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How to choose the right coffee beans for your cafe

Posted by Kate MacDonnell on Oct 20, 2020 12:00:00 PM
Kate MacDonnell

Choosing coffee beans is about more than just picking something that tastes good. In fact, there’s a lot more to coffee beans than you might think. Making an informed choice, and being able to talk about those choices with your customers, is how you take your coffee to the next level and provide an awesome guest experience every day. 

To talk us through it, guest contributor Kate MacDonnell writes about the different factors that influence coffee bean taste, price, and sourcing, so you can make the best decision for your venue.


When it comes down to it, there are very few things as important to a cafe as their beans. Knowing which to pick, how to save money, and what will be a hit is a complicated process. If you’re looking for some guidelines on picking your beans, read on and we’ll show you what you’ve been searching for.

Learn how different regions affect your beans

When seeking your beans, you’ll need to make a choice on where you’ll be importing them from.

Each region produces beans that have a distinctive flavor. From there, each grower will also have its own subtle twist. On top of that, most commercial producers have their own regional flair on brewing, so you end up with things like Italian roast coffee.

Sweeter coffees tend to hail from South America, while a less fruity taste dominates Central America. Meanwhile, Africa produces strong, acidic coffees.

Each person will have their own decision on which is the best brand of beans, but knowing the rough overall designations lets you start with something close to what you’re looking for - and will allow your staff to talk about your offering meaningfully and insightfully with your guests, creating a next-level experience. 

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Arrange a tasting

Once you have a bean variety in mind, you should grab some friends and colleagues for a tasting.

A tasting is a bit more formal than sitting around trying different cups of coffee. Instead, you should prepare it as close to what you’ll serve in your cafe as possible.You’ll do best if you start off with filtered water and the commercial machines you’re planning to use. Coffee is affected by many factors, some of which seem inconsequential. Try to keep all variables as close to each other as possible, or you may end up with skewed results.

From there you can take down opinions on the drinks you’ve made. If you’re planning on doing several coffees in one sitting, keep it down to four or five. Otherwise, your tasters may suffer from trying too many of them back-to-back.

Your tasting should also be as blind as possible. Having a third party put the cups together and bring them to you is a great idea. A lot of factors can affect our taste bias, so keep distractions to a minimum and find a coffee that can stand on its own.


Calculate your costs per cup

While taste is the biggest factor, a commercial operation runs on revenue and profit. Before you make a bulk purchase of any brand, you should know how much it costs per cup.

Include the costs of anything else that goes with the coffee, such as the cup and lid, as well.

It shouldn’t be the biggest factor, but we all know the bottom line is important. After all, if you can’t keep the lights on then you won’t be serving any coffee.

The cost per cup is also going to help you determine how to price your coffee. If you’re using multiple beans, you may want to meet the possible prices in the middle. If you’re charging the same price for each it will make things run smoother in the shop.


Learn about your beans’ infrastructure

It’s also hugely important to know where your product comes from, to help you anticipate changes and make decisions that align with your brand values. The world is a dynamic place, after all.

In addition to knowing the region your beans are coming from, you’ll also want to know how they’re arriving at your business.

The infrastructure in place varies greatly. Bringing beans from a commercial operation in South America to a North American cafe is different than bringing them from a small farm in Africa for instance.

Pester the company to learn as much about the chain of supply as possible. It’s the only way to be sure that you have a reliable source of coffee, and backups in case the system in place fails.

It’s a pain, but spend some time learning about logistics. It’ll help you make an informed decision on not just getting coffee from a great supplier, but also a reliable one. Even a couple of days of delay are a problem if you’re expecting a shipment.

Your cafe lives and dies based on how well received the coffee you produce is. The first step in ensuring that your cafe survives? Sitting down and doing the hard work it takes to get the right coffee coming into your business. It’s not just a matter of taste, you have to take the business side into account as well.

In the end, it’s one of the most important choices facing you in the near future. So take the above tips into account, to make sure you end up with the right selection.

Kate_MacDonall - 170x170 Kate MacDonnell writes for Coffee-Channel. She has been a coffee enthusiast since she could reach the kitchen counter and a writer since she could hold a pen. A native of Colorado, she loves drinking amazing coffee all over the world and has an ever-growing collection of coffee gear.

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Topics: Hospitality managers, Hospitality staff, Restaurants, Hospitality training, Bars