Green coffee beans are graded at their point of origin, according to standards set by that country. They are also required to meet a number of internationally recognised standards.
Some criteria for classification include: botanical variety, process, bean size, density and weight.
The grading language employed within each country varies, ranging from a simple 1, 2 or 3 to Fancy, Extra Fancy, AA, AB or AX.
Central American coffees are graded according to altitude – Strictly High Grown denotes plants grown at 1200 metres and higher, High Grown must be over 900m and Central Standard refers to coffees grown between 600 and 900 metres.
Coffee bags are often stamped with the name of the coffee growing area or origin of the beans, such as Mandheling or Mocha.
These areas can be as large as a state, so although this label can give you a broad idea of the style that this region generally produces and the flavours to expect, within each origin there can be significant variations in the consistency and quality.
A specific classification, a single origin will bear the name of the actual district or even the plantation in which the coffee was grown.
This provides the coffee buyer with a much greater understanding of the climate, soil and altitude in which the coffee was produced.
It also allows the coffee to be traced back to its grower which enables the coffee buyer and/or roaster to develop a direct relationship with the farmers themselves.
There can still be variations within a single origin, but consistency is far higher than within a broad origin/regionally produced bean.