Best Coffee Beans: A Guide to Choosing Coffee in 2020
As you begin to prepare your coffee from home, there’s a lot to consider. Many beginners focus on their brewing equipment and improving their technique.
However, the type of coffee beans you brew matter more than how you make them. Even the best barista can’t make a great cup of coffee without quality ingredients.
That’s why we’ve put together a list of the best coffee beans and what qualities to look for to take your at-home coffee to the next level.
9 Best Coffee Beans in the World
We’ve taken the guesswork out of selecting the perfect beans for your taste preferences and brewing style. We’ve listed the nine best coffee beans with a variety of origins, roasts, and flavors to ensure you find an option you love.
1. Death Wish Coffee – Strongest Coffee / Best Dark Roast Coffee
Are you looking for a coffee that will wake you up and keep you going strong throughout the day? If so, Death Wish Coffee might be the choice for you.
It has a smooth taste, with hints of chocolate and cherry where other dark roasts often taste bitter and acidic. Plus, Death Wish Coffee has double the caffeine content of a standard cup.
You won’t regret taking a chance on these beans with a punch.
- Double the caffeine of regular coffee
- USDA certified organic and fair trade
- Not bitter like other dark roasts
- Tastes of cherry and chocolate
- Slightly more expensive than other beans
2. Caribou Coffee Daybreak Morning Blend – Best Light Roast Coffee
If you prefer coffee with a smoother flavor, then a light roast like the Caribou Coffee Daybreak Morning Blend is a great option. It’s less bold than a darker roast, but will still wake you up nicely. In fact, lighter roasts have more caffeine than traditional dark roast coffees.
All of Caribou Coffee’s beans are sustainably sourced and Rainforest Alliance certified. When you drink this coffee, you know that you didn’t harm the planet to fill your cup.
- Affordable price
- Floral overtones with a sweet caramel and nutty finish
- Rainforest Alliance certified
- Sustainably sourced beans
- More acidic than darker coffee roasts
3. Kona Coffee Estate Medium Ground Roast – Best Medium Roast Coffee
Kona coffee beans only grow on the Big Island of Hawaii. Estate Kona Coffee comes from one exclusive farm high up the sides of the Mauna Loa volcano. These single-origin beans are a consistently delicious medium roast that showcases the unique flavors of the region.
For coffee-lovers who want a coffee that tastes like coffee without unnecessary extra flavors, Kona Coffee Estate Medium Ground Roast is an excellent option.
- Consistent flavor
- Single-origin from Captain Cook, Hawaii
- Mild, smooth flavor
- Not bitter
- Higher cost per-pound of beans
4. Peet’s Arabian Mocha Sanani – Best Whole Bean Coffee For Espresso
When you prepare coffee beans for an espresso, instead of drip coffee, you create opportunities for a broader flavor profile. Even when mixed with milk, you can taste the unique flavors of Peet’s Arabian Mocha Sanani.
The complex, almost wine-like flavor isn’t for everyone. However, if you want to experiment with a new espresso shot, try this coffee.
- Organic, wild-grown beans from the Arabian Peninsula
- Picked and processed by hand
- Slightly spicy with flavors of cocoa and dates
- Low acidity
- A complex flavor that isn’t for everyone
- Expensive beans
5. Kona Coffee Peaberry Medium Roast Whole Bean – Best Peaberry Coffee
Most coffee cherries have two beans inside each fruit. These beans touch each other, forming the traditional coffee bean shape with one flat side.
Peaberry coffee develops only one bean inside the fruit. Its round shape looks like a pea and inspires the name.
These beans are rare, with only 4 or 5 bags of Peaberry coffee produced for every 100 pounds of regular Kona coffee. Their exclusivity makes these beans more expensive, but are worth every cup.
- Rare, exclusive coffee beans
- Smooth, bold flavor
- “Champagne of Kona”
- Extremely expensive
- Sometimes harder to find because of the high demand
6. Kicking Horse Coffee Smart Ass Medium Roast – Best Nootropic Coffee
Some days, you drink coffee to savor the flavor and aroma. Other mornings, you drink coffee to kickstart your brain into functioning. Kicking Horse Coffee’s Smart Ass medium roast claims nootropic properties that help you focus and get things done.
It’s also organic, fair trade, and shade-grown. These sustainability efforts guarantee that you aren’t harming the environment with your coffee habit.
