• Mainstream quality

    Mainstream quality coffee is fair average quality, reasonably well presented but certainly not visually perfect. It will offer a decent, clean but not necessarily impressive cup. Many robustas are included in this category. It is estimated that mainstream qualities account for 85%-90% of world coffee consumption, while the share of exemplary and high quality coffee is less than 15% of the world market.

    Mainstream qualities are often traded on description. Descriptions can be fairly loosely written in the contracts, but usually there is some degree of quality understanding. That means seller and buyer have jointly established the quality parameters which the seller is expected to respect, for shipment after shipment. It is to be hoped that buyers will take this into consideration when talking price. The advantage to the buyer is that they are virtually certain that the coffee will do for them what they expect from it, and the seller knows the buyer will come back time and again for more of the same, irrespective of whether the market is up or down. This is one of the main factors that work towards creating market security, although given how easily interchangeable they are, for most of the more mundane coffees price will always play the major role. Note that no roaster will accept a coffee without tasting it first, regardless of of how it was described, which means that no exporter should ship any coffee without having done the same.

    Quality descriptions without an accompanying understanding between buyer and seller as to quality can lead to problems. For example, 'Fair average quality (FAQ)', or simply specifying the screen size and defect count together with 'guaranteed clean cup' or 'sound merchantable quality', all leave much to the imagination. Such descriptions say the absolute minimum about a coffee's quality and therefore the quality often fluctuates within a fairly wide range. Deliveries can be good, mediocre or really disappointing. Although the buyer has a quality requirement, they are likely to be modest in their expectations of coffees bought on a relatively vague description.

    Usually, this is reflected in the price that is offered.
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