If you've ever picked up a bag of Timely coffee, you might notice that there's a lot of information. Everything from farm name and altitude, to region and country is listed in detail on every coffee we pack. We know that sometimes this can be a little daunting, especially if you don't really know how to use this information to decide which coffee is right for you. So, here's a little crash-course on how to read a coffee label:
At Timely, we always list pieces of information in order of how useful that information can be to you as a customer:
1 - Producer's name: this is where flavour starts, and a coffee's potential is ultimately decided. The decisions a producer makes at origin are the most important to a coffee's overall quality and flavour. After a little while, you'd begin to notice familiar names on coffee bags from one year to another, and if you enjoyed a producer's coffee one year, you're likely to enjoy it the next. This can also be a sign of strong relationships between the roaster and the producer, which is crucial to ongoing quality, overall sustainability to the supply chain.
2 - Farm name: some roasters choose to market coffees by the producer's name or by the farm name. We always use producer name, but the name of the estate is also important. As a customer, if you see "Elias Roa" (producer) and "Finca Tamana" (farm) at different roasteries, you may not realise these are actually the same coffees!
3 - Flavour notes: this is, after the producer's name, the best indicator to you as a customer whether or not you're going to enjoy a coffee. With the world of coffee production changing so fast, it's not as simple anymore to think to yourself "I like coffee from Colombia" or "I don't like naturals". Coffee is endlessly diverse, so flavour notes are your best bet in choosing coffees you like.
4 - Narrative: this is the story of the coffee, and describes how the seeds found their way from the branch of a tree all the way to your home in a cup. From this, you can learn the effort, attention, and care the producer put into their coffees.
5 - Serving suggestion: on our bags, this is listed as "Best Served Black", or "Best Served with Milk". We don't do "Espresso" or "Filter" roasts at Timely, and instead we choose roast profiles to suit how the coffee will be served. If you like your coffee as a flat white, plunger with milk, or anything in between, our "Best Served with Milk" coffees will suit you. For pourer, espresso, or stovetop, try a coffee roasted to be "Best Served Black".
6 - Variety: this is the type of trees which the seeds came from. This is much the same as wine varieties, and how some people prefer Shiraz over Pinot Noir. The more coffee you drink and get an idea of your own taste preferences, you may find that you prefer Caturra varieties over Pacas for instance. The variety of the tree has a profound impact on the flavour of your coffee, and should never be underestimated.
7 - Process: this is how the fruit was removed from the seeds at origin, and prepared for export. Generally this is divided into three broad categories: washed, natural, or honey. You may find some other jargon appearing such as "Anaerobic Fermentation" or "Carbonic Maceration", but these terms are somewhat vague. (We have a lot to say about processing and this will be evident in the coming updates, so stay tuned!).
8 - Altitude: the altitude of a coffee does not change how delicious it is, but it can be a signifier of potential. Generally, with all other things being equal, a high grown coffee will taste better than one closer to sea level. But, a well cared from coffee from Brazil at 1000m will always taste better than a poorly produced coffee from Colombia at 2000m. Altitude is only one part of a very long and complex journey your coffee takes to get to you.
9 - Geography: this information, much like altitude, should be taken lightly. The most important part of geography is seasonality: knowing when each country has their main harvest can help you choose the freshest coffees available to you. But, other than this, it's hard to glean much from a coffee's country of origin. There is no longer a "Colombian" flavour, or a "Kenyan" flavour, as processing, variety selection, and experimentation have changed what we can expect from coffee*.
We hope this helps to decipher some of the information you can come across when choosing which coffee to try next. The message here is: don't feel overwhelmed! The roasters here at Timely are always just an email away with any questions you may have. Just reach out and we're always happy to help!
*There may be some instances where we see some origins tasting unique to others, but this is more commonly down to other influences. Kenya is a good example of this, where Kenyan coffees are famous for tasting "Kenyany". This is due to varieties grown in Kenya, which are exclusive to that part of the world. When we've had experiments of these varieties grown in other regions, we notice an amazing similarity to those coffee grown in Kenya. This tells us botanical variety plays a bigger role in flavour than we've ever realised, and should be our main indicator when deciding which coffee to drink, and what we can expect from it.