What’s the difference between roast, region & style? I don’t know coffee so I am suffering serious coffee confusion!

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What’s the difference between roast, region & style?
I don’t know coffee so I am suffering serious coffee confusion!

do you know coffee?
Can’t identify this coffee?

“I can’t tell the difference …” or …is it considered dark-roast, medium, light, Colombian, French?” I just don’t know coffee!

Disclaimer: When you buy through a link on this site, I earn commission
from any qualifying purchases as I’m an Amazon Associate.

This query was added to a recent Reader’s Question. I already answered that question, but I thought I’d better spend some time sorting out the real coffee confusion for you. Hope this article helps you.

In the world of coffee, terminology abounds making it difficult for consumers to know what they are buying or if they are buying decent coffee at all.

Let’s see if I help you know coffee a little more clearly. I hope I shed a little light on your coffee buying!

Table of Contents: If you want to know coffee, you need to know –

What coffee beans are they? Where do they come from?

There are many varieties of coffee beans grown in the natural world, but in the coffee drinking world, only two types have become prominent: Arabica and Robusta.

In short, Arabica is your first preference because the coffee is smoother, lower in caffeine and generally makes a better cup of coffee. Typically, Colombia grows the best Arabica coffee beans you can find on the marketplace.

However, Robusta coffee has long had a bad rap. It’s true. And for the most part, it’s deserved unless you’re specifically buying quality robusta. For us, though, this is not usually an option.

So, focus on 100% Arabica beans, unless you like Espresso Coffee. There are some 100% Arabica espressos available, but most add a touch of robusta for body and flavor reasons.

If you know coffee, tell me what origin? A blend or single origin?

Many coffee connoisseurs love to talk about coffee origins. Coffee origin refers to where the coffee beans are grown, so you’ll find countries, like Brazil, Ethiopia, Kenya, Colombia, etc. 100% of the coffee growing regions are within the tropics. So you’ll never find coffee grown in, say, France or Italy.

Some countries like Colombia focus on growing primarily Arabica coffee, the one you prefer; while others grow a mix of Arabica & Robusta, such as Brazil, or Kenya. There are indeed some champagne quality Robusta beans, of a very high quality; but most of the Robusta crop goes to making instant coffee, 3-in-1 coffee, or cheap mass market blends.

If you buy a bag of ‘Latin American Coffee’, you can expect to see coffee beans from any of a number of different countries in Latin America, though most likely it’s a blend of Colombian and Brazilian coffee. And most likely, it’s Arabica (but check!)

If you buy a single origin coffee, you’ll note that the coffee beans usually come from a single region or location. No blending of other country beans are included, however the price may be higher than you’d otherwise expect.

What roast did you say?

The last confusing aspect is … roasting names.

You’ll often here names like French Roast, or Italian Roast; even city or regional names can be used, such as Verona. While these names may sound like the origins we already mentioned, they only refer to a style of roasting, not to the origin of the coffee beans themselves. After all, neither France nor Italy actually grow coffee beans.

While the term ‘French Roast’ may actually denote a style of roasting where beans are roasted very dark, other names may be less than candid about what is actually inside. In short, pay attention to what is actually inside, don’t be fooled by branding names or ‘fake’ names. The term Colombian may refer to beans from Colombia, South American Coffee refers generally to the entire region and whatever bean is grown there.

You’ll even find marketing names, terroir names (like farm, mill, and estate names), flavored coffee, the mystery (usually very romantic) house blends, as well as a whole range of organic and coffee for charity names. Most big brands offer a variety to suit most tastes, preparation methods, and even budgets!

How can I tell good coffee? Help is at hand…

There are good guidelines to help you know coffee and understand what to buy:

  • Don’t pay too little for your coffee, don’t try to buy the cheapest, don’t look for a bargain (there aren’t many due to the costs of processing coffee)!
  • If you do pay too little, you’ll only get cheap coffee beans (and probably unknown roasting date/process/region) and a bad taste in your mouth, because they add too many robusta coffee beans to the mix.
  • Also, be aware that if a particular roast emphasizes vague qualities instead of origin, roast, type of bean… you’ll be looking at a more typical brand.
  • Dark roasts are more often typical of cheap coffee, simply because the roasting process homogenizes the flavor profile so mixing cheaper beans won’t be noticed.

Where can I learn about coffee?

How can I tell good coffee from bad coffee?

So you’re buying coffee beans in the market or coffee shop? Can you really tell good coffee from bad? Well, Dillon Edwards from Parlor Coffee thinks he knows in this video.

how to tell good coffee

He should because he’s spent much of his life working as a barista from Nashville to New York City. He’s also worked for some of the most famous 3rd Wave Coffee shops in the US, like Blue Bottle, Stumptown, and Pulley Collective. His experience shouts his ability to tell good coffee from bad.

Disclaimer: When you buy through a link on this site, I earn commission
from any qualifying purchases as I’m an Amazon Associate.

You can find him working regularly in his roasting company in Brooklyn, New York where he strives for coffee perfection. So yes, he can tell good coffee. And lucky for us, he has made this video to introduce some of his insights into buying the perfect coffee beans.

Coffee Expert Shows How to Tell Good Coffee from Bad

In the video, Edwards gives us a clear explanation of:

  • coffee processing & preparation techniques,
  • coffee roasts (dark roast vs light roast),
  • coffee varietals and regional sources
  • tips on appreciating your coffee

1. Equipment Used

I won’t give you the answers. But his education covers all the basics that you need to know about making coffee in filter. His equipment choices include the Kalita Coffee Cone, Baratza Coffee Grinder, and the Bonavita Gooseneck Kettle.

Obviously, he is using an electronic scale to weigh accurately both the coffee and the water.

2. Techniques used to know coffee

Pay attention to how he pours the water, both the volume, spacing and technique as he soaks the coffee grounds. Learning this kind of technique will enhance the natural flavors of your coffee!

Watch his technique for understanding the flavor profile of each of the coffees, too. That use of extra air can help to determine flavors! Try it in your next cuppa before you add sugar or cream.

3. Knowledge Used

Understanding where your coffee comes from, know coffee and how it is processed, and the relative importance of the cost as related (indirectly) to the quality means that you will be able to buy and appreciate better quality coffee.

I leave you with his thoughts about ‘gas station coffee’:

If you go to a gas station when you’re on a road trip and you have a really piping hot gas station cup of coffee, you could probably get half of it down without noticing it. But as it cools off and it’s sitting in your cup holder, it’s gonna taste awful coffee”.

Dillon Edwards, Parlor Coffee, NYC.

Now do you know coffee?

So now if you know coffee terms like these, you can understand what French Roast Colombian Single Origin High Mountain Blend actually means! Now, perhaps you can banish thoughts like “I just don’t know coffee!” a little faster! Who knows!? You do!

Now you can learn a little more with one of my favorite books about coffee: The World Atlas of Coffee! It’s a wonderful introduction to the world of coffee.

What are the different types of coffee beans, find out here!

Signature of PurelyCoffeeBeans in calligraphic brush style