Best coffee beans to buy at a glance
- Best for a large selection of coffee beans: Pact Coffee, from £8.95
- Best high-quality coffee beans: Assembly Coffee, from £10
- Best carbon negative coffee beans: Kiss The Hippo, from £10.50
- Best balanced coffee: Redemption Coffee Roasters, from £8.90
- Most versatile coffee beans: Origin Coffee, from £7.80
- Best beans for filter coffee: Coffee by Tate, from £9
- Best sustainable coffee beans: Easy Jose Coffee, from £8.50
- Best coffee beans with sweet notes: Volcano Coffee Works, from £7.50
- Best for naturally-processed coffee: WatchHouse coffee, from £12
- Best coffee beans for a dark roast: Presto Coffee, from £6.99
- Best coffee beans for floral notes: Dark Arts Coffee, from £8
- Best for rich coffee: Ground Coffee Society, from £8.50
Why buy whole coffee beans?
Beans stay fresher for longer, and so your coffee should taste better, too. As soon as green coffee beans are roasted, they start to release CO2, which affects the taste. They will oxidise and slowly start to go ‘stale’ and have a flat taste after a while. When coffee is ground, there is a higher surface area which is exposed to oxygen and that will cause them to lose their freshness faster, so it’s best to keep coffee beans whole as close to brewing as possible. Treat your coffee beans similarly to potatoes: store them in a dark, dry place. It’s best they are kept in a container or the bag they come in to stop oxygen and moisture getting in.
What type of coffee beans should I buy?
There are generally two types of beans: robusta and arabica.
Arabica: Produced by the specialty coffee industry, this is harder to grow. Arabica beans have less caffeine than robusta, but more varied complex characteristics in taste and acidity levels because it is usually grown at higher altitudes, and better quality, nutrient-rich soil.
Robusta: Robusta beans are hardy and usually used for commodity products such as cheaper instant coffee.
What does coffee roast mean?
Coffee roasts are generally described as light, medium and dark. Dark roasts can be described as more bold and strong tasting. Espresso can usually be roasted a little darker, as the coffee is extracted through machines with high pressure and temperature, so the flavour still comes through. However, medium to lighter roasts keep a lot of the bean’s flavour characteristics. When you roast a bean, think of it like taking the moisture out of it: the equivalent to slow or quick cooking a cut of meat. There is also an art to roasting coffee beans, in the fact that different beans from different origins hold different moisture content and density, and therefore need to be roasted appropriately to optimise flavour and quality.
The best coffee beans to buy 2023
Best for a large selection
Pact Coffee has always placed an importance on working closely with suppliers and pioneering direct trade early on. While still being specialty, many of the coffees I’ve had in the past have employed a darker roast style than some of the other specialty coffees on the market.
This was my first time trying the ‘coffee select’ range, which offers 13 different rotating coffees, from multiple different origins and at five different grind levels. I was pleasantly surprised by the Bourbon Cream Espresso, a Brazilian and El Salvadorean blend with (unsurprisingly!) notes of bourbon cream biscuits. I also tried the Brazilian Zaroca. This was roasted similarly to the Bourbon coffee, and easily drinkable. It had a thinner mouth feel and less body, with an apple-like acidity so I would drink this as a filter coffee. Both had a good amount of sweetness, low bitterness and mild acidity.
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Pact Coffee (from £8.95)
Best high-quality coffee beans
Assembly Coffee, roasted in Brixton, is known for its high-quality coffee and artistically painted designs that represent the flavours and characteristics of the coffee. Everything about Assembly is chic and well thought out, like much of its coffee.
First I tried the House Espresso, a washed Colombian bean. I found this rich, clean, sweet and balanced with or without milk. Next I tried the Villamaria from Columbia, a naturally processed bean. I got a strawberries and cream hit at the beginning for an enjoyable bright and fresh cup, with a highly perfumed aroma.
Roaster’s toasting notes:
Villamaria: hazelnut, strawberry, complex
House Espresso: plum, brown sugar, refreshing
Assembly Coffee (from £10)
Kiss The Hippo
Best carbon negative coffee beans
Kiss The Hippo stands out for being carbon negative – going beyond carbon neutral. The brand calculated its carbon emissions and planned out ways in which it could reduce them, then made a plan with reforestation charity On A Mission to offset its remaining emissions with verified or certified sustainable reforestation projects.
I tested out the Los Vascos Colombian coffee. This drop is lightly roasted and has a lovely light body to it. I found it had sweetness and a bright acidity like that of green apple.
Roaster’s tasting notes: caramel, honey, green apple
Kiss The Hippo (from £10.50)
Amazon (from £12.50)
Redemption Coffee Roasters
Best balanced coffee
Redemption Coffee Roasters is the world’s first prison-based coffee company, on a mission to reduce reoffending rates through coffee. It runs barista training academies in several prisons across the UK and on release, helps graduates find work in its own coffee shops or within its network.
The Aylesbury Blend espresso is its all-rounder espresso, and I’ve been really enjoying it as a long black and a flat white. It is really balanced, with low bitterness and low acidity. The Mount Blend, a coffee from Colombia and Ethiopia, had berry and floral notes. The next coffee I tried was the filter coffee, El Meridiano from Colombia. This is a bright and aromatic coffee. I really enjoyed this. The acidity is higher in this which I liked, and the pineapple flavour notes came through well.
Roaster’s tasting notes:
Aylesbury Blend: marzipan, dried apricot, biscuit
The Mount Blend: raspberry, blackcurrant, tea rose
El Meridiano: pineapple, lime, green apple
Redemption Roasters (from £8.90)
Most versatile coffee beans
Origin Coffee is a very successful and reputable roastery that started 15 years ago, based in Cornwall.
