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What Makes the Best Coffee? Determining Good Coffee from Bad

Updated: Sep 30, 2023

Coffee. Just the word stirs something in our souls and gets us salivating. At Chelsea Coffee, we’re all about crafting the perfect cup of Joe, whether it’s your classic brewed coffee or a fancy latte packed with flavors. We take pride in our work, and a big part of giving you our all is determining great coffee from something mediocre.

Of course, we’re not one for keeping knowledge a secret. All of you people should have access to our coffee expertise, too! That’s why we’ve put together this little guide to determining good coffee from bad–so you can identify the right stuff on your own.

What Makes Good Coffee?

While the question could just as easily be “who makes good coffee,” the answer would be too easy–Chelsea does! Instead, let’s talk about the difference between good coffee and below-average options.

A black coffee cup with beautiful latte foam art sits against a dark wood background.

As your friendly neighborhood coffee experts, we’re here to share our wealth of knowledge with you. So, whether you’re perusing beans at your local market or sampling varieties at a coffee shop as you travel, you’ll be able to evaluate what is worth your while. Luckily, it’s easier than you might think.

The Quality of the Beans

Coffee is so magical that it is easy to forget that the beans are an agricultural product. As such, it is subject to the same challenges as other forms of produce. This is why only certain areas of the world are able to grow coffee beans successfully–the trees are a bit particular in terms of climate.

In addition to growing fruitful coffee trees, the beans themselves must be high quality and stored and transported properly. Disease, mold, damage from insects or transport, and spoiling due to age or improper storage can all impact the quality of the beans. Good, consistent coffee beans are key to great coffee, and their physical well-being is key to the entire equation.

A burlap sack filled with steaming, freshly roasted Sweetwater Coffee beans.

There is also something to be said of the region from which the beans come. Different beans have unique tasting notes and roasting characteristics that play significant roles in flavor. Fantastic coffee beans can come from just about anywhere; it’s mostly a matter of preference.

Roasting Technique

Once the beans are examined and it is confirmed that they are free of defects or other issues, it is on to roasting. Aside from the physical quality of the beans themselves, this is the most important step in creating good coffee.

While preference does come into play here–some people prefer a dark roast, others prefer light, and so on–there is a distinction between excellence and averageness when roasting is involved. The temperature, duration, and conditions of the roasting area can all factor into how the beans emerge. It is possible to make mistakes during the roasting process and miss the intended outcome.

That being said, a good roast is mostly subjective. The best local coffee roasters will have a number of different roasts–sometimes with the same beans–that can taste unique and appeal to different coffee drinkers.

Proper Grind

The variety in beans and roasts provides a myriad of possible flavor combinations and tasting notes. The potential of great beans is expanded even further by the number of brewing techniques that they can be used for, including percolation, french press, and so forth.

Using at electric coffee grinder at Chelsea Coffee to ensure consistency.

These brewing methods require different levels of coarseness in the grinding process. Too large of a grind can affect the flavor one way, while too small can impact the brew another way. To ensure you produce the perfect cup of coffee every time, the grind must be spot on every time.

Often, it takes a bit of experimentation to find the right consistency for a certain bean, roast, and brewing technique. If your coffee varies wildly despite using the same beans, the consistency of your grind may be to blame.

Keep Your Brew Consistent

If there’s one takeaway from this deep dive into what makes a great cup of coffee, it should be this–consistency is essential in every step of the process. This trend continues to the final step of brewing the coffee.

No matter what brew technique you choose, maintaining consistency cup after cup is key. The temperature of the water, the size of the grind you are using, the time of the brew, the ratio of coffee to water, and more are all factors to consider. Experimenting with these aspects of your brew will help you unlock the full potential of your healthy, properly-roasted beans.

Coffee Science

Don’t get us wrong; we believe in the mystic nature of coffee. Some things, you can’t just explain away the magic with silly things like science.

That said, there are some science-y elements to the perfect cup of coffee. We could bore you with terms like “soluble extract” and “total dissolved solids,” but we’d rather not. Instead, we’ll boil it down to this: the higher the soluble extract, the more bean compounds will be dissolved into the brew; the higher the total dissolved solids, the stronger the brew will be.

Freshly-brewed coffee fills a science beaker surrounded by locally-roasted coffee beans on a wooden table.

These two scientific factors, though measurable with specialized equipment, essentially affected the flavor and strength of your coffee.

Chelsea Coffee is the Best (don’t settle for less)

Your favorite local coffee shop might appeal to you on many levels, such as the environment and the people. We have little doubt, however, that coffee tops the list of reasons you return time after time. At Chelsea, we understand the value of a stellar cup of coffee and refuse to settle for less than the best.

We use only the finest locally-roasted coffee beans from Sweetwater Coffee Co. We take those beans and treat them with care and respect. Over the years, we have found the perfect grinds and brewing techniques to ensure a consistently wonderful result. Better still, we continue to experiment and innovate with new beans, roasts, and brewing strategies.

Whether you want to come sample our brews for yourself or take home a bag of our signature beans, we encourage you to stop by the shop. We’ll be sure to give you a warm Chelsea welcome and an unforgettably good coffee experience!

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