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The coffee industry has a formal, fairly well defined grading system in place for green coffee.
Here is a summary:
Grade 1: Specialty Grade Coffee Beans: no primary defects, 0-3 full defects, sorted with a maximum of 5% above and 5% below specified screen size or range of screen size, and exhibiting a distinct attribute in one or more of the following areas: taste, acidity, body, or aroma. Also must be free of cup faults and taints. Zero quakers allowed. Moisture content between 9-13%.
Grade 2: Premium Grade Coffee Beans: Same as Grade 1 except maximum of 3 quakers. 0-8 full defects.
Grade 3: Exchange Grade Coffee Beans: 50% above screen 15 and less than 5% below screen 15. Max of 5 quakers. Must be free from faults. 9-23 full defects.
Grade 4: Standard Grade Coffee Beans: 24-86 full defects.
Grade 5: Off Grade Coffee Beans: More than 86 full defects.
Source: Green Coffee Classification System Poster from the Specialty Coffee Association of America.
There's much to the system than that simple summary of course. And there are other grading systems that are more precise, but more time consuming (eg: Brazil / New York Method). These are helpful and essential for the coffee industry to run smoothly.
As you have probably gathered, at Ministry Grounds, our focus is Grade 1 Specialty beans. This is for reasons of quality, but also because these beans are far more likely to have good environmental credentials and be grown and processed by people paid decent wages to do so.
But not all our coffees are true specialty beans. And that's because we need to carry a range of coffees that will suit a range of people and their taste and budget, but it's also because many Grade 2 and even some Grade 3 beans can often taste great in the cup, or maybe be graded lower because of a few extra quakers (from under ripe cherries) or other minor defects.
So purely to help our customers work out where a given bean fits into the more formal grading system, we are using a simplified variation here in the store, and progressivelky (starting Feb 2013) all our coffees will have our grade visible on their product page.
The Ministry Grounds Coffee Grades
- Grade 1 Specialty - as per the SCAA description above. Coffee of excellent quality and consistency. Sourced through small, specialty brokers who buy nothing else. Many have personal relationships with the farmers who grow the coffee. Good prices paid for the product, growers' family and workers well paid and treated.
- Grade 2 Premium - Very good quality coffee in the cup. May have a very small number of defects as green beans. Sourced through smaller brokers who take much care in selecting the coffees, and with good info from origin. Many of the Trabocca/OCR coffees fit this category.
- Grade 3 Commercial - Very drinkable coffee that fits somewhere around the Grade 3 SCAA definition. Sourced through large scale wholesalers, and conditions at origin often not known.
Again this is purely our system of grading our coffees, we hope it's helpful to you.