The Ultimate Guide To Buying Specialty Coffee Beans

Buying coffee used to be simple. You walked down the aisle, grabbed your usual bag of beans, and went on home. There wasn’t much variation in flavor and there really weren't many things to think it about. It was easy… and boring.

Specialty coffee is different. You can buy beans from dozens of origin countries. You can buy coffee with tons of new and diverse flavors. You can buy organic coffee, fair trade, direct trade, bird-friendly, light roasts, arabica, washed process—gaaah. It can feel like a lot sometimes.

Buying specialty coffee beans shouldn’t be stressful or confusing. It should be an adventure.

In this ultimate guide, we’ll break down everything you need to know about coffee beans including…

  • Why specialty coffee is different
  • How light, medium, and dark roasts are tastier than ever before
  • Why coffee genetics matter
  • How processing methods impact bean flavor (hint: it’s dramatic)
  • What coffee from different countries tends to taste like
  • And much more

Here’s our goal: give you all the insights you need to pick out the perfect beans for your taste preferences and coffee lifestyle.

Let’s dive in with the most important part: why specialty coffee is different… and better.

The Rich Rewards Of Specialty Coffee

Coffee’s always given us a way to slow down and enjoy life, but the specialty coffee movement has enhanced that in powerful ways. Before, it was just about sipping a simple mug. But these days, coffee can be so much more.

For us, coffee is a way to embrace happiness in the now.

Opening that bag of freshly roasted beans and breathing in the vibrant aromas. Feeling the beans give way as you grind them by hand. Watching the grounds swell and brew as you pour hot water over them. Sipping that mug of coffee with a rich, complex flavor.

Read: What Makes Specialty Coffee Special?

All of these steps give us a chance to slow down, focus in on something that we care about, and reap the rewards of a mug well brewed. There’s something about brewing coffee by your own hand and savoring the final mug that you just don’t get with low-grade, stale commodity coffee.

In the end, there’s one thing that makes it all worth it…

Strawberries, Spices, And Flowers — In Your Coffee

Specialty coffee beans, because they’re the highest grade of coffee and they’re roasted by craftsmen instead of factory workers, are amazingly flavorful. It’s not uncommon to taste subtle notes of fruits, flowers, and spices.

Ever tasted sweet honey in your coffee? What about the tang and flavor of a red apple? The rich aromas of blueberries? The deep, satisfying notes of milk chocolate or cinnamon?

Read: Learn How To Taste Coffee

No. I’m not talking about flavor oils that are sprayed on during roasting. I’m talking about naturally-occurring, fascinating flavors that are the result of skilled farming, careful roasting, and mindful brewing.

These rich, exotic flavors really draw you in. They help you get out of your head and focus on a moment of peace and gratitude. They give you a chance to appreciate something amazing that was hiding right under our noses all along.

specialty coffee beans

The 3rd Wave Of Coffee

Coffee’s long just been a commodity. Traded, sold, and brewed like oil or cotton. Roasted super dark to eliminate weird flavors from low-quality beans. As a result, it all tasted pretty much the same: carbon, ash, and bitterness.

The specialty coffee movement has left behind these old practices in the pursuit of something better. And we’ve found it. This movement from old to new is often communicated in “waves of coffee”. Let me break it down for you.

  • 1st Wave Coffee — Low-grade commodity coffee, sourced without traceability, roasted without craftsmanship, and sold stale. Think big cans of Folger’s, Seattle’s Best,  and Maxwell House.
  • 2nd Wave Coffee — Stronger emphasis on coffee quality, but even more on creative coffee drinks, like flavored lattes and frappes. The coffee tastes better because it’s a higher grade, but the roasting is still very dark, resulting in mostly bitter flavors. Think Starbuck’s, Peet’s, and your typical local ‘mom and pop’.
  • 3rd Wave Coffee — Very strong emphasis on specialty-grade only coffee. Roasting is totally reimagined to bring out the most flavor possible, usually with a light or medium roast. Origin transparency is valued, and coffee lovers are more connected to the farms and regions and origin countries than ever before. Quality-forward in every way, from brewing with manual brewers to creating art in lattes. Think Intelligentsia, Blue Bottle, and JavaPresse.

