Arabica beans definition
Selecting a bag of coffee from a sea of unknowns can be a challenging business. Though coffee is a fruit, squeezing and sniffing all the bags on your local café shelves just isn't quite as helpful as you'd think (and will definitely trigger some puzzled glances from the barista). So what's the best way to narrow in on the best beans? Use the clues scattered on the bag and label.
The bag itself
First you'll want to examine what kind of bag a coffee is packaged in. Is it in a vacuum-sealed bag that you'll need to cut open, or is it in kraft paper that's merely folded shut? As pretty as paper bags are, they're poor at keeping coffee fresher, longer. A one-way valve—that plastic disc with the tiny center hole—is also a sign that the bag's sealed properly and built to last. It allows CO2 from the roasting process to slowly release over time: if enough gas hasn't been released, your coffee won't extract well, and will taste unpleasantly bright and fresh.
Part of coffee's magic is that it's grown all over the world, so it's always coffee season somewhere. And though there's plenty of flavor variation within each country's coffees, you can make some good guesses about the flavor based on where the beans come from. Colombia, which has a year-round growing season, is known to produce "coffee"-flavored coffees, with that iconic combo of chocolate and fruit flavors. Brazilian beans are known for their gentle sweetness, while coffees from Ethiopia can be more delicate and fruit-forward. East African countries like Kenya, Rwanda and Burundi have been heralded for juicy, citrusy, and sometimes savory flavors, from dark berry to tomato leaf, but they're not all wildly unusual—just some of them. For extra credit, identify which regions in these countries—Huehuetenango in Guatemala, say, or Minas Gerais in Brazil—you like best, so you can zero in even more accurately on your favorite flavor profile.