What kind of coffee beans should I try?
January 19, 2011 11:43 PM   Subscribe

What kind of coffee beans should I try? And where?

I've found that dark, espresso-type roasts/blends are too bitter for me. I also tried a light roasted Tazanian Peaberry which was way too acidic. I love love love the espresso blend at Cafe Grumpy but it's so expensive. I also liked Trader Joe's Medium Roast Colombian Supremo but I prefer to buy something local.

Other details: I use a Moka Brikka Pot. I live in NYC so that probably opens up options but I'm not opposed to ordering online. Cheaper is better but I will pay for quality. And it should be something I can buy in small increments like 1/4 lb. or 1/2 lb.

To sum up, recommend me coffee beans that:
-are medium roasted
-similar to Colombian Supremo
-I can buy in NYC or order online
-come in small amounts like 1/4 lb.
posted by joeyjoejoejr to Food & Drink (31 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
If you like medium roasts, definitely stick to Central and South American beans, as well as beans from Sumatra and other parts of Indonesia/the Pacific Rim.

That said, I'm confused as to whether you want espresso or just "regular" coffee. Most people who use a moka pot are attempting an espresso style, and if that describes your way of drinking coffee you should stick to an espresso blend. Maybe ask the baristas at Grumpy how their espresso blend is roasted or what specific attributes it has, and compare to other more affordable espressos? Though there's nothing wrong with using a single origin for espresso - it's just not typical.

If you live in NYC and want high quality and local, but cheaper than Grumpy, Gorilla, and the like, try Porto Rico. Their prices are far lower than the other boutique roasters, and yet the product is amazing. And the staff is super knowledgeable. They can definitely help you find something you like - I know at least a few of their shops brew coffee in the store, so you can probably try their espresso before you commit to a large quantity.
posted by Sara C. at 12:21 AM on January 20, 2011

Porto Rico sells by the half-pound, though you could possibly sweet-talk the sales staff into selling you less. If they won't, you could also try the coffee section at Whole Foods. I've had decent luck with their Sumatra single origin, and you can fill your own sack to order.
posted by Sara C. at 12:23 AM on January 20, 2011

I'm still trying to wrap my head around you enjoying Columbian Supremo from Trader Joe's and yet not wanting to buy it because it isn't "local." You do understand every coffee bean you've ever consumed hails from Central America, South America, Indonesia, or Africa, right?

That being said, TJ's coffee certainly isn't roasted near you, and the best coffee will be coffee that's been roasted within a few days of your buying it. Seek out places with roasting facilities in the area. Although really, if you like and enjoy Columbian Supremo from TJ's, there's absolutely nothing wrong with drinking that.
posted by incessant at 1:04 AM on January 20, 2011

Go to Porto Rico and tell them what you told us. They will find you something.
posted by Obscure Reference at 4:28 AM on January 20, 2011

When you say you want something local, do you mean you want something locally roasted, or something sold by a local business, or something else?
posted by box at 4:35 AM on January 20, 2011

Best answer: Tanzanian Peaberry, Sumatra Mandheling (if you're willing to leave Africa), or anything from Ethiopia - the birthplace of coffee. Remember to look for Fair Trade beans.
posted by tayknight at 5:28 AM on January 20, 2011

Try some Sumatra Mandheling - it's on the darker end of the spectrum but so smooth when roasted well.
posted by usonian at 5:36 AM on January 20, 2011

Try as much variety as you can until you really get a feel for what you like. First try some single origins to understand their flavours, and then move to blends so that you can identify (and appreciate) their make-up. Don't restrict yourself to a narrow selection. The way in which you prepare coffee makes a massive difference in the way it presents in the cup - try different ways to make your coffee at home - e.g. french press / domestic espresso machine / vacuum etc... Each process can produce completely different results on the same roast. Cupping is a great way to compare roasts as it provides a level playing field.

