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5 coffee segments – what are their characteristics and which ones are best to choose?

2022-01-21
5 coffee segments – what are their characteristics and which ones are best to choose?

If you follow our publications, you surely know that specialty coffee means the highest quality coffee. However, specialty is only representative of the fifth, highest segment, and besides it, there are still four other segments of coffee. In a moment, you will get to know them all!

Which segments are the best for coffee, and which ones should you avoid? Just read the description of each type to make an informed decision. But first, let's briefly look at how coffee beans are differentiated into various segments.

What criteria are used to evaluate coffee beans?

Initially, experienced judges, called cuppers (whose official title given by the SCA is Q-grader), examine the quality of unroasted beans. They check if the harvest is not rotten and also if it doesn't contain unwanted elements like stones. They also evaluate the color because the best beans are greenish. Other colors detract from the overall score. 

The smell of the beans is also checked, which should resemble fresh peas. Then the properties of the already brewed coffee are evaluated: its consistency, acidity, or flavor notes. Any deviations from the norm are called defects, and based on them, specific segments of coffee are differentiated.

  1. Specialty Coffee, the Queen of All Coffees

Coffee from the specialty segment is characterized by the highest quality and is the finest of all. It may have up to 5 minor defects. Because it is cultivated in a special microclimate, the collected beans captivate with unique flavor qualities. The demanding process of its production begins in the fields, where specific cultivation standards apply, and then it is thoroughly assessed, selected, and roasted before it reaches our homes. Its uniqueness lies primarily in balanced flavor notes, minimal acidity, and depending on the chosen type of specialty coffee – detectable chocolate, nuts, or even exotic fruits. 

  1. Premium in Second Place

Premium coffee is considered very good. These are beans that may contain up to 8 defects, but the brewed coffee still stands out with rich aroma, intense flavor, and good quality. Coffees from this segment will delight us with balanced flavor notes. They are usually cultivated in special regions such as Ethiopia, Guatemala, Costa Rica, or Brazil. During the cultivation of coffee trees from which premium beans are harvested, attention is paid to regular rainfall, low soil pH, and an average air temperature of around 20 degrees Celsius. 

  1. Exchange Still Quite Good

Exchange coffees are considered good by connoisseurs. During the evaluation from the appearance of the beans to the flavor qualities, the consistency of the coffee, balanced aroma notes, or acidity can achieve up to 23 defects. This is almost three times more flaws than in premium coffee, but this coffee can still satisfy the taste buds of some people who enjoy black coffee. 

  1. Below Standard, Which Does Not Meet Good Coffee Standards

The situation is worse with coffees from the Below Standard segment. These can have even up to 86 more serious defects and are judged to be below standard. In this type of coffee, we are unlikely to sense richness of flavors, floral notes, or balanced acidity. Dozens of defects significantly affect the poorer taste of the coffee. 

  1. OFF, the Weakest Coffee Harvests

The last segment of coffee, OFF, consists of poor-quality beans that qualify for waste. During the evaluation, cuppers distinguish above 86 defects in them. Such coffee should definitely be avoided! Interestingly, the author of a book about coffee - Ika Graboń reports that the weakest beans, which professional connoisseurs disqualify from higher segments, end up in wholesale, straight to supermarkets.

So next time you buy coffee, make sure it's specialty or premium coffee. These two segments guarantee high-quality beans that not only energize you but also allow you to discover the richness of different flavors and aromas!

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