Coffee Grading 101

Find out how Colombia and other countries around the world classify their coffee. 

If you’ve ever peered into a bag of your favorite coffee, you might have noticed that all the beans are virtually the same size. 

As it turns out, bean-size uniformity is intentional—and very important. 

Before coffee is packaged, labeled, and unleashed into cafés, coffee shops, and grocery stores around the world, coffee beans are sorted by size classification in a process known as grading. The goal of coffee grading is to ensure uniformity in bean size to ensure a consistent roast and more flavorful cup. Larger beans roast slower than smaller beans, so it’s harder to obtain a consistent roast with varied sizes. 

Although the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA) has developed the SCA Green Arabica Coffee Classification System (GACCS) in an effort to create a standardized method for grading coffee beans, different regions have developed their own grading systems with varying standards and terminologies for classifying beans. Many countries follow basic SCA recommendations but customize and add different protocols based on their region’s needs. 

The method of classifying coffee quality may vary by country, but it can include the following criteria in addition to bean size:

  • Altitude and/or region
  • Botanical variety 
  • Preparation (aka wet or dry processing
  • Roast appearance 
  • Bean density 
  • Presence of defects or imperfections (such as fungus damage, insect damage, foreign matter, or withering) 

Grading Coffee Beans by Size

Despite small variances in overall grading systems and terminology, exporters around the world generally sort coffee beans by size. To do so, beans are sifted through screens or metal sheets punched with round holes of specific sizes. Screens are numbered between eight and 20, with the number indicating how many 64th of an inch the holes are sized. For instance, a size 14 screen has holes that are 14/64 of an inch wide, while a size 18 screen has holes that are 18/64 of an inch wide.

To determine the size, processors pass beans through different numbered screens until they no longer fall through the holes. For example, if a bean falls through the hole of a 16/64 inch screen but isn’t able to pass through a 14/64 inch screen, it’s graded as a size 16. 

Even-numbered screens are typically used when grading Arabica beans, while odd numbered screens are often used for Robusta beans. So, an Arabica bean that was graded as a 16 might actually be a 15 as the next smallest screen after a 16/64 screen would be a 14/16. 

Coffee Screen Sizes Around the World

Red Arábica Coffee Cherries

As noted above, coffee may be graded in varying ways depending on the region. Although most exporters rely on the same screening technique to classify beans into sizes, that size may be communicated through different terminologies depending on the country. 

We’ve created a basic chart of grading terms in some of the world’s most prominent coffee exporting regions:

Screen SizeInchesCentral & South AmericaAfrica & India
2020/64Elephants*
1818/64SuperiorAA
1616/64SegundasAB
1414/64TercerasC
1212/64Caracol
1010/64Caracolli
88/64Caracolillo

You’ll notice that Africa and India are the only exporters that produce beans larger than 20/64. These so-called “Elephant” beans may be big, but they tend to break easily during processing and roasting.

In addition, you may be wondering why grading terms from Asia are missing from the chart. This is because while many regions of Asia are prominent exporters of coffee, many countries in the industry have yet to develop a standardized classification system. Colombia, the third-largest coffee-producing country in the world, is also not included in the Central-South American category in the chart above – but we’ll talk about why in the next section.

Coffee Bean Grading in Colombia 

Now, we’re going to take a closer look at the grading system of what many say is the highest-quality exporter of Arabica coffee beans: Colombia. 

The Colombian Coffee Federation grading classification terms are different from the SCA’s numerical sizing system, and the even-numbered Arabica, odd-numbered Robusta screen sizing doesn’t apply to Colombian coffees. Rather than sizing, Colombian coffee beans are typically graded in terms of “Supremo” or “Excelso.” Supremo beans fall between 17/64 and 18/64, and Excelso beans fall between 15/64 and 16/64. While both Supremo and Excelso beans may be harvested from the same tree, there are a number of key differences between the two.

Colombian Screen Sizes

  • Supremo beans. At a screen size of 17/64 or 18/64, Supremo beans are the largest type of beans in Colombia. Because larger screens are able to remove more defects, Supremo coffee typically has fewer defects than Excelso. Supremo products are sold with flat beans and no peaberries (these are a smaller, denser mutation within a coffee cherry). 
  • Excelso beans. Slightly smaller than Supremo, Excelso beans are still considered relatively large but fall between size 15/64 and 16/64. Excelso beans are the most common grade of beans exported from Colombia. Excelso beans generally include both flat beans and some peaberries.

Whether brewed Supremo or Excelso, Colombian coffee has long been heralded as the finest in the world. Its Arabica beans are beloved for their faint, fruity aroma and rich, smooth texture. As Colombian coffee becomes increasingly coveted worldwide, there is more interest to invest in this up-and-coming coffee powerhouse. 

If you’d like to learn about investing in award-winning Colombian coffee, please visit the Green Coffee Company investment page. Our initial coffee offering successfully raised $5.7M in commitments to acquire, improve, and expand three farms in Colombia’s iconic coffee region of Salgar, home of the world’s best Arabica coffee.

As one of the largest consolidated coffee producers in Colombia, the latest offering gives investors an unprecedented opportunity to generate significant returns from one of the world’s most timeless and in-demand commodities.

You can also fill out the form below and someone from our investment team will be in touch with more information.

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