How to read a coffee label

Posted by Ben Cram on

As you get into drinking better quality coffee you’ll start to notice that the labels often contain a bunch of different stats and information. It's not just about the taste; it's also about understanding the story behind the coffee you're drinking.

Some of them are self explanatory, like the country, region and farm name. Others, like elevation, may be easy to understand as a fact, but how do they impact quality? 

At the bottom of this post, there's a short video from Ben explaining all this, too. 

The Coffee's Name

If it's a Blend:

If the coffee you're purchasing is a blend, the label will usually feature a unique name. Blends consist of different coffee beans from multiple regions or varieties, carefully combined to create a specific flavor profile. Our blend names celebrate things like where we’re from, people who helped us along the way and dates that are milestones in our timeline.

Fernwood Coffee Blend

Single Origin - Farm, Co-op, or Mill Info:

Single origin coffees come from a specific region or even a single farm, allowing you to explore the unique characteristics of that particular area. On the label, you'll find the name of the country or region from which the coffee originates. Single origin coffees often showcase distinct flavors that reflect the terroir of their origin.

Brazil Coffee how to read a coffee label

Some coffee labels go beyond the country or region and provide information about the specific farm, cooperative, or mill where the coffee beans were sourced.  For instance, “Brazil Fazenda Serrado,” "Colombia Francy Guerrero" or “Ethiopia Halo Hartume.”  This information allows you to trace the beans back to their origin and learn about the people and processes involved in their production.


high elevation coffee brazil

The elevation at which coffee is grown can significantly impact its flavor. Higher elevations generally result in slower maturation of the coffee cherries, leading to more complex and nuanced flavors. They generally indicate better growing environments and promote more density in the green coffee, have less harmful pests to deal with and offer more optimal temperatures.

 Labels often mention the altitude at which the coffee was grown, such as "Grown at 1,800 meters above sea level." This detail can give you an idea of the potential flavor profile and quality of the beans.

Higher elevations generally indicate better growing environments and promote more density in the green coffee, have less harmful pests to deal with and offer more optimal temperatures.

Processing method:

 The question we get asked the most is what is natural process, vs washed process, vs honey process etc. There are a lot of nuances to this topic.

In a nutshell, the processing refers to how the coffee was taken from a cherry to a dried green coffee bean. There are two main ways to do this and then there are several variables that branch out from these two methods. 

Washed coffees
  • have the skin and mucilage (that’s the actual fruit pulp) removed mechanically at the start of the process. This is called de-pulping. At this point the coffee goes through a fermentation then remains is rinsed off in large tanks of water then laid out on drying patios or put into mechanical dryers. 
Natural process coffees
  • are left in the cherry and dried on raised beds that allow for air flow. This can result in fruity flavours and big bold aromas. We’re going to dig deeper into this in a future post.
natural vs washed coffee

Tasting notes:

Tasting notes on a coffee label provide a glimpse into the flavors and aromas you can expect from the brewed cup. These descriptions often highlight the most prominent and distinguishable notes, such as "chocolate," "citrus," "caramel," "floral," or "nutty." While personal taste may vary, tasting notes serve as a helpful guide when selecting a coffee that aligns with your preferred flavor preferences.

Roast Level:

Roast level refers to the degree of roasting the coffee beans have undergone. We go over this extensively in our Light Roast vs Dark Roast Coffee...WTF? blog post. 

In short: It significantly impacts the taste and overall profile of the coffee. Common roast levels include light, medium, medium-dark, and dark. The label may indicate the roast level to help you choose a coffee that matches your desired flavor intensity.


Certification symbols are fairly self explanatory and indicate extra measures the roaster is taking in regards to quality, sustainability or ethics. They also indicate that the business practices have been verified by a third party.

For example, our Mile Zero Decaf is Swiss Water certified, meaning that it is processed without the use of chemicals. 

Deciphering the information on coffee labels enhances your coffee experience. Each step of the coffee's journey, from the cherry on the tree to the cup in your hand, involves meticulous care and expertise. By understanding the details on the labels, you can make informed choices, selecting coffees you know you'll enjoy or discovering unique options. Expanding your knowledge about different coffees enriches your overall coffee experience.


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