To be honest, there is currently no global presiding board over coffee beans, however, many coffee production places still use the old methods of classification.
Some plantations use some of the grading types and not the other types.
Coffee grades are important because smaller beans are quicker to roast, thus take less time and less cost to produce.
Dense beans take longer to roast.
Beans of differing color obviously taste differently.
1. Size Grading (Length)
Size means everything!
Coffee beans are classified by size.
Sizes range from 13 to 20-64th inches.
Medium size is usually the best.
Beans of even sizes are considered to be the most sought after since they provide an even roast.
- Arabica coffee beans are classified by AAA, AA = 16 to 18-64th inches (7.2 mm), A, B or C.
- Robusta coffee beans are classified by I, II or III.
2. Size Grading (Width)
Coffee beans are generally rated on size from number 20 to number 8, with 20 being a very large bean and 8 being an unacceptable bean.
Consistent size equals even roasting.
3. Coffee Bean Density
The thickness of the bean is what is measured here.
Density can be affected by rain, humidity, temperature and height above sea level. It ranges from the following:
- HB: Hard Bean
- SHB: Strictly Hard Bean
- HG: High Grown
- LGC: Low Grown Central Bean
4. Coffee Imperfections per 300 Grams
Generally, it means imperfections per pound of coffee.
It was a system used by the now disbanded New York Coffee and Sugar Exchange. Imperfections basically mean contaminants like rocks, twigs, leaves and rotten beans.
NY 1 to NY 8 means there are a variety of imperfections.
For example, NY 2 means four imperfections, NY 3 means there are 12 imperfections.
5. Black Bean
Black Bean just means imperfection, so virtually it is the same as the above.
The rating method is from number 2 to number 8 (and above, but the US will not accept beans over the number 8 rating).
Number 2 equals 6 black beans, number 5 equals 69 black beans and number 8 beans equal 500 black beans.
Obviously, the color of the coffee bean.
I would just like to reiterate there is really no global governing body over the classification or grading process of beans.
Some countries use their own grading systems and may have their own governing bodies, so your best bet is trial and error to find the beans you love.
Currently, I take great pleasure in the Green Mountain Coffee Roasts.
It has a great selection of Organic Fair Trade coffees and it ships all over the US.