When it comes down to it, 3rd wave coffee (most commonly called ‘specialty coffee’) is a complete reinvention of coffee. Every aspect of the supply chain, roasting, brewing, and service has been evaluated and refreshed with a focus on quality and transparency. This is the future of coffee—and it’s worth exploring.

It’ll captivate your sense of wonder. It’ll connect you to the many farmers around the world who are growing stellar coffee. It’ll give you a chance to connect with yourself every morning.

Read: Starbucks VS Specialty Coffee: What's The Difference?

Let’s discover where it all begins.

Always Seek Freshly Roasted Coffee Beans

Coffee beans are an agricultural product. They’re the seeds of a cherry that grows on a tree—they’re not produced in a factory somewhere.

Like all agricultural foods, coffee beans are best when brewed fresh. At peak freshness, just a few days after being roasted, the sugars are sweet, the natural oils put off vibrant aromas, the acids are crisp and balanced, and there’s very little bitterness.

However, the beans start to decay quickly. The sugars disappear, the oils evaporate away, the acids break down into bitter compounds, and the once-clear flavor becomes muddy and indistinguishable.

Read: Why Your Grinder Is The Most Important Piece of Coffee Gear

This loss of flavor and freshness can damage the fullness of your daily brew, which means it’s harder to really appreciate the coffee and truly enjoy the moment.

Here’s the rule: coffee beans are only fresh 2-3 weeks after being roasted. Pre-ground coffee? Those grounds only have 20-30 minutes of peak freshness before they start decaying rapidly.

Here’s how to tell how fresh the beans are before you commit to buying a bag:

  • Avoid “best by” dates on bags. The dates are always months in the future, which means the roaster’s trying to make you think that the beans are at peak freshness for months, not weeks (hint: they’re not).
  • Look for “roasted on” dates. Roasters that publish the exact date the coffee was roasted aren’t afraid of telling you the truth. This is the mark of a transparent, quality-forward roaster.

Fresh is best. Always.

Read: How To Pair Your Coffee Brewer With Its Perfect Grind Size

Coffee Roast Levels 101

Roasting coffee in the specialty world looks a lot different than commodity roasting. In the commodity world, very dark roasts rule the day because they sort of knock out the bad flavors of low-grade coffee beans.

In the specialty world, however, we don’t have to “roast away” bad flavors. Our goal is to emphasize the good ones—and that normally happens by roasting the coffee a little lighter.

coffee bean roast levels

Light Roast Coffee

Light roast beans are typically a dark tan color and have no visible surface oils. Since they’re technically the ‘least roasted’, they retain more of the unique flavors and characteristics of the origin farm than other roast levels.

Light roasts typically have a vibrant, crisp acidity that enhances the brighter flavors of the beans. Floral and fruity notes tend to really poke out at this roast level, partially because of the brighter acidity. Light roasts also tend to have a light body, bright aromas, and no bitterness.

Read: How To Taste Coffee Acidity

Grinding light roast beans is more difficult because they’re more dense. Don’t be alarmed if they feel extra hard or resistant to your grinder.

Flavor Profile:

  • Very characteristic of the origin farm
  • Crisp acidity
  • Floral and fruity flavors and sweetness
  • Light body
  • Bright aromas
  • No bitterness

Medium Roast Coffee

A little darker, medium roast coffees are a light brown color and rarely have any surface oils. These beans still feature most of the unique characteristics of the origin farm or region, but they package them in a more approachable, smoother flavor profile.

Medium roasts tend to take those exotic flavors and trim off their edges. A pleasant caramel or honey sweetness forms, rounding out the acidity a bit and creating a greater sense of balance. A slight bitterness may appear, but it’s minor and actually contributes to the well-rounded flavor.

Read: How To Taste Coffee Aroma

Flavor Profile:

  • Characteristic of the origin farm
  • Smooth acidity
  • Floral and fruity flavors
  • Honey or caramel sweetness
  • Medium body
  • Rich, rounded aromas
  • Light pleasant bitterness

Dark Roast Coffee

Dark roasts of specialty coffee still aren’t as dark as the dark roasts of commodity coffee. These beans are a dark brown color and often have a thin oily sheen on their surfaces.