Origin’s San Fermin beans have been a trusty staple for many cafes around the UK, as it is omni-roasted. This means it is developed enough for espressos and yet still light enough to brew as a filter coffee, making it highly versatile. This coffee goes well in a flat white and makes a satisfying morning brew as a filter.
Roaster’s notes: orange sherbet, caramel, berries
Origin Coffee (from £7.80)
Coffee by Tate
Best beans for filter coffee
Coffee by Tate roasts out of a little ex-WWII bunker behind the Tate Britain. Lottie Poulton, the roastery manager, has been roasting coffee for many years, producing expert results. Its coffee sourcing is underpinned by its Gender Equality Coffee Project, which champions female coffee producers.
The first of the three coffees I tried was a natural processed bean from Yolanda Urrea Arita in Honduras. These beans stood out for being almost perfectly roasted: they were smooth, a uniform colour and no blemishes or markings. It’s a beautiful drop to drink as a filter coffee. It’s light but has depth.
I also tried the Manassés Sampaio Dias bean from Brazil. This is more juicy and has some depth to it too while having a lovely milk chocolate finish. Lastly, one of my favourites – the espresso Trio de Mulheres from Brazil, made by three female producers. This is pleasantly complex, with floral notes and a solid base.
Roaster’s tasting notes: (for the Honduras) blueberry, pineapple and cognac
Tate Shop (from £9 for 250g)
Easy Jose coffee
Best sustainable coffee
Easy Jose has a wonderful mission to create a sustainable future for indigenous communities, the rainforest and the coffee industry. Much of the company’s ethos goes into building sustainable, personal relationships with indigenous producers who uphold organic practices.
I tried out the Dalia Casancho Honey Process Micro-Lot from Peru, both the espresso and filter styles. This range focuses on Dalia Casancho, who is a female leader in coffee as well as a key member of the indigenous community. The espresso had an ideal depth and boldness whilst the filter coffee was softer and sweeter (and roasted slightly lighter). Both had a sweet finish and a medium acidity. A lovely drop with a lovely story.
Roaster’s tasting notes: honey, stone fruit and white grape
Easy Jose (from £8.50)
Volcano Coffee Works
Best coffee beans with sweet notes
Volcano Coffee Works is one of London’s early artisan coffee roasters, founded by Kurt Stewart, an experienced New Zealand roaster. It made its mark supplying top-notch restaurants and today still does, as well as specialty cafés.
I tested out the espresso roast – the Mount Blend, from El Salvador and Brazil. I found this coffee nice and sweet but bold, with good body and medium acidity. A nice drop with milk.
Roaster’s tasting notes: Caramel, red grapes, milk chocolate.
Volcano Coffee Works (from £7.50)
Best for naturally-processed coffee beans
Originally opening in tiny, 25-square-metre premises in Bermondsey in London, WatchHouse has now become the perfect coffee spot for its surrounding community. Recently, it opened a new roastery at nearby Maltby St Market.
I found the 1829 Espresso Mumbuca Brazil lovely, with a vibrancy to it. The coffee was incredibly fragrant – often the result of the naturally processed method. This Watchouse coffee has a medium to low acidity and a sweet and chocolaty finish. It wasn’t heavy in the mouth, either. WatchHouse coffees change seasonally, so there’s always something new to try.
Roaster’s tasting notes: white grape, almond, 70% dark chocolate
WatchHouse (from £12)
Best for a dark roast
Presto offers a wide range of coffee styles, from beans and ground coffee to instant coffee or innovative coffee bags. You can also pick a blend to sign up to a coffee subscription, so you’ll never run out again.
For beans, I tested Mogiana Sao Paulo from Brazil, which arrived in a recyclable bag. These beans have the darkest roast level comparatively to the rest of the coffees tasted. If you like darker, more bold coffee with a kick of bitterness then this is for you. I did notice a bit of oily residue on a few of the beans which is usually a sign of a darker roast because C02 has started release and is reacting with oxygen. I tried it as a weak flat white which worked well.
Roaster’s notes: Almond, dark chocolate
Presto Coffee (from £6.99)
Dark Arts Coffee
Best for floral notes
Making a splash into the London coffee scene a number of years back now, Dark Arts coffee is still going strong. As far as its coffee goes, it’s serious about it, and it’s hard not to love that each coffee has its own evocative tongue in cheek name. Each of the coffees gives a snapshot of where it’s sourced and I found their Brazilian Cape Fear, which has been naturally anaerobically processed, to be light and juicy with medium acidity. When slightly cooled down, this tasted delicious and the floral notes really come through.
Roaster’s tasting notes: Complex and tropical, with a juicy mouthfeel and notes of lychee, cherry and pineapple
Dark Arts Coffee (from £9)
Ground Coffee Society
Best rich coffee
Roasting from its Richmond base, Ground Coffee Society has been roasting in London for a few years now. You might have already experienced its brews if you’ve attended Lord’s Cricket Ground or The Shard amongst others.
I really enjoyed the Caveman House Espresso from Brazil – it had that familiar traditional rich and chocolaty taste. It is very good in flat whites but also has a lovely fragrant note to it, which makes it even more interesting. I would recommend this as a good reliable espresso to use because it’s balanced and smooth yet has a richness to it, too.
Roaster’s tasting notes: Rich syrup and treacle flavours with a faint tropical sweetness
Ground Coffee Society (from £8.50)
Want to learn more about becoming an expert at-home barista? Read our guides here:
Celeste Wong’s guide to becoming an overnight coffee expert
Celeste Wong’s guide on how to make iced coffee
Celeste Wong’s best moka pots
Celeste Wong’s best coffee grinders
Celeste Wong’s best decaf coffee to try
Celeste Wong’s best reusable and compostable espresso pods
Celeste Wong’s best gooseneck kettles to try
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