Coffee beans are graded by quality. Different sources will label grades differently, so for the sake of this blog we will talk about 5 separate grades of beans and how they are typically used.
The lowest grade we will call Inferior grade beans. These are leftover buds at the end of the season, or ones that have fallen to the ground. Inferior grade beans are typically very small, lacking in flavor and of inconsistent quality. These will mostly be used in a non-commercial setting, such as for medical pharmaceutical purposes.
Next are Lesser grade and then Production grade. These grades use inexpensive bean sources. They are dried in large hot air dryers and shipped out quickly. Roasters roast these in huge batches with a flash roasting technique (about 2 min) and then cool the roasted beans with water. Again, not much time is spent on them. Think about large metal cans with ground coffee that keeps you warn when you’re camping.
The fourth grade will be called Commercial grade coffee. This is fairly good stuff. May be hand dried or hot air dried. May be flash roasted or slow roasted. Think of your favorite pancake house – good drinkable coffee in most cases. Think of large chain store coffee places – they want to serve coffee of consistent quality but there isn’t enough of the very best to fill 1,000 stores.
The top grade is referred to as Specialty grade coffee beans. These are “first pick” beans, usually the largest in size and the most vine ripened. These are air dried at the plantation and then shipped to individual roasters. Roasting of these is typically done in small batches, taking time to slow roast (about 18 min) and then air cooled. These beans are the most labor intensive throughout the entire process, and thus cost more money.
Because of all the careful steps taken to ensure quality beans in places that use Specialty grade coffee, it is important that it is used by well-trained baristas who don’t “mess it all up” in the final steps of getting you a great drink.
The more you know, the more you enjoy. Enjoy!