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How to Read our Coffee Labels

Published on: 7/16/20

Have you heard the news? Our coffee bags recently got a facelift and are now more classic and bold than ever! Along with the bag itself, we created a new label that highlights more about the coffee you’re drinking, and clarifies some of the nuances of each coffee’s origin.  Let’s take a moment to unpack each of the six segments of our new labels – Origin, Tasting Notes, Roasting Date, Varietal, Elevation and Process – and explain why each one is valuable in helping you better understand and enjoy your cup of coffee.

Origin 

The coffee’s origin is one of the most important pieces of information. Not only is it interesting to know where a coffee got its start, but it also helps us to better understand and expect what the coffee will be like. For example, Ethiopian coffees are well known for the nice blueberry note and lower acidity they often possess, which is distinguishable from the more nutty and chocolatey coffees grown in Guatemala. 

This section will also help you to distinguish whether the cup you’re drinking is all from one specific farm, known as single origin, or if it is a blend of two or more different countries or farms. We know how much time, effort and passion coffee farmers put into growing their crop, which is why we only offer single origin coffees; we want to let our farmers and their talents shine! 

Tasting Notes

One of the coolest things about coffee is the unique flavor profile each one has, but what’s important to mention here is that a coffee’s flavor profile is not a result of external or artificial flavors. Rather, flavor notes are influenced by where and when a coffee is grown, how it’s roasted, how it’s processed, and a few other factors. As we touched on in our previous example, coffees can taste fruity, nutty, chocolatey, citrusy, floral, earthy and more. With the help of the tasting wheel, everyone is able to taste and explore different flavor notes of coffee, refining and improving our palettes as we go!

If you’re interested in learning more about tasting coffee and being able to identify those unique flavor notes, check out our Introduction to Cupping blog, or grab a ticket and hang out with us for a night at one of our public cuppings

Roasting Date

With each bag, we make sure to include the date it was roasted on. This references the freshness of the coffee, and helps us to gauge when the coffee will be at its peak—anywhere from 4-14 days after it’s been roasted. So when you purchase a bag from our retail shop or online store, you’ll only find the freshest possible beans. This allows you plenty of time to enjoy the coffee at its best! 

During the roasting process, carbon dioxide builds up inside of the beans, and once it exits the roaster, that CO2 immediately begins degassing, which is a necessary stage of the coffee’s journey. If the coffee doesn’t have enough time to degas before brewing, the abundance of CO2 will prevent the water from fully extracting flavor from the coffee. Too much degassing will make your coffee stale, which dulls out those flavor notes. We try to stick within that sweet spot of 4-14 days off roast to make sure the coffee is still fresh, yet settled, giving you the most flavorful cup!

Varietal 

Every coffee we source is grown from a specific species of coffee tree called Arabica, which is the most commonly used species in specialty coffee. Under the Arabica umbrella, we find several different subspecies of coffee trees, known as varietals, that each have unique characteristics contributing to the tree’s ability to yield fruit, resist insects, withstand different environmental influences, and more. 

The varietal can also impact the flavor profile of the coffee. Some varietals have distinct and unique features about them that make them more or less desirable, while others easily adapt to the environment in which they grow, allowing the origin to more heavily influence the final result. 

Lastly, some coffee trees are hybrids of two or sometimes three different varietals. Hybrid trees are skillfully created by farmers based on what they believe will grow best on their farms and what will produce the best product. This is why you might see a few different names on our bags in this spot. 

Elevation 

Like great wine, coffee also benefits from growing at higher altitudes. Coffee trees that grow up in the mountains have to work harder to access water and nutrients in the soil, and this struggle lengthens the amount of time it takes for coffee cherries to fully ripen. This is great for us, because the longer the bean gets to sit inside of the slowly-ripening coffee cherry, the more time it has to interact with the sugars in the fruit, and this interaction develops amazing complexity in the coffee itself. If a coffee tree is grown at lower altitudes and has access to plenty of water, the cherries have a tendency to soak up water more quickly and store it in the cherries, which can often swell the fruit and dilute those beloved sugars within. It’s worth mentioning, however, that a higher altitude doesn’t necessarily mean better coffee, just more complexity in how it tastes! 

Additionally, you may notice that coffees grown at higher altitudes can sometimes come with a higher price point; not only is this because of the higher quality and complexity of those coffees, but also because our coffee farmers have to implement more strategic and detail-oriented measures when harvesting coffee. Large pieces of equipment and machinery can’t make it up the mountainside, so it’s more likely that farmers will need to pick their coffee by hand, which is certainly more time consuming. 

Process

Natural, washed, semi-washed or honey-processed—these terms refer to the process of extracting the coffee beans from the cherry. This can dramatically impact the quality and character of the coffee, which is why it’s important to note. Natural process and washed process are most commonly used at origin, so let’s break those down a bit.  

  • Natural Process: Upon harvest, coffee cherries are immediately laid out to dry in the sun for 8-10 days. During the drying process, the bean interacts with the drying fruit, which enhances the fruitiness of the coffee. 
  • Washed Process: After the coffee cherries are picked, a machine is used to manually remove the bean from the fruit. Beans are then transferred to a water tank, where fermentation is used to break down any remaining fruit residue.

Similar to what we discussed in the elevation category, coffee drinkers sometimes enjoy the naturally processed coffees because the bean has an even greater amount of time to interact with the sugars in the cherry flesh, giving rise to more complexity and sweetness. But in areas where natural processing just isn’t practical, washed coffees still taste great! 

If All Else Fails, Just Ask!

As you’ve probably been thinking, there’s so much to know about the world of coffee, and we encourage you to keep exploring and keep learning. If you need help discovering which coffee is right for you, check out our blog which describes each of the coffees we’re currently roasting. Even better, the next time you’re in our Carmel retail location, ask our team members for their input! And when you’re in the market to buy some beans, consider looking at those labels for a bit, and try something new – whether that’s a different origin, something with intriguing flavor notes, or exploring which process you enjoy the most – so you can continue learning more about what you like and how all those different factors affect your cup. Cheers!

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