Choose beans that have a 'roasted on' date on the packet rather than a 'best before' date - a sign that the roaster actually cares about their product, and drink within a window of 1 week to 4 weeks following the 'roasted on' date (most cafes use beans that average 3 weeks old). As long as your wallet can run to it, choose beans that have a Cup of Excellence award. Nothing compares to these beans!

There are many online stores catering for small domestic orders. I'm in Australia and I use Five Senses a lot - I'm sure you will be able to find something locally similar.

There are a ton of resources and forums out there a quick search away. I find coffeesnobs.com.au to be a great place to hang out with fellow Aussies - coffeegeek.com may be (a bit) closer to home for you.
posted by KirkpatrickMac at 5:37 AM on January 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

Do you have an actual price range? I'll easily pay $7.50 for a half pound of good coffee, but I've kind of gotten to the "I pay for good coffee." stage. That does now, however, make me a sucker/idiot as the people at the Dash Cafe must think the Inner Sunset patrons are ($13.50 for a half pound of Blue Bottle - *cough cough* - it's $7.50 everywhere else in the city guys). Definitely have one time a month or every two months that you branch out to a slightly more expensive one (nothing huge, just a dollar or two more a pound) just to branch your taste out.

I think KrikpatricMac has given you the best advice in here, though. Different preparations make a difference in how the coffee taste, so don't discount something based on your preparation with your one device. I know for years I discounted nearly every French roast I came across until recently when I picked up without know a pound of Trouble Coffee Company's French roast. It has the same look you expect of most French roasts but the flavor is radically different. Smooth, silky and almost sweet. I know for years I avoided coffees like this due to their poor handling at nearly every roaster, but anything you get that's done in huge batches is probably going to not taste as good. Small roaster usually take better care (not always, of course, as I have a place down the street that roast in the shop but their coffee is sadly mediocre).

I lately have been preparing all of my coffee with an Aeropress of all things (it really makes great coffee - the only plastic coffee maker I will tolerate), mostly because it's fast and yields great coffee given the simplicity, speed and price. That said, I also own a Pavoni pull espresso machine, a glazed ceramic single cup drip maker, a French press and a very run of the mill 4 cup drip maker (that mostly gathers dust).
posted by smallerdemon at 6:43 AM on January 20, 2011

I've had really great and friendly help at Sensuous Bean in the UWS.
posted by spec80 at 7:10 AM on January 20, 2011

When I lived in Ithaca, I fell in love with Gimme! Coffee. They have some locations in NYC, too. Roasted in Ithaca! The baristas there are really great about suggesting coffees that are similar to what you already like.
posted by munichmaiden at 7:29 AM on January 20, 2011

Unfortunately, most artisanal coffee shops in NYC tend to carry lots of darker roasts as New Yorkers associate strong coffee with dark coffee.

However, Ritual Coffee, known for their light roasts in SF, is available at RBC and Think Coffee, I believe. Call ahead to ask about availability.

I also recently tried Joe the Art of Coffee's house beans and it was way too light for my tastes, so I think you might like it a lot, and it came in a 12 oz package though I believe I saw much smaller on the shelf at the time. I also find Stumptown to be on the lighter side.

Another option is Gimme! Coffee as munichmaiden mentions. You can actually read some details about the various beans they carry online.
posted by kathryn at 7:55 AM on January 20, 2011

Not at all answering your question per se but try a cold brewed method if you want to reduce the acidity of any good coffee. Also reduces the caffeine FYI.

And, the radio show 'Splendid Table' did a bit last week about roasting your own beans (using a popcorn popper no less) but the guy (Tom Owen) also talked about different beans and their flavors, acidity etc. Link goes to main page, link to the bit on the show and the guys webpage is just below on left hand side. Might be helpful.
posted by elendil71 at 8:55 AM on January 20, 2011

Response by poster: My bad. I would like to buy coffee beans from a local ROASTER. Not locally grown beans. But if the beans are really that great, then I will buy them online.

I'm open to trying some darker blends if they taste good. Do you guys have any specific recommendations?

