What Is A Good Quality Of Coffee? (Explained)

Learn how to choose good quality of coffee every time with this in-depth guide.

Quality of coffee
Good coffee has a strong and pleasant aroma that smells fresh

Have you ever heard a coffee or espresso lover say, “You just need to try good quality coffee!” and wondered what they meant? Let me explain what they mean, what to look for in good quality coffee, and help you learn to pick the best coffee for you.

It all boils down to the main question: What is good quality coffee? Good coffee will have a strong, pleasant aroma that smells fresh. The espresso beans should not feel too greasy or dry. Whole beans should not be rock hard or crumble easily between your fingers.

The packaging should have a one-way valve and an airtight seal. There is so much more to picking good quality coffee, but those are the basic first things to look for. Let’s explore this more in-depth so you can become a coffee pro too!

What To Look For In Good Quality Coffee

Finding a good coffee roaster will take more effort than simply popping down to your local grocery store and snagging the first package you see. Grabbing a coffee can or instant espresso and heading home may be easier, but you need to do yourself more.

It’s certainly possible to find decent coffee this way, but your cup of Joe could be so much better if you stop and take a moment to follow this guide. Before long, it will become second nature to you, and you won’t even have to think—you’ll know awesome coffee when you encounter it. So, how do you find good quality coffee? Check these major points before you buy.

Coffee Packaging Is Important

Whether you’re a seasoned coffee roaster connoisseur or new to coffee, you’ll need to know what to look for when picking up a fresh bag of coffee. Make sure to choose airtight bags because they allow the coffee to off-gas safely without allowing oxygen into the bag. Pay attention to the type of packaging and how it functions.

Airtight bags are best, as they maintain the proper conditions inside the bag to keep your coffee fresh. The best coffee packages have one-way seals near the top. These allow the coffee to off-gas safely without allowing extra oxygen into the bag.

Bagged coffee allows consumers to press the excess air out. As you remove beans, reseal the bag, and fold it down to remove as much air as possible. Many coffee packages come with resealable zippers and tape to hold the bag closed securely.

If yours doesn’t have the sticky tape to help seal it, any tape you have at home will do.

Visual Characteristics Of Whole Beans

Bowls of different types of coffee beans
Lighter and darker roasts look different, but the excellent quality coffee remains the same

Where do coffee beans come from? Good coffee beans come in two main types. Arabica beans and Robusta beans share some similarities but produce vastly different brews. Arabica is some of the best coffee, while Robusta beans are usually used for instant coffee.

It’s important to note that lighter roast beans will look different than darker roast beans, but the characteristics of good quality coffee remain the same. White coffee is completely different, and we won’t cover that here. I did talk about white coffee in this article, though.

Look for whole, undamaged, higher-quality beans. They should not be fractured, cracked, or broken into pieces. One or two damaged beans in a bag aren’t bad, but make sure to choose a different bag if more than ¼ of the bag is damaged.

Darker roasts will have a more bitter flavor and aftertaste. The longer roast time brings more of the oils to the surface, so darker roast beans should appear slightly oily. Lighter roast beans have more acidity in their aftertaste and look slightly drier, but they should not be powdery.

I found a pretty good visual guide right here. It’s a good place to start, with excellent pictures to show the differences. It covers whole beans and pre-ground, though I definitely suggest sticking with whole beans so you know what you’re getting.

Take A Sniff Of The Aroma

The smell of your coffee is just as important as its appearance. This will be a great indicator of how the coffee will taste. Over time, you will notice subtle differences immediately just by the smell.

That’s helpful when you want to save money by avoiding terrible coffee before you buy it.

Good quality coffee will have no rancid, sour, or “off” smells. It should not make you wrinkle your nose or turn away. Rancid coffee has been sitting too long, and the oils have begun to go off.

Avoid this! If the coffee smells burnt or overly bitter, skip it. It was roasted way too long, and the flavor will be more like charcoal than a smooth coffee.

Do your beans smell almost raw? They weren’t roasted long enough. This will make the beans hard to grind, making them taste woody or plant-like instead of the classic coffee. Don’t get under-roasted beans confused with white coffee! There is a difference.

