The Bag of Coffee, Explained
by Dominic Vittitow
There’s a lot of important factors in a coffee bean's journey that determine not only the specific characteristics it will brew-to-be, but also the overall quality of the bean itself. Roasters try to provide information on some of these to help represent the producers and to help guide the customer.
But it can be daunting to those not working in the coffee industry and who are not familiar with the jargon. So let’s take a closer look to see if we can make your next purchase a better experience.
The most common items found on your bag of specialty coffee are: roast level, MASL, processing method, origin, varietal, and tasting notes.
Roast level: an indication of the development style, which is the result of the time and temperature of the roasting process.
Speaking very generally, lighter roasts tend to produce brighter acidities and floral notes, medium roasts are well balanced with rounded mouth feel and developed sweetness, while dark roasts bring out bitter-sweet and smoky flavors.
A great example of how roast level effects how coffee tastes are our two Spot blends! Spots and Two Spot use the same coffee, but are roasted to different levels. Spots is a medium roast and Two Spot is a dark roast.
MASL: This stands for Meters Above Sea Level.
MASL figures heavily for arabica coffees – they need a higher altitude to grow, and it is commonly believed that the higher the altitude, the longer the ripening period, the more complex the final coffee cherry.
The coffee grown at the highest altitude out of our current offerings is the Ardi—grown at 1,850-2,200 MASL!
Processing method: This refers to the method the farmers used to remove the cherry skin from the seeds (the beans!).
There are many methods, both traditional and experimental – each will emphasize different aspects of the coffee. For example, a natural process coffee brings out more fruity notes and bigger body. A washed process might be cleaner with more floral notes.
A great example of big, natural processed body is the Nensebo Suke. It's super fruity with a chewy brownie body.
Origin: Where the coffee comes from.
This is a great item: not only does it help with traceability, but certain origins have certain flavor characteristics, very similar to wine. Some bags only list the origin country, while others will list the country, region, village, and farm. The latter usually indicates a high quality, low quantity coffee.
Iglesias is named after the 43 churches of the famous ancient city of Antigua. This coffee can be traced to Ciudad Vieja in the state of Sacatepéquez at the slopes of the Volcano Agua.
Varietal: The type of coffee plant the beans come from.
Do you ever find yourself looking for a particular bottle of wine (e.g. Cabernet Sauvignon)? This is because you prefer the notes that this varietal of grape–Cabernet Sauvignon–produces. Coffee is the same–there are many types of coffee trees producing unique strains of arabica coffee cherries. From Bourbon and Typica varietals to SL28 and Pacamara (my favorite), there’s a world of satisfaction to be found by the keen coffee enthusiast. For coffee’s purposes, varietal is the same as variety.
The Kinini Village AA from Rwanda is of the Bourbon variety!
Tasting notes: Flavors and aromas that we perceive when we taste the coffee.
You are not alone if you found the tasting notes on a bag confusing. Blueberry? Is there really blueberry in the coffee? The answer is no – unless it is an artificial flavor. But the teams of coffee professionals who helped import the coffee have found that the coffee produces flavor and aroma that’s like, or reminiscent of, the listed flavor notes. Of course, not everyone will agree on the same notes, but it can be a great starting point for your purchasing decisions.
We source and roast the Gallop blend components to achieve a very specific flavor profile, so that it makes our dream espresso.
One last thing to pay attention to: roast date! Any self-respecting roaster will include a roast date on their bag. Most bags are flushed with nitrogen and vacuum sealed to ensure freshness, but nonetheless, every bag should let you decide how fresh you want it.
We hope this helps you the next time you’re making a selection. And remember, our baristas are happy to answer any questions about our coffee.