- Provides focused energy and brain function
- Smooth flavor that’s sweet and fruity
- Affordable price per pound
- Organic, fair trade, kosher, and shade-grown
- Ordinary taste without any complex notes
7. Volcanica Coffee Company Ethiopian Yirgacheffe Coffee – Best Coffee Beans For Pour Over
When you prepare pour over coffee, the water moves slowly through the grounds. This extra time pulls more flavors out of the coffee beans. For the ultimate pour over experience, you want to choose a blend with a complex flavor profile (1).
Volcanica Coffee Company’s Ethiopian Yirgacheffe has complex fruit and floral tones that evolve in your mouth with each sip. The company roasts every bag on demand, so it’s guaranteed to be fresh.
- Roasted on demand
- Organically grown
- Complex fruity, floral flavor
- Pleasant acidity
- On the more expensive end of the price range
8. Lifeboost Coffee Single Origin Medium Roast Coffee – Best Organic Coffee
As coffee becomes more popular around the world, farmers have had to plant more. Sometimes, this growth requires planting fields of coffee beans that disrupt natural ecosystems and harm the environment.
Lifeboost Coffee focuses on organic growing methods that protect the local birds, farms, and planet as a whole. Their coffee beans are pesticide-free, mold-free, and produced without chemical processing.
Their low-acid roasting creates a smooth flavor that won’t irritate your stomach. The result of this method is a cup of coffee that makes you feel good as you drink it.
- Extremely low acid
- Free of Mycotoxin and pesticides
- No chemicals or harmful processing
- Shade-grown and environmentally-friendly
9. Atlas Coffee Club – Best Online Coffee Subscription
More than 50 countries around the world grow coffee beans. Each region brings a different flavor, style, and experience. The Atlas Coffee Club coffee subscription helps you to try it all, without having to worry about the quality of your beans.
This subscription delivers sustainably-produced, perfectly-roasted coffee beans from a different location to your door every month. They even include instructions on the best way to prepare it and key tasting notes.
- Included preparation instructions for optimum taste
- Opportunity to try coffee beans rarely available in stores
- Some blends are subscription-only, so you can’t always re-purchase your favorites
How to Choose the Best Coffee Beans: 7 Things to Know
There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to the best coffee beans because there are so many variables that need to be taken into account. How you brew the coffee, where the beans are grown, and the roast of the beans are only a few of the factors that affect the final taste.
Your Brewing Method will affect your choice!
Drip coffee prepared in a coffee pot is typically the first introduction to the beverage for most people. However, there are many coffee brewing options. Each option affects the taste of the coffee.
Espresso involves brewing coffee using pressure. An espresso machine forces water through densely packed, fine grounds. The result is a robust and flavorful shot of coffee (2). It’s common to mix espresso with steamed milk or milk foam. This method moderates the intense flavor of the espresso and makes it easier to drink.
French press coffee allows the grounds to soak for some time, through a process called steeping. Once the steeping is complete, you push the grounds down to separate them from the liquid coffee. This slower method makes smooth coffee that allows you to taste the complex flavors from the beans (2).
The options don’t stop there! Pour over coffee makes flavorful, hot coffee fast with a mild, smooth flavor. Once you master the art of the pour over, it does not take long to prepare a delicious cup. Pour overs are like drip coffee, but slower. The extended time that the water has to seep through the grounds causes the flavors to be more apparent.
Cold brew coffee sits for hours in cold water to create a low-acid, extra smooth drink. Some people will add nitrous to create a nitro-cold brew that acts like a stout beer (3).
If none of these methods appeal to you, keep doing your research until you find something that fits your schedule, budget, and taste buds. The options are seemingly limitless. Almost every region of the world has a unique method of preparing coffee that you can try.
Consider the Different Types of Coffee Beans
Most coffee beans you purchase today fall into two categories – Arabica and Robusta. Each has its unique flavor.
Arabica beans are the most popular in the United States. The beans are slightly sweet and less acidic than Robusta beans. These beans are best for making pour over or drip coffees. Espresso or cold brew preparation can make the taste bland.
Robusta beans are more popular in Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. As such, we often associate their flavor with the bold brewing styles of the region, like espresso, Turkish coffee, or French press. These beans have a strong, bold, slightly bitter flavor with a hint of chocolate (4).
Coffee Blends vs. Single-Origin
As the names suggest, single-origin coffees have beans that all come from the same place while coffee blends include beans from multiple locations.
Single-origin coffees allow you to experience the full flavor profile of one bean. Because coffee plants don’t grow year-round, bags of single-origin beans are often more expensive than blends.
