What are coffee processing, varietals, altitude, producers etc on coffee labels? This post we break down everything you want to know on each description.
A dozen of different coffee varieties.
What are Bourbon, Caturra, SL28 and Gesha? They are the varietals of Arabica coffee!
Like apples, you can find Fiji, Granny Smith, Royal Gala, Jazz etc in the supermarket. 🍏🍎
Different apple varietals have different characteristics, some are sweeter, crunchier, higher acidity etc.
There are thousands of coffee varietals around the world and each has unique cup profiles.
Varietals are either wild or cultivated coffees, it’s crucial for coffee producers to select the right varietals as they directly affect the cup quality.
Ethiopia🇪🇹, the birthplace of coffee has thousands of wild varietals. It’s called heirloom as its mix of many wild varieties. Mostly have vibrant fruity floral qualities in the cup!
Varietals like Gesha and Sudan Rume are premium priced due to its rarity and exceptional complex flavour profiles. Just like Japanese Waygu beef 😋
It’s common to have fruity floral qualities in Bourbon, Caturra, SL28 etc. Some hybrids like Catimor, S795 are heavier in chocolate flavour profiles.
On the other hand, Liberica is not a varietal, but another species like Robusta. It's large beans and has a very unique flavour profile that you can't find in Arabica coffee.
If you have been enjoying lots of coffee, you’ll realise that you may have a preference for certain varietals of coffee. Our favourite varietals are Bourbon and Gesha 😍
Learn more about Coffee Varietals in our previous post here.
Coffee beans drying on raised beds.
Coffee is a fruit. It has multiple layers to be removed until the coffee seed, mainly cherry skin and parchment.
Coffee processing is the methods to remove the two main layers, then dried to 11-12% moisture level that is stable for shipping & export.
Natural processed where the whole coffee cherries are sundried.
There are three commonly seen processing methods. The following are the steps of each method,
Natural - dry whole cherry, rest, hull cherry skin and parchment, grade and export
Semi-washed - pulp cherry skin, dry, rest, hull parchment, grade and export
Washed - pulp cherry skin, fermentation, wash, dry, rest, hull parchment, grade and export
There are also other processing methods like Pulped Natural (Brazil), Honey Processed (Central America), Giling Basah (Indonesia). They have a similar concept to semi-washed with a different variation.
The best practice includes lots of sorting in every step to ensure defects (unripe cherries, insects damage etc) are all removed to the lowest possible level. Sorting are mostly done by hand and lastly machine grade into different bean sizes.
Coffee Processing makes a massive impact on cup quality. Generally, Washed coffees are delicate, bright acidity and clean cup.
Whereas Natural process itself adds certain flavours to coffee, usually fruited and have a better body. Semi-washed coffees are somewhere in between washed and natural coffees.
If you have been tasting lots of coffees, you can immediately notice natural coffees as they have certain fruity notes of ripe mango, jackfruit and thick juiciness.
Also, you’ll notice that you may tend to like coffees that processed in a certain way too. We personally like clean, bright and delicate washed coffees.
PS: You can sort the processing methods in the sidebar(topbar on mobile) for each processing methods on our website 😊
You may have noticed, why is altitude included in the coffee label? Geography makes a huge impact on cup quality, and the altitude is one of the key indicators to the density of beans.
Generally, higher altitude coffees (1200 meters above sea level) are more dense and sweeter than lower altitude coffees.
Cold weather on high elevation slows the bean’s maturation process and provided time for more sugars to develop. Also, cold weather prevents diseases such as leaf rust.
This gives more intensity in sweetness, great complexity and nuanced flavours to the cup! It’s more noticeable with coffee grown above 2000masl like Panama Finca Deborah Gesha and Yemen Port of Mokha 😍
How does it affect your brewing? If you switch from Brazilian coffee (900-1200masl) to Ethiopian coffee (1800masl above), you’ll need to grind a little finer for the high grown coffee.
