Who do you think spends the most money on products of a given type? Experts or novices? When I was in business school this question was posed to us. I thought back to all the car guys I knew in high school who would spend every check they had on new car parts, and I thought it had to be the experts. So are experts the ones who are willing to spend more?
Although this fact may be true in some cases, in general the experts actually spend less money…because, as experts they know what to look for! Coffee experts and connoisseurs often spend less money than regular people because they have trained senses and know how to look beyond marketing fluff and focus on the product attributes that matter.
One such way of determining high quality coffee is through an often overlooked aspect of the coffee bean: the coffee aroma.
What Can Smell Tell You About Your Coffee?
You may ask yourself, what's the best way to spot high-quality coffee beans without having to empty your wallet? Sure, sampling different coffees would be a lot of fun but it's also costly.
One of the easiest ways to tell if you are getting high-quality coffee is actually through smell. Believe it or not, olfactory senses and taste are very much connected. Folks with refined noses can actually smell flavor. The first thing to look for in coffee aroma is potency. In other words, how strong is the aroma? Coffee beans begin to lose their smell quickly after being roasted. By 9 months of storage the beans have almost no aroma, and by 18 months they begin to take on a slight rancid smell. This rancid smell is not to be confused with the “fishy smell” that often accompany darker roasts.
The strength of the smell alone is going to tell you how old the coffee beans are, which in turn speaks to the quality of the taste. You may think that sounds like a long time to store beans, but many companies will keep the expiration date for 2-3 years after roasting. It may lose its flavor, but it won’t make you sick, and they want to keep it on the shelf for as long as possible.
This is why it's very important to check the roast date. It's a better indicator of quality than the “best by” date which can sometimes seem arbitrary.
What Smells Should You Look for?
Besides the strength in the coffee scent you also want to look out for what you are smelling. This step will vary from person to person since everyone has varying sense of smell.
If you like your coffee to have a heartier body with more chocolaty notes you’re going to want to look for darker beans that have been roasted longer. If you like your coffee lighter and more fragrant you should be looking for more floral notes which manifest themselves in the coffees aroma. These are qualities you should be able to smell if the coffee is fresh. If you can smell a hint of sweet caramel, bright lemon flavor, or floral notes you know you’ll be able to taste them as well.
Don’t just use your nose to smell the bag of coffee though, have fun and experiment with what you like. When you’re trying out a new brand start out by smelling the coffee in different stages.
- First smell the whole bean
- Next smell it right after it’s been ground
- If doing a pour over inhale the bloom (ground coffee after wet)
- Finally, right before your first sip take a big whiff of the steam and enjoy that final scent!
If you don’t get it perfect the first time that’s okay! Like anything, using your nose to test the quality may take a few attempts, but it won’t be long until you start to see the quality in your coffee rise as well as the money in your bank account. This may seem super nerdy, but consider taking down notes on how the coffee smelled compared to how the coffee tasted. You can get as detailed or general as you like. But the most important thing to do is have fun with it. As the saying goes, practice makes perfect. Keep smelling coffee beans and you'll find your olfactory sense will be trained to become more and more refined. With these tips, you'll be a coffee-sniffing connoisseur in no time.
Out of the Grey Coffee
This is one of our fan favorites that easily has one of the best smelling coffee aromas that we've come across. The freshness and depth of flavor really comes out when you get a whiff of their fresh roasted beans. The freshness is apparent in the coffee's pre-brew aroma. In particular, we recommend smelling and tasting their Jamaican Blue Mountain brew.
If you're a coffee pod or K-Cup user and want an incredible smelling coffee, then check out their organic Sumatra brew. It's a single origin, organic, Fair Trade, and BPA-free coffee pod that bursts with the robust scent of pure unadulterated coffee. Even for those who aren't big fans of Sumatran coffee, you'll still likely appreciate its woody, bold, and rich scent.