Good VS Bad Coffee: How Do You Tell Them Apart?

Coffee enthusiasts may find it easy to tell the difference between good vs bad coffee. But, if you’re a beginner, you may think it’s just a bitter drink that you add sugar and cream in to make it taste nice!

While cream and sugar do make it taste good, the grounds themselves must taste good to begin with. Good coffee tastes good even on its own and doesn’t need to rely on other ingredients to make it palatable.

So, want to know the difference between good and bad coffee? Allow us to walk you through each factor and share some tips on how you can improve on those areas.

Good vs Bad Coffee: The Main Differences

Many specific components help distinguish the difference between good and bad coffee. They are the following:


Roasting is the process of making coffee from the coffee beans. It determines how your coffee tastes, feels, and looks after being brewed. A well-roasted coffee has a smooth flavor and good taste. It also doesn’t stick, char, or look ashy.


The smell can make or break your coffee. Good coffee always smells inviting and appealing, while bad coffee may be odorless or have a burnt smell.

Plus, as they say, a coffee’s aroma usually determines its worth.


We think this is the main distinguishing factor of good vs bad coffee. It generally depicts how it was prepared, what beans were used for its flavor, and even where it came from. Our taste buds normally decide if a cup tastes good or bad.

For example, good coffee doesn’t taste bland, too sweet, too dry, or too sour. It will just sit right with the buds and give that perfect taste. Bad coffee, on the other hand, can be bland, too sour, too bitter, too dry, or too sweet.


Body refers to how heavy your coffee is. Keep in mind that coffee is more viscous than water, so it shouldn’t feel like water in the mouth. It should have some weight to it, but it shouldn’t be too thick as well.

Coffee connoisseurs often savor the body of a good cup. It’s like sipping a rich and smooth drink that you’d like to take over and over again.


This is the taste that lingers in your mouth after drinking a cup of coffee. Good coffee has a pleasant and smooth aftertaste. Meanwhile, bad coffee has a bitter, sticky, or sour aftertaste.

Good vs Bad Coffee: How to Improve

Good vs Bad Coffee Tip # 1: Always Look for the Roast Date

As we mentioned, you should always buy or drink freshly-roasted coffee. You’ll be surprised at how many establishments actually brew coffee with stale beans.

For reference, freshly-roasted coffee beans have a nice smell and are packed with powerful flavors that go away quite easily.

Therefore, the best time to drink coffee is within 15 days of the roast date. There’ll then be a significant decline in flavor after those two weeks. We’re not saying that you can’t drink coffee after this date. But, it will be stale and taste poorer.

If you want to check if a bag of beans is fresh or not, simply look for the roast date. If there’s no roast date, chances are the bag has been sitting in the warehouse or shipping container for months. So, unfortunately, the coffee at your grocery store is probably stale.

Good vs Bad Coffee Tip # 2: Make Sure the Coffee is Ground Fresh

We now know that coffee beans will lose their flavor and aroma 15 days after roasting. But, what do you think will happen if you grind them all up and leave them for a few days?

Unfortunately, the flavors in ground coffee disappear very quickly. In fact, you may notice a drop in quality even after just a day! Meaning, the pre-ground bag you bought from the grocery store has gone stale even before making it to the shelf.

In short, good coffee is ground only as needed and not pre-ground and vacuum-sealed for months.

We suggest getting yourself a grinder. This is the first big investment many beginners should make when starting their coffee journey. Furthermore, if you really want the best out of every cup, we strongly recommend getting only the best machine available.

Good vs Bad Coffee Tip # 3: Be as Precise as Possible

Making a good cup of coffee is an art. You have to take note of the coffee-to-water ratio, grind size, brewing technique, water temperature, etc. Remember that even the slightest change can affect the strength and extraction of the coffee.

This is why if an expert makes coffee, you’ll notice that they list all the conditions they use for future reference. This way, it’ll be easier to adjust the brew for next time if it becomes too sour, bitter, and more.

So, good coffee means using exact variables while bad coffee means “eyeballing” amounts and estimating times. Here’s a guide on how to fix the two most common coffee mistakes:

  • Your coffee is too sour – the coffee is under-extracted. You can either make the grind size finer or increase the brew time.
  • Your coffee is too bitter – the coffee is over-extracted. You can either make the grind size coarser or lower the brew time.

Good vs Bad Coffee Tip # 4: Choose High-Quality Coffee Beans

High-quality coffee means high-quality ingredients. If you’re looking for good coffee, then you should stay away from heavily-produced cheap coffee like Robusta.

The best coffee can come from any part of the world. However, it’s only produced in smaller farms and even in “microlots.” This is because you can take care of a smaller amount more compared to this mass-produced rubbish. The rainfall, shade, sunlight, and how the beans are grown, dried, and peeled make a difference to the overall taste.

Ever heard of the term “single origin”? This term refers to coffee grown in a small farm or region. Plus, aside from the more pronounced flavors and notes, they’re examples of high-quality coffee because of better nurturing.

Instead of buying your beans from the grocery store or major chains, try buying them from coffee roasters. Additionally, if a coffee shop roasts its beans or has its own roaster, rest assured you can expect high-quality coffee.

You may even schedule a trip to a coffee farm, too! Yes, it costs more, but it may be your only option if you’re truly serious about brewing that perfect cup.

Good vs Bad Coffee Tip # 5: Avoid Inconsistent Grind Size

The two pieces of equipment that coffee shops shouldn’t cheap out on are the grinder and espresso machine. Coffee needs a specific amount of time for its oils and compounds to mix and turn hot water into coffee.

Some places even spend thousands of dollars for a good grinder!

Sadly, many shops cut down on grinders mainly because of the price. Firstly, they should be reliable since they’ll be used many times a day. Secondly, they should also be able to grind the beans into evenly-sized chunks or powder!

The result of cutting down on these two? Fine powder and big chunks all mixed together.

This is a problem because the big chunks will under extract, so you won’t completely get all the stuff out. They’ll also produce too much of the early extracting sour tastes and can make your brew taste grassy and thin. Meanwhile, the fine powder will extract too quickly and will produce a lot of that later extracting bitter tastes.

In a nutshell, you can’t have good coffee without a good grinder. We’re talking around $100 for an automatic beginner grinder and $150 for a solid hand grinder. However, we think the manual grinder gives more value for money. Since it doesn’t have to worry about the price of the motor, it can focus more on making good burrs.

Good vs Bad Coffee Tip # 6: Stay Away from Overly-Roasted Beans

Ever liked that smoky, charry, and burnt taste you get when drinking a good cup of brew? No? We thought so, too.

Coffee roasting is similar to cooking in a lot of ways. To truly enjoy all the subtle notes and flavors of your coffee, stay away from coffees sold as a dark roast. These are burnt to a crisp and take away all the amazing flavors of your coffee.

Instead, go for medium or lightly-roasted coffee. It’s like having your steak rare where the flavors haven’t been cooked away yet. Such roasts accentuate the incredible flavors that high-quality coffee beans have to offer.


Knowing the difference between good vs bad coffee can feel overwhelming. However, even taking baby steps towards improving your coffee is enough and is a good thing. It only means that you’re indeed trying.

We hope this post has helped you on your journey of making the perfect cup. It may take a while to get there, but with enough practice, you’ll eventually get it perfect.

Happy shopping and brewing!

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