Coffee Classification And Deciphering Our Labels
Specs used when talking about single origin coffees:
Variety: This refers to the type of coffee bean / tree. Many people know about the difference between Arabica and Robusta (we only use 100% Arabica coffee beans - that's the better one) but are not aware that there are varietal differences between types of Arabica, much as there is between wines. So, just like you can have Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon with wine, with coffee you could have Bourbon, Typica, Caturra, Java, Blue Mountain, Yirgacheffe or Harar, or a mix of these. We believe it's just a matter of time until these names become more prevalent in marketing and people have their preferred type, again much like in wine. For a list of all varieties click here (Wikipedia - opens in new window)
Faults: Is the number of faulty beans within a sample of 300g and is of course better the lower it is. Coffees with few faulty beans are usually better tasting and always more expensive than coffee with lots of faulty beans. Faults may include undeveloped beans and beans partly eaten by birds among a dozen other reasons.
Size: The screen size of the beans ranges from 14 - 19. While there are significant differences between origin and type of coffee, in general it's the bigger the better (and more expensive). That said, a 19 screen bean is not necessarily better than a 16 screen one. Furthermore, some of the best coffees are very small, including many African varieties.
Processing: The way the coffee bean is processed and hulled has a big impact on the coffee’s flavor. If it's wet processed the result is more even, cleaner but also much worse for the environment. If it's dry processed the resulting flavor is more uneven but may also be more interesting; of course it may also be much worse as dry processed coffees are often quite irregular. For espresso blends some dry processed should be used as it will help with the crema formation.
Elevation: A high altitude has many advantages for coffee. In general, the higher the altitude the slower the beans grow, making them more dense and fuller of flavor. Drainage, weather and other factors at that height also positively affect the coffee. The higher the coffee is grown the more pronounces are its intrinsic flavors. An altitude of 1000 - 1500 metres is good, 1500 - 2000 metres is ideal.
Country: A no-brainer basically and the first (and only choice) for many who choose a single origin coffee. While there are definitely similarities in a country's coffee there are also, depending on the country, huge differences. So just like, for example, you might like a French or Italian wine in general, you may prefer Ethiopian or Indonesian coffee. But just as there is a huge difference between Tuscanny and Sicily, or Alsace and Bourgogne, there will also be a huge difference between Sulawesi and Mandheling (Indonesia) or Harrar and Yirgacheffe (Ethiopia).
Region: As mentioned above, region plays a large role in what the coffee tastes like.
Crop: Refers to the year of the crop. There are good years and bad years, years with large crops and years with small ones. Green coffee can be stored for several years without affecting the taste but in general the newer the coffee is the better.
Grade: Most countries have their own grading system and sometimes it's not very clear which is the best. Top quality washed Ethiopian can be grade 2, for example, while top quality dry-processed Ethiopian is Grade 4. Furthermore, some countries base their grades on size, Colombia Supremo (highest grade) are larger beans than Colombia Excelsio, but not necessarily better (though they often are). On the other hand, Indonesia bases their grading system on the defects in the cup, not the bean size.
Roast: An ideal roast brings out all the goodness of a particular coffee. Some coffee are fantastic with a light roast while others really shine with a dark roast. In general we try to roast coffees a bit less in order to maximize the terroir flavor (the specialty taste of whichever region it's from) of the coffee. Coffees that are roasted less dark have more acidity while darker roasts have a pronounced bittersweet flavor as more sugars have developed but the coffee has been burnt more. Also, the darker a coffee is roasted the more similar the taste to other coffees is and the less the subtle origin notes can be discovered.