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How to Read a Craft Coffee Label

Let’s face it: coffee labels can be confusing. Sometimes it feels like trying to crack a code to unlock secret knowledge, when really it should be simple and straightforward. We want to make it easy to look at a Craft Coffee label and learn about our featured coffees, so take a peek at the label below and keep reading for a pain-free breakdown of what it all means.

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While it may look sparse, this label actually tells you everything you could want to know about this particular coffee, which is featured in our February coffee subscription box. The label is designed to give you an easily digestible snapshot of the “who, what, where, when, and why” of each coffee. Let’s dive in and tackle each of these categories…

Who was involved?

Producer: A coffee producer is a farmer, a group of farmers, or a farm itself (seen in the label above). Sometimes a group of farmers in an area will join together and form a cooperative society (coop), which helps them earn more money for their beans. 

Roaster: This is the company that buys the “raw” coffee beans from producers around the world and turns them into delicious, toasty brown, ready-to-brew beans. We work exclusively with roasting companies that roast their beans in small batches to give them the special attention they deserve.

craft coffee, coffee label, coffee producer, coffee roaster, coffee variety, coffee elevation, coffee processing, coffee tasting notesFarmers from the Sopacdi Cooperative in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, whose coffee is featured in our February coffee subscription box.

What kind of coffee is it?

Variety: Just like apples or tomatoes, coffee beans come in an array of shapes, sizes, and colors. These different types of beans are called varieties, and each variety grows best in different conditions. For example, the varieties grown in Ethiopia are much different than the ones grown in El Salvador.

Process: Coffee beans are the seed of a fruit that looks a lot like a cherry - the fruit is even referred to as a coffee cherry. Before roasting, the beans need to be processed to remove all the fruit from the outside of them. There are numerous ways to do this. Washed, natural, and pulped-natural are the most common ways to process coffee beans, and each affects the flavors of the beans differently. Don’t worry about what these mean just yet - we’ll get into the nitty gritty in future posts.

craft coffee, coffee label, coffee producer, coffee roaster, coffee variety, coffee elevation, coffee processing, coffee tasting notesCoffee beans are drained after being processed in the “washed” method.

Where was it grown?

Origin: Coffee is produced all across the world, from Central and South America to Africa and Asia, and coffees taste remarkably different between countries. Even within each country, specific regions (like Huila in the label up top) are known for the distinct characters of their coffees. 

Elevation: In general, coffees grown at high elevations are sweeter, more flavorful, and flat out better than coffees grown at low elevations. This mainly comes down to the cooler temperatures at higher elevations, which allow the coffee beans to develop slowly over time. Elevation is measured in meters above sea level (commonly abbreviated as “MASL”) and the best coffees grow well above 1,000 MASL.

craft coffee, coffee label, coffee producer, coffee roaster, coffee variety, coffee elevation, coffee processing, coffee tasting notesMountainous regions such as this one in Colombia produce some of the most spectacular coffees in the world.

When should I drink it by?

Roast Date: A bag of coffee beans doesn’t “go bad” the way a gallon of milk or a piece of fruit does, but your cup will taste best if you use the beans while they’re fresh. We work closely with roasters to make sure your coffee isn’t roasted until the last possible minute before shipping. It costs us more for expedited shipping, but it’s worth it to put the freshest possible beans in your box each month.

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Why is this a Craft Coffee?

Our Notes: You can think of our tasting notes as a guide to help you find the flavors, aromas, and cup characteristics that our expert tasters loved so much about each coffee. But our notes are by no means definitive. Everybody’s palate is different, so we encourage you to seek out your own unique tasting notes in your cup!

craft coffee, coffee label, coffee producer, coffee roaster, coffee variety, coffee elevation, coffee processing, coffee tasting notesThe Bourbon variety (which comes in red and yellow forms) is one of the most commonly grown coffee varieties worldwide.

And there you have it - a basic and functional understanding of what you’re really looking at on each Craft Coffee label. We think understanding the label sets you up to have an amazing coffee experience by giving you the context you need to appreciate each coffee for its distinct qualities. Stay tuned for more advanced courses in the future, where we’ll dig deeper into different origins, varieties, and processing methods to highlight why each coffee we feature is truly unique.

Craft Coffee Spotlight: Ethiopian Yirgacheffe from Temple Coffee

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This Ethiopian gem from Temple was one of our favorite coffees we tasted last month, and it rightly earned a spot in our lineup for February’s Tasting Box. According to one of our experts, “this coffee tastes like a fancy dessert: creamy, super light and very delicate but assertively full-bodied.” This is the kind of easy-drinking delight that we look forward to for a mid-afternoon pick me up!

Coffee Tasting Update: Feb. 17

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Also the number of days we’d stay awake for if we had to evaluate all of these coffees by ourselves. Luckily we have a team of NYC’s finest coffee professionals to tackle the job!

Craft Coffee by the Numbers: Feb. 13

imageDried coffee beans in Ethiopia resting before export. Over the past two weeks we received more samples of coffee from Ethiopia than from anywhere else. Photo courtesy of Coffee Circle.

You may have noticed that we started running a weekly update of our coffee evaluations. What that number doesn’t tell you, though, is how much the coffees themselves can vary week by week. So starting today, we’re going to dig a little deeper, breaking down the coffees we evaluate to discover trends and make interesting observations. See our inaugural “By the Numbers” below:

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When you look at the roasters by state you’ll see that we received coffees from both Montana and Arizona - two states that aren’t exactly known as hotbeds for coffee. We love watching scenes develop as the love for artisan coffee continues to spread across the country, so this stood out to us in a really exciting way.

We hope you’ll follow along with us as we continue to break down our coffee stats - who knows what we’ll find out next!