Nothing beats that first sip of coffee in the morning. But behind every good cup of coffee is a batch of well-roasted coffee beans. Whatever your chosen brewing method – french press, espresso or filter – you’ll need the best coffee beans for the job if you want to get the maximum enjoyment from every cup.
When it comes down to it, though, buying the best coffee beans is not as simple as it might initially seem. Do you go for a darker or lighter roast? Blend or single origin? Pre-ground or whole bean? Think about it for too long and you might be tempted to give up the whole pursuit and buy some instant granules instead.
But don’t despair, here we’ve put together a handy buying guide on what to look out for when choosing your coffee, as well as a roundup of our favourite beans that you can buy online. We cover everything from affordable everyday choices to stunning single origin options, and as several of the retailers below provide next-day delivery, your next coffee fix is only a few clicks away.
The best coffee beans: At a glance
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How to choose the right coffee beans for you
What are the different roast types and how do they vary?
Dark roasts are roasted at a high temperature for a longer time, and this makes them more soluble and better suited to the shorter extraction times used in espresso making. The beans will be dark in colour and will sometimes have an oily surface.
On the other end of the spectrum, light roasts have been roasted for a shorter period of time and are less soluble, making them better for filter coffee (such as french press or pour over) which have longer extraction times than espresso. They are lighter in colour and won’t have an oily surface.
Medium roasts, as their name suggests, land towards the middle of the spectrum. They offer a balanced profile between light and dark roasts, while still being well-suited for espresso.
Although your chosen roast level is, up to a point, a matter of taste, using a lighter roast for espresso can result in a sour or tart cup while using a darker roast for filter coffee might taste too bitter.
Another term you might encounter is omni-roast, and as the name suggests this is a roast designed to work with a variety of different brewing methods. It can be a little trickier to eke out all the best flavours from an omni-roast – grind size and dosage (the amount of coffee used) can be more finicky – but the benefit is that you can grind an omni-roast to suit filter coffee, immersion brewing (e.g cafetiere) or espresso as you see fit.
Blend or single origin?
When buying coffee beans, you’ll may see some described as blends, while others proudly tout their single origin status.
Blends are exactly what they say on the tin: they’re comprised of a selection of different types or varietals of coffee potentially sourced from all around the world. The only important factor is that the various types complement each other to produce a pleasingly balanced flavour in the cup. Blends aren’t something to look down on, and, as ever, the quality of the end result comes down to the skill with which the beans and their different flavours have been combined – and to how you make your coffee.
The single origin designation generally indicates that coffee is a cut above the average, and it’s this type of coffee which will often produce the most refined or unusual flavours. It’s actually something of a woolly catch-all term, though, albeit one that’s widely used. It indicates that the coffee you’re buying is exclusively grown in one country, but can mean that it’s plucked from a single geographical region, a specific estate, producer or even a single crop. This is why you sometimes see more specific terms like single farm, single estate or microlot – in the latter case, you’re generally talking about smaller crops which are cultivated for their unique qualities.
Should I buy coffee pre-ground or whole bean?
If you can afford to buy a good coffee grinder, then we’d generally recommend that you buy your coffee whole bean. This is because beans will stay fresher for longer, and you can then adjust the grind size to suit a variety of different coffee makers. You can read our roundup of the best coffee grinders to buy here.
If you’d prefer to buy your coffee pre-ground for convenience, or if your grinder isn’t very good, you may get better results with pre-ground coffee – most, if not all, independent coffee roasters will grind your freshly roasted coffee to suit your specific type of coffee maker.
How should I grind coffee beans for the best results?
If you do decide to go DIY and grind your own coffee, you’ll need to think about how fine to grind it. Broadly speaking, espresso requires a fine grind, while at the other end of the scale french press requires a coarse grind. When it comes to pour-over or filter coffee, you want to aim for a grind on the coarser end of espresso.
The key is that you want the hot water to absorb the good flavours from the coffee without bringing the nasty ones with it. If you extract too little flavour from the coffee, you’ll get a weak, sour cup of coffee. Too much, and the intense bitter flavours will overwhelm. If you want your coffee to resemble the tasting notes on the packet, then you need to take some care with the preparation and make small adjustments to get things tasting just so.
How much do I need to spend?
You can spend a small fortune on the finest microlot coffee, but good quality beans can be very affordable.
A 1kg bag of Rounton single origin beans will cost you around £22, for instance. Or, if you’re after after a basic budget choice, you can get a 1kg pack of Lavazza Qualita Rossa beans for just £10. If you just want a quick, basic espresso, you don’t need to spend a fortune.
Single origin coffees from speciality roasters can command a hefty premium, however. A 200g or 250g bag often costs upwards of £10, and rarer coffees edge towards the £20 mark and beyond. That said, once you’ve discovered a single origin coffee you love, you can get some worthwhile discounts by buying larger 1kg bags.
The best coffee beans
1. Lavazza Qualita Rossa: The best cheap coffee beans
Price: £10 | Buy now from Amazon
It’s definitely not the most exciting option on this list, but if you just want a cheap, everyday coffee then the Lavazza Qualita Rossa is a reliable choice – much more so than many of the supermarket options out there. Best of all, you can buy a 1kg bag from Amazon for about £10.
The intensely dark roast is rather too intense in our opinion, but it does lend itself to smoky, strong espressos and cappuccinos, and it punches through even the milkiest lattes. It also makes for a punchy jug of filter coffee, which might be just what some of us need in the mornings.
There’s little here in the way of refinement – you can forget about delicate chocolate, fruit or dessert-flavoured tasting notes – but where some supermarket options can vary hugely in flavour and freshness from bag to bag, the Lavazza Qualita Rossa makes a potent, dependable cup.
Type: Blend, dark roast; Varietal: Robusta/Arabica; Area of origin: Mainly Brazil & Africa; Weight: 1kg
£10.00 (£10.00 / kg) Buy now
2. Volcano Coffee Works Decaf: The best decaf coffee beans
Price: £6.50 (200g) / £32 (1kg) |