How to Buy the Best Coffee Beans

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Oxana Denezhkina / Getty Images

Todd Carmichael is a man of extremes, even when it comes to coffee. The entrepreneur, who in 2008 set the solo speed record to reach the South Pole (nearly dying in the process), and star of Travel Channel’s Dangerous Grounds, once again scouring the globe for the best unheralded beans. “I’m like a hound dog,” says the 50-year-old Carmichael, who co-founded the Philly-based La Colombe coffee factory in 1994. “I get the scent of something, and I don’t find any relief until I get it.” In between stories of getting guns waved in his face, Carmichael offered some tips on how to choose the right beans, and the incredibly simple rule to brew like a master.

Find your flavor profile.
“There are three general categories of flavor,” says Carmichael. “Bitter chocolate, nutty sweet, and acidic fruit, which is in the vicinity of white wine or a champagne flavor. When you read descriptions, you have to ask yourself, ‘Is that my category?’ For example, if it mentions lemon and lime, that’s acidic fruit. Walnut or honey would be nutty sweet. Earthy or bold would be the cocoa or bitter chocolate flavor.”

“Right now, the leading coffee roasters in the country have these subscription programs,” he says. “They send you a little bit of coffee every week. Do it. Because you’re going to find your favorite coffee pretty quick. There’s even one called Craft Coffee. They’re not roasters; they’re cuppers. So they send you like three ounces of whatever roaster. It doesn’t matter, they’re always tasty. Sometimes it’s mine, sometimes it might be Intelligentsia. Tell Craft the flavor category that you like. The coffee shows up in an envelope, and within a month you will never be able to turn back.”

Buy direct (and never from a supermarket).
“Buying coffee at a grocery store is like trying to buy fish at a shoe store,” says Carmichael. “Ninety-nine percent of the coffee in the world just tastes like coffee. So you’re pretty much stuck with just a roast. We are connected to roasters in an immediate way through the Internet. You can buy the world’s leading coffee from your phone. If you really want to buy coffee, go digital.”

Brew better instantly.
“There’s a ratio here,” says Carmichael. “To every one gram of coffee, you put 17 grams of water. This requires a scale. If you have a scale, you just doubled the value of your coffee–so if you buy your coffee for $10 a pound, it’s now worth $20. I can go to your house with my scale and blow your mind with just your coffee, just by doing that, and I haven’t done anything magical. It’s the basics.”


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