These days, folks are pretty discerning about the type of coffee they drink. More and more people are self-proclaimed coffee connoisseurs, turning their noses up at instant coffee. As new artisanal coffee shops pop up on street corners worldwide, there is undoubtedly a demand for high-end coffee that usually comes at a premium, but are expensive coffee beans worth it?
Expensive coffee beans are worth it. They make a much better cup of coffee. You get a robust and full-bodied flavor and a delicious aroma. If you want exceptional coffee, it’s worth spending more on pricey beans.
When it comes to coffee beans, the adage stands true—you get what you pay for. Keep reading to learn more about why some coffee beans are more expensive and how to decide which beans to buy.
Why Expensive Coffee Beans Are Worth It
1. Quality Beans are Grown in Difficult Conditions
Several countries produce coffee, but Brazil, Vietnam, Colombia, Indonesia, and Ethiopia are the top five producers of some of the world’s best. While the country the beans come from may play a role in the price, the conditions the plants are grown in, and the farming and harvesting methods matter more.
Interestingly, the best coffee grows in soil poor-quality soil.
The best quality coffee beans are grown in mountainous regions. Coffee plants in high-altitude areas take longer to develop—typically about nine to ten months.
Plants grown at a lower altitude are ready to be harvested after about four to six months. The cold, harsh climate at higher altitudes and the longer time it takes to grow gives the coffee beans time to develop a more robust, deep flavor.
This longer harvest time makes growing coffee plants in a mountainous region more expensive, but there’s more. Workers must work in harsh conditions, as there is less oxygen at a higher altitude. They also need to be more skilled than workers harvesting crops at a low altitude.
Since coffee bean plants planted at a higher altitude take longer to grow and produce fruit, fewer beans are harvested at a time, pushing the price up.
2. The Best Beans Are Handpicked
The harvesting method of coffee beans influences the taste and quality of your coffee. There are three methods that farmers can use:
- Strip Picking. This is the quickest and cheapest method and produces low-quality coffee. Farmers strip the entire branch and take all the fruit, regardless of whether or not the beans are mature. This means that unless the fruit is thoroughly sorted, you’re likely to get beans that are not yet ripe, affecting the flavor of your brew.
- Mechanical Harvesting. Harvesting machines can only be used in flat areas, but it’s an efficient method for picking fruits. While the machinery may be expensive, labor costs are low, as only one person is required to operate the machine. Mechanical picking allows the farmer to only pick beans that are ripe so that you get better quality coffee.
- Handpicking. This is the most expensive and time-consuming method but it yields the best coffee. Selective or handpicking is a manual process in which the harvester picks the ripe fruit by hand.
Some of the best coffee beans out there are handpicked. Handpicking offers a quality guarantee that can’t be matched by harvesting machines. Naturally, this drives up the cost of production and the retail price.
3. Expensive Beans Use Advanced Processing
Processing the coffee simply means removing the coffee seed or bean from the fruit, but how this is done influences the taste of the coffee. Three main methods can be used to process coffee beans.
The dry processing method is the most traditional way to process coffee. It requires minimal equipment and is eco-friendly, as you don’t need to use water. This method involves laying the fruits on concrete slabs or brick in the sun to dry. When they’ve dried, the fruit is hulled, removing the outer layer so the bean can be retrieved.
This is usually cheaper and gives coffee a fruity, sweet flavor.
The wet process is a common method for coffee processing, but it’s also expensive. It’s made up of many steps, requires more equipment, and uses lots of water.
This process involves soaking the fruit in water, removing the skin and flesh, and then allowing the bean to ferment. The bean is then left to dry. The flavor profile of washed beans is considered clean and bold.
The honey process sits somewhere between the dry and wet process and has become more popular recently. The skin and fruit are removed soon after the coffee is harvested, much like in the wet process, but it doesn’t use any water. It gets its name because the bean can become quite sticky while processed.
