Coffee Names: The Ins and Outs

When consuming coffee at Quills you may often be struck with the question of ‘Why does this *insert delicious coffee* have this name? What does it all mean?’ A common...

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When consuming coffee at Quills you may often be struck with the question of ‘Why does this *insert delicious coffee* have this name? What does it all mean?’ A common question, be sure. But the answer is not so easy. Coffee names are often a conglomeration of terms indicating the region, farm name, tree varietal, grading terms, or awards achieved. Woah, that’s a lot. But really it just means that a lot of information can be in the name of the coffee. Asking the informed barista of what the names mean can be the answer, but here are some of the terms often used in the naming process to give you a heads up.
Some of the terms involved in naming come from the type of bean. Whether it is smaller or larger or harder. The terms Peaberry, SHB or “Strictly Hard Bean,” AA or AB are indications of size or type. The peaberry is a result of a coffee cherry producing a single, rather than a double bean.  The bean is smaller, with a crevice splitting down the middle.  Peaberry coffees have some different characteristics to their normal bean counterparts.  Peaberries are usually brighter, more complex in aroma, and lighter in body.
SHB is short for “strictly hard bean”, which is the highest grade designation in Costa Rica, based on growing altitude. AA is an indication of bean size—AA is the largest size grown in Kenya. AB is a size down. These grades are not indicative of the quality of the coffee. An AB coffee can be just as good as an AA coffee.  Coffees simply labeled Kenya AA hardly reflect the quality contained in the cup, they merely indicate the size of the bean.  The quality of a Kenya coffee is determined by proper growing conditions, and meticulous harvesting and and processing, just like any other great coffee grown around the world.
Other parts important terms in the coffee names come from the region or farm they are grow in or awards they have received. A Co-op, or cooperative is a group of farmers who each maintain smaller sections of a large farm.  This allows for greater attention to detail, as each farmer can focus more attentively on a smaller amount of land. Using the Co-op name in a coffee draws attention to the farm and allows people to become familiar with the conditions the coffee is grown and be able to discern the Co-ops they prefer.
Awards are always important. Especially if you win one! When a coffee wins an award, like the coveted Cup of Excellence it is undeniable that growers and sellers want to show that off. The process in which the coffee is harvested can also be used as part of the name. A coffee that  says ‘wet-process’ means that the bean has been fully washed after harvesting, in contrast to a dry-processed coffee, where the coffee is left in the sun to dry.  
Here are some examples how that all works to name our tasty coffees. Here's a simple one.  We carry a coffee called "Nicaragua La Gloria". It's from Nicaragua, from a farm called "La Gloria".  Simple enough. Now let's take "El Salvador Cup of Excellence La Montanita Pacamara." El Salvador is the country of origin. Cup of Excellence is a national competition held in many coffee growing countries, recognizing and awarding the top coffee farms in the country each year.  La Montanita is the name of the farm where the coffee is grown. Pacamara is the varietal of the coffee trees harvested.  "Varietal" is a designation that is more precise than "species" or "sub-species", concerning trees.  
Of course you don’t need to know all that to enjoy coffee, but it does help to know where what you love comes from in order to find more and enhance your coffee experience. Taste and knowledge. Win.
For more fun terms and what not:


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