No explanation needed, this is its formal name. Without doubt the most popular bean, bright, sweet, complex with lovely acidity and body. Arabica has the most varietals, each developed to adapt the species to local environments.
Which we all know as Robusta. Arabica and Robusta belong to the Rubiacea plant family that have over six thousand genus or sub families. Arabica and Robusta are two of around 100 sub families, most of which are not viable commercially due to yield and taste. Australia actually has its own indigenous coffee plant, Coffea Brassii which grows in the Cape York area. It’s still being researched and highly unlikely it will ever be grown to drink.
Robusta is gaining respect within the industry through beans like Kaapi Royale, the only Robusta that has earned the SCAA’s ‘Fine Cup’ grading. There’s even a Robusta Q Cupper qualification that the SCAA hopes will help grow an awareness of Robusta and assist growers with feedback to further improve quality. Over the last two years, roasters are discovering what a small percentage of a good Robusta can add to an espresso blend, especially as cup sizes increase. We stock a range of Robusta’s from India, Vietnam, Tanzania, PNG and Mexico.
On every type of coffee, we show the varietals used. Here’s a quick summary of the most popular Arabica’s:
Variety of Typica, grown in Tanzania and Papua New Guinea
Typica, grown in Jamaica, Papua New Guinea, Hawaii, Kenya and Haiti
Named after an island we know now as Reunion. First grown there by the French then planted in Brazil. Bourbon is now grown throughout South and Central America.
Developed by Brazil in 1937, a natural mutation from a line of Bourbon. High yielding, good branch spread and shorter than Bourbon.
Hybrid of Mundo Novo and Caturra, developed by Brazil in the 40’s.
Developed by the Portuguese in 1959 from a combination of Timor and Caturra coffee
Harrar, Sidamo, Yirgachaffe
Three Ethiopian varietals named after their respective regions and trademarked by the Ethiopian government
Named after the village of Gesha, Ethiopia and grown in Boquette, Panama. Also grown in Indonesia
Maragogype or Maragogipe
A Typica named after a state in Bahia [Brazil] producing large beans.
Hybrid between Bourbon and Typica.
Large bean hybrid developed from a Bourbon mutation; Pacas and Maragogype.
Natural mutation of Bourbon that occurred in El Salvador
Developed in Kenya and released in 1985 for its disease resistance. Initially thought to produce a bland cup, todays hybrids have developed for taste.
Released in the 40’s, cross between Kents and S288 varieties. One of the main varietals in India and South East Asia
A hybrid between the Costa Rican Villa Sarchi and the Timor variety.
SL28 & SL34
Two very popular varietals developed in Kenya. [SL stands for Selection]
Sulawesi Toraja Kalossi
The S795 varietal, grown at high altitudes on the island of Sulawesi
Hybrido de Timor
A hybrid of two species of coffee; Coffea Arabica and Coffea Canephora
Originating from Yemen plants taken to India and from there to Indonesia. Typica varietals include Kona, Jamaica Blue Mountain and Kents.
By strict SCAA definition, this is a coffee scoring 80+ using the Q Grade protocols that have been around for a longtime. It’s well defined and originated to ensure farmers get feedback from a universal system whether the cupper is in Singapore, Sydney or Nairobi. In reality, it’s a word that covers a multitude of meanings to different people.
It’s also one those words open to so many variations and interpretations. For us to grade a coffee as Specialty it has to score 84 or over and stand out flavour is the driver behind the score. Our recommendation is to use scores as a guide only, go by taste.
PREMIUM & EXCHANGE GRADE COFFEES
SCAA define coffees that don’t meet Specialty standards as Premium Grade and below Premium is Exchange Grade. Premium Grade coffees can taste great and Exchange Grade coffees can work well in certain blends where price is critical.
Our advice with coffee is always to cup, decide for yourself what is going to work best for you. How a coffee cups beats any score, colourful tasting notes or coffee name. As we said, useful as a guide but taste is everything!
ORIGIN COFFEE GRADES
Explaining each countries grading would require its own website. This where we come in; we only buy grades of coffee that pass our own standards. It’s a process that starts with personal knowledge of the origin and direct, longstanding relationships with growers built on trust. To back this up, we don’t buy coffee we don’t cup multiple times from pre-shipment to arrival.
EP is often seen on Central American coffees and means ‘European Preparation.’ This grade means beans are 100% above screen 15 and allows a maximum of 8 defects per 300g. Coffee should cup as ‘clean’
All green coffee is bought with a screen size reference. This is a process where a set amount [we use 300g] of green coffee is passed through a series of interlocking trays placed one on top of the other. The largest screen size  is on the top, smallest size  on the bottom. The screens are shaken vigorously by hand and beans are either retained by the screens or fall through the various screens. Retained beans in each tray counted and a percentage can be worked out of each different screen.
Acceptable moisture levels in beans range from 9% to 13%. Below 9% may indicate the previous year’s crop and affect roasting times. Over 13% and the crop may have not been dried correctly and released for export too soon.
Most defined coffee standards allow a certain number of defects; broken beans, insect damage, quakers [under ripe beans] brown beans and the infamous stinker or black bean. Add to this tiny stones, sticks, dried cherries all of which can affect taste or damage a grinder. Removal of defects happens at origin through sorting equipment or by hand. Best guide on defects is the SCAA Defect Handbook with clear explanations and pictures.
