How to Spot Good Coffee vs. Mediocre Coffee

November 10, 2018Paige Billings
Coffee or Die Photo

Coffee has a wide spectrum of good to bad. As a coffee consumer, we know that certain types of coffee are bad: gas station coffee and coffee from fast food establishments, for example. We know that great coffee is associated with a small-batch roasting process and is often linked to the “hipster” coffee trend. But how, as laymen or someone wanting to learn the levels of coffee flavor, do we discern what is good, bad, and ugly when it comes to coffee?

How to spot mediocre coffee

To break down coffee flavors, coffee experts participate in a ritual called cupping. Here, a small amount of coffee is brewed and allowed to bloom. The taster then sips the brew and allows the flavor to coat their tongue and mouth for a full experience. Once the flavor profile of the coffee is broken down, based on the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA), the roast is categorized and labeled.  

Photo courtesy of Ampersand Coffee.

What is a Coffee Bloom?

Coffee blooming attests to the freshness of the coffee. Blooming referrs to the gasses of the coffee being released. The fresher the coffee, the more gas will be released, thus adding more flavor and fragrance. The bloom of coffee gives an obvious hint to how fresh the coffee is. Old coffee releases almost no gas due to the age, possible aeration, and staleness. Fresh coffee emits a light color in the bloom, almost the color of crema on espresso.

Photo courtesy of Ampersand Coffee.

Freshness, flavor, bloom, and mouth feel are the key factors in spotting great coffee. If your coffee ever tastes metallic, flat, or coats your mouth in a thick way, the coffee is of lower quality or old. Old coffee produces a dusty flavor that sits on your tongue, and the metallic taste comes from over roasting or poor roasting technique. Often, dark roasts have a thick metallic flavor due to being exposed to high heat for a long period of time during the roasting process. Fresh coffee has a lighter mouth feel, lighter notes, and coats the mouth with flavor — it’s not overpowered by metallic aftertastes.

Next time you grab a bag of coffee, check the roasting date, grind the coffee, check the bloom and smell, and use the above assessment to test your coffee knowledge!

Paige Billings
Paige Billings

Paige Billings is a staff writer for Coffee or Die Magazine. She believes that cupcakes and a cup of coffee can solve most any problem. Although she got her start at Williams-Sonoma as a merchandising analyst, she has since combined her passion for coffee, recipe development, design, and photography into her career as a coffee and food writer, recipe developer, and food photographer. Her delicious and beautiful recipes can be found on her blog, Instagram, and in the secret pages of her ongoing cookbook. Paige has lived everywhere from California, where she grew up, to Montana, where she graduated from Montana State University. She now works out of her Florida home with the help of her eager taste testers — her husband, Drew, and her dog, Moose.

More from Coffee or Die Magazine
US Speeds Up Abrams Tank Delivery to Ukraine War Zone

The original plan was to send Ukraine 31 of the newer M1A2 Abrams, which could have taken a year or ...

March 21, 2023Associated Press
Coffee Or Die Photo
US: War Crimes on All Sides in Ethiopia's Tigray Conflict

The Biden administration announced Monday that it has determined all sides in the brutal conflict in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region committed war crimes and crimes against humanity.

March 20, 2023Associated Press
military pilots cancer rates
Higher Cancer Rates Found in Military Pilots, Ground Crews

In its yearlong study of almost 900,000 service members who flew on or worked on military aircraft b...

March 20, 2023Associated Press
whiskey pour
Veterans Lead the Way Among America’s Growing Craft Distilleries

American veterans are taking the lessons they learned in the military and changing the craft distilling industry.

March 20, 2023Mac Caltrider
military suicide veteran suicide
Military Moves To Cut Suicides, But Defers Action on Guns

In a memo released Thursday, Austin called for the establishment of a suicide prevention working gro...

March 17, 2023Associated Press
us military drills japan-south korea
US, Partners Stage Military Drills Amid Japan-South Korea Talks

The Sea Dragon 23 exercises that started on Wednesday will culminate in more than 270 hours of in-fl...

March 17, 2023Associated Press
leo jenkins a word like god
‘A Word Like God’: New Book From Army Ranger Leo Jenkins

In his latest poetry collection, Ranger-turned-writer Leo Jenkins turns away from war to explore cosmic themes of faith, fatherhood, and art.

March 16, 2023Mac Caltrider
us drone
Pentagon Video Shows Russian Jet Dumping Fuel on US Drone

The Pentagon on Thursday released video of what it said was a Russian fighter jet dumping fuel on a ...

March 16, 2023Associated Press
  • About Us
  • Privacy Policy
  • Careers
Contact Us
  • Request a Correction
  • Write for Us
  • General Inquiries
© 2023 Coffee or Die Magazine. All Rights Reserved