The coffee bag displays two important dates: the roasting date and the packaging date. Many brands only indicate the expiration date and forget the other two values that are so important to the brewing process.
Being aware of the roasting date is essential for successfully brewing coffee, since freshly roasted beans release gases in a process called degassing, making it difficult for a cup of coffee to be prepared immediately after roasting. A sufficient and timely release of the carbon dioxide contained in the beans must take place first.
The label must specify the species and/or variety of the coffee, as these are two key aspects that influence the flavor. The main species are Arabica and Robusta. Arabica beans are sweeter, containing 6% to 9% sugar, while Robusta beans have a lower sugar content (3% to 7%) and a higher caffeine content, which give them a more bitter flavor profile.
As for the varieties, there are many: Caturra, Catuai, Bourbon, Typica, Geisha, Pacamara and Maragogype, among others. Each will give your cup of coffee a unique flavor.
Another piece of information the label provides is whether the coffee is single origin or a blend. Single-origin coffee comes from a specific region or even a particular farm, while a blend is a mix of several coffees from different origins.
Single-origin coffees are usually high quality as they offer unique flavors and aromas, highly prized by consumers. To preserve those attributes, roasters avoid mixing them with other beans.
Blends, on the other hand, allow you to create a flavor profile to suit your tastes. For example, to obtain a sweet and fragrant drink you can mix Arabica coffee beans from two different origins or, if you prefer an intense flavor and a lot of body, you could combine Arabica and Robusta beans.
On labels you will often find the words natural, washed or honey coffee. This refers to the type of coffee processing, which is the process by which the seeds are separated from the coffee fruit.
Each fruit is made up of several layers: the outer skin, called the exocarp; the pulp or mesocarp; the mucilage, a slimy layer under the pulp that gives coffee its sweetness; the parchment or endocarp; and the integument, a silver film that covers the seeds.
Coffee processing consists in removing these layers. Broadly speaking, in the washing process the pulp of the coffee cherry is removed through the use of water; the beans are then dried. In the natural method, the fruit remains whole and slowly dries under the sun. In the honey process, the coffee fruits are dried with a variable amount of the cherry still attached to the seeds.
Packaging also shows the coffee’s certifications, such as Fair Trade or Organic, as well as the awards it has won, such as the Cup of Excellence, or a distinction for the best roast.
It may seem like a lot of information, but it's helpful to know what type of coffee you are buying and it will help you choose the best one for you.