Where farmers bring picked cherries immediately after harvesting for processing predominantly as washed coffee. The cherries are run through water where underdeveloped beans that float are skimmed off. The outer skin is taken off and the beans are soaked in water where a natural fermentation removes the fruit. [Mucilage] Final stage is where beans are sundried on patios or on raised drying beds.
These are where only a single bean is found in a cherry. All the nutrients and properties that develop the taste characteristics are developed in one bean instead of two. Every coffee tree produces a percentage of peaberries, there is no specific peaberry tree. For a long time, peaberries were discarded as defects before sorting equipment could separate them out by weight or density. The Kenyan coffee industry were the first to market peaberries in their own right and gave them their name!
DRY OR NATURAL PROCESSING
Where the coffee cherry is dried whole in the sun. As the cherry dries in the sun, all the sugars and other properties from the fruit or mucilage are absorbed into the bean. Natural coffees have a distinct sweetness and fruit notes, great examples are Ethiopian Sidamo Guji beans. Drying beans need to be raked regularly to ensure even drying and covered or collected if it rains. Best naturals are dried on hard concrete patios or raised beds to avoid earthy taints/mustiness.
Used by a number of plantations in conjunction with the beans being sun-dried or where the humidity is too high. Driers are often fired by dried cherry skins/parchment. Driers are often used to complete the drying cycle and bring the beans to a very specific moisture level.
Also known as Pulped Natural. Cherries are hulled and the beans then dried in the sun. Much the same as natural coffees, sugars are absorbed into the beans from the remaining fruit on the bean. There are number of variations of semi washed, the most popular being Honey process.
Much the same as semi washed, cherries are pulped then sun dried with as much mucilage or fruit remaining on the bean. As beans dry in the sun, the mucilage darkens. There are a number of variations such as Black Honey, Red Honey, Black Honey, Yellow Honey, 30% Honey and 40% Honey. Most depend on the time taken to dry and exposure to sun. A coffee processed this way will have a lovely, bright sweetness to it created by the sugars being absorbed from the mucilage into the bean.
The higher the altitude; the denser the bean structure is a general rule. This, added with the local origin environment plays an essential part in the overall taste of the bean. That said, some low grown Arabica’s produce great flavour and body. A number of origins have very specific altitude designations:
SHB – Strictly Hard Bean
HGA – High Grown Atlantic [Costa Rica only]
SHG - Strictly High Grown
Costa Rica SHB Between 1200 – 1650 MASL
Costa Rica HGA Between 900 - 1200 MASL
Guatemala SHB Between 1600 – 1700 MASL
Honduras SHG Between 1500 – 2000 MASL
Nicaragua SHG Between 1500 – 2000 MASL
MASL – Metres above sea level
Volcanic soils are coffee’s ideal growing environment. Also known as Andisols, volcanic soil is mineral rich and plays a critical part in providing the plant with essential potassium, nitrogen and phosphorous. Type and ph levels in the soils will also have a direct bearing on taste, high acid soils produce coffees with noticeable acidity. Best example of this are Kenyan coffees.
This is an inner bag made of multilayered polyethylene that protects the green beans from moisture and humidity. Bags have a ziplock making it ideal for roasters doing small batches over a period of months.
Fair Average Quality; a term mainly used with Kenyan and Tanzanian coffees
There are very defined SCAA standards for cupping but most roasters or green bean professionals will have their own personal methodology. What is important is that it’s the same method every time you cup. Here’s our method:
100g of green beans are roasted for four minutes to remove moisture, cooled, then roasted to just on first crack
Filter grind – on the coarse side and weighed out to 20g
220ml of 97ºC water added and left for 4 minutes before the crust of floating grounds bloom is broken, stirred and allowed to settle.
When coffee is around 60ºC, we cup. At this point we are simply tasting for defects like mustiness, phenol or other taints. Once cooled, we cup for flavour descriptors
Our descriptors are short and to the point; we avoid over describing. Quite often we will go back an hour later to re-cup if there has been a minor variation in what we were expecting.
All the time the coffee is being evaluated: as its being ground, once in the cup, after the crust has formed, when it’s broken. Every stage tells its own little story.
And spoons? We use the same spoon every time we cup, one with deep bowl and comfortable handle. Have your own spoon so every time you cup, there’s a consistency factor.
One of the hardest thing about starting cupping is identifying flavours, especially if you’ve had a session with experienced cuppers. Descriptors roll off their tongue; buttery, ripe red berries, tropical fruits, cocoa, spice etc. Then when its your turn, all there is a very intense taste of coffee!
Don’t stress! The experienced cupper isn’t literally tasting ripe red berries, it’s a flavour that reminds them of ripe red berries. There’s a big difference between those two highlighted words! What the cupper has done is reached back into their memory for things they’ve eaten, drunk or smelt that they associate with what’s just been tasted. To them it might be berries, to you it might be raspberry jelly – it’s incredibly subjective and personal. Cupping takes time to build up a library of different taste memories, the distinct characteristics of the main origins and the wonderful nuances different producers create. It’s an immensely interesting journey!
One useful everyday exercise is to try and describe to yourself tastes or smells while you’re eating, drinking or cooking; the smell of cinnamon, fresh baked bread or the scent of a tomato plant when you brush by it. [We thoroughly recommend reading A Cuppers Handbook by Ted Lingle – still the best guide to tasting coffee]