Flavor-wise, dark roasts are less characteristic of the beans’ origin, but they’re not uniform or boring. They can still be diverse and satisfying. The brighter acids and more exotic notes are smoothed out, the aromas become deep and rich, a darker sweetness like chocolate or molasses forms, and notes of spice, earth, and wood appear.

Read: How To Taste Coffee Bitterness

Flavor Profile:

  • Fewer characteristic of the origin farm
  • Mellow acidity
  • Deep spice, earth, and woody flavors
  • Molasses or chocolate sweetness
  • Heavy body
  • Rich, deep aromas
  • Pleasant bitterness

French, Vienna, Italian, And Other Super-Dark Roasts

We strongly suggest avoiding darker-than-dark roasts. These roast levels are so dark that all of the pleasant flavors of the coffees are “roasted away”.

That crisp acidity? Gone. Refreshing sweetness? Gone. Vibrant aromas? Gone. What you have left are flavor notes of ash and carbon, followed by a harsh bitterness.

dark roast coffee

These are not fun coffees.

Arabica VS Robusta Coffee Species

There are hundreds of coffee plant species grown around the world (mainly in Africa), but we really only see two of them grown commercially: Coffea Arabica and Coffea Canephora (or, Robusta). These two species produce very different coffee, and it’s important to know which you’re getting when you buy a bag of coffee.

Read: The Incredible Journey Of The Coffee Bean (Seed To Cup)

Arabica Coffee

Arabica plants look like the ballerinas of coffee shrubbery. They have few branches, don’t grow a ton of coffee cherries, and appear on the delicate side. But it’s actually a good thing. With fewer branches, each coffee bean get more nutrients, which leads to the amazing, complex flavors we love about specialty coffee.

Arabica coffee is what you’ll find in specialty coffee shops around the world. The flavors are diverse, the acids are crisp, the sugars are sweet, and there’s not a ton of bitterness.

Robusta Coffee

On the other hand, robusta coffee plants look like the football players of coffee. They’re big, dense, and grow tons of cherries each season (which reduces the price). However, the bulkier plants don’t distribute as much nutrients to each bean, which results in less extraordinary flavors.

Read: The Differences Between Arabica And Robusta Coffee

And, to add to the lack of flavor, robusta plants produce a ton of bitter compounds. This helps ward off pests on the farm, but it also causes the brewed coffee to be very bitter and unpleasant. One of the bitter compounds that robusta plants make a lot of is actually caffeine, and mugs of robusta coffee are known to have 50%+ more caffeine than mugs of arabica coffee.

We suggest sticking with arabica coffee beans. They’re tastier, have more manageable caffeine levels, and buying them is typically more sustainable for farmers.

The Coffee Variety To Look Out For

When you’re looking at a genetic family tree for plants, there’s a level that’s underneath species: varieties. These are essentially genetic sub-species. Planting specific varieties can have major impacts on the farm-level, but most of them taste pretty much the same. There are a couple outliers, however.

The geisha variety is one of these outliers. The variety was brought from Ethiopia to Panama in the early 1900’s, but was lost among the changing farm lines. In the early 2000’s, the farm Hacienda La Esmeralda “rediscovered” the plant on its farm and began to grow it commercially.

Beans from this variety have a unique and exotic acidity that enhances the vibrant floral aromas. In the last twenty years, this variety has captured the imagination of the coffee world. It’s certainly one you should try—through you should be prepared to pay a pretty penny for it.

Read: Why You Need To Be Drinking Coffee Black (And How To Start)

Single Origins VS Blends

We love the diversity of coffee flavor in specialty coffee. It’s why we popularized “single origin” coffees. But these coffees aren’t for everyone—blends absolutely still have their place. Let’s take a look at how they differ and why you might choose one over the other.

single origin vs blends

Single Origins

A single origin coffee is essentially a coffee that’s from a single farm, or sometimes a micro-lot on a farm. Since all the beans in the bag are from this one location, the unique flavors and characteristics are really apparent, rather than being sort of smoothed out by the presence of coffees from different regions or countries.

This is what makes single origin coffees exciting. They’re wholly themselves, as exotic as they want to be, and as unique as the farm and farmer will help them become. This gives us tons of flavor diversity.