When you mix coffee beans from different regions, you can create a blend with a complex, unique flavor. It also makes the coffee cheaper because they will use the in-season options (5).
Light Roast vs. Medium Roast vs. Dark Roast
The roast of a coffee refers to how long it cooks and the color of its beans.
Light roast coffee beans are light brown. They have a more bright yet subtle flavor profile and are more acidic than other roasts. These beans are much drier and lack the oils of the longer-roasted options.
Medium roast is the most traditional and most common roast. Moderate is the best description for both the color and acidity levels of medium roasted beans. Despite falling in the middle in most categories, medium roast beans have the most complex and robust flavor profile of any roasting style.
Dark roast coffee cooks the longest. As a result, these beans have a dark color with a less acidic profile than medium or light roasts. Dark roast beans have a distinct, oily appearance and feel. Even though the longer cooking time takes out some of the complexity, the overall flavor remains full.
The Roast Date Matter More than you might Think!
The roast date describes when the roaster prepared your coffee beans. Sometimes, packages of coffee will sit on a shelf at the store for a long time. Even though the packaging isn’t open, it may not be fresh.
Knowing the roast date ensures that you’re drinking only the freshest and best-tasting coffee beans.
USDA Organic – what does this really mean?
A farm receives an organic designation if they can prove that they don’t use synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, or other prohibited substances. Buying organic coffee guarantees that you won’t be inadvertently ingesting any of these dangerous chemicals with your morning cup of joe.
All coffee brewing methods involve water. This process means that any residual pesticides of unhealthy products on the surface of the beans can find their way into your coffee and body. Organic coffee eliminates this possibility.
Look for the Fair Trade Badge
Coffee is hard to grow and harvest. Farmers and laborers involved in the picking and growing work very hard. The fair trade badge promises that everyone involved in creating that bag of coffee received fair compensation.
Coffee without the fair trade seal is often cheaper than those with the designation. Even though it’s more budget-friendly, when you purchase coffee that’s not certified fair trade, you risk supporting systems that don’t pay their workers or farmers a living wage.
Choose decaf carefully
Decaf coffee beans are regular coffee beans, with most of the caffeine removed. For decaffeinated coffee without added chemicals, look for beans processed using the Swiss Water Process.
This process involves soaking the seeds in water and then filtering out the caffeine and other soluble compounds. When treated this way, you can continue to enjoy your coffee late into the day without staying awake all night long.
Popular Countries of Origin
Some plants taste the same no matter where you grow them. Onions, potatoes, and kale, for example, have universal flavors. Coffee, however, takes on a unique character as a result of its growing conditions.
The altitude, temperature, and precipitation all affect the coffee bean. Another critical factor is how much daylight the plants receive each day. Areas closer to the equator have longer days than those further away. The fertilizers and type of soil play a role as well.
Below, we cover some of the key attributes of the different growing regions.
Brazil and Colombia are two of the primary coffee exporters in South America and indeed the whole world. South American coffee is known for its balanced, smooth flavors.
Brazilian coffee is a palatable introduction for those learning to love the drink. There are often nutty or chocolatey tasting notes. Because of its easy drinkability and favorable growing conditions, Brazil is now the leading exporter of coffee in the world.
Colombian coffee is mellow like that from Brazil. However, its beans present a more caramel or nutty aroma. Beans from Colombia often establish an aroma standard for varieties grown in other places.
North American coffee is as varied as the continent itself. When you consider the different growing regions, it makes sense. You’d expect a different flavor from coffee grown on a tropical island than one high in the mountains.
On one end of the spectrum, you have Kona coffee from the Hawaiian Islands. Kona coffee is known for its sweet flavor, with hints of brown sugar, milk chocolate, honey, and fruit. This style of coffee plant can only grow on the Big Island of Hawaii.
On the other side, you have Central American coffee beans. They’re known for having bold, complex flavors. These coffees tend to be more floral and citrusy. Honduras produces the strongest brews, while Guatemala and other countries are milder but still intense.
An earthy, wine-like taste defines the flavor profiles of African coffees. Ethiopia and Kenya are the two primary producers of coffee on the continent, but other countries grow small amounts.
Ethiopian coffee is the gold standard of all African coffees. It has a distinctive taste that no other growing area can recreate. The flavors resemble wine and have bright, complex berry notes.
Kenyan coffee beans are similar to Ethiopian, but have a brighter tasting profile.
Sumatra beans grow in Indonesia and dominate the coffee market in Asia. Many other Asian countries grow coffee beans, but they don’t match the favored flavor or popularity of Indonesian beans.
