The text was written by PRISCILA PINHO | What do the different levels of quality mean about the cup you are drinking? When reading a coffee label, we found some information and stamps that indicate the quality of the product. Behind the descriptors, it is possible to diagnose what happened to this coffee. But before talking about the categories that exist in coffee, let’s think quickly about what the word quality means.

Every concept is objective and subjective at the same time. When we talk about coffee and looking for good experiences, our starting points can be totally different. After all, what is quality? According to Wikipedia, quality “is the degree of utility expected or acquired from anything, verifiable through its form and constituent elements and the result of its use. The word quality has a subjective concept that is related to the perceptions, needs, and results in each individual ”

The science behind the quality of coffee is measured by how many defects the drink has. The more defects it has, the lower the quality will be attributed and the fewer points in the evaluation tables this coffee will have. Hence the names and stamps refer to «traditional», «gourmet» and «special». Each of these accepts a percentage permitted by the law of impurities and defects. According to the category that fits, they are targeted and marketed in specific markets.

When we say that «coffee has quality» we refer to a scale used to differentiate the products available on the market. Professionals in the area of ​​coffee classification and tasting (Q Graders) classify the types found in order to discover attributes in the cup defined by the work in the field, in the harvest, in the post-harvest, in the transport, and in the storage of the bag. The drink is a result of the various processes that the fruit went through.

In “traditional” or “commodity” coffee, quantity is more important than quality. The coffee has a lower quality level, mixed with other remains and parts of the coffee itself, such as bark, leaves, and kindling. Always blended with other grains and roasted in order to hide the defects of the cup, the roast is very dark, with flavors of burnt, smoke, and rubber in the mouth. (Have you ever seen any coffee in this category being sold in beans? No, right? The quality here is not very liable).

Tradicional view of a supermarket commercial coffee shelf

The «gourmet or premium coffee» already shows some care in the selection of grains,  fruits ripening for harvest, the not-so-dark roast, of a drink with fewer defects. But it is not yet a cup that presents 100% balanced flavors. In order for a coffee to accomplish quality standards of the «specialty», it must «start well and finish well», which means that at the various temperatures that the cup passes the drink has to be consistent and clean, without astringency or dry mouth sensation. So coffee in this pattern can be drunk and admired even though it is cold.

Colombian Gourmet Coffee

In the “special” category, an above-average level is required (the table starts with 6 points) with descriptions of qualities that are far from other categories. The requirement here is different. The table used by the SCA (Specialty Coffee Association), for example, defines that coffees that receive 80 to 84 total points are very good. 85 to 89 are excellent. And 90 to 100 are memorable.

Specialty coffee pack
Bag of specialty coffee from URBAN ROASTERS

These stamps are like documents and are essential for buying and selling bags of green coffee. There are other categories besides these, for example, the Brazilian table that classifies coffee as a «soft» or «hard» drink. Over the years, more specific forms of evaluation have emerged, such as the Cup Of Excellence method

The quality in the subjective sense is related to our personal tastes and taste preferences. As for example the quality is determined by consumers, through the survey that the National Coffee Association of the USA does every year pointing out the market trends:

Coffee market trends

And you, which coffee do you prefer?


This text was written by Priscila Pinho, the COFFEE BREAK Pri!

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