May 24


A Guide To Grading And Classification Of Green Coffee Beans

By Hanson Cheng

May 24, 2023

Green coffee beans refer to unroasted coffee beans that still possess their natural flavors, aromas, and characteristics. The grading and classification of green coffee beans entail a series of technical assessments that determine their quality and value. Different regions around the world have different grading methods, but the general goal is to identify coffee beans with superior characteristics such as size, density, and moisture content.

In this article, we’ll delve into the intricacies surrounding the grading and classification of green coffee beans. We’ll explore why it is such an essential process, the different grading systems that exist and the attributes that are considered when evaluating green coffee beans.

Understanding Grading and Classification

Green coffee beans are raw coffee beans that have not yet been roasted. They are the seeds of coffee cherries that are harvested, washed, and then dried. These green beans are important in the coffee industry because they are the basis for all coffee production. Grading and classification of green coffee beans are important because they help to establish standards for quality and consistency in the coffee industry.

Grading green coffee beans involves sorting them based on various characteristics such as size, shape, and color. This process helps to ensure that coffee roasters are getting the best quality beans available and that they are able to produce the best possible coffee.

Classification of green coffee beans involves assigning them a quality grade based on their appearance, aroma, and flavor. This information helps to inform coffee buyers about the quality of the beans they are purchasing and can also help to establish prices for those beans.


The grading and classification of green coffee beans have been developed over a long period of time to meet the increasing demand for high-quality coffee beans. The history of grading and classification can be traced back to the 19th century when coffee was first commercialized. The first system was introduced by the Brazilian government in the early 1800s to regulate coffee production and trading.

The system was based on the size and appearance of the beans, and it was designed to ensure that only high-quality beans were exported. This system was then adopted by other countries such as Colombia, Costa Rica, and Guatemala. However, there were inconsistencies in the grading system, which led to the development of more sophisticated and objective methods in the early 20th century.

In 1905, the New York Coffee Exchange introduced the first standardized grading system, which was based on physical attributes such as size, shape, color, and density. This grading system was adopted by other exchanges such as the London Coffee Exchange, which developed its own system in 1922. The systems were designed to create a common language for grading coffee, which would facilitate trade and reduce disputes among buyers and sellers.

Today, grading and classification systems are more complex and sophisticated, and they take into account not only physical attributes but also sensory qualities such as aroma, acidity, body, and flavor. The Specialty Coffee Association (SCA) has developed a standardized system known as the Coffee Quality Institute (CQI), which grades coffee based on a 100-point scale, with scores above 80 considered specialty grade.

The CQI grading system is now widely used by coffee producers, traders, and roasters around the world, and it has helped to promote transparency and sustainability in the coffee industry. The evolution of grading and classification of green coffee beans has been driven by the desire to ensure consistent quality, promote transparency, and meet the diverse needs of consumers. As the coffee industry continues to grow and evolve, so too will the grading and classification systems, which will continue to play a critical role in the coffee supply chain.

Its Purpose

One of the main purposes of grading and classification of green coffee beans is to ensure consistency in quality and taste of coffee. These methods allow for the creation of standards that can be used to evaluate the beans and ultimately determine their value.

Additionally, grading and classification allow for the identification of specific characteristics in the beans, such as aroma, flavor, and acidity, that are essential in creating a desirable cup of coffee. This information is important for both buyers and sellers, as it helps to establish fair prices and ensures that consumers receive a consistent experience when purchasing coffee products.

Furthermore, grading and classification can also assist with traceability and sustainability efforts in the coffee industry by identifying the origin of the beans and verifying their production methods. Overall, the purpose of grading and classification in the coffee industry is multifaceted and serves to benefit all parties involved in the production, distribution, and consumption of coffee.

Grading of Green Coffee Beans

Physical Characteristics

The physical characteristics of green coffee beans are an integral aspect of their grading and classification. These characteristics include size, density, and color. The size of green coffee beans is determined by the screen size and sorting procedure. Coffee beans are categorized into different screen sizes, with larger beans being preferred due to their higher quality.

