Quality Coffee - Part One: Grading
What is coffee quality? Part one – Grading
A lot of work goes into each cup of coffee you drink. How do we determine a good cup of coffee? This is a multifaceted questing that I’d like to get into more deeply to help people understand where they can affect the process at home or in their coffee shop.
Coffees journey starts at the farm and after growing and harvesting the first steps towards quantifying quality start with ranking a coffee. This is done through the coffee grading and classification process, which ranks coffees according to the types of beans used, their size, and the number of defects.
What is coffee grading?
Coffee beans are graded on many criteria, including botanical variety, preparation, bean size and defect count. Some countries use slightly different systems, but they all seek to protect the highest quality beans and establish a minimum standard for export.
Lower quality grades usually have more defects. Higher grades may have fewer defects, but the most highly graded coffees are always smooth and free of imperfections.
These classifications and terminology will change dramatically depending on which country the coffee is grown in. There are a great many variations of these classifications, and they all have historical reference in their countries.
Does a good grading result guarantee tasty coffee?
In a word. No. What grading does is determine the quality and uniformity of the bean. This does not mean that that perfectly graded bean will taste nice. What it does mean is that it has no or very few faults. The quality of the flavour Will depend on a lot of other factors. Just because it is beautifully clean and uniform does not mean it is going to taste nice. What good grading will guarantee you is a lack of growing and processing relating faults that will hide and mask the flavour naturally found in the bean. That coffee maybe of a technically tasting poor variety which will never have the potential of competing with a better variety.
Will a high-grade coffee taste better on average?
Yes. It's fair to say that a better variety of coffee will have had more money spent on it during growing, sorting and processing that will mean it's resulting flavour and grade will be better than a poor-quality variety. This will mean that coffees with more money spent on them will be graded higher than coffee's that don't have as much money spent on them. This is very apparent in the difference between are Arabica and Robusta. The Robusta market value is low in comparison to Arabica. Growers will find less benefit in throwing money and resources at better growing and processing as the monetary benefit will be very low and the cost of those processing and growing upgrades will not justify this. A good quality Arabica will see a great increase in value when it is looked after processed expertly and sorted carefully. In this case the cost of processing pales into insignificance in comparison to the uplift in value.
If you would like to know a little more about grading and classification, please follow the link below to the international Trade Centre as a good description of this.