Where to Buy Good Whole Bean Coffee?
Buying coffee seems straightforward.
You go to the local supermarket, hit the coffee aisle, and find some beans.
You get those beans home, brew a cup, and it tastes like muddy water.
Things don't have to be this way.
The short: You can buy good whole-bean coffee at local roasters, markets, supermarkets, and online.
This article will explain how you can learn to buy good coffee beans from whatever sources you can access.
Growing into a Coffee Person
These days, my family affectionately calls me a "coffee snob."
Things didn't start off this way.
Yes, I've been a coffee drinker my whole life.
Growing up, however, I didn't think much of the quality or even know enough to wonder about the flavor possibilities.
The coffee I drank was supermarket coffee, either instant or pre-ground.
I usually drank my coffee black and loaded with sugar.
Throughout the years, I discovered slightly better supermarket coffee.
I was exposed to Starbucks.
I moved to LA.
I was exposed to The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf and then Peets.
I started getting pour-overs from Philz, sweet and light.
One thing leads to the next.
Coffee consumption can be a journey if you're curious enough to start exploring.
To drink better coffee.
To know and examine what you're tasting.
Coffee didn't click for me until I started on that journey.
I went from supermarket coffee to large chains to indie roasters.
I went from drinking instant coffee with lots of milk and sugar to vanilla bullshit lattes (thanks, Larry David) to cappuccinos and espresso shots.
It was all about knowledge and exploration.
I started to notice just how many small shops there were in LA.
I started seeing how many shops roasted their own coffee.
I started going to those shops frequently and getting to know the baristas.
The baristas helped me navigate the coffee and drinks they were serving in those small shops.
They had a lot more time to engage than, say, Starbucks.
They seemed genuinely interested in interacting or just generally discussing coffee.
Sometimes they were the owner or head barista of the shop.
Talking to the baristas and trying espresso shots in every shop I visited provided a swift education on what I liked and disliked.
They helped to educate me about regions.
I started making a habit of asking which coffee they served came from which country.
This was very beneficial as I started identifying coffees based on coffee I'd had in the past.
The more your barista can tell you about the coffee they're serving, the better the quality will likely be.
Once it got to the point of being able to identify things, it became an obsession.
I'd try multiple shops in a day in the same area when I was out and about.
I started noticing weird or unconventional flavors when shops had something unusual.
After talking to a barista at Nice Coffee in DTLA about home espresso machines a bit before the pandemic, I bought a Breville Barista Express.
That machine, the pandemic, and a Trade Coffee subscription set things off and is likely why I have this website today.
This took my local exploration to a national one.
I'd get a new coffee monthly and compare it to the last.
Learning to use my new espresso machines, with all the flavor notes, processing methods, and roast levels of the coffee I was getting, was an exciting challenge.
I'm glad to be able to document everything I'm learning, even if to refer back to my own notes.
That was a lot of background, but now that you understand how I got here, you can appreciate the tips I'm about to give you for where to buy good coffee.
Buy Good Coffee at a Local Indie Shop or Roaster
The easiest and potentially most responsible thing to do is to find good coffee locally and buy it there.
There are obviously levels to this.
You may not live in a place with a tremendous indie coffee scene.
You may live in a town with a single coffee place, and it may be a Starbucks.
This is ok and could be an excellent way to find better coffee than you are already drinking.
Buy Good Coffee at a Local Chain Roaster
There is some decent coffee at chain roasters.
There are many small-ish chain roasters that I would drink in a heartbeat.
I know many people who enjoy Starbucks Blonde Roast or Peet's Major Dickason coffee beans but don't particularly like what they serve in their shops.
Local large chain shops might be your best source of coffee if that's what's available to you.
Buy Good Coffee at a Local Supermarket
You read that supermarket coffee was an early part of my coffee journey.
Though my supermarket coffee days were before I knew any better, it doesn't mean supermarkets don't sell good coffee.
Whole Foods, in particular, has coffee from bigger roasters that are typically reputable.
The difference with supermarket coffee, including Whole Foods, is that it tends to have an expiration date rather than a roast date.
With an expiration date, it's easier to tell how fresh a bag of coffee really is.
Look for roast dates to know you're getting fresh, quality coffee from a supermarket.
Some companies will add roast and expiration dates to the bags they send to supermarkets.
Also, look for coffee that has flavor notes.
Flavor notes are a short list of flavors, usually 3, that gives the buyer a sense of what to expect.
Another good indicator of quality coffee is that it includes some indication of the region the beans come from.
Try to find coffee that checks any or all of these boxes.
Buy Good Coffee On Amazon
Buying whole-bean coffee on Amazon is much like buying coffee at supermarkets, possibly with a more extensive selection.
It's harder to get a sense of the roast or expiration dates, but otherwise, the same rules apply.
On Amazon, 49th Parallel Old School Espresso is my go-to in a pinch.
Any 49th Parallel beans you choose should be solid.
An excellent way to cut through the noise on Amazon is to order it via Whole Foods because Whole Foods' offerings are a bit more curated.
If your local/online Whole Foods offers any of those, it might be better than other local supermarkets.
Buy Good Coffee Online from Roasters You've Heard Of
This may be challenging when you're just starting out.
Once you've found good coffee at Supermarkets or Amazon, you'll get a feel for how dark you like it roasted or what regions you typically enjoy your coffee coming from.
You'll also start to understand which roasters you like.
There is a definite possibility that those roasters have a website.
One of the best ways to ensure that you buy good coffee is by buying fresh coffee.
Most roasters will roast beans to order once or twice a week and almost always stamp the roast date on the bag.
As you try different coffees, start listing the roasters and looking them up online.
We can sit here all day and name roasters that will ship you good coffee, but you should form your opinions through experience.
Buy Good Coffee Online from Coffee Curators
There are a handful of sites online that will help to curate your coffee experience by picking food coffee for you.
You subscribe to get coffee at some regular interval, typically between once a week and once a month.
There are a few different variations of this.
One we tried, Atlas Coffee Club, curates beans from different farms worldwide, roasts them in-house, and sends them out to you monthly.
This allows you to get a great sense of what coffee from different regions is like without dealing with various roasters.
That said, the service we currently use is Trade Coffee.
The way Trade Coffee works is you take a short quiz about what flavors you like and how you plan to brew your coffee.
They then send you a different coffee from a curated list of quality roasters each time based on your taste profile.
They also sell coffee directly, and if you see something you'd like to try, you can add it to your queue.
We currently get coffee from Trade about once every 1.5 to 2 weeks.
We've tried and enjoyed more coffee through them than I'm willing to admit in this article.
It's a great way to try out a lot of roasters in a short amount of time.
So, Where is the Best Place to Buy Good Whole Bean Coffee?
I'd say wherever you're comfortable buying it, but if I have to rank the ways, I'd say
at a Local Indie Roaster
at a Local Chain Roaster
Online from Roasters You've Heard Of
Online from Coffee Curators
at a Local Supermarket
This is my preferred order because if you want to keep these shops and roasters around, it's best to support them directly.
Even better if it's local to you.
Coffee curators are suitable for discovery but can be considered go-betweens once you have settled on the roasters you like.
Amazon and Supermarkets are good if that's all you have access to, but they're outside the specialty coffee business.
Hence, the level of knowledge and curation for good coffee is much lower than the other options.
Now that you know where to buy good beans, where will you get them from?