April 26, 2015

Breaking Bag: Why Are Coffee Bags & Their Labels Important?


I was on the phone to my mum giving her some tips on how to choose a bag of beans when I realised how incomprehensible I must sound… “Look at the sign for washed process coffees; see if there is a name of the farm; look at the altitude; what is the varietal of the coffee?” It was no surprise my mum was rather confused on what the bag should look like and left feeling as though she had been doing it wrong the whole time!

For someone interested in the coffee culture, exploring the coffee market and its offerings is part of the deal, and searching for information opens new doors to stories that are behind a simple bag of beans. It is genuinely intriguing. However, for those unfamiliar with specialty coffee deciding which coffee to buy can be a real challenge.

Man holding a cup and a bag of coffee

This is the introduction to a series of articles on coffee labels that serve us a great deal when choosing our home brew option. In the series we will break down the terms commonly used by roasters across the world to describe their coffees. After all, who wouldn’t wish their mother the best coffee experience?

Each coffee bag of each roaster tells the story of the hard work done by the farmers and workers. The bag is the first thing the customer sees and often serves as the only indicator of quality. It is not always possible for the barista to explain all the available information about the coffee to a customer. Coffee labels can serve as a shortened version of the beans’ story from farm to cup. Describing the farmer and his farm, the plant (variety) itself, the roast profile as well as what to expect in your brew – labels are the perfect advertisement space. They provide the information you want and they can be aesthetically pleasing too.

I have analysed many different retail bags of coffee, explored their labels and tried to approach them as the average consumer who doesn’t work in the coffee industry. Is the average coffee consumer interpreting the descriptors of the coffee bag and their labels in the right way? And if the average consumer does learn to speak the roasters language, how would this aid in their coffee purchases?

The next feature will introduce the structure and the language used on the labels and will provide a breakdown of what individual terms apply to. We will then closely examine each descriptor and explain their meanings and how these attributes are presented in our brews.

Article edited by A. Guerra.

Perfect Daily Grind.