The Lab

What to Know When Buying Green Coffee

Buying green coffee can involve terms and acronyms that may be new to café staff and consumers. Different origin countries use different terms to describe the same characteristics. Knowing these designations can help you find the best coffee to suit your needs more quickly. Contract terms are an important part of purchasing forward which can help you build strong relationships with your producers.

Size Designations

Most coffees are sorted by size during processing, as size can be an indicator of quality. Coffee is passed through several screens with larger beans not being able to pass to lower screens, while smaller beans do. Screen sizes are in terms of 1/64 of an inch and most specialty coffee falls between 16 and 18. These sizes are not generally referred to by measured size, but a local classification system.

In Colombia for instance, Supremo designates coffee at screen size 17/18 and Excelso represents screen sizes 15/16. In Kenya and most of Africa these same screen sizes are referred to as AA or AB. AA is the larger designation and AB the smaller. African Peaberries are very small bean mutations with screen sizes 8-14.

Quality Designations

Most Central and South American coffees will be advertised based on elevation. High-grown (HG) and SHG (Strictly High Grown) are used to designate altitude. 1,000masl is the minimum elevation of a high grown coffee and 1,200masl is the minimum for a strictly high grown coffee. In Guatemala and Costa Rica, the designations mean the same thing but are referred to as Hard Bean (HB) and Strictly Hard Bean (SHB.)

There are two main preparation styles for these coffees, American and European. These are advertised as an “E” or “EP,” “A” or “AP.” European is most common and entails screen grading to remove any beans below size 15 and hand sorting of coffee until maximum defect count is below 8 beans per 300g sample. American preparation requires less than 23 defects per 300g sample and screen size above 14.

In Ethiopia exists an entirely different system. Coffees from small farms are primarily sold on an exchange. A grade is given by government officials of a score of 1-5 based on cleanliness and uniformity. Grade 1 is the highest quality. Direct trade relationships can exist between large estates, cooperatives, and some washing stations.

Third Party Certifications

Various farmers are able to receive a premium price for their product when they produce the coffee using certain methods. The most common and well known designation is organic. Organic coffees are grown in soil that is free of chemical fertilizers or pesticides for at least 3 years. Fair trade coffee is produced with value placed on transparency and equity of pricing and wages. Coffee that is Fair Trade is designated with FT, and Fair Trade Organic is FTO. RFA or Rainforest Alliance Certification encompasses a wide range of factors surrounding coffee production. It places emphasis on sustainable farm management practices, human equality and well-being, environmental conservation and resource management.

Samples

The distinction between these samples are in how they correspond to the prospective lot. A type sample does not directly correspond to the specific lot, but is used as an introduction to a new coffee. You can expect similar flavors from a type sample, but the actual lot you purchase will be different. A Representative sample corresponds directly to a specific lot. A representative sample will be the same as the coffee you purchase.

The first samples we receive are Offer samples. They are sent before the coffee is prepared for export to perspective buyers for approval. After an offer has been approved, pre-shipment samples are sent from the country of origin about 30 days prior to shipment. Once this sample is approved, the coffee leaves the country of origin. Arrival Samples are taken once the coffee has landed in the RNY Warehouse.

Contracts

The most useful contract term for buying forward is the Subject to Approval of Sample contract. This allows roasters to reserve future crops in advance without committing to purchase them unless the quality is as expected. When samples are not approved, contracts may dictate that the seller offer different samples for review, SAS Replace, or no sale will move forward, No Approval, No Sale.

Free on Board and Free on Truck represent different logistical responsibilities you might face. Purchasing Free on Board means the seller is responsible for transport of product onto the ship at the port of export. Free on Truck represents the buyer’s responsibility of bringing the product to the port of export. Ex Warehouse simply refers to the buyers responsibility of transport for overland domestic transport of product from a given warehouse.

These are only the basic terms we use when discussing green coffee. For more information or questions regarding the supply chain, contact a trader at Royal NY.

Patrick McKeown

Patrick began his coffee journey on Long Island at a low volume coffee bar, and roasting at home. Since then he has been a barista, manager, and craft roaster in NYC.