The coffee industry shares many similarities with the wine industry. Both have incredibly fanatic followings that swear by their own personal methods of creation and consumption. Both similarly spark heated and never-ending debates on what the best tasting versions of these respective drinks are. Obviously taste is highly subjective and the best tasting coffee or wine will totally depend on your personal preferences. That being the case, we've put together this guide to help you identify what coffees may be the best fit for your palate.
This is a guide that won’t select the coffee for you, rather establish guidelines that will help you make the perfect selection. If you're more of a visual person, feel free to use our coffee infographic. If on another hand you don't feel like reading and want our recommendations on the best tasting coffee in our opinion, check out our top 3 picks below. You'll thank us later.
Understanding Different Types of Coffee
Quality and flavors of coffee start before they’re even plucked from the fields.
Coffee beans are primarily cultivated from 2 species of the coffee tree, Arabica, and Robusta trees. There are dozens of different variations of coffee plants, but Arabica and Robusta are the 2 which are used for commercial distribution.
Arabica coffee beans are the cream of the crop, the Bella of the ball. They’re highly regarded as the highest quality coffee (and are also rumored to be the first coffee ever discovered). Arabica often display gentle, yet full, flavors with naturally fruity overtones. Despite their high acidity, Arabica is renowned for it’s lack of bitterness and composition.
Most single origin coffee (coffee that isn’t blended with others) is made from Arabica beans. Coffee blends are often made with lower grade coffee, so Arabica coffee is used in the real good stuff.
Similar to how you don’t mix good whiskey with cola…
Robusta coffee beans are like are like the angsty younger brother of Arabica coffee. Rather than calm and smooth flavors, Robusta beans present harsher, bitter, acidic tones with very prominent aromas.
But these aren’t necessarily bad qualities. Robusta is for people who really need a kick to the gills in the morning. Where Robusta lacks in quality, it makes up for in caffeine (Robusta beans have the most caffeine concentration of any other bean).
Robusta is primarily used to create flavored and instant coffee.
Related Article: Difference Between Arabica and Robusta Coffee Beans
Best Tasting Coffee and Understanding Different Roasting Profiles
In selecting the best tasting coffee for your palate, you'll need to consider your roasting profile. A roasting profile refers to the degree and duration which a coffee bean is roasted. Each profile establishes, draws out, and isolates different attributes of different coffee beans. If you choose a roast profile that doesn’t follow your palate preferences, it usually doesn’t matter which type of bean you brew.
A lightly roasted Arabica might not scratch your itch like a medium roasted Robusta coffee, so understanding the different roasts is essential.
Coffee roasts primarily boil down into 4 categories: light, medium, medium-dark, and dark roasts.
Light roasts are the most acidic of the bunch. Since light roasted beans are baked for short durations, they retain most of their original flavors. Light roasts present very smooth, and citrusy flavors.
If you enjoy lightly toned and fruity flavors, this is the roast for you.
Best Tasting Light Roast Coffee
Volcanica Colombian Geisha Coffee
This single origin, Kosher certified, micro-lot, single origin is one of the best light roast coffees around. Geisha Coffee is already considered one of the most desired coffees in the world. This particular lot of exotic beans are light roasted to perfection allowing their natural flavor to fully express themselves in a fantastically flavorful brew. Perfect for those who enjoy a floral, bright, and fruity cup of coffee. Flavor Notes: Flowers, Tropical Fruits, and Apple Jacks.
Medium roast coffee is statistically the most popular roast of coffee. It’s essentially the standard default selection of roasts, but that isn’t a bad thing at all. From a purely statistical standpoint, it actually means most of the best tasting coffees will likely fall in this category. From its flavors to its aromas, it is a wholesome balance of acidity and full-bodied foundation that can find it’s way into the hearts of pretty much anybody.
If you enjoy a perfectly balanced (as everything should be) cup of joe, get your hands on a bag of American or breakfast roasts, which are notoriously mediumly roasted.
Best Tasting Medium Roast Coffee
Spirit Animal Coffee Catuai Medium Roast
Spirit Animal Coffee is one of our favorites when it comes to high-end Honduran coffee. A genetically more authentic cultivar, their Catuai / San Ramon, expresses refined notes of jasmine, rose tea, juicy tropical fruits. It's a complex coffee that can satisfy a demanding palate. The medium roast allows for a delicious balance that's both bold yet bright. This coffee received our prestigious Best Quality Coffee Editor's Choice award granted only to coffees that exceed our 5 star rating scale on multiple metrics.
Medium-dark roast coffee is just a slight notch above the medium roast and is considered a finer level of roast that not all coffee brands offer. It's tailored for those who crave an incredibly well rounded and balanced cup of java. Medium-dark roasted coffee is baked at higher temperatures, so the oils inside the beans begin to accumulate on the surface. These oils essentially amplify the beans origin flavors, while simultaneously receiving a dark, rich, and sometimes smokey flavor.
