Reading Specialty Coffee Labels

If you’re into specialty coffee, the ability to read the coffee bag label and all its details are very important. 

Large commercial coffee companies don’t provide much information at all, other than the roast. You’re lucky to know what origin the beans come from, much less when the beans were roasted. 

High quality specialty coffee offers a lot more information on the bag. When you have more knowledge about what you’re reading then choosing a coffee can be exciting. 

Information that you may find on the front label would be: region, altitude, variety, process, cup profile and roast date. It may seem overwhelming at first, but each part of the label provides very valuable information.

Region of Origin
Specialty coffee roasters will typically provide the country or more specifically the region or farmer. 


The altitude that a coffee tree is grown effects the development and flavor. Usually the slower a coffee cherry develops, the more time the coffee bean and sugars have to develop. Higher altitude coffees are often more complex, acidic and bright while lower altitude coffees are typically more simple and mild.

There are more than 120 species of coffee trees but most stem from the varietal, Arabica. The most common variety of the coffee plant from Arabica, is called Typica. Most varieties stemmed or mutated from the original coffee varietal and have subtle flavor differences. Some examples and mutations of the original coffee plant include Bourbon, Mundo Novo, Catuai, and Caturra. Some varieties have explicit taste characteristics of their own while others take on the tasting characteristics of their surrounding terroir. 

After being picked, the next process is to remove the green coffee bean from the coffee cherry and dry before being exported. This process can be chosen by the farmer with a desire to attain a certain flavor or it may be predetermined by resources or cost. These processes are quite complex but each method results in a slightly different flavor.

The Basics:
-Washed Method- Removing the cherry flesh with water and then drying the beans provides a clean  flavor with the ability to taste the coffees natural profile.
- Slowly dried under the sun in the cherry, this method offers a sweet fruiter taste. When done well the result can be delicious.

-Honey/Pulped Natural- Dried with varying amounts of pulp still attached to the bean, this process gives a greater sweetness and body to the finishing flavor. 

Cup Profile- When brewed well, the cup profile describes what subtle coffee flavors naturally shine through. With more experience tasting a variety of specialty coffees, you will begin to know what cup profile tastes you enjoy. Some examples of a cup profile would be notes of toffee, blueberry, cacao, vanilla, or citrus.

Roast Date
The date the coffee was actually roasted is extremely important to determine freshness of your coffee. Coffee is best fresh and consumed within the first 1-3 weeks after being roasted. If the bag doesn’t have a roast date, I wouldn’t advise buying that coffee. 

After reading this article, I hope this leaves you more confident in reading coffee labels and picking out specialty coffee.  Exploring different coffees will bring you closer to knowing what you enjoy and conversely what to stray from when buying that unique bag of beans.

Enjoy your journey within specialty coffee flavors!