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For the novice home coffee roaster, buying green coffee beans can be the most confusing aspect of the experience. The few guides to buying green coffee beans available online are either woefully inadequate or are aimed at those who import their beans and deal directly with coffee plantations and processors. While the latter make interesting reading, they have little useful information for the home roaster who just wants to know how to buy the best green coffee beans for his personal use.
These tips won’t tell you how to find out whether the coffee beans you’re considering were wet processed or dry processed, or explain about how beans are graded. It’s good to know those things if you’re purchasing beans for a coffee shop or importing them for sale. For the casual home coffee roaster who wants to buy a few pounds of green coffee beans at a time, it’s information overkill. Instead, these are some things I’ve learned along the way in my own adventures in roasting coffee at home. Some were passed on to me by more experienced home coffee roasters, some came from green coffee bean suppliers and some stem from my own experiences roasting coffee beans over the years. Hopefully, they’ll help you avoid the mistakes I made along the way and guarantee you a delicious cup of home roasted coffee every time.
Find A Trusted Source Of Green Coffee Beans.
This is the primo numero uno golden rule for home coffee roasters. You can’t go out there to check out the coffee plantations and processing facilities, ask questions to make sure the beans were handled properly or inspect the drying grounds to make sure that they’re really dry. You have to buy from someone who does all those things, and whom you can trust to make the right decisions about the green coffee beans they offer for sale. That means you’re looking for someone who puts his reputation on the line with every bag of coffee beans he sells. The stronger that reputation is, the more closely he’ll guard it, so look for coffee bean vendors who have a good reputation and standing in the coffee community. My own personal preferences are:
If this is your first buy, haunt discussion boards frequented by home coffee roasters and take notes on the suppliers they recommend for the best quality and prices.
If your local coffee shop roasts its own beans, have a chat with the owner to find out where she sources her green coffee beans. She may be willing to sell you raw beans, or to part with the name of her own supplier. Coffee lovers — even those who profit from selling their coffee — are surprisingly generous with sharing information with other coffee lovers. She may even give you a tip or two on the best roasting stage for each of the beans.
Buy In Bulk
If you have a cool, dry place to store a 25- or 50-pound sack of green coffee beans, take advantage of the lower prices to stock up on coffee beans that you like. Even a 5- to 10-pound purchase will get you a few cents off per pound. You can store green coffee beans for up to a year without worrying about loss in quality as long as you keep them dry and away from insects and other pests.
If larger purchases are out of your price range, join a coffee coop and take advantage of group buying power. There are some online coffee coops if there’s not one local to you, or you can hook up with a few other local coffee enthusiasts to form your own.
Read Coffee Roaster Reviews
Seriously. If you buy green coffee beans online, buy from a site that allows reviews. You’ll learn a lot from other home coffee roasters who have tried roasting the various coffee varietals offered. Not only will you learn whether the beans live up to their advertising, you’re likely to pick up home roasting tips for those particular coffee beans.
Take a Chance
Most coffee lovers have a tried-and-true favorite they’ll come back to time and again. Mine is Ethiopian Yirgacheffe — it’s easy to roast and very forgiving of little timing errors, and the dark, smokey, earthy, floral notes in it make my tastebuds sing. If I could only drink one coffee for the rest of my life, this would be it. But when Dean Cykon of Dean’s Beans touted his newest find a few years ago, I took a chance on a Sumatran Robusta that he recommended adding to darker roasts. Surprise! It may be a Robusta, but it was better than any of the “100% Arabica” coffees on the shelves at the supermarket — and blending it with my Yirgacheffe brought out subtle flavors I hadn’t noticed before. The moral of the story is: Don’t get stuck in a rut. Every once in a while, indulge in a sampler pack of different coffees that you can experiment with.