What is the perfect cup of coffee? For many Americans, the makings of a really good day start with a cup of coffee. There’s just something about the way the first sip of an aromatic home roast smacks you in the face that screams, “Wake up!” It’s invigorating, energizing and delicious all at the same time. The perfect ingredients for sailing through a day full of meetings, calls and emails.
There are some of us, however, who just can’t seem to brew a quality batch of java despite our many miserably failing attempts. Too much liquid and not enough beans lead to mornings that taste like watery dirt. The office-shared AeroPress is shoddy and can’t pressurize water through ground beans properly, and what even is a Chemex?
Then there’s the biggest issue: How are you supposed to know what type of coffee to buy to make at home?
Shelves stocked with brightly colored bags of coffee beans at grocery stores can be overwhelming. On top of picking out a bag that piques your interest, you then have to decipher through bean descriptions and attempt to figure out what it all means for taste. So much analyzing and work to do before the start of what’s supposed to be a good day—who could blame you for skipping the hassle of making a pot at home in exchange for an overpriced specialty drink at Starbucks?
The process doesn’t have to be so complicated though. Trade Coffee Co., a subscription-based coffee service, can find the perfect brew for you and guide you through all the intricate steps of making an incredible cup from the comforts of your own home.
“You go to the grocery store and you see this wall of coffee and you’re like, ‘I don’t know. I like the color red and this package is red, so this must be the coffee for me.’ It can really be confusing,” Erika Vonie, a Q Arabica Grader and Trade’s director of coffee, said to Newsweek. “But a good way to start exploring is to just start thinking about different types of things you like to eat and drink and whether or not you’d like to see that in a cup of coffee as well.”
With more than 2 million coffee matches to date, the company has assessed the flavor profiles of the masses and helped many people determine their coffee style. A quiz on the website asks questions about coffee experience level, if you’re a flavored creamer or syrup person and more before sourcing—and eventually mailing—users a box of coffee specifically designed to match personal preferences directly from the roaster.
“When you’re at the movies and you have the choice to pick between candy or popcorn and you go for the gummy, fruity candies, you’d probably really like coffee from Central America. You can keep your eyes peeled for naturally processed coffees because they have a really inherent berry flavor to it, which is fun,” she advised. “If you’re like me and you go for really classic, chocolatey candies like Milk Duds or Snickers bars, you can search for coffees with those types of characteristics and flavor notes. If you like something that’s really smokey, you don’t mind something strong and intense, I’d say look for darker brews.”
Trade partners with various coffee-makers to give subscribers dozens of options ranging from balanced and fruity flavors like Irving Farm’s Highline Blend to the roasty and smoky vibes of Oren’s The Bowery brew. Looking for something locally sourced? Trade’s got that covered it.
Understanding your own taste preferences is a major indicator for choosing between coffee roasters of Arabica, Robusta, Liberica and Excelsa beans, which will essentially help with brewing better coffee at home, but Vonie also warned drinkers not to take coffee’s freshness for granted. “When people go to the grocery store they’re just pulling a bag of coffee and they don’t necessarily know how old the coffee is or how long it’s been sitting there for. Freshness is something that will always make your coffee taste better,” she said.
“Coffee is the seed of a tropical cherry and it also ages like a fruit after you roast it. You wouldn’t necessarily want to eat a green banana even though it was like freshly harvested. You want to wait until it’s yellow. It’s the same thing with coffee.”
She recommended shoppers be on the lookout for expiration dates—noting most coffee has a shelf life up to nine months, so be wary of coffee that’s been slumming in cupboards for longer. Grinding beans yourself was also a good first step to quality home brewing (places like Trader Joes and Whole Foods can grind beans for you), but perhaps the most important factor was the water used for making coffee.
“Using filtered water—no matter what style of coffee you’re brewing—is really important,” Vonie said. “New York City tap water is really great. It has a pretty good makeup, but tap water in other places in the country isn’t always so good. There’s a lot of sodium, calcium or magnesium [in some tap water].”
While Trade handles the nuisance of figuring out what to drink for you, Vonie had one slice of advice for grocery store shoppers struggling to choose in an aisle full of brands: “Go with what’s nostalgic.”
“I haven’t had Folders coffee in a really long time but I know that my dad was a Folders guy. Just seeing that can, makes me think, ‘Oh this is gonna be good.’ Coffee is so ritualistic. Pick the thing that makes you feel the best and then go from there,” she said.