Read: Blends VS Single Origin Coffee: Which Is Right For You?

Coffees from Ethiopia and Kenya usually taste wildly different, even though they’re neighboring countries. Beans from Sumatra and Bali have their own flavors, even though both islands are part of Indonesia. Even two coffees from two farms on opposite sides of the volcano in Guatemala can feature different flavors. The diversity is thrilling to explore.

However, single origins do have a couple weaknesses. For one, they’re seasonal products and rarely last more than a couple months. Secondly, they’re generally less consistent or forgiving than blends when it comes to brewing, which can irritate some people who would prefer a more steady brew. And thirdly, the more exotic flavors sometimes are a little too wild for more traditional coffee lovers.

Pros:

  • Extreme level of flavor diversity
  • You can easily taste the skill of high-level farmers
  • Exotic flavors

Cons:

  • Exotic flavors are not always well-rounded
  • Available seasonaly
  • Sometimes more difficult to brew consistently

Coffee Blends

Blends have changed a lot over the last couple decades. Before specialty coffee, blending beans was a way to round out the less desirable flavors of low-grade coffee. These days, blending is more about pairing complementary flavors to create unique experiences.

Skilled roasts like to pair a deeper coffee, like a Mexican with earthy and chocolatey notes, with a brighter one, like a floral and tangy Kenyan bean. This creates a sense of balance and well-roundedness that’s uncommon with single origins, while still keeping this fresh and exciting.

There is, generally, less diversity among blends, however, which is why most specialty roasters only offer two or three at most (compared to four to eight single origins).

Read: Gifting Coffee Beans: 3 Things To Do (And 3 To Avoid)

Modern blends do still smooth out the rougher edges of single origins, it’s just not the main goal anymore. And this does make blends more consistent and forgiving when it comes to brewing. Blends are also available for much longer—often year-round—since the ingredient beans are being used more slowly.

Pros:

  • Well-rounded, complimentary flavors
  • Consistent, forgiving brewing
  • Often available year-round

Cons:

  • Not nearly as much flavor diversity
  • Less flavor clarity and fewer exotic notes

Coffee Processing Methods And How They Taste Different

The ways coffee cherries are processed at the farm have long been unheard of by coffee lovers. Only recently have regular folks cared about this—and we care a lot. The flavor differences between these three methods can be very dramatic (and even polarizing).

Note: The information below is made up of generalizations. The exact steps change from farm to farm and country to country when we get down to the fine details, but they almost always align with one of these three main categories.

Read: Should You Store Your Coffee Beans In The Freezer?

coffee processing methods

Natural Process

The natural process (also called the ‘dry process’) uses the least amount of technology of the three processes. It also takes the longest, which means there are more chances for something to go wrong. Most natural process coffees aren’t specialty-grade, but the ones that do make it to that level are very distinct.

Harvested cherries are laid out on large patios or raised beds and allowed to sun-dry for two to four weeks. When the cherries are a dark purple and shriveled up, the beans can easily be squeezed out by hand or forced out with a depulping machine. From here, beans are laid out on patios again for another several days or couple weeks until they reach the safe moisture level for shipping and storage: 8-12%.

Because the beans are dried mostly inside the cherry, they tend to feature an exotic, wild fruitiness that you cannot find in coffee from the other processes. The acidity level is lower, the sweetness is more noticeable, the body is a bit heavier, and the aromas are incredibly vibrant.

A common example is the natural processed Ethiopian coffee. These beans are some of the fruitiest ones out there, featuring bright notes of strawberries or blueberries. They’re so exotic that many people don’t enjoy them, but we tend to fall head-over-heels for them in the professional specialty world.

Read: Coffee Bean Processing: The Natural Method

Flavor Impact: Exotic fruity flavors, low acidity, heavy body, rich sweetness, vibrant aromas

Washed Process

The washed process (also called the ‘wet process’) is faster and more controlled. The average washed coffee is a higher quality bean than the average natural process because of this extra control. Here’s how it works…

Harvested cherries are submerged in water and allowed to ferment for one to five days. The water is drained and the cherries are moved to a washing station, where they’re washed hard enough to separate the beans from the fruit and skin of the cherry. From here, the beans are laid out on large patios or raised beds for several days until they reach the target moisture level.

