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This page contains information about some of the terminology used in the coffee industry which you may find useful.

Bean Quality Terms

SHB and SHG - Strictly Hard Bean and Strictly High Grown are terms used to describe coffee beans grown at an altitude greater than around 4,500ft above sea level. Coffee grown at this altitude develops more slowly then at lower altitudes and as a result the beans tend to be harder and denser. These characteristics tend to improve the taste and consistency of the bean and are therefore used to indicate a higher quality coffee.

HB and HG - Hard Bean and High Grown are terms used to describe coffee beans grown between around 4,000ft and 4,500ft above sea level. The beans tend to be less hard and dense than those grown at higher altitudes (identified as SHB/SHG) but more than those from lower altitudes (SS). This results in a quality which is usually less than that of the higher grown coffees but better than those from lower altitudes.

SS - Strictly Soft is used to describe coffee beans grown below around 4,000ft above sea level. Coffee beans grown at these lower altitudes develop more quickly and are usually softer and less dense than those grown at higher altitudes (SB/SG and SHB/SHG). The beans tend to be milder in flavour.

Bean Size

Bean size is usually considered to be an indicator of quality, with larger beans being better than smaller beans. Unroasted beans are graded by passing them over a series of gratings or sieves, with different sized holes in them. Small beans will fall through holes which retain the larger beans. The holes are measured in 1/64ths of an inch and, for example, grade 18 beans will fit through holes 18/64ths of an inch in diameter but are too large to fit through holes 16/64ths of an inch in diameter. Traditionally Arabica beans are graded in even numbers of 64ths, eg grades 14, 16, 18 and Robustas in odd numbers, eg grades 13, 15, 17. In some countries beans of specific grades are identified by names or codes, some examples of which are shown below.

AA - for example Kenya AA, indicates a grade 18 bean, ie one that will pass through an 18/64ths inch grid but will be retained by a 16/64ths inch grid. AA+ is used to identify beans of grade 18 and over.

Excelso - for example Colombia Excelso, refers to grade 16 beans.

Supremo - mainly used in Colombia, Supremo beans are grade 18, slightly larger than Excelso.