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What's in a name?  Decoding origin.

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What's in a name? Decoding origin.

Carrie Masek

Colombia Supremo, Sumatra Mandheling, Mokha Java, Flores Organic Bajawa Ngura RFA. All names of real coffees, but what do they mean? In the first of our new blog series, “What's in a name?” we examine how to decode your favorite coffee's name, starting with its origin.

“Origin” means where the green coffee came from. Many coffee names start with the coffee's original country and/or region. Colombia Supremo is probably the most recognized example of this. Colombia Huila is another example, one that lets the consumer know that the coffee was grown in the Huila region of Colombia. You can usually figure that if your favorite coffee's name starts with a country and/or region, it was grown there.

Usually...but not always.

Until 1989, the coffee industry was regulated by international agreements that were intended to manage supply and support stable prices. They also regulated what coffee could be called. You could only sell a coffee as “Colombian,” if the beans were grown in Colombia. By 1990, that had changed, removing the legal restrictions on what coffee sellers could call their product.

Making something legal doesn't make it ethical. There have been lawsuits over coffee names. The best known one concerned the marketing of relatively inexpensive Central American coffees as, “Kona Blend.” That suit was settled. The terms were not disclosed, but the seller got to keep the name after promising that at least 10% of the coffee beans used in the blend would come from Kona and to say as much on the label.

When you buy coffee, it's always worth reading the fine print. Be careful, though. If the label says something like, “The rich, balanced flavor that made Colombia famous,” it's not making any promises about where the beans came from. The lawsuit did not set a precedent or put any restrictions on coffee names.

The best way to make sure that you're getting coffee from a particular origin is to buy from a reputable roaster. Good roasters are very clear (may even brag a bit) about the country, region, and even farm where their coffee was grown.

Next time on “What's in a name?” Does size matter?