• QA 204
    In green coffee, what is the meaning of European and American Preparation? And Brazil 'Swedish'?
    What is meant by European preparation, American preparation and 'Brazil Swedish'? We see quotations for such descriptions but do not know what quality they represent.
    Asked by:
    Grower - Panama

    European Preparation or EP indicates a quality difference, mostly in terms of a lower permissible number of defects, vis-à-vis American preparation. American 'prep' usually contains a larger number of defects but will otherwise be the same as European 'prep'. In both cases the cup quality should be clean.

    These terms are mainly used in Latin America and are quite wide-ranging in that the precise meaning varies, not only from country to country but also between shippers. It is not always clear for example how many defects are meant, nor is the type of allowable defective bean always specified. Depending on interpretation there may also be a difference in screen size with EP technically over screen 15 and American prep over screen 14 - see topic 11.05.08 for more on screen sizes.

    In theory European preparation coffee should contain few if any visible defectives whereas it is accepted that American preparation will contain a number of defectives. For some EP also suggests little or no silver skin as the coffee would have been (lightly) polished - not so for American preparation. However, a coffee that passes as American preparation for one roaster may well be accepted as European preparation by another. *

    Brazil 'Swedish' represents a strictly soft or good cup Brazilian standard grade (Santos 2/3 although US buyers accept Santos 3/4) but with a smaller screen size (screen 14/15). The term 'Swedish' originates from the fact that Swedish roasters (who became buyers of large amounts of Brazilian coffee) mostly only sell roast and ground coffee. Therefore they did not need the bean size that other destinations demanded and accepted a smaller minimum bean size. Over time, this description has become an established reference for such Brazilian coffee.

    Put differently, these descriptions are a form of shorthand and, by themselves provide no contractual guarantees. Therefore, one should always add precise quality criteria to the terms of any contract to avoid later disputes over what means what…

    Coffee for particular buyers, especially large buyers, may be traded under such general if not generic descriptions like European or American preparation (and even Japanese preparation for Japan - better than EP) but, the quality that will be delivered reflects what that buyer will accept or demands. Many buyers therefore have their own interpretations.

    For example, Starbucks' General Quality Guidelines speak of "European Preparation or EP: screen 15 and above, consistent bean size, uniform, good green colour. The following defects will be considered out of specification for European Preparation: black or partial black beans, brown beans, mouldy beans, moisture content higher than 12%, sours, insect damaged beans, white beans or quakers, pods, broken beans, more than 5% peaberries, uneven green or faded beans, presence of sticks, stones or other non-coffee matter".

    Descriptions like European or American preparation, and Brazil Swedish, help the market to quickly quote prices for certain standard types of coffee. However, the old descriptions are losing importance in that roasters increasingly insist on their own specifications. In substance these may not be all that different but, they are individually tailored and will not leave too much room for misunderstanding. Over time some individual roaster specifications have become widely known and may be quoted in the open market… Starbucks quality, Lavazza type, Nestlé type etc.

    In the end of course roasters reserve the right to evaluate and, if necessary, reject shipments that do not conform to their quality standards. This is why much coffee is traded 'subject approval of sample' or even 'subject to approval on arrival'. For more on this see topic boxes 04.02.01/02. For more on Quality and Quality Control see Chapters 11 and 12 of the Guide.

    * There is no universally agreed definition that we are aware of but a plausible interpretation could be: European Preparation: maximum 8 allowable defects, minimum screen 15 - American Preparation: maximum 23 allowable defects, minimum screen 14. It is of course understood that the cup quality will always be clean.

    Nevertheless, precisely because of the vagueness of this, individual roasters will specify what defects (if any) are allowable - not only in the green but possibly also in the roast. They may also be more specific on the screen size parameters - for example, beans over screen 20 could present problems as these would roast very differently. Note for example the 'consistent bean size' requirement in the Starbucks specification quoted above.

    Price differences between the 'general descriptions' are often also minimal at just one to two cts/lb.  For example, Colombia EP one ct/lb higher than UGQ or Usual Good Quality.

    Posted 14 October 2008

    Related chapter(s):
    Related Q & A:
    Q&A 023, 155, 175, 187
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