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What 8 Words and Symbols on a Bag of Coffee Mean

Buying coffee can be tricky, especially if you buy your beans from a “Third Wave” roaster, the artisanal makers who are coffee’s answer to craft beer. Each bag of beans features lots of information, and it can be difficult to sort through it all to figure out what will end up in your cup. Here’s what a few of the most common phrases and symbols tell you.

1. THE COFFEE'S NAME

The most important words on a coffee bag’s label are the name of the coffee itself, which is the best indicator of what those beans are all about: Consider, for example, Los Angeles-based roaster Compelling and Rich Coffee’s current offering Ethiopia Koke Honey (Organic): This name tells you the coffee’s origin (more on why that's important below), producer (Koke Cooperative), processing method (honey), and certification (organic).

2. THE COFFEE'S ORIGIN

As we've detailed previously, coffee grows best in an equatorial band called “The Coffee Belt.” Knowing where a bean originated can offer a hint about its flavor profile. If your taste buds prefer coffee that’s fruity and floral, shop for a coffee from Kenya or Colombia. If you’re in the market for an earthy, herbaceous cup, be on the lookout for a coffee from Sumatra.

3. THE FARM AND PRODUCER

Third Wave coffee roasters prize transparency, sustainable and ethical sourcing, and giving credit to the producers who work tirelessly to bring drinkers their morning cup. Knowing where coffee came from and who grew it gives consumers a clearer picture of the trip it took to their pot and enables them to be a more active participant in that coffee’s story.

4. THE ELEVATION AT WHICH IT GREW

Elevation has a direct impact on the size, shape, density, and flavor of the beans. Some of the most desirable coffees are grown at higher altitudes. Coffees grown at high altitudes greater than 2000 meters above sea level (MASL) boast more acidity and livelier flavors, while coffees grown at low altitudes (<1000 MASL) tend to be bland and earthy.

Why are high altitude coffees tastier? The higher the altitude, the longer it takes for coffee cherries to ripen. This delay in ripening allows the cherries to develop more sugars that create interesting flavors and acidity. Coffees grown at very low elevations are exposed to harsher growing conditions (less rainfall, higher temperatures, less sunlight) and tend to exhibit less acidity.

5. THE VARIETY OF COFFEE

If you’re in the mood for an apple, you can grab a Gala, a Honeycrisp, or a Granny Smith, to name a few. Like apples, coffee is a fruit that comes in a wide range of varieties: From Caturra to Bourbon to Typica to Gesha to Pacamara to SL28 to Catuai, there are dozens of kinds of coffee that impart different flavors in the cup. However, a Bourbon variety from El Salvador can (and probably will) taste much different from a Bourbon from Guatemala because the terroir (the situation in which the coffee is grown) contributes different qualities.

6. THE PROCESSING METHOD

Another term you might find on a coffee bag label is “process.” This term refers to the method used to ensure harvested coffee doesn’t spoil. There are a number of unique methods, but they all fall into the general categories of wet or dry.

To understand how coffee is processed, it’s important to first know the anatomy of a coffee cherry. The seed that ends up in your coffee grinder is surrounded by a husk, pulp, mucilage, and parchment. The wet method will typically be identified as “washed” on a label. This designation indicates that after the pulp was removed from the coffee cherry, water was used to wash the mucilage that is still attached to the parchment. This wet process removes many of the coffee’s impurities, but it can also remove the coffee’s natural flavors.

In the dry method, on the other hand, the cherries are simply spread out either on the ground or on elevated beds to dry in the sun. They are raked periodically and covered at night to prevent spoiling. These steps are more commonly known as the “natural” process. While naturally processed coffees are more intensely flavorful, the process takes much longer and is much more labor-intensive for producers.

One of the newer methods, honey processing, is when the mucilage (called ‘honey’ because it’s sticky) of the coffee is left on the bean for the drying, with three different classifications based on how long the bean dried and how much sun the bean was dried with [http://blog.seattlecoffeeworks.com/roastery/earth-honey-process/]. This process gives the coffee additional sweetness, with less acidity than other processing methods. But because the beans have a tendency to stick together and the mucilage can easily ferment to the point it gets sour, it takes more work.

7. CERTIFICATIONS

Coffees, their producers, and their buyers can earn any number of certifications, but the most common certifications are Organic, Fair Trade, Rainforest Alliance, Smithsonian Bird Friendly, and Utz. One could write an entire article about these certifications and what the requirements are to earn each one, but in short, these markers are indicators of environmental and/or economic excellence. These certifications enable consumers to support organizations that make a positive social and environmental impact.

8. FLAVOR NOTES

Perhaps the most important thing to look for are notes about the coffee’s flavors—but it’s very important to note that the flavors that are listed on a coffee bag aren’t necessarily indicative of the tasting experience you’ll get in the cup. Every palate is unique, and different palates invariably perceive taste in different ways. The flavors listed on a coffee bag label are the unique tasting notes of the roaster. While the roaster might taste “caramel and apple” another person might taste “honey and pear." In other words, the flavors listed on a coffee bag label are in no way authoritative. However, they offer a helpful guide for the consumer to distinguish between sweet, savory, floral, fruity, earthy, or herbaceous coffees while making a purchase decision.

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George Orwell's 11 Tips for Proper Tea Making
Public Domain // Mendhak // CC Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic (Wikimedia Commons)
Public Domain // Mendhak // CC Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic (Wikimedia Commons)

More than 70 years ago, in the January 12, 1946, edition of the Evening Standard, George Orwell wrote up 11 tips for making and consuming tea. Published under the title "A Nice Cup of Tea," Orwell noted that "at least four [points] are acutely controversial." That's a bold claim!

So what does it take to make an Orwellian cup of tea? Read on.

