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Are expensive/gourmet coffee beans worth it?

I'm not very knowledgeable when it comes to coffee. I only recently started occasionally drinking coffee because it's available free at the office. They use a couple different varieties of Starbucks preground.

Now I'm noticing that there are tons of "gourmet/specialty" beans available at Whole Foods and similar stores. Do these beans taste significantly better than lower priced, more generic types? Which matters more, the bean or the brewing method?

My complaint with most coffee is that it tastes too watery and lacks a lot of flavor. Again I don't know a lot about coffee in general but just wondered if maybe one of these specialty/gourmet coffees would taste a lot better than whatever I've tried up to this point.

Obviously it would be easy enough to just buy a coffee machine and try all these different beans, but if the general consensus is that they are overpriced, then I guess I won't waste my time and money.

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  1. Beans matter, roasting matters, grinding matters, brewing matters. There is no "general consensus" about beans. Just like with anything else it's a matter of personal taste. Find a non-Starbucks coffee shop and then try a variety of coffees (not necessarily on the same visit), all prepared the same way. You'll either find one that's more pleasing to you or you'll conclude that coffee isn't your cup of tea.

    1 Reply
    1. re: ferret

      Totally agree. Your cup will only be as good as the weakest link in the chain.

    2. I'm sure there are CH's far more knowledgeable on this. I tried roasting my own and knew inside of 1 hour I was over my head to do it right. I buy coffee all sorts of places (markets, deli's, box stores, 7-11, you name it). The only place I feel like I've gotten my money worth is at a roaster house. All they do is roast beans all day and night. They are selective about what they buy to offer customers and they want to turnover the product. The guys I go to in NJ are generous with sample tasting and steer me in the direction I'm comfortable with for taste and price. Any chance you have a local roaster or two in your area?

      12 Replies
      1. re: HillJ

        I'm curious. What kind of roasting apparatus did you use? Did you try more than one batch?

        1. re: grampart

          I borrowed a friends setup (about five years ago) and tried a small batch in my backyard. I was following their directions to the letter and thought yeah this is pretty cool until the roaster started to go from great aroma to "J" did you burn leaves in the backyard from the neighbor. It was like a smoke signal that made the rounds, I got calls from nearly every neighbor on the hill I sit on. So, okay I finish the batch, cool down, ready to grind...it tasted awful. I blamed myself and never tried again.

          Gave me greater appreciation for the two roasters nearby.

          Do you have some advice, grampart?

          1. re: HillJ

            I also started with a hot air roaster (iRoast2) that I purchased from Sweet Marias. Very noisy, made it very difficult to hear the all-important 1st and 2nd cracks. I used it regularly for over 2 years until it crapped out, but I was turning out some very nice coffee with an occasional disaster. I then bought a Behmor 1600 drum roaster also from Sweet Marias.
            http://www.sweetmarias.com/sweetmaria...
            What a difference! Very quiet and easy to use. I've roasted well over 100 pounds of various beans and only had one failure when I blew a circuit breaker in mid-roast. A very bad thing! It has a pretty good smoke suppression system, but roasting in the house is not a good idea unless you prefer very light roasts.

            1. re: grampart

              I can't imagine roasting in the house. I was outside at the time of my only attempt. But from what you've described, you have it down! That's great. I never got that far. :)

              1. re: HillJ

                It takes a real commitment. I treat it like a hobby. Downside is what a picky pain in the ass I've become when it comes to 99% of the "outside" coffee I drink.

                1. re: grampart

                  Oh I could def see it spoiling you. That's why I go to the roaster. I can buy a cups worth of beans if I want to and try a new to me brew without any hassle and if the roaster isn't busy he'll brew me a short cup and let me sample. So, I know when I'm better off letting someone of skill do the driving :)

          2. re: grampart

            Oh forgot to mention this was hot air roaster, home model. Looked like a popcorn popper. Similar to this model:http://www.sweetmarias.com/sweetmaria...

            1. re: HillJ

              The SO started roasting his own about a year ago, after having honed his grinding (Baratza Vario) and brewing (Rancilio Silvia) skills for a couple of years. We have a Fresh Roast 500 and he is routinely turning out superior beans. But then again he is a mechanical engineer :-). Planning on adding a Hot Top drum roaster to the mix in March. Roasting at home has kinda ruined him for most other coffee, even the good stuff referenced in the OP. But it is definitely a commitment, and he threw out multiple batches in the beginning.

              1. re: grayelf

                One more thing which you may already know: there seems to be general agreement that you need to let the roasted beans rest for a couple or three days, so grinding and brewing freshly roasted beans might not provide the optimum taste.

                1. re: grayelf

                  From Sweet Maria's site.....
                  "Resting refers to the step after home roasting a batch; coffee brewed immediately has so much C0-2 coming off it that it prevents good extraction or infusion of water. Also, certain characteristics are not developed immediately after roasting, such as body. A rest of 12-24 hours is recommended, or up to 3-5 days for some espresso coffees.

                  1. re: grayelf

                    Thanks for all the fun information, graye. As I said I only attempted roasting once and haven't tried it since but I have been made aware of a great deal more information about the process through the roaster I buy beans from. He and his partner are very generous with samples and educational moments!

              2. re: grampart

                i have used an air popper for small batches. Not something I would recommend on a regular basis, but a fun hobby. Otherwise I love using The Bean Coffee Company as well as our local roaster. The Bean Coffee Company roasts when the order is placed and their regular sales offers keeps their prices pretty reasonable for fresh roasted coffee

            2. You get what you pay for as long as you know what you are paying for. There is ok cheapo coffee. Better coffee costs more as the basic beans cost more. It can get crazy with hype. I remember the first pot of Jamaican Blue Mountain. It was fine but I recall wondering what all the hype was about especially given the price of the pot. In addition to the beans, technique matters a lot too. Dumping pre-ground in your Mr Coffee won't get you any better coffee. But sometimes that's what you need to do if you are in need of caffeine first thing in the morning and it sounds like you are not at that stage yet. So the simple answer is maybe.

              1. We brew coffee daily using either an electric percolator or stove top percolator with the least expensive beans we can find. We then hand grind them daily in an Arcady mill.

                We use Wegmans ,8 O'Clock, or Portorico.com beans.
                We only buy the portorico.com beans when they are on sale,and freeze a dozen pounds at a time.

                When I see those display racks of dispense your own beans I wonder how fresh they are.

                I'd rather go for the vacuum sealed bags or fresh beans from portorico.com.

                Buy a percolator !!!

                1. I think a burr mill grinder plus any decent brand of fresh coffee beans will give you a much better tasting coffee right off the bat, without having to spend even more on gourmet brands.

                  You can get varying levels of strength from the beans simply by trying out different grind settings, and the amounts you prefer to use, until you find the combo you like best.

                  My coworkers and I were partial to the simple old electric percolator pot. No filters or extra parts to fuss around with, and easy to clean.

                  Pretty much everything at Whole Foods is overpriced, so it wouldn't surprise me the least if they were jacking up the cost of their coffee beans. Their store brand of spices for example is made by the same company that makes World Market's store brand spices, only World Market's are like $1-$2 less per bottle.