An earthy flavor defines Sumatran coffee. Sometimes, there will be sweet hints of chocolate or licorice as well.
Sumatran coffee tends to have lower acidity than other parts of the world. This characteristic makes it easier for people with stomach or gastrointestinal issues to consume. (6)
Three Red-flags to Watch Out For When Choosing
When buying your next pound of beans, there are a few red flags to watch out for that might indicate your coffee won’t be fresh. As we’ve discussed, part of what makes the best coffee beans great is their freshness. Stale beans will never make for a delicious cup of coffee.
1. Improper Storage
Exposure to air causes coffee beans to dry out and go stale. Coffee beans must be in airtight containers for optimum freshness and flavor. Any storage method that doesn’t control exposure is a no-go.
Bulk bins or self-serve coffee beans in grocery stores seem fantastic in theory. You can purchase the amount you need and reduce the amount of packaging. However, these containers are not airtight. You’re likely to find yourself with flavorless, old beans when you get home.
It’s also essential to keep your beans in sealed containers at home. If you order massive quantities of your favorite bean to take advantage of a bulk discount, try to have it bagged by the pound. That way, you can maintain its quality longer. If that’s not possible, consider splitting your beans into multiple airtight containers to prevent exposure until you’re ready to use them.
The best practice is to purchase only the coffee that you’ll use before it goes bad. Even though it’s tempting to keep extra on hand or buy in bulk, it’s not always worth the sacrifice in taste.
2. Use-By Date, Instead of a ROAST Date
The use-by date on a bag of coffee indicates the time at which it becomes unsafe to consume. It’s the date after which the chemical properties begin to change, and the product starts to go rancid. For most sealed bags of coffee, the use-by date is one year after it’s roasted.
Most coffee roasters agree that coffee tastes best between 8 and 30 days after it’s cooked. When you see the roasting date, you can check for yourself that you’ll be able to use it when the flavor is ideal. There’s a noticeable difference in taste between coffee at its best and just before spoiling (7).
3. Ground Coffee
The shell of coffee beans protects the oils and flavor inside. Grinding coffee releases the aroma in the air and prepares the beans’ surface area to create optimum flavor. It also creates many opportunities for contamination.
When you expose ground coffee to air or leave it sitting for a long time, it will dry out and lose its aroma even faster than whole bean coffee. Additionally, ground coffee will absorb any nearby smells. So, if you store your ground coffee next to your spices, you might be in for an unexpected flavor in your cup.
Even if your ground coffee doesn’t pick up other tastes, it will likely go stale quickly. Some studies show that ground coffee loses over half of its aroma in 15 minutes. Imagine what will happen over a few months in your pantry (8).
Where to Buy Coffee: Buying Online vs Buying Local?
One of the best places to buy coffee beans is your neighborhood coffee shop. It’s not only great to support local businesses, but you also know it’s fresh when you purchase directly from the source. When you can, stop in to visit your local coffee shop to try what they’ve recently roasted.
However, every roaster has a personal style and taste preference. Some coffee producers tend to keep all of their coffees on the lighter side while others only produce darker roasts. Local coffee shops also have set grower connections that result in all of their beans coming from the same farms or regions.
As a connoisseur developing your taste preferences, you want to try beans from all over the world prepared in different ways. After all, you’ll never know what you like best until you’ve tried it.
The internet connects coffee drinkers with high-quality coffee beans from around the planet. In the past, it was risky to order from a roaster you didn’t know. Now, you can vet the roasters and ensure you’re getting what exactly you want. The best coffee beans in the world are only a few clicks away.
Plus, ordering online makes high-end coffee more accessible for busy people who don’t have time for trips to multiple coffee shops to buy their beans. When you purchase any of the best online coffee beans from our list, you will have amazing tasting coffee at your door without any headaches or hassle.
Final Thoughts: What Now?
Now that you know more about how to prepare, store, and choose the best coffee beans, it’s time to start drinking. You can’t go wrong with any of the delicious, high-quality beans on our list. Grab a good coffee maker or espresso machine, and start brewing!
To start your journey through the best coffee beans, we strongly encourage ordering a bag of Death Wish Coffee. You’ll notice the smooth, chocolatey taste without the bitter bite of other dark roasts. With a hearty cup in the morning, you’ll find yourself powering through your day without the jitters, thanks to the extra-high caffeine content. This bold coffee is our top choice for a guaranteed delightful cup.