Green Coffee Bean Basics

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Specialty Coffee – The highest quality coffees selected in a fashion similar to grading fine wines based on Country of Origin and flavor characteristics. The Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) has been instrumental in the development of quality standards and education of those who test and grade our coffee. You join the Specialty Coffee Community and enjoy some of the world's finest coffee by selecting coffees here at Chosen for their flavor characteristics rather than sheer quantity our Specialty coffee beans earn the producers a well deserved premium for their efforts. This quality premium (pennies per pound to you and me) is the incentive to Growers and Processors to improve quality that benefits the standard of living in coffee producing communities. Home Roasters get to enjoy many of the finest coffees from around the globe for less than a quarter per cup (about the cost of a name brand can of soda), a terrific bargain when compared to almost any premium drink including preroasted coffees.

Arabica coffee – Considered the premier species of coffee for its preferred flavor characteristics. Traditionally grown at high altitudes, in warm climates, with limited direct sunlight. All coffee we carry is Arabica unless specifically noted directly in the name of the coffee.

Robusta coffee – Another well known species of coffee, grown at lower altitudes than Arabica, generally considered to have less desirable flavor characteristics, produces greater yields with better pest and disease resistance. Robusta is often used in instant coffees and dry powdered coffee drinks. Difficult to identify (due to quantity driven production) the really good lots, it is prized by some as a blend component, or for making espresso.

Varietal or Cultivar – Are the many varieties of Arabica coffee plants, derived naturally, or through managed cross breeding to improve resistance to disease or pests. Specialty coffee names may include the Varietal following the Country of Origin and Region or Estate it comes from, for example, Brazil Santo Antonio Estate Yellow Bourbon. Some common Varietals are; Heirloom, Typica, Sumatra Typica, Kent, SL28, SL34, Bourbon, Catuai, Caturra, Icatu, Mondo, Novo, Margogype, and Pacamara.

Process – Describes the method used to remove the skin and fruit (pulp) from the beans.

Dry or Natural Process – After picking, the ripe coffee cherries are spread out to dry before removal of the skin and fruit by washing it off. Dry Process coffees tend to be sweeter with heavier body than similar coffees processed by the Wet method. Often offering more exotic flavor but less consistent quality.

Wet or Washed Process – After picking, the ripe coffee cherries are allowed to soak in water before washing the loosened fruit from the beans. Wet Process coffees tend to be cleaner tasting, lighter bodied, and brighter than Dry processed coffees. This is the more common process especially in the Americas.

Semi Washed or Pulped Dry Process – After picking, only the outer skin is removed from the ripe coffee cherries which are then spread out to dry. Once dry the remaining fruit (pulp) is washed from the beans. Semi Washed coffees may exhibit flavor and body elements somewhere between those of Dry and Wet Processed coffees.

Note on Processes – Countries or Regions within a country may traditionally process coffee using a particular method. Thanks to growing demand for Specialty coffee some Countries, Regions, and Estates are offering their coffees processed by various methods.

Coffee beans in parchment with the fruit removed are dried by machine or spread out on tarps, raised racks, rooftops, or the ground; each can impart a particular flavor. In many countries the traditional processing method has been conducted in essentially the same manner for hundreds of years.

Grades – Each country seems to have its’ own grading system which leads to some confusion for the novice Home coffee Roaster. However, selecting coffees meeting the qualifications of Specialty Coffee assure you of getting the premium level of fine quality coffee. Buying your coffee from a Specialty green coffee retailer like assures you of getting the finest coffees from around the world. Each coffee has been tasted and inspected by trained professionals before it can qualify as Specialty coffee. Please do not assume that a coffee from one Country is necessarily better than a coffee from another Country just because one is labeled "AA" or "Fancy" rather than "SHB" or "Excelso", this grading is relevant but Country specific. Grades generally pertain to bean size and diminishing number of defects per sample.

Some quick Grade examples:

Colombia – Supremo is the highest grade and is associated with the largest Beans.

Colombia - Excelso is a midstep between the next grade and Supremo, and is associated with slightly smaller beans and may also be excellent.

EP – not a grade but good to know, European Prep, it means hand sorted

Ethiopia – Grades 1 through 8 refer to defect count, 1 has the least,they may also indicate process, 2 = Wet, 4 = Dry

Hawaii – Extra Fancy is of course fancier than Fancy which anyone should know is better than being Number 1 or just Prime. Note that not all great coffee from Hawaii is Kona (a Region and Trade Name), also that not all coffee labeled Kona is great, but certainly can be.

Kenya – AA ranks above AB or B

SHB – Strictly Hard Bean is denser than HB or Hard Bean.

SHG – Strictly High Grown, higher Altitude leads to slower growth, denser bean than HG or High Grown, which may also be excellent

Various Countries – Plus Grade is generally better than minus, go figure

A Note about size – Though larger beans may be associated with higher quality. This does not hold true across Countries, Regions, or Varietals.

Sc or Screen Size – Simply the size hole beans fit through, # 18 > # 16

Margogype – A Varietal, known mainly for producing very large beans

Peaberry – Relates to the Bean itself rather than Varietal or Origin. On occasion a cherry will develop one round bean rather than the usual two beans that are flat on one side. Considered more potent, when numerous enough they are separated out. Tanzania is known for its Peaberries.

Decaffeination – Taking the Caffeine out of the bean while leaving taste in, not easy.

Solvent Methods – Direct; soaks beans in a solvent then removes caffeine from solvent. Indirect; soaks beans in water then uses solvent to remove caffeine from water, then put beans back into that water to return flavors. Common solvents: Ethyl Acetate (EA), Methylene Chloride (MC)

Carbon Dioxide or Sparkling Water Methods – Caffeine molecules attach to the Carbon Dioxide under pressure and are then filtered out.

Water Method – Soaks the beans in water that has already been used to soak similar beans but has had the caffeine removed by activated charcoal filter. This saturated water already contains all the flavor elements of the bean except the caffeine.

Swiss Water® Process – Cutting edge Decaffeinator known for selecting high quality coffees and removing Caffeine using the Water method with high quality standards.

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