In terms of flavor, it’s a combination of the other two processes: a little less fruity than the dry method but a little more creamy than the wet one.
4. High-Quality Beans Are Roasted More Carefully
If you know anything about coffee, you’re probably familiar with the four main roast types: light, medium, medium/dark, and dark. Most of the coffee’s flavor and aroma come from the roasting process.
The timeframe and the temperature at which the beans are roasted impact the taste, acidity, and amount of caffeine it contains. Heat pushes the caffeine and acidity out of the coffee beans.
Light roasts have the most caffeine because they’re roasted for a shorter time and at a lower temperature. Dark roasts are roasted at high temperatures for longer and have less caffeine since
Smaller specialty coffee producers roast coffee beans in small batches and have more control over the process than commercial manufacturers who roast coffee beans in bulk.
In some cases, bulk manufacturers may over-roast or burn the beans to give the coffee a smokey taste. This smokey taste masks the flavor of poor-quality coffee that may come from beans harvested before they’re properly ripe.
Roasting small batches at a time is more time-consuming and expensive, but you get a better quality product. Artisanal manufacturers are also more selective about the beans they use and will not need to mask their original flavor.
Have you ever tried raw coffee beans? I’ve written a complete guide and described everything about unroasted coffee beans, their tastes, and their uses. Don’t miss it. [Do Raw, Unroasted Coffee Beans Taste Good?]
Should You Purchase Expensive Coffee Beans?
While you can taste the difference when you make coffee using expensive coffee beans, purchasing them is up to your personal preference.
Some people are happy with ordinary coffee and just want to enjoy the caffeine fix, but others may have a more sophisticated palette and prefer coffee made with expensive beans.
It also depends on your budget. You may have a refined palette and be able to clearly distinguish between cheap and expensive coffee beans. But if your budget doesn’t allow for the pricier beans, you will probably have to stick to the cheaper ones and flavor your coffee with spices, syrups, cream, or sugar.
Choosing Your Coffee Beans
There is a huge variety of types and brands to choose from when shopping for coffee beans, and it can be challenging to know which to choose. To make it easier to select the best ones for you, look out for the following information. You’ll usually find it on the packaging.
The Roast Date
The roast date tells you when the coffee beans were roasted. Most coffee roasters advise waiting at least two days after the beans have been roasted to use them, as the beans need time after roasting for the flavors to develop.
Depending on the coffee bean and how long it was roasted, the best time to consume the beans is within a week to a month of the day they were roasted.
After that, the coffee will still be safe to drink, but the flavor and quality will not be as good as they would be within that period.
The Type of Roast
As mentioned above, there are four main roasts. Simply select a roast based on the flavor you like.
- Light roast: Light roasts are high in caffeine and are more acidic. They may have citrus or lemony notes.
- Medium roast: Medium roasts are most commonly enjoyed for their balanced flavor. They are less acidic than light roasts but have a slightly more refined taste.
- Medium / Dark roast: Medium to dark roasts are not very acidic and have a full-bodied, rich flavor. They also have less caffeine.
- Dark roast: Dark roasts have the least amount of acidity. Since they are roasted for a long time, the flavor has more time to develop. You’re likely to notice buttery notes and a richer flavor profile.
Single Origin or Blended
A single origin means that all the coffee beans are sourced from one location, whereas blended beans are sourced from multiple locations and roasted together to create a unique taste.
Single blends are typically lightly roasted, so you get the full effect of the coffee’s natural flavor.
Blended coffee may contain a combination of beans from two to four locations. Depending on the beans, the coffee may have a lovely harmony of a few different notes like citrus, chocolate, or a nutty flavor.
The price tag of high-quality coffee is usually justified. The harvesting and processing are more expensive, but they lead to better-tasting coffee.
However, whether premium coffee is worth it or not depends entirely on you. If you don’t care that much about how your coffee tastes, then you don’t need to worry about most of the subtleties discussed in this article.