Coffee beans being sorted

Coffee beans being sorted and pulped by workers and volunteers, on an organic, fair-trade, shade-grown coffee plantation in Guatemala. Wikipedia (CC licence).

We’re always on a quest for the best beans, as part of our commitment to delivering premium coffees, so we thought it would be good to review coffee grading systems.

There can be a variance in grading systems, so we like to look to some established groups for insights.  The Specialty Coffee Association (SCA) states that “an SCA standard is a high-quality recommendation by the Standards Committee. It is a quantifiable and qualifiable measure, based upon scientific testing, which set values and/or ranges of values for coffee. Currently, the SCA has standards for water, green coffee, and cupping coffee.”

We want to look at coffee beans here so we what the SCA says about “green coffee” — beans are coffee seeds (beans) of Coffea fruits that have not yet been roasted — is of particular interest.  According to the SCA, “to be considered specialty grade, green coffee shall have zero category one (1) defects and five or less category two (2) defects.”

Compare that to the ranking definitions given at Coffee Research’s site — a group that pursues a scientific understanding of coffee so that we can provide the general consumer and coffee professional with useful information and tips, and you can get a good idea of the standards we set for our own coffee bean search.

According to Coffee Research, there are five grades of coffee beans.  We’ll just look at the first two, since they are of the highest standard:

Grade 1: Specialty Grade Coffee Beans: no primary defects, 0-3 full defects, sorted with a maximum of 5% above and 5% below specified screen size or range of screen size, and exhibiting a distinct attribute in one or more of the following areas: taste, acidity, body, or aroma. Also must be free of cup faults and taints. Zero quakers allowed. Moisture content between 9-13%.

Grade 2: Premium Grade Coffee Beans: Same as Grade 1 except maximum of 3 quakers. 0-8 full defects.

Sometimes we get questions about “organic” designation for coffee growers.  The USDA — U.S. Department of Agriculture — offers a robust set of policies and standards for “organic” certification.  Wikipedia defines organic coffee as, “coffee produced without the aid of artificial chemical substances, such as certain additives or some pesticides and herbicides”.

Of course, we don’t expect our customers to memorize the grading systems — that’s our job.  We just wanted you to know more about how we start in the field to select the best gourmet coffee to bring to your table.

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