I've been to Porto Rico before but the service seems kinda spotty. Maybe I just caught them on some off days? I plan on going back anyway.
posted by joeyjoejoejr at 9:02 AM on January 20, 2011

Best answer: You might enjoy beans from Papua New Guinea or Kenya. They're my current favorites.
posted by buggzzee23 at 9:26 AM on January 20, 2011

They're roasted in California, but I just wanted to second the notion that the beans carried by Joe are pretty delicious and range from not-so-expensive to relatively pricy. The folks behind the counter tend to be pretty knowledgeable about the different beans/roasts on offer.
posted by Joey Bagels at 9:56 AM on January 20, 2011

I think we have similar taste in coffee. I get my beans from the Roasterie, located in Kansas City.

I've tried a lot of the single-origin beans, and I especially like their Pitalito Estates of Colombia and Guatemala Finca el Limonar. I know you said you aren't into very dark roasts, but the Tuscan Espresso is very flavorful and not too dark.
posted by easy, lucky, free at 10:03 AM on January 20, 2011

Best answer: Armeno Coffee Roasters sells online in various sizes. They aren't in NYC, but they aren't so far that you can't get them shipped. They sell 1/2, 1, and 5 pound sizes, ground for whatever device you prefer. I used to live right down the street from them, and they are truly excellent at what they do.

You're using a Moka pot, so are you trying to get an espresso-like cup? It's going to be on the bitter side no matter what bean you use with that. Maybe try a nice french press instead.

You say you didn't like the Tanzanian peaberry because it was too "bitter" - was it the roast or the acidity of the coffee that you didn't like? High acid beans tend to taste "bright" and not "bitter", so my guess is the roast was off. My other guess, then, is you might like some of the South American and Indonesian coffees.

Anyway, here's my suggestions (from the aforementioned Armeno's) (Don't get the french or italian or espresso roasts on any of these):

For the darker coffee (these are my personal favorites), try the Kalossi, from Celebes if you get the chance. (It's a bit pricey, though nothing like a Kona or Jamaica Blue mountain price) If you like the Sumatra Mandheling some others have suggested, (and I second that notion) you will like Celebes Kalossi. The acid is balanced very well by a super-high body. Also of note: India Monsooned Malabar. It's a very unconventional taste, but you may like it. Low acid content, sort of a "wet" mouth-feel.

For South America, try the Colombia Narino (this is probably the closest to your bulleted specifications), and the Brazil Bourbon Santos. These are both nice, middle-of-the-road coffees with a good balance. The Bourbon Santos has an odd flavor profile I can't quite describe, but I like very much. Some people don't, YMMV.

If you want to venture to Africa, I would suggest the Ethiopian Yirgacheffe, or the Kenya AA. African coffees tend to be fairly high acid, often with earthy or nutty tones to them. For you, I think the Asia, Indonesia and South America are the places to start.
posted by mrgoat at 10:28 AM on January 20, 2011

Oh, I forgot to add - Armeno's has a very good blend they call the "black and tan". It's a blend of Indonesians, some french roasted, some not.
posted by mrgoat at 10:30 AM on January 20, 2011

Best answer: I like Coffee Lab Roasters beans. They are in Tarrytown in Westchester County. I've found them at Whole Foods. They also have a puppy in their logo.
posted by spec80 at 11:01 AM on January 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

Lucky for you that Blue Bottle just opened in Williamsburg. They roast organic coffee in small batches and it's extremely good. The new Brooklyn roastery I think is the only place to get it outside of the bay area. They sell it by the half-pound and it's always very fresh, I highly recommend it.
posted by bradbane at 11:24 AM on January 20, 2011

Best answer: This isn't a direct answer to your question, but you may want to rethink your brewing method. Moka Pots are great, but they're not very forgiving. I've always found them to provoke 'acidic' flavors.

