Good Coffee vs Great Coffee: What's the Difference?
Hi, this is Brian, a coffee aficionado, blogger, and former Army veteran. I’m here to share with you my passion for coffee and how to differentiate between good and great coffee in taste and quality.
You might think that coffee is just coffee, and as long as it wakes you up in the morning, it doesn’t matter how it tastes or where it comes from. But you would be missing out on a whole world of flavor, aroma, and complexity that can make your coffee experience more enjoyable and satisfying.
In this article, I will explain what makes a great coffee, how to recognize it, and where to find it. I will also give you some tips on how to brew it at home and enjoy it to the fullest.
Let’s get started!
What makes a great coffee?
There are many factors that affect the quality and taste of coffee, from the origin and variety of the beans, to the processing and roasting methods, to the brewing and serving techniques. Here are some of the main ones:
- Origin: Coffee is grown in different regions around the world, each with its own climate, soil, altitude, and culture. These factors influence the characteristics of the coffee beans, such as their size, shape, color, density, and flavor profile. Some of the most famous coffee-producing countries are Brazil, Colombia, Ethiopia, Kenya, Indonesia, and Vietnam. Each country has its own distinctive coffees that reflect its terroir (the natural environment where the coffee is grown). For example, Ethiopian coffees are known for their floral and fruity notes, while Indonesian coffees are known for their earthy and spicy notes.
- Variety: Coffee is not a single species of plant, but a genus that contains hundreds of different varieties or cultivars. Each variety has its own genetic traits that affect its appearance, growth, resistance to diseases and pests, yield, and flavor. Some of the most common varieties are Arabica and Robusta. Arabica is the most widely cultivated and consumed variety in the world, accounting for about 60% of global production. It has a delicate and complex flavor, with high acidity and sweetness. Robusta is the second most popular variety, accounting for about 40% of global production. It has a stronger and bitter flavor, with low acidity and high caffeine content.
- Processing: Processing is the method of removing the pulp and skin from the coffee cherries (the fruits that contain the seeds or beans) after harvesting. There are two main methods of processing: wet and dry. Wet processing involves washing the cherries in water and removing the pulp mechanically or by fermentation. This results in a cleaner and brighter flavor in the coffee beans. Dry processing involves drying the cherries in the sun or by artificial means without removing the pulp. This results in a sweeter and fuller flavor in the coffee beans.
- Roasting: Roasting is the process of heating the green (unroasted) coffee beans to develop their flavor, aroma, color, and texture. Roasting can be done at different levels or degrees, from light to dark. Light roasts have a lighter color and retain more of the original characteristics of the beans, such as their acidity and floral notes. Dark roasts have a darker color and develop more roasted flavors, such as caramel, chocolate, and nuts. The roasting level also affects the caffeine content of the coffee: lighter roasts have more caffeine than darker roasts.
- Brewing: Brewing is the process of extracting the soluble compounds from the roasted coffee beans using water. There are many ways to brew coffee, such as drip filter (pour-over), French press (plunger), espresso machine (pressure), moka pot (stovetop), cold brew (immersion), etc. Each method has its own advantages and disadvantages depending on your preference and equipment. The main factors that affect the quality of your brew are: grind size (how fine or coarse you grind your beans), water temperature (how hot or cold you heat your water), water quality (how pure or mineral-rich your water is), brew ratio (how much water you use per gram of coffee), brew time (how long you let your coffee steep or extract), agitation (how much you stir or swirl your brew), filtration (how much you separate your brew from the grounds), and storage (how you keep your brewed coffee fresh).
How to recognize a great coffee?
Now that you know what makes a great coffee, how can you tell if you have one in front of you? Here are some tips on how to evaluate your coffee using your senses:
- Sight: Look at your coffee before you drink it. What color is it? Is it clear or cloudy? Does it have any foam or crema on top? Does it look appealing or unappealing? A great coffee should have a consistent color that matches its roast level (lighter for light roasts, darker for dark roasts). It should also be clear and transparent without any sediments or particles. If it is an espresso or a milk-based drink, it should have a thin layer of foam or crema that indicates a good extraction and emulsion.
- Smell: Smell your coffee before you taste it. What aroma does it have? Is it pleasant or unpleasant? Does it remind you of anything? A great coffee should have a complex and intense aroma that reflects its origin, variety, processing, and roasting. It should also be fresh and not stale or rancid. Some of the common aromas that you can find in coffee are: floral, fruity, citrus, berry, winey, spicy, herbal, nutty, chocolatey, caramel, roasted, smoky, etc.
