March 2, 2017

Origin, Altitude, Notes: How to Buy Coffee You’ll Like


Coffee bag labels can be confusing, especially if they’re specialty coffee. They may leave you with questions like: Why does the altitude matter? What’s the difference between a cinnamon roast and a cinnamon note? Is direct trade or Fairtrade better? But once you understand these descriptions, they can help you find the perfect bag of coffee for you.

So we looked for videos that explain, without the geek speak, exactly what this all means and what you should look for when buying coffee. Read on to discover what those coffee labels actually mean.

How to Understand Coffee Bag Labels

In this short-and-sweet clip from Epicurious, Mike Phillips of Intelligentsia Coffee explains some of the most important things to look for on coffee labels: the country and region of origin, the varietals, the roast date and roast profile, different certifications, and more.

As he says, this is important not just because it helps you to know the coffee quality. It also helps you to understand why you like certain coffees – and to buy similar ones in the future.

SEE ALSO: Bourbon vs Caturra: What’s a Varietal & Why Should I Care?

Why Do Coffee Bags Mention Altitude?

But wait: Mike also mentioned altitude, but he didn’t explain why that’s important. So what does altitude have to do with your coffee’s flavour?

Well, often the higher the altitude, the sweeter the coffee is. There are exceptions to this, and the varietal and origin can also change it – for example, generally speaking the further away from the equator, the sweeter lower-altitude coffee will be. Want to know more? Colombia Coffee Hub explains it all in just 180 seconds:

SEE ALSO: Why Does Altitude Matter? A VIDEO Guide

What Else Should I Look for on My Coffee Bag?

These videos cover the main things you’ll find on your coffee label. But once you start to get more into buying specialty coffee, you may notice some other descriptions.

Coffee processing refers to how the coffee bean was removed from the coffee fruit. Some types of coffee processing will give the coffee a “clean” taste, while others will add a sweeter or fruitier element.

You’ll also see coffee notes or taste profiles, which will describe things like a “chocolate aftertaste” or “high acidity“. These take a little practice to detect, but can really help you find the perfect cup for you.

This may seem like a lot of information, but once you start looking at what labels on coffee bags mean you’ll quickly realise what coffees you enjoy best. So give it a try: look at the label of your favourite coffee and work out why you like it so much – and how to discover new coffees that you’ll also love.

Feature photo credit: AirlieAce0316 via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY 3.0

Please note: Perfect Daily Grind does not own the rights to these videos and cannot be held accountable for their content.

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