Recently, a customer was asking me about what coffee she should select. After browsing our extensive selection of coffee varietals, she said, "Wow, I'm really liking all the dark coffees you have here! I love a robust, full-bodied coffee. Dark roast in my favorite. I had some Peru last time and that was really good!"
It's a shame we in the coffee industry often don't use the same vocabulary as our customers. Peru is generally considered a light-flavored coffee with high notes and a full, but gentle flavor.
She was using all the wrong words to describe the coffee she loved.
When selecting coffee to brew at home, be sure to talk to the experts in the shop about what you've liked in the past. A good, knowledgable coffee merchant will understand how the the flavor profiles of the different varietals and roast levels affect the flavor in your cup and will be able to offer you a good recommendation.
Be open minded about trying new types of coffee too. As with any seasonal crop, some harvests are better than others, and coffee bean quality can vary widely betweens regions and even between local farms. However, in general, a good rule of thumb is to look for other varietals from a similar part of the world. So for example, I might recommend the latest beans from Brazil would have a similar flavor profile to the Peru she enjoyed last time.
In the end, it is all a matter of freshness. Regardless of origin, shop with a coffee merchant who sells a lot of beans. Not only will the rotating stock ensure you always get the freshest crop, but the staff will probably be more experienced and more knowledgable as well. Look for beans that are good and clean--free from any minor stones or pits that mar the flavor of your final brew--and that aren't too oily.
Buy locally roasted coffee whenever possible to ensure freshness. Or order your favorite varietal from a merchant who roasts to order and ships quickly so you always get the best flavor possible from whatever beans you select.
What are your favorite coffee varieties? Leave a comment!