- Taste: Taste your coffee after you smell it. What flavor does it have? Is it sweet or bitter? Is it acidic or smooth? Does it have any aftertaste or mouthfeel? A great coffee should have a balanced and harmonious flavor that combines sweetness, acidity, bitterness, and body. It should also have a distinct and recognizable flavor profile that matches its aroma. Some of the common flavors that you can find in coffee are: lemon, orange, grapefruit, apple, peach, cherry, raspberry, blackberry, blueberry, cranberry, raisin, plum, apricot, pineapple, mango, banana, coconut, vanilla, honey, maple syrup, brown sugar, caramel, toffee, butterscotch, chocolate (dark or milk), cocoa, almond, hazelnut, walnut, pecan, peanut butter, cinnamon, clove, cardamom
- Touch: Feel your coffee after you taste it. What texture does it have? Is it thick or thin? Is it smooth or rough? Does it coat your tongue or leave it dry? A great coffee should have a pleasant and satisfying texture that matches its flavor and body. It should also have a smooth and creamy mouthfeel that lingers on your palate. Some of the common textures that you can find in coffee are: velvety (like silk), buttery (like butter), oily (like oil), syrupy (like syrup), watery (like water), gritty (like sand), etc.
Where to find a great coffee?
Now that you know how to recognize a great coffee, where can you find one? Here are some suggestions on where to look for a great coffee:
- Online: One of the easiest and most convenient ways to find a great coffee is to order it online from a reputable and reliable source. There are many online platforms that offer high-quality and specialty coffees from different regions and roasters around the world. You can browse through their catalogues and choose the ones that suit your taste and preference. You can also read reviews and ratings from other customers and experts to help you make your decision. Some of the benefits of ordering online are: you can access a wide range of coffees that you might not find in your local area; you can get fresh and freshly roasted coffees delivered to your door; you can save time and money by avoiding travel and shipping costs; you can support small and independent roasters and farmers who care about their products and the environment. Some of the drawbacks of ordering online are: you might not be able to sample the coffees before buying them; you might have to wait for a few days or weeks for your order to arrive; you might have to deal with issues such as damaged or lost packages; you might have to pay extra fees for taxes or customs.
- Local: Another way to find a great coffee is to visit your local coffee shops or roasters in your area. There are many benefits of going local: you can support your local economy and community; you can interact with the people who make and serve your coffee; you can learn more about the origin and story behind your coffee; you can sample different coffees before buying them; you can get fresh and freshly brewed coffees on the spot. Some of the drawbacks of going local are: you might have limited options depending on your location; you might have to travel far or spend more time to get to your destination; you might have to pay more for your coffee due to higher overhead costs; you might have to deal with inconsistent quality or service depending on the staff or equipment.
- Home: The final way to find a great coffee is to make it yourself at home. This is probably the most rewarding and satisfying way to enjoy your coffee: you can control every aspect of your brew from start to finish; you can experiment with different beans, grinds
- sizes, water temperatures
- ratios, brew times
- methods, etc.; you can customize your coffee according to your mood
- preference, occasion
- etc.; you can save money by buying in bulk
- or using reusable filters
- etc.; you can reduce waste by composting
- or reusing your grounds
- etc.; you can share your coffee with your family and friends. Some of the drawbacks of making coffee at home are: you might need to invest in some equipment and accessories such as a grinder, a scale, a kettle, a filter, a brewer, etc.; you might need to learn some skills and techniques such as how to measure, grind, heat, pour, steep, etc.; you might need to spend more time and effort to prepare and clean up your coffee; you might have to deal with trial and error until you find your perfect brew.
How to brew a great coffee at home?
If you decide to make your own coffee at home, here are some tips on how to brew a great coffee using some of the most popular methods:
Drip filter (pour-over): This is one of the simplest and most common methods of brewing coffee. It involves pouring hot water over ground coffee in a filter paper or cone and letting it drip into a cup or pot. This method produces a clean and clear brew with a balanced flavor and aroma. Some of the benefits of this method are: it is easy and inexpensive; it allows you to control the water flow and extraction; it highlights the subtle nuances of the coffee. Some of the drawbacks of this method are: it can be slow and tedious; it requires a steady and consistent pour; it can result in over or under extraction if not done properly. To brew a great drip filter coffee, you will need: a filter paper or cone (such as Hario V60 or Chemex), a kettle with a gooseneck spout (such as Bonavita or Fellow), a scale, a timer, and a mug or carafe. Here are the steps to follow:
- Boil some water and let it cool slightly to around 195°F (91°C).
- Fold the filter paper along the seams and place it in the cone. Rinse it with some hot water to remove any paper taste and preheat the cone and mug or carafe. Discard the rinse water.
- Weigh out about 20 grams of coffee beans and grind them to a medium-fine consistency (similar to table salt). Transfer them to the filter and shake it gently to level the bed.
- Place the cone on top of the mug or carafe and put them on the scale. Tare the scale to zero.
- Start the timer and pour about 40 grams of water over the coffee in a circular motion, making sure to wet all the grounds evenly. This is called the bloom, which allows the coffee to release carbon dioxide and enhance its flavor. Wait for about 30 seconds.
- Pour more water over the coffee in a slow and steady stream, keeping the water level just above the grounds. Avoid pouring on the sides of the filter or creating too much agitation. Aim for a total weight of about 300 grams of water by the end of 2 minutes.
- Let the coffee drain completely through the filter, which should take about another minute. Remove the cone and enjoy your coffee.