Because the fruit is separated from the bean after a few days (rather than a few weeks), the beans don’t have as much of a wild fruity flavor. However, they do still have fascinating flavors—and they’re more clear and less ‘muddy’ than natural process coffee flavors. Body tends to be lower and acidity levels tend to be more crisp.

Read: Coffee Bean Processing: The Washed Method

Flavor Impact: Fascinating flavors, flavor clarity, high acidity, light body

Honey Process

The honey process is a sort of midway point between the two methods with its own little spin.

Harvested cherries are soaked in water for a couple days, then rinsed like in the washed process. However, not all of the cherry is removed from the beans. A layer of mucilage (the sticky fruity part) stays on the beans while they dry on patios or raised drying beds for another several days.

Removing the skin of the cherry but leaving the mucilage creates a noticeable sweetness that’s uncommon with the other methods. Coffees tend to have a medium body, medium acidity, and a medium flavor clarity.

Read: Coffee Bean Processing: The Honey Methods

Flavor Impact: Enhanced sweetness, medium body, medium acidity, medium flavor clarity

What About Decaf?

Decaf has a bad reputation, and it’s not really a surprise. Back in the 1970’s, one of the commonly used solvents in the decaffeination process, trichloroethylene, was declared a “cancer alert” by the National Cancer Institute. Yikes!

specialty decaf coffee

These days, however, decaf coffee is as healthy as any other coffee. The three main ways its created are all safe, though they have varying degrees of success when it comes to flavor quality.

  • The CO2 Method — Beans are soaked in CO2 that’s halfway between a liquid and gas state (I have no idea what that would look like). The CO2 selectively collects the draws the caffeine out of the beans, but leaves everything else behind. The CO2 can then be ran through a charcoal filter to remove the caffeine and make it reusable. This process is uncommon because it’s so expensive.
  • The Chemical Solvent Method — Beans are soaked in near-boiling water for a couple hours, and the brewed liquid is transferred to another tank containing one of two solvents, Ethyl Acetate or Methylene Chloride. These chemicals bond to the caffeine molecules quickly and are filtered out. The brewed concentrate is then reabsorbed by those same beans. It’s fast and cheap, but it really destroys the coffee’s flavor.
  • The Swiss Water Method — Water alone decaffeinated the coffee in this method. Beans are soaked for several hours in warm, pressurized water. The green coffee extract is forced through a charcoal filter that collects only the caffeine. Fresh beans are then submerged in the extract. The caffeine is extracted by the hot water, but the sugars, oils, acids, and other flavor compounds are left inside the new beans since those molecules are already present in the extract. It’s not fast, but it preserves the beans flavors with great success.

Read: The Best Time Of The Day To Consume Caffeine

You’ll only Swiss Water decaf in the stores of specialty coffee roasters. It’s the most successful method for retaining flavor and it doesn’t use a single additional chemical—only water. And trust me, there are some truly exceptional decaf coffees out there.

What World Regions To Buy Coffee From

We believe every corner of the world grows coffee worth trying, but that doesn’t mean that every country will grow coffee that you personally enjoy. Let’s take a generalized look at how the main coffee growing regions of the world produce incredible diversity of coffee flavor.

central american coffee

Central America

Most coffees grown in Central America are processed via the washed method and are grown at high altitudes. This gives most beans from the region a characteristic crisp acidity and a high degree of flavor clarity.

Mexican coffees are the exception of the region. Many of them are grown at lower altitudes that create a heavy body and deeper flavor profile with notes of earth, chocolate, and spice.

Beans from Guatemala can be very diverse (it’s one of the most climatically diverse countries in the world), but they all tend to have that typical bright acidity and many have notes of red apple, spice, and a honey sweetness.

Panama grows some of the most stellar coffee of the region. Its beans often have a fascinating and vibrant floral aroma and crisp acidity.

Read: What Are The Differences Between Drip and Pour Over Coffee Brewers?

South America

This massive continent has a large degree of diversity when it comes to its coffee growing, which makes it a lot harder to make generalizations about. There’s fruity coffee, there’s earthy coffee, there’s nutty coffee, and really about every other kind of coffee you could imagine.

