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5 Things Everyone Should Know About Their Coffee

And what it means for your cup.

by Randy Miller | May 11, 2022

Have you ever stood at a wine shop, frozen at the wall of bottles and paralyzed by choice? You might know whether you want red or white, or even what region you like, or maybe how much you want to spend. And yet, dozens of labels stare right back taunting you to make a decision. In much the same way, finding a coffee you love can seem a bit challenging or overwhelming at first. So many bags, where to begin? Here's where coffee experts suggest:

1. Your favorite brew method

While we truly believe you can brew any coffee you love with whatever brew method you prefer, certain coffee brewing methods are especially good for certain coffees. Have you ever enjoyed a rich, full-bodied French press on a chilly fall day? Or sipped a particularly complex natural process coffee straight out of your Chemex?

At Trade, our powerful algorithm-powered quiz always starts with this question to ensure the coffee we recommend tastes great with your current coffee routine. We’re here to support your search for the best coffee in the nation with expert guidance including our resident Q Grader (think: a coffee sommelier), a team of Coffee Guides with over 40 years of combined experience ready to answer your every question, and that signature quiz designed to match you to coffees you love from an assortment of over 450+ seasonally rotating coffees.

2. If you take it black (or with milk… or sugar… or both)

No judgment here! We ask how you take your coffee because while some can be enhanced by milk (hello nutty, chocolaty coffees!), others — like highly acidic coffees — may react negatively and result in an unpleasant taste.

A little sugar, sweetener, or added flavorings can balance the smoky bitterness of dark roasts, while overpowering some more delicate light roasts. We’ll recommend coffee that works best with what you like.

3. Your preferred roast level

This is the most common question people stumble on and for good reason. Roast level is not a standardized definition across all roasters. What one considers a medium roast another might call their dark roast. And don’t get us started on medium-dark roast. To ensure you get what you’re expecting, we score all coffees on Trade on our own scale, called our Trade Roast Level.

Keep in mind that the roast level on your bag may be different from what we describe on site, because we evaluate every coffee by our own common standard, which is consistent across our catalog for easy browsing.

Coffees roasted on the light side often let the sweet fruit notes and aromatics in the coffee shine. When a coffee gets into medium roast territory, more complex sugar browning reactions have time to take place, leading to more complex caramel sweetness. When the roast starts to get to a dark level, that caramelization goes even further and some fibers basically start to burn, creating smoky flavors.

4. How you like your coffee to taste

Taste is a subjective thing. And while none of the coffees on Trade contain any added flavors or ingredients (just 100 percent coffee!) they can taste totally different based on where they’re from, how they’re processed and how they’re roasted.

Classic flavors like roasted nuts and chocolate remind us of the best version of the coffee we used to drink at the local diner.

Some coffees have a hint of something different, perhaps some gentle fruit flavors (coffee is, after all, the seed of a fruit) that combine perfectly with those more familiar flavors.

Coffee has a wild amount of aromatics and flavors in it, and if you’re looking for flavors that are surprising and unconventional compared to the coffee you grew up with, we have plenty of coffees that emphasize flavors from blueberry to key lime.

5. If you want your coffee whole bean (or ground)

We try to offer ground to order coffee from as many roasters as possible. If ground is your thing we’ll make sure we don’t recommend a coffee that’s only available whole bean.

Not quite sure which you prefer? Opting to have the roaster grind your coffee for you can be particularly useful if you don’t own a grinder (duh) or if you don’t want to recalibrate your grinder for a new brew method. Traveling? Ground coffee is excellent for that, especially if you don’t know what sort of brewing equipment your destination will have and want to pack light.

If you’re willing to invest in a good grinder, fresh ground coffee will be more aromatic and flavorful than coffee that has been pre-ground. Coffee grounds leave more surface area exposed to oxygen than whole beans, which is the number one factor in how soon coffee will start tasting stale and stop tasting fresh.

Bonus: How fresh you want your coffee

Ok, this one’s a trick question. That’s because when you shop with Trade you can be assured that every single coffee we recommend will be roasted fresh just for you and sent to your door ASAP.

That literally means the coffee you’re matched to in the quiz is yet-to-be-bagged by one of our 55+ craft roasters across the nation. So, when you get your coffee, open it up and take a whiff, that’s peak freshness right there!

Ready to find your first coffee? Get started here!