Grounds For Appeal: How to pick the right beans for perfect homemade coffee

“This morning, with her, having coffee.” Johnny Cash, on his definition of paradise. It’s the kind of quote that stays with you, mostly because of how true it is: a good day usually starts with well-made coffee and great companionship. And recreating Cash’s definition of morning bliss doesn’t even require a daily trip to a hip café. With the right beans, you can make high-quality coffee right in your kitchen. (You’re on your own for the companionship part.)

While you can get decent coffee beans at the grocery store, if you want a really unforgettable cup of coffee, you should buy your beans from a specialty roaster. Most independent coffee shops sell custom blends prepared for them by local roasters. (Or, you can buy directly from the roaster online.) Just a few examples are Detour Coffee Roasters in Burlington, Pilot Coffee Roasters in Toronto and Social Coffee & Tea Company in Richmond Hill. Some even offer coffee subscriptions, so you can try different beans every few weeks. If you pick a Canadian roaster, the shipping fees are usually pretty reasonable.
Wherever you get your coffee beans, ask these questions before picking up a bag.

What’s the roast date?

Brett Johnston, head of innovation at Pilot, says good coffee should have a roasting date on the bag and suggests consuming beans within about four weeks after they were roasted. “Not because coffee beans go bad,” he says, “but the flavour dissipates and becomes flat after a month.”

Will you go to the dark side?

You’re going to have to make a choice between light-, medium-, and dark-roast beans. But what do those even mean? “As coffee gets browner, it gets more caramelized, more chocolate,” says Sam James, of Sam James Coffee Bar in Toronto. “The flavour becomes simpler the darker it is. The lighter it is, the fruitier it tastes.”

The choice is yours, but don’t stress too much about the decision — nearly every roaster I spoke to said there’s too much emphasis placed on the roast level. Instead focus on what flavours intrigue you. Specialty coffee should always list its flavour notes, which can vary from blueberries to Reese’s Pieces.

Do you want to buy ethical?

You’ve got choices: fair trade, direct trade, certified organic and eco-friendly, to name a few. Their definitions are complicated, so I suggest you worry less about the formal certifications and ask the roaster which beans make a difference to the farmers and their communities.

Where are you going to keep the beans?

“Store your coffee in a cool, dark place,” says Geoff Woodley, head roaster at Detour. A cupboard usually works fine. He says the trick is to keep your coffee beans out of direct sunlight.

Contrary to popular opinion, freezing or refrigerating your beans does not keep them fresh. You just have to keep the oxygen out, either by wrapping them up tight in the bag or storing them in an airtight container.

Consider yourself ready to make coffee worthy of paradise. Now you’ve just got to carve out the time in the morning to make it.

Iman’s go-to coffee choices:

Coffee Choices










Iman AkoborIman Abokor is an insurance defence lawyer at Lawson LLP and Precedent’s coffee columnist.



Cover of the Fall 2015 Issue of PrecedentThis story is from our Fall 2015 issue.