Ecuador’s coffee farms are high up in the Andes mountains. The 6,000-10,000ft elevation gives these coffees a crisp acidity and the volcanic soil tends to encourage the creation of gentle fruity notes.

Colombia is especially famous for its coffee. The country grows arabica beans exclusively. Many of them turn out to have a crisp acidity and notes of citrus, chocolate, and flowers. Others are more heavy-bodied and bold with notes of spice and forestry.

The beans of Brazil can be all over the board flavor-wise, but because of the country’s lower elevation farmland, most coffees tend to have a mellow acidity and heavier body.

Asia

Most of the coffee grow in this area of the world comes out of Southeast Asia, though there are large coffee industries in Yemen and India as well.

Thailand doesn’t grow a ton of arabica coffee, but the specialty-grade beans that do come from the Northern part of the country tend to have a medium acidity and deep notes of spice and flowers.

Vietnam is actually the world’s second largest coffee producer. Unfortunately, nearly all the coffee is from the robusta species and goes into making instant coffee.

A newcomer to the specialty industry, Myanmar (formerly Burma) produces some fascinating coffee. Similarly to coffee from Burundi, beans from this origin often have a crisp cola-like acidity and fascinatingly complex flavor profile.

Read: Why You Should Ditch Your Drip Coffee Pot For A French Press

The Pacific

Many islands in the Pacific grow excellent coffee, though many farmers in this world region traded their arabica plants for robusta ones when a widespread pestilence decimated the coffee industry in the mid-1800’s. For this reason, specialty-grade coffee is slightly less common.

Sumatra, Indonesia is an extremely famous coffee origin. Beans from here tend to have a mellow acidity, heavy body, and rich flavors of spice and pine. Some of these beans really taste like you’re walking through a forest.

Papua New Guinea grows a decent amount of specialty-grade coffee. Beans often have a crisp acidity and notes of milk chocolate, spice, and nuts.

Far across the ocean in lies a remote coffee origin: Hawaii, USA. Beans from here frequently have a refined flavor profile featuring fruity and floral notes, a crisp acidity, and a medium body.

Africa

To the surprise of many, much of Africa didn’t grow coffee until the late 1800’s or even early 1900’s—and it’s the continent that coffee’s native to! As you can imagine, the flavor diversity of the continent is off-the-charts.

Ethiopia, the birthplace of coffee, is especially known for its natural process beans. They often feature wild, exotic fruity aromas, a sugarcane sweetness, and a heavy body.

Burundi, on the other hand, tends to produce light-bodied beans with an exotic tang and very complex flavor that many people believe tastes a bit like Dr Pepper.

The beans of Kenya are generally less fruity than those of its Northern neighbor, but the country still produces wonderful coffee with rich floral notes, a gentle acidity, and a refreshing sweetness.

Read: The Budget Conscious Cold Brew Coffee Setup

Ethics And Sustainability

Coffee, unfortunately, has a dark history. Slavery, poverty, and oppression can easily be found throughout the stories of coffee’s global expansion. And, disappointingly, the effects of these injustices can still be seen in today’s coffee industry.

Prices are unsustainably low. Education among many farming communities is low. Healthcare is often inaccessible in rural farming areas.

Thankfully, good people all across the globe are fighting against the systems that have long plagued coffee growers. In this section, we’ll talk about how you find sources for coffee that are ethically and sustainably-minded.

coffee sustainability

How Much You Should Pay For Coffee Beans

If you account for inflation, the price for coffee on the commodity market (the ‘c-market’) has stayed roughly the same for nearly thirty years, but cost of living is rising in producing countries. Obviously, that’s a big problem.

Specialty coffee companies pay higher prices for their beans because they want their farm partners to grow, not remain stagnant. As a result, they end up charging their customers more for the roasted coffee.

Read: 3 Reasons Buying Cheap Coffee Is Bad For The World

Generally, you can expect to spend between $15 and $25 for sustainably sourced specialty coffee. Those $8 bags at the supermarket? Leave them behind. Those are the kinds of beans that are unsustainable (and the reason young farmers aren’t interested in growing coffee).

