Understanding Coffee Labels
You already love coffee. We just want you to know why and how to find the good stuff.
So here are some explainations of terms you may see on our coffee bags or website and why that information is important. This post is not meant to be an exhaustive discussion on all of these topics. We could go into detail on each of them and hope to in the future, but for the simplicity of this post, the information has been slimmed down considerably.
This is where the coffee comes from. Usually it is just the country, but we also like to include the region and even the farm where the coffee was grown and the farmer's name. Coffee is grown globally in regions close to the equator. Depending on where the coffee is grown will have an affect on the flavor profile. Typically we attribute flavor notes of chocolate and caramel to Central and South American coffees and notes of fruity and floral to African coffees.
Much in the same way that apple varieties differ in shape, size, color, and flavor, coffee varietals differ. This also, has an influence on the flavor.
(Ripe yellow coffee cherries shown in contrast to the more typical red coffee cherry.)
Most coffees are grown on mountain sides. Typically due to the moderate day time temperatures and cooler in contrast night time temperatures, sugars are developed in the fruit. So coffees produced at higher elevations are said to be sweeter.
This is more difficult to find on many coffees. Green coffee can last for a really long time but should be used in within a year ideally. We don't print the harvest date on our bags but share them on our website. It's also worth noting, that the coffees we source are hand picked. Coffee trees do not bloom one time like some fruit trees. The coffee tree in our shop demonstrated this beautifully this year when it bloomed four times, making, as you can imagine, fruit developing at different rates. So the harvest date is for the year, but that can be spread over several months of several harvests of the same trees.
This is one of the most interesting parts of the coffee process. After the coffee is harvested, the way in which is is processed has yet another impact on flavor. In fact, it has so much affect, you can process two of the same fruit in different ways and end up with a completely different outcome. The most common way coffee is processed is to hull the cherry, soak the seeds (beans) to release the mucilage, and wash it off by pushing it through a chute and finally spreading it out to dry. This process is referred to as "washed." If you skip the soaking and washing part and leave the mucilage on this is called "honey process." Or by leaving the coffee cherry intact and drying it whole is called "natural." We will go into more detail here in the future because this is so interesting but for now, we just want to define some terms.
(Top photo: washing station in Uganda; Bottom photo: washed coffee drying in Colombia.)
Once we get the coffee, we work on roasting it until we feel it tastes best to bring out the flavor of the fruit rather than too much roast. We went through all the trouble to source excellent coffees and we don't want to cover that up. For that reason you shouldn’t have to add cream and sugar to your coffee if you don’t want to.
Why it matters
Coffee goes through an extensive process before it makes it to our kitchen cabinets. A lot of people are so used to thinking about coffee as a brown powder that they forget it is the seed of a fruit that many people were involved in making that has traveled a very long way. Coffee has such an impact on so many people's every day lives that there is merchandise made expressing our admiration. What coffer we buy matters to the ones who had a hand in the process. There is such variety out there that is constantly changing season after season. (More on this and direct trade relationships in future posts.)
We enjoy helping people find what they love and when possible, to discover something new. Hopefully with this information you will be better equipped to make choices in purchasing coffee.
Stay tuned for a guide on how to make better coffee at home.