Coffee Grades and Quality Standards for Coffee Businesses

Nick Mirev
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    In the past century, coffee has been among the most popular drinks in the beverage industry. There are hundreds of different brands and varieties offered by coffee wholesalers. In their goal to increase consumption of the beverage, manufacturers and distributors also offer innovative products such as CBD coffee and coffee shop inventory suitable for making nitro cold brew coffee. In this article, we’ll share more about the main coffee grades and the quality standards in the coffee niche market.

    Factors for Coffee Grades

    There are various factors that are taken into account when separating beans into different coffee grades. They are called defects and are separated into two major categories – primary and secondary defects. The occurrence of these defects establishes the coffee grade. It’s important to keep in mind that coffee beans are graded before they are roasted. Allow us to share more about the different types of defects.

    Primary Defects

    Each occurrence of the first three defects in the list below counts for one full defect. Two occurrences of defect number 4 count for one full defect. And five occurrences of defect number 5 count for one full defect.

    1. Full black beans. These beans are brown or black before they have been roasted;
    2. Full sour. It is caused by over-fermentation of coffee cherries;
    3. Occurrence of pods or cherries. The batch should contain only beans and no cherries or pods;
    4. Large stones or large sticks. They are caused by careless processing;
    5. Medium stones or sticks. Even if processing has been careful, there could still be signs of stones, sticks, or dirt.

    Secondary Defects

    All other defects fall under the category of secondary defects. That can include things like broken or chipped coffee beans, small stones or sticks, insect damage, and other factors that might impair the quality of coffee beans.

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    Different Coffee Grades

    There are different scales to evaluate the quality of coffee. Most businesses in the coffee distribution industry use a scale that divides beans into 5 different coffee grades. Let’s briefly examine each one.

    Grade 1: Specialty Coffee Beans

    The highest grade of coffee beans is also known as specialty coffee beans. Businesses that purchase these from distributors of wholesale coffee beans know that their prices can be a lot higher compared to that of other grades. They have no inherent defects and there is a very low chance of insect damage or mold forming on the beans. These beans are often sold by local roasters that focus on specialty coffee. Most coffee shops and some restaurants also offer coffee made from grade-one beans. In recent years, specialty coffee has become one of the most popular coffee trends. That’s why the demand for beans of the highest quality is much higher compared to the supply.

    Grade 2: Premium Coffee Beans

    Although it’s not of the highest quality, this coffee still has great quality and flavor. Premium coffee grades are often used by some of the best coffee roasters, coffee shops, and other businesses that serve coffee. They are less expensive compared to specialty coffee which makes them a great option for many who can’t afford specialty coffee products.

    Grade 3: Exchange Coffee Beans

    Large brands often use beans of this coffee grade to make their white-label coffee products. They are also frequently used by mainstream coffee shops that buy them at wholesale prices. Although they are not of premium quality, they still have the potential to result in a good-tasting beverage. These medium-quality coffee beans are among the most traded coffee products on commodity exchanges.

    Grade 4: Standard Coffee Beans

    These beans have a below-medium quality and between 24 to 86 defects per 300 grams of product. They are used in blends and instant coffee. This is the lowest grade of coffee beans that is used for food and beverage purposes.

    Grade 5: Off-Grade Coffee Beans

    With more than 86 full defects per batch, these beans are rarely used by businesses in the coffee industry. They often have mold, significant damage, stones in the batch, insect damage, and water damage. That’s why they can rarely be found on the market. 

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    Quality Standards for Coffee Businesses

    Besides the different coffee grades, there are a variety of other standards in the sector. Some of them are related to brewing and roasting while others focus on the production of sustainable coffee and the usage of proper coffee distribution tools and storage facilities. Here are a few examples.

    1. Production. The SCA (Specialty Coffee Association) has standards related to coffee production. ISO 22000 and HACCP are other common standards used in the food and beverage industry.
    2. Brewing. Coffee brewing standards are related to the water quality and the coffee-to-water ratio. Regular maintenance and cleaning of the brewing equipment is also considered a standard practice.
    3. Packaging, storage, and transportation. Coffee is prone to oxidation and moisturization. That’s why it needs to be stored in cool and dry conditions. Airtight packaging is also recommended for roasted coffee.
    4. Sourcing. Sustainability has become increasingly important in the coffee industry. That’s why certifications like the Fair Trade or Rainforest Alliance are important for reputable coffee brands.
    5. Customer service. Baristas receive lengthy training not only in the different brewing techniques but also in customer service. They should be able to recommend different coffee types and beverages based on the season, the food menu, and customer preferences.
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    Frequently Asked Questions about Coffee Grades and Standards

    Whether you’re interested in coffee marketing or using the latest eCommerce business technologies, BlueCart is the right place for you. Our team constantly shares useful information about the trends in various sectors. Our SaaS solution is also among the preferred tools for many distributors of coffee and other products.

    What Grade Is Specialty Coffee?

    Specialty coffee is the highest category of coffee grades. For a coffee to be considered as specialty, it needs to have little to no inherent defects. In order to be considered as specialty, the coffee needs to follow other standards as well. For example, there shouldn’t be any quakers (immature or poorly roasted beans). Even if the beans are of the highest quality, the drink needs to have certain qualities in terms of flavor, acidity, balance, and other factors. Find out more about the coffee cupping score below.

    What Is Coffee Cupping Score?

    The Specialty Coffee Association has developed a scale from 0 to 100 that is used to score coffee. Specialty coffee usually scores above 80. Most commercially sold coffee products score between 60 and 80 on this scale. The scale uses various factors when grading coffee. They include:

    • Aroma;
    • Flavor;
    • Aftertaste;
    • Acidity;
    • Sweetness;
    • Balance;
    • Body.

    The professionals who score coffee are usually certified Q-graders. They go through a lengthy training process that teaches how to differentiate the different coffee grades and also develops their taste palate.

    Is High-Grade Coffee Worth It?

    If you enjoy coffee and can tell the difference between good and bad coffee, buying high-grade coffee is absolutely worth it. As it is one of the most popular beverages worldwide, there are multiple varieties of coffee. Some enthusiasts even enjoy making their own coffee blends. In some cases, drinking specialty or premium-grade coffee might not be optimal. For example, coffee grades make little to no difference in seasonal coffee drinks that are mixed with various spices, honey, and a lot of milk. Since these beverages combine many ingredients with strong flavors, making them with specialty coffee will not make them taste significantly better.

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