Try and find a friend willing to let you borrow their French Press or their Chemex for a week. You might find the results much more to your liking. Or if you can put up with a degree of snark and dealing with some hipsters for a while, check out Stumptown Coffee's tasting room attached to their roastery in Red Hook. They focus only on home-brew methods at that location, and can really highlight the differences.

Beware though, their prices are starting to get out of hand, and you can often find all the gear they sell cheaper elsewhere. Their coffee's fairly good too, but again, pretty expensive.

From what you're describing, you'd probably enjoy quite a few Central/South American coffees along with certain African coffees if they were brewed in a different manner.

If you're willing to do some mail order, i could give you a laundry list of amazing coffees to try from the Pacific northwest area. Me-mail me, if you're interested.
posted by furnace.heart at 1:55 PM on January 20, 2011

Porto Rico and Cafe Grumpy are brilliant. Second/third/nthing the recommendations to just walk in and tell them your preferences. I never visit NYC without visiting one or the other.
posted by clango at 4:21 PM on January 20, 2011

Best answer: Like you, I find dark and espresso roasted beans generally too bitter.
Go to Zabar's, and try the Kenya AA beans. They have been one of the most reliable pleasures of my life for years. Don't be misled by Kenyan beans from other roasters--everyone else seems to ruin them by over-roasting.

I order these online, but if you're in NYC you can get them a couple days fresher. I'm jealous. Enjoy!
posted by Corvid at 4:49 PM on January 20, 2011

There is a great coffee shop (the place is damn near overflowing with coffee beans) on St. Marks between First and Second (but closer to second) on the South side of the street. I can't tell you what coffee to buy, but they can.
posted by darkgroove at 7:58 PM on January 20, 2011

The place darkgroove is talking about is Porto Rico. It's definitely my favorite of their locations.
posted by Sara C. at 8:46 PM on January 20, 2011

Response by poster: You guys rock. So many coffee beans I want to try now.

And I really do need to visit Porto Rico again.
posted by joeyjoejoejr at 3:02 PM on January 21, 2011

Another vote for Porto Rico. I can also confirm that they'll sell you a quarter pound of coffee.

I vaguely remember seeing the 1/4 lb increment listed under a few of the coffees on their website but that doesn't seem to be the case anymore. Hm.
posted by junques at 11:13 PM on January 21, 2011

Response by poster: Updates if anyone is interested.

I tried the following...

Straight up Espresso blend/roast - Meh. Pretty smooth but still had that unpleasant burnt taste.

Blend of Colombian Espresso and French roasted Italian Espresso - Good but not that great. Reaffirmed that dark roasts are not for me.

Mocha Java (light roast) - YUMMM. This had a spiciness that I really liked, and it was not too acidic.

Sumatra Mandeling (light/medium roast) - Also yum!! It was a little one note, though, as you can expect for single-origin. But I really liked it. Maybe I'll try pairing this with another more acidic bean.

Thanks for all the suggestions. :)
posted by joeyjoejoejr at 12:21 PM on February 19, 2011

Response by poster: Oh and I believe that some of that bitterness was related to my grind. There is definitely dust with the metal grinder and that creeps up into the moka pot, which in turn causes really bitter notes. Now I dunk my moka pot in an ice water bath before it can make that gurgling sound. My coffee has been a lot smoother lately.
posted by joeyjoejoejr at 12:24 PM on February 19, 2011

Uodate: Above, I recommended Zabars' Kenya AA, which has been my favorite coffee for years. But, the last batch I got from them was bland and weird-tasting (stale? mislabeled? next to something smelly in the UPS truck? they're going to replace it).

So in the meantime I tried the Kenya AA from Armeno Coffee Roasters (suggested by mrgoat upthread). OH WOW WOW WOW!!! THIS FLAVOR MAKES ME SING + DANCE!!! IT MAKES MY HAIR HAPPY!!! WOW WOW WOW!!! Phew, too much caffeine here. It's a little more expensive than the Zabars, but I will pay. I will pay and be happy.
posted by Corvid at 12:19 PM on March 30, 2011

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