Density, on the other hand, is determined by the weight and volume of green coffee beans. This characteristic is crucial as it influences the roasting process and the overall quality of the coffee produced. Uniformity and defects of color are another important physical characteristic of green coffee beans. The color determines the quality of the beans, with darker beans being preferred due to their richer flavor profile.

Defects, such as insect damage or broken beans, also affect the overall quality of green coffee beans, and are taken into account during grading and classification processes. Overall, the physical characteristics of green coffee beans are closely examined to ensure that only the highest quality beans make it through the grading and classification process.

Cupping Characteristics

The Cupping Characteristics of green coffee beans refer to the sensory properties that are evaluated during coffee tasting tests. The aroma of coffee is evaluated for its fragrance and odor, while the flavor of coffee is evaluated for its taste and aftertaste. Other cupping characteristics include acidity, body, balance, and uniformity. The acidity of coffee refers to its brightness and liveliness, while the body of coffee refers to its mouthfeel and texture.

The balance of coffee refers to its harmony and complexity, and the uniformity of coffee refers to its consistency and similarity. Cupping Characteristics are important to establish the quality and value of green coffee beans in the coffee market. In order to ensure the consistency and reliability of cupping tests, trained coffee tasters use standardized protocols and procedures to evaluate the sensory experience of coffee tasting.

Possible Defects

When analyzing green coffee beans, defects are an important consideration. Defects are classified based on their impact on the cup quality, which is the primary measure of value for coffee beans. There are three categories of defects:

  • Category 1: defects are major defects that have a significant negative impact on the cup quality. Examples include sour or dirty flavors, insect damage, and secondary fermentation.
  • Category 2: defects are minor defects that do not significantly affect the cup quality. Examples include broken or black beans, over-fermentation, and insect holes.
  • Category 3: defects are exotic defects that are rare and unique. Examples include shells, sticks, and animal hair.

Classification of Green Coffee Beans

Geographic Origin

The geographical origin of green coffee beans is a crucial factor that impacts their quality, flavor, and aroma. Understanding the country, region, and farm where the coffee was harvested can provide important insights into its unique characteristics. Different regions have distinct soil, climate, and elevation, which affect the coffee’s taste, acidity, and body. For example, African coffees tend to be more complex and floral, while Latin American and Asian coffees are known for their bright acidity and nutty or chocolatey notes.

Within each country and region, specific farms or estates can differentiate themselves based on their cultivation practices, varietals, and processing methods. These factors can influence the coffee’s sweetness, fruitiness, and balance. Therefore, for specialty coffee buyers and roasters, knowing the geographic origin of green coffee beans is essential for selecting and grading their products.

Furthermore, traceability and transparency in the supply chain can enhance the ethical and environmental aspects of coffee sourcing, as well as the economic and social development of coffee-growing communities. Overall, geographical origin is a fundamental aspect of the grading and classification of green coffee beans, and it provides a basis for sensory evaluation, pricing, and marketing of specialty coffee.

Processing Method

When it comes to grading and classifying green coffee beans, the processing method plays a crucial role in determining the final quality of the coffee. There are several common processing methods, including washed, natural, honey, and other methods. Washed coffee, also known as wet-processed coffee, involves removing the outer cherry and washing the coffee beans with water before drying them.

This method results in a clean and bright flavor with a higher acidity level. Natural coffee, on the other hand, is dry-processed, with the beans being dried with the cherry still intact. This method results in a sweeter and fruitier flavor profile with lower acidity. The honey method, also known as semi-washed, involves removing some of the cherry pulp before drying the beans, resulting in a flavor profile that combines the sweetness of natural coffee with the acidity of washed coffee.

Other processing methods may have unique characteristics, such as the pulped natural method or the anaerobic fermentation method. The processing method can be a determining factor in the coffee’s grade and quality level, as well as its price point, and it is usually specified on the coffee bag label.


