The green physical grading of coffee is an important step to help define the intrinsic quality of processed and milled coffee. In the photo below, there is a coffee being graded from the Sierra Nevada region of northern Colombia.
Traditionally, the quality and market value of coffee is defined by the percentages of beans that measure a particular screen size. For example, coffee samples that allow for the passing of only 1.5% below screen size 15+ will qualify as excelso, fetching a higher value than the lower grading of usual good quality. Even more rare is supremo, a quality which must retain a majority of beans above screen size 17+, with a tolerance of up to 5% passing below this mark. The concept of measuring the quality and value of a resulting coffee on the screen size alone can often limit the potential cup quality, perception, and overall value found in smaller screen-sized coffee selections that many farmers produce.
Coffees that fall into the excelso classification have been known to present extraordinary cup qualities, placing in several coffee competitions and other national and regional awards. Nonetheless, larger bean size traditionally points to more flavor, density, and character. On the other hand, we often see smaller bean sizes traditionally found in Africa, such as peaberries from Tanzania with screen sizes as low as 14+, or several Ethiopia washed or natural processed coffees with 15+ screening, where the resulting values and cup qualities counter this physical grading perception.
Grading coffee has been evolving over the decades, and as better communication grows between coffee exporting nations, the more we are able to share and improve our calibration and understanding of the process. When purchasing coffee from Colombia, it is important to evaluate the cup quality in addition to the branded recognition of the labels which simply identify screen size.
Parting words: Excel with Excelso!
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