Green Coffee FAQ

Green Coffee FAQ: Your Questions and Our Answers about the Basics of Green Unroasted Coffee!

Coffee doesn’t have to be rocket science. So why does that dude at the office party make it seem like it is? I know, I know … if you look around Sweet Maria’s site, it definitely looks like we (and those like us) are the ones turning coffee into something complicated.

For that, we apologize. Maybe it’s the caffeine but it’s easy to get excited about coffee. We try to make it accessible, while not dumbing it down. But in our classes and demos, we actually find that the most basic questions usually lead to the best conversations. With that in mind…

What coffee should I choose?

For beginning home roasters, I think it is best to start with a Green Coffee Sampler which gives you a range of origins and processing methods so you can start to hone in on what you like. While the type of roast you use will greatly influence the flavor (all coffees come with roast recommendations on the label), origin flavor sets the parameters for the flavors in the cup.

What factors make coffee taste different?

Coffees produced around the world can have an incredible variety of flavors; there are, however, some general characteristics to different regions. These may be due to climate, soil, altitude or the processing method (turning coffee fruit from the tree into green beans for export).

Which factor is most important in determining coffee flavor?

It’s really a combination of factors, not a single one. In marketing information, roasters and suppliers like to play up the Variety / Cultivar of the coffee plant. But coffee isn’t like wine, and (with a few exceptions) variety isn’t producing a huge difference in taste as it would with a wine. Terroir, soil and climate matter, but again it’s a wine term that does not apply precisely. If I had to pick the factors not emphasized enough in the way people talk about coffee, I would say human labor, the huge effort to select ripe fruit and sort it, and processing method used to convert fruit to green beans, are the two most significant.

I like classic coffee taste, not flavored, not fruity. What should I focus on?

For me, Central American coffees have the classic, clean, crisp taste with a balance of brightness, body and aftertaste. They are crowd-pleasing coffees, the kind you want to drink again and again. For us, our Guatemalas are the best Centrals, but it would be a shame not to search for those great flavors in Honduras, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Nicaragua and others. When Centrals are out of season, you need to try Burundi and Rwanda! These are incredible coffees in the same vein as Guatemala… but better!

I make espresso only, what should I choose?

There’s a lot of different approaches to espresso. Commercial espresso has normally been blends, but blends are necessary for espresso. Single Origin (SO) Espresso is incredibly satisfying, and our list tags coffees that work unblended as “Good for Espresso.” While much blending was done to bolster branding of coffee, there are some good reasons to blend, especially when balance is wanted along with moderate amounts of other attributes, such as brightness or fruit. We offer pre-blended green coffee, and our Monkey blend has been a big hit for years. To blend your own, perhaps use a mild Brazil as a base, and add small amounts of Ethiopia for fruit, or a Central American for some acidity. We have many articles on Espresso and Blending in our Coffee Library

Dark Roast is for me! What green coffee roasts dark the best?

This can depend a bit; for a lot of body and low brightness (acidity), you might like Brazilian coffee, or Indonesians like Sumatra. But we find that some of the best coffees that roast dark happen to be the best at any level, coffees with brightness that lingers through into the darker levels, and help keep a darker roast from tasting flat and ashy.
Dense, high grown coffee is always better at any roast level. In fact some, like Kenyas, that can be sour in light roasts turn to blackberry / black currant notes at darker levels. Fantastic!

I like coffee with fruited notes!

Roughly speaking there are 2 kinds of “fruited coffees.”
There’s a clean fresh type of fruit in coffee found in the best wet-processed coffees from high altitudes. Ethiopia coffees from Sidama, Yirga Cheffe, Shakiso or Agaro are great for this type of fruit. It’s also what makes Kenya from Nyeri, Kirinyaga, or parts of Kiambu and Muranga so wonderful.
But for more intense rustic fruit, flavors like dried mango and apricot, look for dry-processed coffees (also called “naturals” as they are simply dried in the fruit skin right off the tree). Again, it’s Ethiopia that has some of the most intensely fruited dry-process lots. But we now offer this type of coffee from many other regions around the world, and each is different.

Where do you guys get your coffee from?

Our coffee buyer travels to different coffee farms and mills around the world looking for good quality coffee, and checking our suppliers. In many cases we have direct contact with the farm or coop that produced the coffee, usually buying small lots ranging from 15 to 50 bags from one supplier. Other coffees we source from our exporter / importer network, but this represents a smaller amount of our purchasing volume.

I am looking for only organic coffees. What do you have?

