Coffee Selection Guide: How to Choose the Right Coffee for You

The coffee world is a complex, global industry. Coffee is the most popular beverage in the world, with more than 400 billion cups consumed each year and more specifically more than 450 million cups of coffee are consumed in the United States every day. So it seems you don't have to travel far to get a cup in your hands. As a specialty coffee roaster, we take great pride in being able to provide you with specialty beans from around the world.

ROAST LEVEL

Coffee beans are actually a seed of a fruit and are composed of all the essential building blocks that are needed to create a new coffee tree. During the roasting process, we are manipulating these building blocks and creating new components through the application of heat, just like cooking food. Roasting coffee is an art and a science. Each coffee is treated differently when roasting based on the chemical composition and desired outcome of flavor profile. There are some expected flavors that can be achieved from roasting coffee to different “levels”, or degrees of roast, and below is a description of what can be expected from the different roast levels at Ferris.

As a general rule, the vast majority of our coffees at Ferris would be considered “light roasts” when compared to all the available coffee in the market today. This is intentional. We source extremely high-quality green coffee, therefore we want it to taste as much of what makes that coffee unique in the cup. These unique flavors come from the soil composition, growing elevation, coffee varietal, processing method, drying method, and other factors from the origin of where it is grown. When brewed, these coffees tend to have higher levels of acidity and exhibit flavors of fruits, flowers, sweet candies, specific chocolates and nuts, and other highly pointed flavors that make these coffees unique. A “light roast” reveals these flavors rather than hiding them through more application of heat and time in the roasting process. 

As we progress further in the roasting process, and more heat and time are added, the unique flavors from light roasted coffee tend to fade. On a chemical level, sugars in the seeds are caramelizing further and medium roasts are what we believe to be the point of peak sweetness in coffee. Acidity, fruity, and floral notes tend to be less present and the nostalgic chocolate and nutty flavors in coffee are most present at a medium roast. The body of the coffee, or weight and thickness perception on the tongue, is also increased compared to a lighter roasted coffee. A majority of coffee drinkers identify as preferring medium roasts above all else and we think it’s because the sweet, sugary notes in coffee are at their peak. If you prefer less acidity in your coffee but don’t care for the smokey, charred flavors of dark roasts, we recommend trying our medium roast offerings. 

With even more heat and time applied to coffee, we progress into “dark roast” territory. At this point in the roast, the sugar that we’ve caramelized is beginning to char, and progressively turn into more and more carbon. Think about toasting a marshmallow golden brown vs. starting it on fire and turning the outside completely black. The black crust is carbon that has formed from the pyrolytic process of caramelizing sugars deeply. Coffees that have heavily caramelized sugars have a lot of carbon, therefore tend to have notes of smoke, char, very dark chocolate, and sometimes spice. Almost all of the acidity in the coffee is no longer perceivable and the body of the coffee is usually at peak fullness in a dark roast. Sometimes dark roasted coffee can develop an oily surface, which is from fats and lipids inside the coffee seed being forced to the surface. We believe that if oil appears of the surface of coffee, it actually is a sign of over-roasting, so we avoid roasting coffee so dark that oil forms. Our dark roasted coffee is sourced and roasted to achieve flavors like dark chocolate, heavily reduced caramel, and roasted nuts, while providing just a touch of the “char” character that dark roast drinkers look for. 

SINGLE ORIGIN VS. BLENDS

There are a number of differences between the two kinds of coffee, each with their own characteristics. Similar to wine, specific regions, weather, soil, and other variables effect the final product. Like roast, it comes to personal preference when choosing between the two. Single origins offer an opportunity to learn more about a specific region and strengthen your coffee drinking skills, while blends are an approachable tasting experience, still highlighting tasting notes. 

The term single origin is just as it sounds - it means that the beans come from one place only, usually from a certain region, country, or specific farm. Given that they are sourced from one place only, single origin coffees tend to be available exclusively at certain times of year, contingent on the growing season of the geographical location from which they were derived. You can further break it down to single origin micro lot coffees, which derive from a single field on a farm. Facts like this are reflected in the price of single origin coffees. Coffee producing countries each have their own distinct flavor profiles. Central and the South Americas are expected to be clean and sweet while Africa is complex and fruity. 

When coffee beans from multiple locations are roasted and mixed together, this is known as a coffee blend. It is not uncommon to find coffee blends including beans separate places. Just because it consists of multiple locations, doesn't decrease its quality - we make our blends with all of our specialty coffees from our single origin beans. If you are someone who is looking for consistency in flavor profile, consider trying a coffee blend. While single origin coffees aim to celebrate the seasonality in coffee across crop seasons, our blends are designed to have consistent flavor profiles year after year. We use fresh, seasonal coffees in our blends to create flavor profiles that appeal to different groups of coffee drinkers.

At Ferris Coffee, we are continuously striving to improve our coffee quality and purchasing practices. Traditionally, we’ve purchased many common coffees with the intention of keeping them available year-round. The primary reason for this practice was to inject stability into our catalog, however there was one significant drawback. Namely, the vast majority of coffees cannot remain at their best for an entire year which resulted in some loss in quality as we came to the last portion of large lots.

We’ve implemented a new purchasing strategy that will allow us to both ensure all of our coffees remain fresh and to bring in a wider variety of options for you to choose from. This is also a step toward our ultimate goal of purchasing on a 100% direct-trade model. This practice is targeted at our single origin options, our blends will remain available all year round. We hope this is a useful tool for you as you make your coffee purchasing decisions. We’re excited to be able to offer all of these great coffees at their peak and offer some delicious new choices as well.  


Read more about our Sustainability practices here!
2020 coffee calendar availability chart

Check out the video below to see how our VP of Coffee Operations explains the process of cupping.
Learn more about how we choose the specialty coffees we source and get a glimpse at what being a Q-grader is all about.