The Grade of green coffee beans is an essential aspect that determines its quality level. The score of a green coffee bean is determined based on specific attributes that are unique to each geographic location, processing method, and farm. The grading process is often performed by trained professionals who have an in-depth understanding of coffee beans and their attributes.

During the grading process, physical inspections are carried out to assess the appearance, moisture content, and quality of the beans. Specific cupping protocols are also used to evaluate the aroma, flavor, and acidity of the beans.

The grading system varies based on the country and region of origin, but it generally follows a similar score range from low to high. High-quality green coffee beans often have a score of 80 and above, while low-quality beans have a score of 70 or below.

Certification Process

One of the most important aspects of green coffee beans is the certification process that guarantees quality, sustainability, and fair trade practices. Certification is a voluntary process that allows coffee producers to distinguish their products from others based on certain criteria such as environmental protection, social responsibility, and economic viability.

Organic certification, for example, ensures that coffee is grown without the use of synthetic pesticides, fertilizers, or genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and meets certain environmental and social standards. Fair trade certification, on the other hand, ensures that coffee producers receive fair prices for their products, have access to credit and technical assistance, and comply with labor and environmental standards.

Other certifications, such as Rainforest Alliance and UTZ, focus on sustainability and best agricultural practices, while Direct Trade and Relationship Coffee focus on building direct relationships between coffee producers and roasters.

These certifications are not only beneficial for coffee producers but also for consumers who want to make informed decisions based on their values and preferences. By choosing certified coffee, consumers can support sustainable and ethical practices while enjoying high-quality coffee that reflects the unique terroir, processing, and grading of green coffee beans.


The grading and classification of green coffee beans are essential for the coffee industry. The process provides a standardized way to evaluate coffee beans, ensuring quality and consistency. Grading involves evaluating the physical characteristics of coffee beans such as their size, shape, and color. These characteristics can affect the flavor and aroma of the coffee. Coffee beans are also classified according to their origin, processing method, and quality.

This is important as different regions have distinct flavor profiles, and different processing methods can affect the flavor and aroma of the coffee. Furthermore, classification allows buyers and roasters to purchase beans that meet their specific needs. Overall, the grading and classification of green coffee beans are crucial in maintaining quality and consistency in the coffee industry.

The grading and classification of green coffee beans – FAQs

1. What is green coffee grading and classification?

Green coffee grading and classification is a process of evaluating coffee beans based on their physical, sensory, and chemical attributes. It helps to differentiate coffees and provide information to buyers about its quality, flavor, and potential.

2. What are the factors considered in grading and classification of green coffee beans?

The factors considered in grading and classification of green coffee beans are bean size, density, moisture content, defects, color, aroma, flavor, acidity, and body. The beans must meet the minimum standards set by the country of origin and the international trade agreement.

3. What is the significance of grading and classification in the coffee industry?

Grading and classification of green coffee beans help coffee producers, exporters, importers, roasters, and buyers make informed decisions and ensure the consistency of quality. It also helps to set the price of the coffee and protect the interests of all stakeholders in the coffee supply chain.

4. What is the difference between specialty grade and non-specialty grade coffee beans?

Specialty grade coffee beans are the highest quality beans that score 80 or above on a 100-point scale. They have zero defects, exceptional flavor, and unique characteristics. Non-specialty grade coffee beans fall below the specialty grade and have more defects, less consistency, and lower flavor profiles.

5. What are the common defects found in green coffee beans?

The common defects found in green coffee beans are black beans, broken beans, insect-damaged beans, immature beans, over-fermented beans, moldy beans, sour beans, stinker beans, and foreign matter. The presence of these defects affects the quality, flavor, and value of the coffee.

6. How does grading and classification impact the price of green coffee beans?

Grading and classification impact the price of green coffee beans by setting the quality and origin standards. Specialty grade beans command a higher price than non-specialty grade beans due to their exceptional quality, consistency, and exclusivity. Producers who meet the highest grading standards can demand higher prices and differentiate themselves from their competitors.

Hanson Cheng

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