All that said, a strong aroma is great. It helps you smell the different taste levels you’ll be experiencing with that first cup. However, if it’s a strong and unpleasant smell, move on to the next bag of beans. Why are coffee beans roasted? Read our guide to find out!

How Does It Taste?

The taste of coffee is heavily influenced by roast time, method, and freshness of coffee beans. There are many ways to predict the quality of coffee before ever tasting a drop. However, all the investigations in the world can’t make up for bringing some home and trying it out.

The taste profile will be heavily influenced by the roast time and method. Freshness also plays a huge part here. Old, stale coffee will have a flat and weak flavor.

Fresh coffee will pop with flavor from the first drop to the last sip. Depending on your preferred roast, you will want to rate the coffee on bitterness, sweetness, and any extra tones. Lots of great quality coffee comes with added flavors.

Consider those extra flavors when you grade your new coffee purchase. A poor-quality flavor added to a high-quality roasted coffee can ruin your Java! Always test your new specialty coffee black first.

This gives you an accurate impression of the overall flavor and quality. After the first sip, go ahead and add your usual things and taste it again. Your additives should not overpower the coffee’s flavor but add to and enhance it.

If your additives easily mask the coffee’s natural flavor, the coffee may be old or not high-quality. Granted, if you add enough milk and sugar to any coffee, you’ll cover the flavor. If you’re going to do that, though, why did you bother getting awesome coffee?

The Golden Rule For Choosing Good Quality Coffee

Of all the tips I’ve given you in this article, the most important is the golden rule for choosing coffee. “Fresh is best.” Many people believe that coffee never goes bad, but this isn’t true! The fact is, coffee comes from a fruit. Do you know of any fruit that lasts forever? Of course not!

On the other hand, some people believe that coffee will go bad after a mere two weeks, but this is also false. Properly stored coffee can last much longer. You need to know what to do and how to handle whole coffee beans.

That makes sense, right? But then, how do you know if your coffee is fresh? This is quite simple. Good quality coffee will have a “roasted on” date printed on the package. Do not confuse this for a “use by” date.

If you see a package of coffee with a “use by” date and not a “roasted on” date, move along. Knowing when the coffee was roasted is imperative to making the best cup of coffee. The reason to avoid a “use by” date is that the manufacturer can put any date there.

It’s not really regulated. That coffee could be three days old or three years old. Without a “roasted on” date, you will never know.  

How Long Can You Store Whole Coffee Beans?

Glass jar with coffee beans, wooden kitchenware
Always use an airtight container

This answer depends on how fresh the coffee was when you bought it. It also depends on how often you open the bag of whole coffee beans. Your storage method is very important.

How you store your coffee also depends on where you live and your specific environmental conditions. 

Here are some storage tips for the best coffee.

  1. Always use an airtight container. As discussed above, bags are better than tins, cans, or other rigid containers. Be sure to squeeze out all the excess air before storing your coffee beans.
  2. If you live in a hot, moist environment, store your beans in the refrigerator or the freezer. Keep your coffee stored in a dark, cool area. I know people who keep their coffee in their basement.

Stored in this way, your coffee should last for 3 to 4 weeks before noticing a difference in the flavor. Some people can keep it much longer. You must experiment with your coffee storage to determine your maximum storage time.

FAQs About Quality Of Coffee

What makes coffee better quality?

Better quality coffee tastes different. It should be fresh, smooth, and never sour. Coffee beans that are stored in an airtight container, smell delicious, and have a smooth appearance are the best quality coffee beans you can buy! Look out for fresh and well-packaged coffee beans to drink the best quality espressos at home.

How do you judge coffee quality?

You can easily judge the coffee quality by looking for a “roasted on” date. The freshest coffee is the best coffee, so look out for high-quality coffee beans that have been roasted recently. Also, check that the beans have a strong and fresh aroma; this is a key sign of high-quality coffee beans that will make a delicious brew.


  • Aisling O'Connor

    Aisling is an Irish food and drinks writer and journalist fueled by coffee and herbal tea. She followed up her journalism degree with nutrition studies. Find Aisling on LinkedIn.