How to Read Retail Labelscoffee education | 11.04.21
Coffee is getting complex, for the better.
You can now trace your coffee back further than you could ever before, with a range of detailed metrics-- some that you may not even know you should care about, for example, why must one know the altitude the coffee they’re drinking was grown at? Sure it may seem rather tedious a detail, although little-be-known to the average coffee drinker, altitude is an industry telltale of the quality of a crop. We’ll get into this further later on.
As the specialty coffee industry grows, so does consumer interest, meaning the more information retail coffee has, the more value it can hold. Let’s thank our inherent curiosity of what makes coffee so good.
Although you can trace back your coffee’s details further than ever, there are still some huge industry transparency problems, such as the authenticating sustainable practices and ethical sourcing. Because of the way coffee is farmed, it can be incredibly difficult to figure out exactly where and a specific coffee is from, and exactly how it got there. Check out our Demystifying Single Origin article to learn more on this.
There can be anything on a package of coffee; it’s up to the retailer. It could be the roaster’s branded content, metrics about the coffee’s origin, or qualitative notes subjective to the people who cupped and graded the coffee.
Here are the pieces of information you may see on our coffee labels:
The country/countries a coffee is sourced from. Coffee blends are often from multiple countries, although we only use single origins coffees at Skittle Lane.
Surprisingly, this is a complicated one. The name of the coffee on our retail labels may not be the exact name that the coffee’s producers named it. For the vast majority of the time, we use the names that our distributors use, otherwise we may use the name of the producer themself.
Other coffee companies may even create a branded retail name for their coffee. As local retailers usually stock from similar distributors, you’re likely to come across coffees with the same name, and further familiarise yourself with a specific coffee.
More precise than the country, a coffee’s region can give you insight into its locality and heritage. The most common regions for coffee to grow in are equatorial. Most of the Skittle Lane coffee you drink comes from mountainous or high altitude equatorial regions.
The subspecies of a coffee. Much like how you’ve got different types of grape for wine, there are different types of coffee, all with different characteristics to explore. All Skittle Lane varietals are Coffea arabica subspecies, as opposed to Coffea robusta ones. There are numerous varietals out there. Some of the common ones you may see are: Bourbon, Caturra, Catuai, SL-28, SL-34, Typica, and Geisha.
As well as these consistently bred varietals, there are also heirlooms, which are not domesticated, and more genetically diverse.
The altitude of a coffee is a benchmark in specialty standards, and a telltale of a quality crop. There is a “goldilocks zone” for coffee growing that almost every specialty coffee falls into. This lies between approximately 1200 and 1800 metres above sea level. The high altitude forces the coffee plant to put more energy into its fruit (which contain the seed we consume), yet not too high an altitude that it is too cold and hostile an environment to survive in. Also, the birthplace of coffee is a high-altitude mountainous and equatorial region of Ethiopia, so the plant naturally prefers these conditions.
There are many different processing methods. The three main methods you’ll most likely see are Washed (coffee seeds are dried with both pulp and mucilage removed), Honey (coffee seeds are dried with the pulp removed and the mucilage on), and Natural (coffee seeds are dried with pulp and mucilage attached). There are also a lot of experiments that have yielded some beautiful results in other processes, such as extended fermentation, carbonic maceration, as well as hybrid processes such as black honey, or wet-hulled processed.
This is an important one when choosing your coffee. We recommend brewing coffee between five days and one month, depending on our roast level. Lighter roasted coffee will last slightly longer than darker roasted coffee. We only sell retail coffee that is up to ten days old at the most.
Tasting notes/Flavour profile:
This section of a retail label is to give you some waypoints into what sort of coffee you can taste. Although informed, tasting notes are rather subjective. In tasting coffee yourself, you may even discover your own flavour profile that suits you better than our retail label’s. Our taste notes are decided by our head roaster.
Our tasting notes were written by our staff after cupping with industry grade materials and equipment, so your tasting experience may differ depending on your equipment, brewing, and water quality.
Roast profile (Filter/Espresso):
This indicates the type of roast the coffee is. At Skittle Lane, we keep it simple and only use two: Espresso and Filter. Put simply, espresso roast profiles are designed for an espresso extraction: emphasised texture, slightly lower acidity. Our House Espresso is designed to shine through milk, although is enjoyed black as well.
Filter roast profiles are the ideal roast to enjoy as a pour over, as a batch brew, or as any other black coffee drink other than espresso. This is the best roast profile to enjoy a coffee’s unique characteristics.
We like to inform you only what you need to know, although there are many other common retail label bits of information out there. These could be:
Aroma, Ethical and Sustainability certifications, Coffee awards, Notes on the producer, Coffee story, Grind size (we will grind coffee specifically on demand)...
If you ever have any questions about certain retail labelling, please ask one of our friendly baristi if you’re in-store. We all love to converse about coffee, and may have the answer you are looking for.
The Skittle Lane Team