This is the perfect selection for those seeking a coffee that has less acidity, but a full bodied and balanced flavor. Medium-dark roast is commonly used on espresso beans. It’s also a very common roast amongst Viennese coffee’s.
Best Tasting Coffee: Medium Dark Roast
Out of the Grey Coffee Yirgacheffe
Yirgacheffe Coffee from Out of the Grey Coffee is one of the company's finest offerings. And given their wide selection of high-quality brews, that's saying a lot. This beans flavor profile yields crisp, deeply sweet, complex flavors of daffodil, lychee, and orange. The chocolaty finish is punctuates an already rich multi-sensory coffee experience. The medium / dark roast is an especially good choice for a coffee with such complex yet balanced flavors.
Dark roasted coffee, or as my grandpa used to call it, “cowboy coffee”, is the well done of coffee roasts, but without the “well done” stigma. Despite how it sounds, dark roasted coffee presents much sweeter tones than the rest. This is because the natural sugars in the coffee beans are allowed to actually caramelize, providing the final product with a very rich flavors with pleasantly sweet overtones.
This is very popular in Italian and French coffee. It’s widely used for multiple types of espresso. If you like to slowly sip and enjoy your morning joe, this is the perfect roast.
Best Tasting Coffee: Dark Roast
Peak Performance Dark Roast
Peak Performance was selected as our best tasting dark roast for a number of reasons. Dark roasts have the tendency to be harsh on the senses, especially when the beans are left in the roaster for too long. This coffee is anything but harsh and is in fact one of the smoothest coffees we've ever tried. Combine this with an absolutely fantastically clean yet robust flavor, and you have a dark roast that's truly special. This coffee is USDA organic, pesticide-free, single origin, and sourced from the highlands of Guatemala.
Coffee Grounds and Whole-Beans?
Now that you have determined your preferred roast, it’s time to make another important decision.
The difference between whole beans and grounds may seem moot to the untrained coffee lover, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Grounds and whole beans both offer uniquely tailored flavors and can vary in quality.
For example: whole beans will be much fresher than coffee grounds when all other factors are equal. Choosing to grind coffee beans per brew maintains optimal freshness, which results in optimal flavor. If you truly want to experience every ounce of what coffee has to offer, I highly suggest buying whole-beans over grounds.
Now, with that said, I still enjoy (and purchase) grounded coffee from time to time. It offers speedy convenience for early morning coffee, for those who drag themselves out of bed and crawl to their Mr. Coffee. There are plenty of brands that offer top-notch pre-ground coffee that can heavily contend with any whole beans on the market.
Bottom Line: If you want the best tasting coffee experience, you will definitely need to go with the whole bean version. However, it will come at the cost of time.
Different Coffee’s, Different Regions
Coffee is a very experienced traveler. For nearly 500 years it has made its way around the world, exposing different cultures to its glorious potency.
But coffee is not only sold across the world but grown too. The worlds coffee is mainly grown within a stretch of multiple countries across 5 continents known as The Coffee Belt. This string of regions begins in the Tropics of Cancer and ends in the Capricorn region. It runs flush with the equator and hosts perfect conditions for the Coffea plants to thrive.
Now why am I telling you this?
Because all of these countries present unique qualities and traits to their locally grown coffee. Differences in environments can alter how coffee tastes from region to region.
Columbian coffees are usually very rich and sweet. A perfect selection for people looking for a full-bodied flavor with an impressively balanced consistency. While Brazil, another South American country that dominates the coffee markets, produce coffee that is more bitter, with chocolaty overtones.
Other countries such as Ethiopia and Kenya produce coffee with very high acidity, which provides a very sharp and fruity flavor. This is perfect for people who like a little bite in their coffee, but with a gentle and bitter tones, similar to dark chocolate. Check out our article on choosing your coffee by country for even more detailed information.
The following infographic for choosing the best tasting coffee will outline the differences between coffee from various regions.
The bottom line is that only you can decide what’s best for your palate. Again, this article isn’t meant to choose for you, rather serve as a guide to help lean you in a good direction. Like wine, quality coffee isn't cheap and so you'll want to make the most out of your hard earned coffee dollars. As we mentioned at the start of this article, one person's idea of the best tasting coffee will not be the same as another's. Furthermore, individual palates change with time and so the best tasting coffee for a person can change depending on their mood.
Even so, hopefully this guide on choosing the best tasting coffee will have helped you narrow down your options so you get the multi-sensory coffee experience you were looking for. Take your time, and have fun with experimenting with different coffees, roast profiles, and brewing methods.