When I started drinking coffee, it would not have mattered if it was instant or brewed, where the beans were from, how it was roasted, or flown, as long as it kept me awake and helped me pass my exams.
However as time passed I became aware of the different beans, roasts and flavors available. So when your palate reaches this stage of awareness and you no longer say coffee is all the same as long as it keeps me awake, how do you choose the right coffee bean?
First, choose which species you prefer, 75% of the worlds coffee trade is of Coffee Arabica due to its generally preferred flavor and deep aroma and it does go well with cream, sugar and other additives. But for the true coffee connoisseur it does not hurt to sample any of the other available species, such as benghalensis, canephor, congensis and mogeneti to name a few.
Now assuming you do not roast your own beans (as some of us do!) Its important to choose the best roast. This is determined by the degree of darkness and there are four main types; Light (Cinnamon Roast, Half City, New England), Medium (Full City, American, Regular, Breakfast Brown), Dark (High, Viennese, Italian Expresso, Continental) and Darkest (Italian, French, Spanish). Most people prefer medium roast due to its balanced flavor and sweetness, but do try the others as individual tastes often vary considerably.
As for the origin of the beans, the differences in flavors are small but significant. Beans from Central America and Hawaii have a snappy and vibrant flavor, Whereas beans from Yemen and East Africa are more bitter and Indonesian grown beans have a more complex flavor.
In addition to the natural flavors within the different coffee beans, different flavors can be added by the manufacturer, these are many and varied, but to begin with I would suggest trying beans without added flavors for two reasons. Firstly particularly with artificial flavors this might overpower the natural taste of the bean and prevent an unbiased choice of coffee bean and secondly the more the beans are flavored the unheathier they become!
As for where to purchase your coffee beans, while your local supermarket will most likely stock some of the most popular varieties, probably the best place to find a large range of interesting and desirable flavors is the internet. You will also receive the beans fresh and full of flavor unlike those at the local store which may have been in storage for some time.
Another good option which I would recommend is to join a coffee of the month club. For a low price you get to sample one or more coffee bean flavors each month and also can discuss different flavors with other members.
Finding a delicious coffee bean is not easy but once you have you can enjoy the fruits of your labor as often as you like!