Coffee Grades and Types

Chris Funk - Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Coffee drinkers range from the “give me a cup of Maxwell House, and I’m happy” to the “I only drink high quality specialty coffee” variety. At one point in time, I was perfectly happy with a cup of regular joe (any national brand bulk coffee) from the auto-drip. Last September I made a trip to Crimson Cup in Columbus, Ohio to meet what would become the roaster we use at Conversations Coffee Bar. My coffee palate changed forever. It was then that I began my educational journey on coffee. Some things I learned at Crimson Cup were that there are several grades of coffee beans, and that there are two common types of beans. I want to briefly present some coffee facts that I find interesting. There truly are a lot of differences in coffee quality; depending on bean type, grade, and roast.

What are the grades of coffee?

Coffee is graded by the SCAA (Specialty Coffee Association of America) and there are 5 grades of coffee.

  • Specialty Grade Green Coffee (Grade 1): this is the highest quality coffee bean that money can buy. Grade 1 coffee has the least amount of defects with no primary defects allowed (processing defects), most consistent size, and only ripe coffee cherries are used (this affects the roast quality).
  • Premium Coffee Grade (Grade 2): Grade 2 coffee is allowed to have primary defects such as over-fermented beans, sticks, or other organic material mixed in, and is allowed to have some unripe coffee cherries.
  • Exchange Coffee Grade (Grade 3): this grade of coffee is the mid-range. Grade 3 coffee is allowed to have nearly 5 times the defects than Grade 1 coffee is allowed to have. The beans themselves are allowed to be inconsistent in size and have 5 times the amount of un-ripe berries than Grade 1.
  • Below Standard Coffee Grade (Grade 4): this grade of coffee is allowed to have 5-17 times more defects than Grade 1 coffee in 300 grams.
  • Off Grade Coffee (Grade 5): more than 17 times the defect than Grade 1 in 300 grams.

What types of coffee beans are there?

  • Arabica Beans: Arabica beans are typically revered as the most flavorful and better quality, producing many different flavor profiles depending on the location of where the beans were grown, harvested and processed, as well as roast. Arabica beans tend to be grown in higher altitudes and are particularly susceptible to frost and low or high temperatures (typically grown between 59 degrees and 75 degrees Fahrenheit).
  • Robusta Beans: Robusta beans typically have a low acidity but higher bitterness than Arabica beans, and Robusta beans tend to have an earthy flavor. Though Robusta beans are less susceptible to disease and are easier to care for, Robusta coffee is viewed as the less superior coffee bean, in terms of flavor. Robusta beans are less expensive and typically are used in instant coffee as well as bulk national brand coffee purchased at your local supermarket.

Why does this matter to my cup of coffee, you ask? Think of it the same as picking out the best vegetable to cut, cook, and serve to your family. We all want the best vegetables that we can find when we are picking them out at the supermarket so that our meals are tasty and enjoyable. The same is true with coffee. The better the bean, the better the coffee in your cup will taste!

Our roaster, Crimson Cup (2016 Roaster of the Year), only uses Grade 1 Arabica coffee, and you can taste it. To me, there is nothing more enjoyable than a freshly brewed cup of coffee that has so much flavor profile that you don’t dare add creamer or sweetener to it. Crimson Cup works directly with the farmers that they source their coffee from to ensure that they are getting the best possible product, while at the same time generating revenue for the very people that grew the coffee that we serve to you.

So the next time you go into a coffee shop, stop and ask the barista some questions about what type of beans they are using in their coffee, where it comes from, and what grade of bean their roaster is using. You might just change your mind on what a good cup of coffee is.

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