5 Things an "Ordinary" Person Should Know When Buying/Drinking Coffee

On top of being a barista, I am also a journalism student. After my classmates find out that I moonlight as a professional coffee geek, I get a lot of responses like, "Ooooh! I love coffee, but I don't know much about it," or, "Isn't coffee just coffee? Like, I'm getting the same thing if I go to (convenience store) as if I went to your cafe."


I decided to write an article, educating the average person on what they should know about buying and drinking coffee. I want the article to give readers some insight into what to look for when they step up to the counter, as well as when they sit down to drink their beverage. My goal is to make specialty coffee less intimidating, and ultimately more enjoyable to people who aren't immersed in it.

My question is this: What are the five most important things you wish everyone knew about coffee?

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1. '100% Arabica is bullshit' - a skilled roaster with a great Barista and top quality beans can create fantastic coffee even when using some Robusta, in fact some Robusta can even improve an espresso blend adding body and crema. While often the case, Robusta is not always bad.
2. 'Fair Trade' & 'Rainforest Alliance', while very noble ideas are primarily used by cafes as a gimick to encourage sales. The better cafes of the world will often buy direct from growers (Direct Trade), giving the growers a far better price for their coffee and also at the same time pushng the growers to produce better coffee, pay better wages, and treat the local environment better. On top of this, often these cafes that buy direct are humble enough to not plaster their cafe in signage boasting of their 'Direct Trade' practices, indicating it as a true commitment to the quality of the coffee they serve rather than a tool to drive sales.
3. 'Strong Coffee' means nothing. Especially if you ask for it to be strong without an extra shot. Do you mean you want it bitter? Do you want more coffee? I've had customers order a strong coffee, I give them an extra shot, only to have it returned because it is not bitter and therefore not strong.
4. Beans are an organic product, and thus have an ideal period by which to use them. As soon as they're roasted they begin to lose the gasses and quality of flavour, this rate increases if they're not stored in an airtight valved bag, when open to the air, when ground... Look for coffee with a 'roasted on' date, not a 'use by' date and to get the best out of them use them within 2 weeks of roast.
5. There are many different beans with their own individual unique charactistics, and many different ways to brew them - Try as many as you can!
Wow! I'm so excited that this post really took off! I kept it pretty simple for my article...I only had 1500 words to work with! So, I stuck to the very basics: espresso "vs" coffee, strong coffee vs. "strong" coffee, types of roasts, origins and varietals. Before I blog it, i'm gonna lengthen it a bit and polish it a lot. Stay tuned for that. Thanks for all your help!
My number one thing is an understanding that coffee is an agricultural product that is subject to many variables on a wide spectrum, from freak weather/natural disasters to political upheaval or civil wars. We haven't be carrying some of the signature coffees (Colombia, Kenya) where I work because these variables have caused the price to increase significantly. We don't want to forward these price increases on to our customers, so we've had to bring in other coffees (Zambia or a new Nicaragua) to substitute.

If consumers understood the process of getting coffee from the tree to the cup then I think that people wouldn't take it for granted as often.
I may be too late, but maybe not for your blog! Here it is anyway. Fun to write about!
In my opinion, when educating the 'lay person' in coffee appreciation, one should not get in to the different coffee reigons or roasts - it's far too complicated for average joe! Start with the basics, then we might have some hope of changing the world, although I do agree that it is very important that people understand the volatile nature of the bean, and the effects which stem both from growing and handling. I am certainly not dismissing the importance of agriculture, but baby steps for the ill-informed.

1. Coffee should absolutely not taste bitter, sour or burned - if it does, as has been previously mentioned, the coffee maker has not prepared the coffee properly.
2. The difference between a flat white, latte and cappucino - specifically that there is NO DIFFERENCE in the amount of coffee in these (cup sizes may vary so could affect end product, but essentially they are the same), and that the main difference is the amount of foam.
3. Coffee should not sit in the machine for any length of time before being extracted (putting water through), nor should it sit for too long once extracted before pouring milk in (this will change the flavour UGH!).

It's not 5 points, but the first basic 3. Keep it simple and people will be more willing to take the information on board - flodding coffee stupids with technical jargon is not conducive to their education!
I haven't necessarily been into coffee for very long, but I have been around it for a while. I only just recently starting looking further into it, and I must say it has been a great idea to do so.

A key point that I was taught about noticing the coffee that you're drinking, or at least something any "ordinary coffee consumer" should look for, is to not just drink the coffee and hope that after a while you'll "figure it out". A great lesson that I was taught (for starters at least =P) is to think about the flavors that you are tasting in each cup, from when it was just poured, to when it cools.

In my mind, that's a great way for the ordinary customer to be miles ahead, when they stop and think about the different flavors and smells that are omitted from a single cup of great coffee, which is much better than just wolfing all of it down.
Logan Demmy said:
Great points. Also I feel that the average person should understand just a little bit about roast. A darker roast does not mean that the coffee is "stronger" or that it even has a defined flavor profile. More so that the coffee has a certain flavor profile because of the origin or processing method. And that the strength is based on the brew method and coffee to water ration.
Or just that... Dark roast DOES NOT EQUAL stronger coffee.

Trying to explain to people that darker != stronger is so frustrating, and I still have yet to find the easiest way to explain it to them without getting looked at funny, I swear most people must think strength=bitterness....

At any rate how about that its worth paying an extra buck or two per pound of roasted coffee for a significantly better coffee?
Here is at least an important concept or two that all customers ought to become acquainted with:

"Their art is in attention, attention to the dozens of factors that can impact the shot, the drink. Their art
pleases all of the senses, it is born of a desire to bring out the best in what they have. The best of their water, of their beans, of their machine, of their grinder, of their experience, of their soul. A good
barista pours their soul into every cup. A good customer appreciates this."

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