How is Coffee Graded?

How are coffee beans graded?

When reading about speciality coffee, you will often read that beans are graded. But what does this all mean? And who decided on the rules?

The SCA Coffee Beans Classification is a standardised method to compare coffee beans. It judges the relationship between the amount of defective coffee beans and the overall cup quality.

Coffee is graded by sorting the hulled green beans over screens with different sized holes. The beans remaining in each screen are then weighed, and the percentage of the total is recorded. Following this the coffee is roasted and cupped in order to evaluate the characteristics.

The coffee screening method was developed from a theory that coffees grown at high altitudes are more dense and larger, while also generally holding the best flavour profile. From this it can be deducted that there is a correlation between bean size, density and quality. While there are of course exceptions to this theory, the main objective is to produce beans of uniform size, so that an even roast can be achieved.

Grade 1: Speciality Grade Coffee Beans.

This is the highest grade of beans, and to be classified as Grade 1 Coffee, the beans need to have no primary defects and 0-3 full defects, with a maximum of 5% above and below the specified screen size. When cupping, these beans need to have a distinct attribute in one of the ares of taste, acidity, body or aroma, and be free of cup faults and taints. These beans also need to have zero of what is referred to as “Quakers” which are unripe or poorly roasted beans.

Grade 2: Premium Grade Coffee Beans

The second highest grade, and the one you most often would be drinking, these beans are the same as Grade 1 coffee beans, but are allowed a maximum of 3 Quakers and 0-8 defects.

Grade 3: Exchange Grade Coffee Beans

These beans will have 50% above screen 15 and 5% below it, with a maximum of 5 quakers, free from faults, but between 9-23 full defects are permissible. Supermarket brands are using these beans.

Grade 4: Standard Grade Coffee Beans

These will have 24 to 86 full defects per 300g. These are getting into dodgy territory.

Grade 5: Off Grade Coffee Beans

You really don’t want these beans, they have more than 86 full defects per 300g.


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Ryadan Jeavons

by Ryadan Jeavons

Ryd is a passionate coffee educator who started his career in 2000 as a barista. Having seen the coffee industry develop over the years and how much there is to learn about coffee still, his personal mission has become a role as the conduit between the industry and the consumer. He is passionate about educating the public on all the wonderful things we are learning about this golden liquid drink.

9 comments on "How are coffee beans graded?"

  1. Leslie says:

    Hi Ryadan,

    Love the article, i was very helpful.

    We are new to the coffee industry but are working on releasing a limited batch of coffee every year from the best beans in Zimbabwe.

    Where would we find someone who can review and rate our coffee for us.

    Many thanks


  2. syawal says:

    Sorry, I just wanna ask some question, for my paper the topic is about green coffee beans grade.

    from Grade 1, is about 0-3 defect with a maximum 5% from 300gram or in Grade 4 with 24-86 full defect from 300grams, the number you tell is the pcs (my question example: 24pcs) of the beans or the percentage from the sample of 300grams?

    Thank you

  3. rajeev k ganapathy says:

    What percentage of PB grades are normally seen while grading coffee ?

    1. Ryadan Jeavons says:

      Hi Rajeev!
      That’s not really a question I can answer as it’s too broad and is specific to each farm. As a very broad percentage 5-10% but again you’d have to ask each farm.

  4. Bill Audette says:


    With regard to “Specialty” grade coffee, is it formally referred to as “Specialty”, “Specialty Grade”,
    “Specialty Grade 1” or “Specialty Grade-1”?

    Thank you

    1. Ryadan Jeavons says:

      Hi Bill,
      Not sure exactly what you’re asking. Specialty coffee can be referred to as all of those depending on the person.

      The term itself has been around since 1974 but only became widely used in the public sense in the last 5-10 years.

      If you’re asking about the original term I think it was just ‘Specialty Coffee’.

  5. I am really inspired together with your writing talents and also with the format on your weblog. Is that this a paid topic or did you customize it yourself? Either way keep up the excellent quality writing, it is rare to peer a great weblog like this one these days.

  6. Ángela says:

    I’m a little bit confused regarding to the Grade 3 coffee or “Exchange grade coffee beans” What is the difference between “faults” and “defects”? The description for this grade says that coffee should be free from *faults* but also might have 9-23 “defects”.

    Thanks in advance 🙂

  7. Mathias says:

    This is a great worm am so greatful however you can give more light on these terms fault ‘ and defect

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