As mentioned above, we have a drop down menu at the top of listings on the Green Coffee Offerings that allows you to view only those coffees that are organic, farm gate, recommended for espresso, wet or dry processed. In many regions, specialty coffee comes from smaller traditional farms and farmers are unwilling or unable to pay for organic certification. Specialty coffee in general does not see the wholesale use of herbicides that are seen in other crops. The largest-scale producers tend to use more inputs on their crops because … guess what … they can afford them! Small-scale producers often can’t and look for alternatives. Lucky for us, we focus our buying on small-holder farmers and coops, not big agribusiness coffee operations.

Help! My favorite coffee is no longer available! What do I do?

(Tom addresses this question in the video linked above but here are some additional notes.) This happens all the time – mostly because we are dealing with small, specific lots of coffee. We carry not just coffee from a specific farm, but very often a specific cultivar (i.e. Bourbon, pacamara, etc) or picking or processing method. These are very limited lots of coffee, sometimes just a few bags, and often very unique, so we can sell out within a couple of months or faster.
When this happens, in most cases you want to look for a coffee from the same region or a nearby region. Then consider the processing method – this will greatly impact the flavor. A dry processed Ethiopian coffee will taste more like a dry processed Yemeni coffee, for example.

How long does green coffee last for?

The flavor of unroasted coffee is fairly stable when stored in a cool, dry place. Green coffee will not have a drop in cup quality from about 6 months, even up to 1 year from arrival date (every coffee we sell has an arrival date in the review). Compared to roasted coffee, that starts to fade in 7-14 days after roasting, that’s pretty good!

How should I store my green coffee?

All green coffee beans should be kept cool and dry at room temperature, and away from direct sunlight. The refrigerator is too moist for green beans and the freezer is too dry. In the trade, the general rule in terms of climate for green coffee storage is this: if it’s comfortable for you, then your coffee is happy too. The plastic zip bags we ship in are just fine, or you could transfer unroasted coffee to glass or another material with a good barrier.

Where can I buy green, unroasted coffee?

Sweet Maria’s of course! : ) There are other green coffee vendors online, and sometimes your local coffee roaster will sell you some unroasted coffee if you ask nicely.

I had a certain coffee in years past that I really liked– when will it be available again?

We like to work with the same farmers year after year, because if they produce quality this year, it should be good next year and the year after. But things happen, and so the answer can be complicated. Whether or not we will have a specific coffee again depends on many variables such as weather, processing, shipping, and competition. Since we strive to provide the best green coffee available, we won’t bypass an amazing coffee we haven’t offered before. Tried and true coffees we have had year in and year out can be good, but not at the expense of ignoring quality and new flavors that are out there.

What is washed coffee? And what is unwashed coffee? Sounds gross!

Washed coffee means the coffee cherry went through the wet process method before drying and becoming green coffee beans for export. Unwashed means it was dry-processed. It has nothing to do with being clean or unclean … so don’t worry!

I bought green coffee but it looks more yellow than green! What’s up?

Green coffee is the term we use for unroasted coffee, because it usually is green-ish. The color of green doesn’t indicate quality, though some extra-dark green coffees might not have been dried or conditioned enough, and some pale green coffees might be old crop, or stored in hot conditions. Dry process coffees can look yellow, largely because the yellow-tinted silver skin (that comes off as chaff in roasting) still clings to the dry-process “green” bean. And it happens too with some honey-process or wet process coffees. It doesn’t impact the cup. Decaf is kinda brown-green too. More info here: Green Coffee, Defined

What is honey process coffee?

It is more of a marketing name than anything. In Brazil they called in “pulp natural process” for decades. Honey-processing sounds sweeter though, no? But it has nothing at all to do with honey from bees! It means the coffee is pulped of its skin, but the fruity layer is left on the seed as it dries, not fermented off like in wet-processing. So honey process is something between wet- and dry- processing. Flavorwise too, it is in between the others, with less aromatics than some wet process, and more body and fruit … but not as much as full dry-process. Honey is called “miel” coffee in Spanish.

What’s the best coffee? Who grows it?

People do ask this, and I think it’s because coffee is brown, hot, and tastes the same to many people. But few people ask, “What’s the best wine in the world?” or “What’s the best tea?” Why? Because wine and tea are beverages that look different, where varieties of plants produce a totally different beverage, that looks obviously different in color etc, and is prepared / served differently. The distinctions between coffee are real too, but they are admittedly less dramatic, and they don’t look different. It’s all brown! Anyway, the answer to “What’s the best coffee in the world?” is, in fact, 42.

This video is 4 years old now, but coffee has not changed that much!

More about the basics:
Green Coffee, Defined
Sweet Maria’s Macro Coffee Images