Specialty grade coffee. AAA grade coffee. You’ve heard the terms before, and you know that they stand for some of the best coffees produced in the country.
But what exactly do these grading terms mean and what does the process of coffee grading involve?
The coffee grading system is slightly different in various parts of the world. Let’s take a look at how coffees are graded in India.
Grading Terms to Know
Before delving into the process of coffee grading in India, it is important to be familiarised with certain terms.
Coffee Grading - This is the process by which green coffees get classified into different quality categories based on certain criteria such as bean size, quality, etc.
Garbling - The sorting of coffee beans that wholly or in part don’t align with grade standards. Garbling is usually done by hand instead of with a machine. The difference between grading and garbling is that in grading, coffees are assigned certain labels or grades. Whereas, in garbling, the poor quality coffees are merely separated from the good quality ones.
Clean Garbled - This is a status given when coffees are sorted using strict standards. A bag of clean garbled coffee is completely free from defective beans.
Screen Size - Sieves are used to classify beans based on size. The screen size refers to the measurement of the holes in the sieve. It is usually measured in increments of 64th of an inch.
Minimum Retention - It is the percentage of beans that remain in a sieve when they are passed through. This metric is used to determine what portion of a particular batch of coffee adheres to a specific criteria.
Flats - It refers to flat beans found in a batch of coffee.
- Triage - It refers to defective beans found in a batch of coffee. This could be black or brown spots, splits or broken bits.
Coffee Grading in India
The Coffee Board of India is an organisation managed by the government to oversee the production and distribution of Indian coffees.
While they are an authoritative body in the coffee industry, coffee grading is done by independent coffee producers and roasters.
Coffee in India is graded based on two factors - size as well as the type of coffee processing.
For starters, washed arabica coffees are called plantation coffees. Washed robusta coffees are referred to as parchment coffees, and all naturally processed coffees are termed cherry (arabica cherry, robusta cherry, etc.)
Within each of these, there are certain tolerance levels specified for moisture content, bean size, and imperfection level.
Unroasted coffee beans are passed through a sieve to evaluate them based on size. This helps to collect beans that are largely uniform in size. Screen sizes typically start from 8/64 and go up to 20/64, with the latter being for the largest bean sizes available.
Further, AA, AB, and PB are the usual size-related categorizations. AA beans are significantly larger and of better quality compared to AB beans. Peaberry is when only one seed is formed in the coffee fruit.
So, combining the bean size and coffee processing criteria, coffees are given labels such as Robusta Cherry A or Plantation AA, Arabica Cherry PB, and so on.
There are 4 common grades of coffee - commercial, premium, specialty, and miscellaneous grade.
Specialty grade coffees are a class apart from others. They are graded using strict standards. You’ll find that specialty coffees can go up to screen 19 and are free from flats, triage, and extraneous matter. They also have a well-polished look and feel.
Premium grade coffees are the next best option if you are looking to enjoy high-quality coffees. They go up to Screen 18 and are clean garbled with a bare minimum 1-2% of triage or flats. Some premium grade coffees also have no tolerance for triage and flats. So keep an eye out for the information from the producer.
Next on the list is commercial grade coffee. These are mass produced, and some of them can be ungarbled. Even the clean garbled ones have a tolerance of 2-3% for triage and flats.
Miscellaneous grade coffees tend to be ungraded coffees because they don’t meet quality standards of commercial grade either. They can have up to 20% of blacks, browns, or bits in the bag.
So now, the next time you spot premium grade coffees, you’d know exactly how they differ from commercial coffees.
We hope you found this post insightful! Let us know which coffees you tend to lean towards.If you are looking to explore specialty coffees from India, check out our collection of Indian filter coffees.