Advice from a fellow coffee snob

By Amber Ambrose
Updated February 13, 2018
Credit: Photo by juliannafunk via Getty Images

You’ve turned the coffee corner. It started out as curiosity, morphed into a regular once-a-day trip to your local coffee shop for your morning cortado, and next thing you know you’re buying a grinder and bags of whole bean coffee for at-home consumption. You’ve joined the dark side. It’s OK. We’ve all been down the same rabbit hole. We’ve all been through it, and we’re here to help. We are your fellow coffee snobs, and we just want to make sure you’re getting the good stuff. Now that you’ve got a grinder and presumably more than one way to brew your cup (pour over, Chemex, French press, automatic drip), it’s time to decipher which coffee roasts are best for your intended purposes.

Here’s some guidance courtesy of Sean Marshall, owner/barista of Southside Espresso and Fusion Beans in Houston, Texas.

Choose how you're brewing

Marshall suggests that people using pour over methods like Hario V60 and Chemex are usually more apt to go for more citrusy and floral coffees that tend to have a lighter roast profile. These lighter-to-medium roasts are a “trend and a step away from old school roasters who had this idea of applying something to the beans rather than the other way around.” On the other end of that are fuller-bodied coffees with earthier notes more appropriate for a French press.

Read the liner notes

Pay attention to the flavor profile descriptions on the packages. If they’re more acidic, look for fruity characteristics in the wording like "tangerine, grapefruit, and cherry." Floral can mean lavender or orange blossom. Some of these characteristics are found in the lighter to medium roasts of East African and Central American coffees. Then, you have the earthier, fuller-bodied notes like dark chocolate, cinnamon and even tobacco. Coffees from countries like Indonesia (Java especially) tend to be heavier and can stand up to a darker roast. The packaging will also sometimes tell you when the beans were roasted. The fresher, the better.

Go bold—or not

Sometimes a darker, bolder coffee is assumed to be stronger in caffeine. This is simply not the case, says Marshall. “The amount of caffeine in a coffee bean is not going to change much at all due to the roast profile. It’s what you extract out of the bean. The variables that affect caffeine levels are pressure, time (of extraction), temperature of the water, and the size of the grind.”

Ask for assistance

Chances are, your barista will know the perfect roast if you are overwhelmed with choices. Many coffee shops roast their own coffee, so it’s safe to say these folks know these beans rather intimately. Know your preferred brewing method (which they’ll probably ask you anyway), and think of a few words that might describe your perfect cup. Is it caramel and cashews? Or perhaps a juicy mango with hints of ginger does it for you. Either way, it’s a great exercise in figuring out what it is you like, and staying true to yourself one bean at a time. But, yes, it’s totally OK to ask for help along the way and in fact, it’s downright encouraged.