A NICE CUP OF TEA BY GEORGE ORWELL

If you look up 'tea' in the first cookery book that comes to hand you will probably find that it is unmentioned; or at most you will find a few lines of sketchy instructions which give no ruling on several of the most important points.
This is curious, not only because tea is one of the main stays of civilization in this country, as well as in Eire, Australia and New Zealand, but because the best manner of making it is the subject of violent disputes.

When I look through my own recipe for the perfect cup of tea, I find no fewer than eleven outstanding points. On perhaps two of them there would be pretty general agreement, but at least four others are acutely controversial. Here are my own eleven rules, every one of which I regard as golden:

FIRSTLY

First of all, one should use Indian or Ceylonese tea. China tea has virtues which are not to be despised nowadays—it is economical, and one can drink it without milk—but there is not much stimulation in it. One does not feel wiser, braver or more optimistic after drinking it. Anyone who has used that comforting phrase 'a nice cup of tea' invariably means Indian tea.

SECONDLY

Secondly, tea should be made in small quantities—that is, in a teapot. Tea out of an urn is always tasteless, while army tea, made in a cauldron, tastes of grease and whitewash. The teapot should be made of china or earthenware. Silver or Britanniaware teapots produce inferior tea and enamel pots are worse; though curiously enough a pewter teapot (a rarity nowadays) is not so bad.

THIRDLY

Thirdly, the pot should be warmed beforehand. This is better done by placing it on the hob than by the usual method of swilling it out with hot water.

(Ed. note: a hob is a stove burner in this context. Depends a bit on what sort of pot you're using whether it's safe to put in on the burner!)

FOURTHLY

Fourthly, the tea should be strong. For a pot holding a quart, if you are going to fill it nearly to the brim, six heaped teaspoons would be about right. In a time of rationing, this is not an idea that can be realized on every day of the week, but I maintain that one strong cup of tea is better than twenty weak ones. All true tea lovers not only like their tea strong, but like it a little stronger with each year that passes—a fact which is recognized in the extra ration issued to old-age pensioners.

FIFTHLY

Fifthly, the tea should be put straight into the pot. No strainers, muslin bags or other devices to imprison the tea. In some countries teapots are fitted with little dangling baskets under the spout to catch the stray leaves, which are supposed to be harmful. Actually one can swallow tea-leaves in considerable quantities without ill effect, and if the tea is not loose in the pot it never infuses properly.

SIXTHLY

Sixthly, one should take the teapot to the kettle and not the other way about. The water should be actually boiling at the moment of impact, which means that one should keep it on the flame while one pours. Some people add that one should only use water that has been freshly brought to the boil, but I have never noticed that it makes any difference.

SEVENTHLY

Seventhly, after making the tea, one should stir it, or better, give the pot a good shake, afterwards allowing the leaves to settle.

EIGHTHLY

Eighthly, one should drink out of a good breakfast cup—that is, the cylindrical type of cup, not the flat, shallow type. The breakfast cup holds more, and with the other kind one's tea is always half cold before one has well started on it.

NINTHLY

Ninthly, one should pour the cream off the milk before using it for tea. Milk that is too creamy always gives tea a sickly taste.

TENTHLY

Tenthly, one should pour tea into the cup first. This is one of the most controversial points of all; indeed in every family in Britain there are probably two schools of thought on the subject. The milk-first school can bring forward some fairly strong arguments, but I maintain that my own argument is unanswerable. This is that, by putting the tea in first and stirring as one pours, one can exactly regulate the amount of milk whereas one is liable to put in too much milk if one does it the other way round.

LASTLY (SADLY NOT ELEVENTHLY)

Lastly, tea—unless one is drinking it in the Russian style—should be drunk without sugar. I know very well that I am in a minority here. But still, how can you call yourself a true tea lover if you destroy the flavour of your tea by putting sugar in it? It would be equally reasonable to put in pepper or salt. Tea is meant to be bitter, just as beer is meant to be bitter. If you sweeten it, you are no longer tasting the tea, you are merely tasting the sugar; you could make a very similar drink by dissolving sugar in plain hot water.

Some people would answer that they don't like tea in itself, that they only drink it in order to be warmed and stimulated, and they need sugar to take the taste away. To those misguided people I would say: Try drinking tea without sugar for, say, a fortnight and it is very unlikely that you will ever want to ruin your tea by sweetening it again.

Orwell concludes:

These are not the only controversial points to arise in connexion with tea drinking, but they are sufficient to show how subtilized the whole business has become. There is also the mysterious social etiquette surrounding the teapot (why is it considered vulgar to drink out of your saucer, for instance?) and much might be written about the subsidiary uses of tealeaves, such as telling fortunes, predicting the arrival of visitors, feeding rabbits, healing burns and sweeping the carpet. It is worth paying attention to such details as warming the pot and using water that is really boiling, so as to make quite sure of wringing out of one's ration the twenty good, strong cups of that two ounces, properly handled, ought to represent.

Let the arguing commence, tea lovers!

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Job Alert: The UK Needs a Chicken Nugget Taste-Tester

Do you like highly-processed chicken molded into mushy, breaded bites? Are you willing to relocate to England? Can your palate distinguish a savory nugget from a mediocre one? Your dream job awaits, AJC.com reports.

British retail chain B&M recently posted a job listing calling for a "chicken nugget connoisseur" to help the company get feedback on their new line of frozen food products. The chosen applicant—or applicants—will get a monthly voucher worth £25 ($34) to spend on frozen goods. Job duties consist of eating nuggets and other items and then providing B&M feedback.

The post describes the position as "temporary," so it's unlikely there's opportunity for advancement. If you care to apply, B&M will accept a paragraph describing yourself and why you’d be good for the job—though if you actually have a CV full of previous nugget-related positions, we're confident they'd love to see it.

[h/t AJC.com]

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