How to Read a Coffee Label

Ever wondered what these hard to pronounce coffee names refer to? Ever wondered the significance of the roast, origin and tasting notes? Hopefully we can break some of these things down just a little to give you a better understanding of what it all means.

This article looks at a Klatch Coffee Roaster’s label, but looking at another coffee label, you’ll probably find some or all of the following:

{FTC Rwanda Cafe Femenino}

This is the name of the coffee. This coffee is a single origin coffee, meaning it is not a blend of different kinds of coffees. If the coffee is a blend, then the rest of the information in this article will probably not be as straight forward since it’s a blend of different coffees. The name for single origin coffees includes the country of origin and sometimes includes the name of the farm, co-op, or particular region in the title. It also denotes that this particular coffee is FTC = Fair Trade Certified.

{ROAST: Medium}

Think of popcorn in a popper. The longer it pops, the darker the popcorn. The names indicate very specific stages in the roasting process at which the roasting is stopped. Check out our post about roasts for more info about the different roasts.

{TASTING NOTES: Tart, honeyish, refreshing. Orange, honey, flowers, blackberry in aroma and cup. Round, resonant acidity; syrupy mouth-feel. Long, flavor-saturated finish.}

Coffees are given their tasting notes by professional coffee cuppers or tasters. They describe both primary tastes on the tongue and secondary tastes the nose. While none of these flavors are predominant in a coffee, they are subtle flavors and aromas that make up a coffee’s character. Hopefully this short glossary of terms will help.

{FARMER: Hinga Kawa Group.}

If you saw our post last month about this coffee you’ll recall the story we told about this group, the Café Feminino program, which “provides extra income that goes directly to women producers.” The grant-funded Café Feminino Foundation (www.cafefemininofoundation.org) “supports efforts to improve the view of women’s roles by supporting programs and projects that generate sales the women can control.”

{REGION: Gakenke District}

The Gakenke District refers to the name of the area in Rwanda that it is grown.  Coffee and tea are the major cash crops for export for Rwanda, with the high altitudes, steep slopes and volcanic soils providing favorable conditions.  The Gakenke district consistently produces some of the best coffee in the country.

{VARIETAL: Varies}

Just like the produce that we enjoy, coffee has many different varieties. We enjoy Hass avocados, but there are hundreds of other varieties of avocados that for one reason or another are not optimal to the industry, so we’ve become more acquainted with the Hass variety. There are over 1,000 varieties of coffee beans, some of the most popular are:

  • Bourbon
  • Catuai
  • Geisha
  • Mocha (from Yemen)
  • Pacamara
  • Timor
  • Blue Mountain
  • Typica

{FARM: Abakunda Kawa}

The Abakunda Kawa Rushashi coffee cooperative, located in the northern mountainous region of the district of Gakenke is situated at an altitude of 1700-1900 meters. Yep, that’s right, it’s from a single particular farm in a particular region in a particular country.

{ALTITUDE: 1700 – 1900 M}

5,000-6,000 ft above sea level. Different varieties grow at different altitudes. Arabica coffee grows from 3,000-7,000 ft. The higher the elevation, the denser the coffee bean and usually higher the acidity.

{AWARDED: 93 points from Coffee Review in 2012.}

Kenneth Davids, coffee expert, author, and co-founder of The Coffee Review reviews roasters’ coffees and rates them using the Coffee Review proprietary 100-point rating system. His ratings are similar to Wine Spectator points for wine, however, it’s a lot more difficult to get a rating in the high 90s.

Some coffee labels will have some or all of this information in different and sometimes unclear formats. The key is to keep in mind these major categories and get to know what you’re looking for in a coffee. The more you taste single origin coffee, the more you will learn to recognize the different regions and their particular characteristics. You have to start somewhere. Start by interpreting all the information readily available to you right on your coffee’s bag. Taste and repeat.