French press (plunger): This is another simple and popular method of brewing coffee. It involves steeping coarsely ground coffee in hot water for several minutes and then pressing down a metal mesh filter to separate the brew from the grounds. This method produces a rich and full-bodied brew with a lot of oils and sediments. Some of the benefits of this method are: it is easy and inexpensive; it allows you to control the steeping time and extraction; it preserves more of the natural flavors and aromas of the coffee. Some of the drawbacks of this method are: it can be messy and difficult to clean; it can result in over or under extraction if not done properly; it can leave some grounds and sludge in your cup. To brew a great French press coffee, you will need: a French press (such as Bodum or Espro), a kettle, a scale, a timer, and a mug.
Espresso machine (pressure): This is one of the most advanced and sophisticated methods of brewing coffee. It involves forcing hot water under high pressure through finely ground coffee in a metal filter basket and producing a concentrated and aromatic brew with a thick layer of crema on top. This method requires a lot of skill and equipment, but it can produce some of the most complex and flavorful coffees in the world. Some of the benefits of this method are: it is fast and efficient; it allows you to create different types of drinks such as lattes, cappuccinos, macchiatos, etc.; it extracts more of the oils and solubles from the coffee. Some of the drawbacks of this method are: it is expensive and complicated; it requires a lot of maintenance and calibration; it can result in bitter or sour shots if not done properly. To brew a great espresso coffee, you will need: an espresso machine (such as Breville or Gaggia), a grinder, a tamper, a portafilter, a scale, a timer, and an espresso cup. Here are the steps to follow:
- Turn on your espresso machine and let it heat up for about 15 minutes.
- Weigh out about 18 grams of coffee beans and grind them to a fine consistency (similar to powdered sugar). Transfer them to the portafilter and shake it gently to level the bed.
- Use the tamper to compress the coffee evenly and firmly in the portafilter. Make sure there are no gaps or cracks in the puck. Wipe off any excess grounds from the rim of the portafilter.
- Lock the portafilter into the group head of your espresso machine and place your espresso cup under the spout.
- Start the timer and activate the pump to start extracting your espresso. Aim for a total volume of about 36 grams of liquid by the end of 25 seconds.
- Stop the pump and remove your espresso cup from under the spout. Admire your crema and enjoy your espresso.
How to enjoy a great coffee?
Now that you know how to brew a great coffee, how can you enjoy it to the fullest? Here are some tips on how to enhance your coffee experience:
- Drink it fresh: Coffee is best when consumed within minutes after brewing or roasting. The longer you wait, the more flavor and aroma you lose due to oxidation, evaporation, or contamination. Try to drink your coffee as soon as possible after making it, or store it in an airtight container or thermos if you have to wait for a while.
- Drink it black: Coffee is best when enjoyed without any additives such as milk, sugar, cream, syrups, etc. These can mask or alter the natural flavors and aromas of your coffee, or even ruin them if they are not compatible or balanced with your coffee. Try to drink your coffee black, or use only minimal amounts of additives if you really need them.
- Drink it hot: Coffee is best when enjoyed at an optimal temperature range of around 150°F (65°C) to 175°F (80°C). Too hot or too cold can affect your perception of flavor and aroma, or even burn or freeze your tongue. Try to drink your coffee at a comfortable temperature that allows you to appreciate its nuances without scalding or numbing your mouth.
- Drink it mindfully: Coffee is best when enjoyed with attention and appreciation. Do not just gulp down your coffee without paying attention to its qualities or effects. Instead, take some time to savor every sip and notice its appearance, smell, taste, and texture. Be aware of how it makes you feel and what it evokes in you. Be grateful for the people and processes that made your coffee possible and enjoy it as a gift of nature and culture.
Where to find Aerial Resupply Coffee?
If you are looking for a great coffee that meets all the criteria above, look no further than Aerial Resupply Coffee. This is a veteran-owned coffee brand that offers high-quality and specialty coffees from different regions and roasters around the world. You can order their coffees online from their website or visit their local shops or roasters in your area. You can also learn more about their origin and story behind their coffee and support their mission of providing coffee to the troops. Some of the roasts that they offer are:
- MOAB "Mother of All Brews" Double Caffeinated Coffee: This is a double-caffeinated medium roast blend that has a bold and smooth flavor with notes of chocolate, caramel, and nuts. It is made from 100% Robusta Beans which is naturally more caffeinated than Arabica or Columbian coffee beans.
- Fire Watch Medium Roast: This is a medium roast blend that has a balanced and rich flavor with hints of citrus, berries, and cocoa. It is made from 100% Colombian Supremo beans sourced from South and Central America. It is freshly roasted in small batches by veterans who support other veterans, first responders, military spouses, and law enforcement personnel.
- Spectre Dark Espresso Roast: This is a dark espresso roast blend that has a strong and full-bodied flavor with notes of dark chocolate, caramel, and spice. It is made from a blend of fair trade act coffee beans sourced from Colombia, Africa, and Indonesia.
You can find more information about these roasts and order them online from here. You can also follow them on social media to get updates on their latest products and promotions.
I hope you enjoyed this article and learned something new about coffee. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to leave them below. And remember, life is too short to drink bad coffee. Cheers!