If you have perused our website, you might have noticed that we categorize our coffees by a few different classifications. Both Gold Label and Black Label stand out and then there are the ‘unlabeled’ or Brown label coffees as we reference them internally. A common email that comes our way asks the questions, “what do these labels mean?” Or “How do you choose what to classify your beans?” I decided it may be time to write a blog post to answer these questions.
The answer isn’t simple, because rating coffee isn’t simple. There is a hierarchy when it comes to the beans and the coffee it brews. Several different rating systems take place during the coffee buying process. The first happens at the farms before the coffee is exported, where coffee processers distinguish coffee grades based on size and quality. Of course, this varies by country, so using it as a standard isn’t always helpful. Then the beans are later classified by coffee traders during a cupping session. People have tried to create a standard rating system similar to wine, so you can hear this is a 90+ point coffee and think that it is great. And that system is good and helpful. Especially when you’re comparing an 84pt coffee to a 93pt coffee. However, it tends to be biased towards regions that produce a more complex cup. I’ve had 86pt Guatemalans that are clearly better than 88pt Ethiopians, but the Ethiopian gets the grade just by the nature of what an Ethiopian coffee is (complex). Also, I’ve seen a coffee from a place with golden arches rated as an 85+ premium coffee on that scale. There is no denying the coffee cupping system is flawed.
The system also fails to take factors into account that we include when we rate our coffees, like the uniqueness of the coffee itself. Or even lot size. If I’m able to find an amazing coffee from a farm that doesn’t have a ton of coffee in general, supply and demand take over and I may have to pay a bunch to get that coffee. It may rate on a cupping table as a 91, where a popular one gets a 90.4. How do I distinguish to you why I paid so much more for 0.6points? For this reason, I had to create something on my own that I felt would help me price our beans and help the average roaster with expectations and improve the overall buying experience.
I recognized the problem above very quickly after I started Sagebrush Unroasted, 3 years ago. At that time, I did not have the classification system I do now. But I did know enough to know I needed to create the infamous “Gold Label Coffee”. As I mentioned previously, at least one and oftentimes several cupping sessions take place before each coffee is added to the website. This is when I distinguish between a regular or gold label coffee. There are several factors I look for when putting a coffee in this category. Gold Labels are premium grade beans that often come from smaller and more limited crops. For this reason, the initial cost of the beans is more expensive, making our selling price a little higher than our standard coffees.
Along with the coffee technicalities, the flavor and quality of the beans are a significant component of our gold rating. While cupping, I list the flavor notes and unique characteristics of each coffee, and certain beans stand out from the rest. During this process, it can be very easy to be preferential and choose coffees that I specifically enjoy. These days I will look at the country of origin and process method, current coffees, and previous similar coffee sales trends to make sure I’m not just putting together a list of coffees that only I like, but actually try to find coffees I think you guys love too.
Now, let’s talk about our Black Label. Sounds prestigious, right? We have had coffees under this label for a while, but just subtly called them Premium Gold Labels. Our Black Label coffees are a step above Gold Labels. They are considered premium grade coffees because they are a rare crop and varietal, had one-of-a-kind cuppings, and are initially priced higher than our other beans, even the Gold Labels. I almost always am able to get less of these coffees than I really want. In fact, almost a year ago, I started getting my hands on some of these coffees and needed to highlight them. I did so by using the “Premium Label,” but the shopping experience started to get a little confusing. So, we’ve added Black Label coffees to help you find the best of the best… of the best.
The Brown Label coffees are still some of the best beans you’ll find anywhere. These are the only coffees where I actually pay attention to what I pay for them. My goal is to have great quality beans at reasonable prices, while also making the cost/lb helpful for shipping costs. I still want people to be able to access the service and elements of what makes Sagebrush Unroasted different, without having to pay the premium for the Gold / Black label unique and amazing coffees.
Our Gold Label green beans are some premium coffees from some of our favorite farms. We’ve offered an amazing Guatemalan as a Gold Label for several years now, and it is a great example of this premium brand. Then when we’re able to get our hands on an especially unique, ultra-rare and high scoring coffee, we have to put it in the Black Label category. These are those special treats! Amazing new green beans are on their way, no matter what your budget is.