But price alone isn’t a great indicator of quality or sustainability. Here are a few other things you can look for to know you’re buying coffee that’s making a difference.

Fair Trade Coffee

Fair Trade USA is an organization that certifies farms that adhere to a strict set of standards. These standards always involve paying farm laborers a fair wage and treating their land with care. As a result, certified farms can charge a higher price for their beans to companies that value sustainability.

Fair Trade is a good force in the world, but it doesn’t account for flavor quality. Two Fair Trade coffees next to each other in a cafe can be wildly different when it comes to quality. Roasters who wanted to ensure a higher level of quality created another way to sustainably source beans.

Read: Fair Trade VS Direct Trade Coffee: Which Is Better For Coffee Sustainability?

Direct Trade Coffee

Many specialty roasters travel to origin countries to make deals directly with farms. This cuts out a couple middlemen and allows relationships to form, rather than just ordering out of a catalog. This way, roasters are able to find and purchase specialty-grade beans for a lower price, but they’re also able to pay a higher price to the farm. For the most part, it’s a win-win.

The drawback, however, is that roasters aren’t economists or trained in poverty alleviation. Critics note that some roasters aren’t able to make lasting change at the farm level because they don’t really know how—but research suggests that this model is still positive overall, especially for the environment.

Organic Coffee

To become certified organic, farms must follow a very strict set of rules that allow them use to a limited number of fertilizers and pesticides. The thing is, most coffee farms already grow organic coffee—they just don’t have the finances to pay for the certification.

Buying organic coffee does encourage farms that have gone through the certification process and reward them for their hard work, but buying certified organic only can unnecessarily penalize farms that simply can’t afford the certification itself.

Read: Searching For Certified Organic Coffee - Is It Worth It?

Buy organic coffee and love it. But also buy non-certified coffee. You’re doing good either way.

rainforest alliance coffee

Rainforests And Birds

Most coffee farms are located in the mist of forests, often rainforests. For this reason, it became apparent that there needed to be a way to protect the livelihood delicate ecosystems within those forests. This brought about the creation of two organizations.

Read: 5 Ways To Make Your Coffee More Eco-Friendly

  • Rainforest Alliance — This non-profit fights the global deforestation pandemic by certifying farms that preserve the local forest they’re a part of. For coffee farms, this often means planting ‘shade trees’ throughout the farm to restore the forest to ecological balance.
  • Bird-Friendly Certification — Similar to the Rainforest Alliance, the non-profit behind this certification is fighting deforestation and the destruction of bird habitats. Certified farms must be organic, have shade trees, and feature a high degree of plant biodiversity.

These are both excellent certifications to look for while searching for coffee, though, like with the organic certification, many farms cannot afford them in the first place.

Where To Buy Freshly Roasted, Specialty-Grade Coffee Beans

Now that I’ve taught you everything I know about buying specialty coffee beans, it’s time I share with you the best places to find them. You have a few options.

  • Cafes — Specialty coffee shops usually have beans from their roasting partner available for sale. The selection is usually limited and sometimes they’re not as fresh as is ideal.
  • Direct From Roaster — Many roasters have their own facilities that they sell freshly roasted coffee from. This is a good way to maximize freshness, but you’re still limited to the origins sourced by a single roaster.
  • Online — Buying beans online opens up a diverse world of coffee origins and flavors that few individual roasters can achieve. Sadly, few online stores actually sell coffee that’s roasted-to-order.

So where’s the best place to get both benefits of diversity and freshness?

Allow me to introduce you to the JavaPresse Coffee Club.

Our roasting partners source coffee beans from some of the best coffee farms across the globe. They roast them like craftsmen, and then we ship the beans directly to you on the same day.

That means you get the beans just 2-3 days after being roasted, which is probably fresher than you’d even find on the shelves of a roaster’s office or cafe.

Many of our offerings are Bird-Friendly certified or approved by the Rainforest Alliance. A couple of them are certified organic of certified Fair Trade. And several of them we sourced via the direct trade model.

  • Sustainably sourced
  • Only specialty-grade arabica beans
  • Sourced from all over the world
  • Shipped to you the same day their roasted

We’re thrilled to share some of the world’s best coffee with you. Want to taste it for yourself?

Check out the Coffee Club!

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