So, you want to buy some coffee beans for home, but where do you start?
Melbourne’s coffee scene is extensive and exciting but it can also be overwhelming if you don’t know your stuff. From washed to naturally processed, caramel to wine notes and blends to single origin, there are a vast array of retail beans on offer in Melbourne’s cafes.
If you’re feeling a little perplexed as to what beans to buy, and most importantly, where to buy them from, I’ve put together a quick guide to help you buy coffee like a pro.
‘How do you make your coffee?‘
Walk into any cafe that roasts their own beans and they’ll ask you one question: How do you make your coffee? This is a good conversation to start with, as the barista can guide you towards the most suitable blends for your brewing method, helping to narrow down the choice. A good cafe will be able to grind the beans to the right size for you, whether that’s for an espresso machine, pour-over, french press or stovetop.
Espresso vs filter roast
An espresso roast (for use in an espresso machine or stovetop) has been roasted further to increase sweetness of the coffee and body, ensuring you produce a delish morning cappuccino. On the other hand, a filter roast is lighter roasted and less developed to maintain some of that acidity. That being said, it doesn’t mean you can’t use and espresso blend for filter and a filter blend for espresso- as long as you get the grind right. You’ll want your beans ground finer for espresso and coarser for filter because brew time for filter is longer (3-4 minutes compared to around 30 seconds for espresso).
Do you drink your coffee with milk?
A lot of Melbourne cafes use different blends for milk based or black coffees. Coffee blends for milk coffee tend to be darker roasted so that the flavour holds out against the milk. Beans for black coffee are often lighter in body, less acidic, fruitier and easier to drink el natural.
What to look at on the label
How it’s been processed: One of the main things that you want to pay attention to on the label of your coffee is how its been processed. Coffee processing is the way that the coffee cherries are treated once picked and here are three main types of coffee processing: natural, washed and honey.
Natural: The natural process is primarily used in Ethiopia and involves farmers washing the cherries and then leaving them out to dry in the sun. Removal of the bean from the cherry can be trickier but this process tends to give the most flavourful coffees.
Washed: In the washed process, the cherry is pulped from the beans by a machine to remove the outer layer skin. The bean is then left to ferment for a couple of days. This process creates a much fruitier flavour that generally lets the true flavour of the bean shine through. This is the method that is used for a lot of speciality coffees.
Honey: The honey process uses a combination of both the natural and washed process and results in some of the mucilage of the fruit being left on the bean. As a result, coffee processed this way tends to be on the sweeter side.
Country of origin:
This is simply where the beans are from. They can be single origin (from just one place) and these blends tend to be on the pricier side or they can be a blend, that has even carefully curated by your local cafe/roastery to get the best possible flavour. Coffee needs warm temperatures and high altitudes to grow so therefore the countries that produce the best coffee are countries such as: Brazil, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Colombia and Peru.
The roast date
This is the date that the beans were roasted and it should be labelled somewhere on the packets. Good cafes do stock rotation anyway but its good practice to check. Generally speaking, after an initial degassing period (for around 7 days from roast) coffee should last 4-8 weeks from the roast date. The darker its roasted, the shorter its shelf life.
These are the flavour notes that you are hoping to extract from your coffee and they should be labeled on the side of your coffee beans. It’s a good idea to look at the flavour wheel so you can get an idea of the aromas and flavours you can expect. Desirable flavours include floral notes, brown sugar,alcohol and citrus. Badly roasted or brewed coffee can taste burnt, cereal, musty, tobacco or chemical.
So hypothetically, Say you usually make your coffee in a french press and like to add a bit of milk. Maybe you would like something easy to drink but also slightly caramel in flavour.
Ask the barista for a blend that’s good for filter but that’s roasted on the darker side so that the taste of the beans come through. You will be looking for more advance tasting notes in the flavour wheel such as caramel, honey, chocolate and hazelnut. You’ll want your coffee ground fairly coarse due to the longer extraction time. Just a note, if you add alternative milk like soy, look for a coffee with lower acidity. This will stop the milk curdeling and going all yuck.
Where to buy coffee beans from in Melbourne
There are so many cafes in Melbourne that roast their own beans locally so it can be really overwhelming. Here are some good places to buy your coffee beans from.
My go to, Market Lane offers a wide selection of espresso and filter coffee blends. These change seasonally and are roasted in small batches to ensure high quality. The baristas are extremely knowledgable and will be able to help you out buying your beans.
One of the pioneers in Melbourne’s speciality coffee scene, they have an extensive range of coffee blends, in particular those for espresso and stove-top.
You should pick up a flaky croissant and flat white from Small Batch’s gorgeous North Melbourne roastery, but home brew coffee is what they are all about. Small batch’s beans have some really developed tasting notes, producing some great coffee that are delicious to drink black.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed with coffee, then Code is a great place to start. Their three iconic espresso blends are the 3056 (for milk based espresso coffees), the Ex Wife (also great for milk based but roasted darker) and Seasonal (best for black coffee). They also have an extensive range of single origin blends with the packet indicating whether they are best suited to filter or espresso.
Another good place for newbies is Proud Mary. Their coffees are on the sweeter side of the spectrum rather than winey and they have a lot of honey processed, caramel note blend coffees to choose from.
Not only is the quality of the coffee really important as Assembly, but also how ethical it is. Assembly takes a lot of care to make sure that their coffee is fair-trade and ethically sourced. They support a lot of smaller farming practices and donate a lot of their proceeds to charitable causes. Alongside their supurb range of coffee, you should also try Assembly’s extensive collection of loose leaf teas.
I hope that post provides some guidance to buying coffee beans in Melbourne. Just remember that the speciality coffee scene needn’t be overwhelming and no one is there to judge you. If you’re new to home brewing then the best thing to do is try as much coffee as you can. Shop around, ask questions and experiment with the coffee that you make. The world of coffee is ever changing and there’s no right or wrong. Just drink the coffee that tastes best to you.