Written by Sparrows' Head of Coffee, Cody Gallagher
For a small bag, coffee companies sure do find a way to pack a whole lot of information to digest. Trust us, it’s for good reason! There are many variables that go into a coffee’s production and export, several of which can be particularly useful for the discerning consumer in choosing a bag to buy. We’ll break down the specifications we include on our bag and our webstore, as well as some commonly found bags from other roasters.
In the coffee industry’s push for greater traceability, denoting who produced the coffee is of great importance. The level of specificity of who is responsible for a coffee’s production can vary from coffee to coffee. For some coffees, like the Oaxacan component of our Uptown Blend, it can be traced to a single producer. For others, like our Ethiopian offering Dimtu Tero, the coffee is a blend of lots from a variety of growers. In this case, the “producer” is then denoted as the cooperative or producer group responsible for its general organization.
Perhaps cliche at this point, but it’s hard not to refer back to wine when talking about coffee. Like a sauvignon blanc differs in flavor from a riesling, so does a “bourbon” coffee varietal compared to a “typica”. At this point in coffee, the distinguishing characteristics that exist between varieties are less established. You can have fun forming throughlines in varieties on your own, however. Try tasting multiple coffees of the same varietal from different regions, or multiple coffees of different varieties from the same region.
Consumers are fairly accustomed at this point with choosing coffee by their favorite region. For example, many of our customers know that generally, a coffee from Ethiopia may be more fruited and floral from the typical Mexican coffee, which is typically more creamy and nutty. The same flavor differences that occur from country to country also exist between subregions of the same country. A coffee’s flavor is highly impacted by its terroir -- its vast set of growing conditions from soil, to temperature, to the unique yeasts and bacteria that exist in certain regions. Even within the same country, a coffee grown in its northern region will likely differ considerably from a coffee grown in its southern region. Denoting a coffee’s subregion is also helpful in establishing greater coffee traceability.
Coffee processing is the method in which its fruit pulp and skin is removed from the seed (more commonly referred to as the bean), for it to become what roasters receive as “green coffee”. The two primary processing methods are “washed” and “natural”, with many iterations of the two falling in between. At their most basic, the washed-processed coffees have their fruit pulp removed prior to being dried, and naturally-processed coffees are dried with the fruit remaining. Very generally speaking, naturally processed coffees often have more poignant fruit flavors, particularly leaning towards berry and grape, and have a noticeably higher sweetness.
Unique to Sparrows, we denote our coffees by the feeling we think they most elicit for the drinkers. The feelings we currently offer are nostalgia, harmony, and adventure. For us, nostalgia coffees are deep, sweet, and rich, and bring us back to the coffees we grew up drinking. Harmony coffees are sweet, crisp, and crushable all-day drinkers. Adventure coffees will take many drinkers out of their comfort zones, with more wild flavors and higher levels of acidity. You can find any of our coffees’ feelings noted on the bag, as well as scenarios they especially conjure for us.