whittard blend of Javanese and Brazilian Santos beans is like rocket fuel. Velveteen, a balanced acidity, tasting like burnt caramel and cream. You can make a mean mocha of this coffee. Whittard (of Chelsea) is a coffee and tea specialist founded by Walter Whittard in 1886, their wares can be found in department stores across the UK, online or their specialist stores.
5. Lidl’s Guatemalan Deluxe
Now now, Lidl, they’re killing the supermarket giants of the UK and their coffee is one reason I certainly switched. This stuff is cheap. But its also Fair Trade. So you’ve no excuse to pass up. The flavour is highly gluggable. I’m not saying they’re lying about fruitiness within, but there’s certainly nothing wrong with coffee tasting like, coffee. Burnt-ish black, coffee.
6. Taylors High Voltage
An Indonesian Robusta beans bangs out plenty of power in a cup. Taylors make really good coffee you can pick up in most supermarkets. They’re grading their coffees on a scale, with 7 being the top. They added it especially for their High Voltage brew which is roasted really dark and has flavours of tobacco, cedar wood and clove. Hot stuff, not for the faint-hearted.
7. Make Decent Coffee’s Ethiopian Sidamo
Ethiopian is the home of coffee. The origins of our favourite caffeinated beverage are in the mountains and plains of Ethiopia. Sidamo is an unusual palette for a coffee, it has a distinct lemon zing to its acidity. You get a lovely crema that lasts from cafetiere to cup and lemons, lemons! Made decently by Make Decent, it is nice to see Ethiopia recognised for its gifts, after the Starbucks debacle.
8. Grumpy Mule’s Rwandan Musasa Coffee
A beginners cup, there’s no real kick in the Mule but it has a joyful slurp quality to it. To make this, Grumpy Mule liaise with the Musasa co-operative for their sun-dried Bourbon beans. Musasa is a coffee co-operative run of 2000 members, 80% of which are women.
9. IKEA’s Kaffe Hela Bönor Mörkrost Beans
Some assembly required! Grind these dark roasted beans and you’ve got a perfectly robust cup of coffee heading your way. Easy to make for a beginner, they’re very hard to overdo. The only trouble is you will have to dodge the Ikea shoppers losing their minds, if only they knew the fuel was in their too.
10. York Coffee Emporium’s Malawian Pamwamba AA
York make good coffees. Their Malawian Pamwamba has a white wine, plummy, pine nutty flavour. Some tang arrives at the end of the trip. Even when run through the cafetiere, you get a decent head of crema. Rainforest Alliance certified too, so you’re keeping things in proper order down there.
11. Volcanica’s Ethiopian Yirgacheffe Decaff
Aha. Until now you thought ‘proper’ coffee could only be of the caffeinated kind? Not at all, the Ethiopian Yirgacheffe from Volcanica is made decaff through the Swiss Water process; which is 100% chemical-free.
Yirgacheffe is unique as the crop is gathered from wild coffee trees. It is a complex tasting beast- think cinnamon and strawberry – with a thick, full body.
12. Death Wish – The Strongest Coffee in the World
Death Wish by name and nature, too many cups of these will send you to heaven. But just a small cup will send you to a better heaven. Death Wish is a dark roast, blend of arabica and robusta beans and, despite its incredible caffeine content, a really smooth brew.
If you are sensitive to caffeine, definitely avoid, but for those who dare to fly…
13. Sleepy Monk’s Roast Sumatran
Inside the psychedelic (think stoner rock not tie-dye) packaging are a deep, dark roasted Sumatran bean. They have a smokiness which has a hint of an open fire. It has an earthy, almost fungi-like aroma. Drinking the Sumatran is like stroking a velvet curtain to the underworld – perfect for the morning ritual.
14. Don Pablo’s Subtle Earth Organic Coffee
Don Pablo is an ethical producer interested in organic blends and fair pricing. Their Subtle Earth is a medium-dark roast from a single origin – in this case the Marcala region of Honduras.
The cup tastes like chocolatey honey, it has a deep body and low-acidity – making it smooth to sip. They roast to order and in small batches, they do this organically, just like their beans.
15. Tiny Footprint Cold Press Elixir
A sweet, silk and a bright fruity tone make the Cold Press Elixir a pleasure. Specially designed for the cold brew method, the Cold Press Elixir mixes light and dark roasts from Ethiopian arabica beans.
Tiny Footprint, are, as their name suggests, an environmentally friendly coffee company. Their beans are organic and they do business in a way that’s fair for the growers and the planet.