As for super dense high grown Panama Ninety Plus Gesha, brew with higher temperature (96-98c) gives a much sweeter and flavourful cup. Also, it’s pretty hard to over-extract high grown coffees 😉
The altitude gives a rough idea of how you want to extract the coffee, either to extract more or to extract less. Of course, that depends on the roast level as well!🧐
One thing to note is how far the country is away from the equator. Taiwan which is quite far away from the equator, too high altitude will be too cold during winter and cause frost that damage coffee cherries 🥶
The Taiwan Alishan 鄒築園 is located at 1300 masl and it's almost at the maximum altitude coffee tree can survive through winter 🇹🇼
The same goes for our Malaysia Sabah Ranau coffee by Sabarica 🇲🇾 At 1300-1500 masl, you’ll get a very sweet & flavourful arabica coffee too.
Tasting Notes 🍎🍇🍒
The Tasting Notes are how we describe a coffee taste like. Nope, they are NOT added flavourings into coffee, but rather the natural flavours from the coffee itself.
Tasting notes can be extremely subjective, everyone has a different vocabulary to flavours. If you have never tasted jackfruit, you may describe it as blueberry etc.
Here's a top tip for you to identify the coffee flavours. First, you can try to categorise flavours into the followings,
Honey 🍯 or Caramel 🍮
From there, you can try to further imagine what fruit or flower it resembles. If you taste something fruity, ask yourself what fruit is that. Is it orange? Apple? Pineapple? If taste floral, does it taste like lavender or chrysanthemum? If taste chocolate, is it milk or dark chocolate?
Most specialty grade coffee has 2-3 categories of flavours, higher-end coffees like gesha or sudan rume will have greater complexity with 3 or more categories of flavours 😍
You’ll notice that coffees from certain region or processing will have their unique flavour characteristics. Eg. berries 🍓 notes from African natural processed coffees and floral notes from Washed coffees etc.
Also, certain varietals have their unique flavour notes! Like Kenyan, SL28 has classic notes of blackcurrants, cherries & super juicy vibrant characteristics 🍒 whereas Sabarica has lovely milk chocolate notes from typica & catimor varietal.
It's highly recommended to taste coffee blindly, ie taste the coffee without knowing the tasting notes and come out with your notes 😎 This makes a more accurate tasting note without any prejudice. Of course, taste it black with no milk or sugar!
When purchasing coffee beans, you can categorise flavours in these few types,
Ie. 🍇Fruity, 🌷Floral, 🍫Chocolate, 🌰Nutty, 🍋Citrusy, 🍀Spices etc. From there, you can select the coffees that best match your taste preference!
To make it easy, you can narrow down the coffee selections at sidebar(topbar on mobile) under Tasting Notes.
You’ll notice that coffees from a certain region or processing will have its flavour characteristics. Eg. berries notes from African coffees and floral notes from Washed coffees etc.
Roast Date 📆
Freshly roasted coffee tastes absolutely amazing. It's extremely important to know the roast date to get a clear picture of when the coffee tastes at its best!
Carbon dioxide forms within coffee beans during the roasting process and starts degassing within the first few days after roasting.
During the degassing period (0-7 days after roasting), coffee tastes kinda harsh and unpleasant on the aftertaste. Imagine tasting CO2 😵
We highly recommend starting brewing on 7-14 days past roast date (on the 2nd week), depending on the roast level of coffee. That’s when most CO2 are released from beans and stabilised its flavour aromatics.
Generally, medium darker roast coffees (6-8 days) degas faster than lighter roast coffees (10-14 days). We usually start to open a bag on 10th day past roast date, can’t memorise all the resting period for all coffees.
Also, it’s best to finish the coffee within 4-6 weeks past roast date. Once opened, best to finish all by 1-2 weeks. If you store coffee beans in multiple small jars, coffee will remain good for a long long time 😊
All our coffees are stated with roast date.We recommend a purchase of 2 bags of coffee, one with 1-2 weeks old for immediate consumption, another bag of super fresh roast for later.
By the time you finish the first bag, the second bag is well rested and ready to brew. You’ll get Free Shipping with two bags purchase too 😄
Lastly, you may find others like Producer, Region etc. Those are the names of the coffee producer & help in traceability. These are important details for coffee roasters to research on coffee farms and green bean purchasing, but may not be as important for us home brewers.
For sure, you can try to google the names for more information! Some famous coffee farms have their own website, you can see lots of photos of the farm too.
As for roast level, go for medium or darker roast if you brew espresso. For filter, you can choose any roast level that you prefer to 😉 Check out more details about coffee roasting here!
That’s all for Coffee Labels! Hope this helps in your future coffee beans purchases. Enjoy~