Colors of Cartel

Ever wonder what the colors of the rubber bands mean on our coffee bags? They aren’t arbitrary. In fact, we use the same colors online for the coffee badges on our website. The intention is to help our customers understand what to expect and how to buy our coffee. 


Originally, the only two rubber band colors were green (more like ‘grellow’) and red (more like red-orange). All the coffees would be banded green except whichever one we were using as our in-house espresso. The espresso lot would carry a red rubber band just to make it a little more distinct from the others.


A few years back, I decided that we needed to reboot our wholebean program. Classifying coffee as either ‘what we use for espresso’ and ‘everything else’ was not that helpful. I could tell people wanted better visual cues for what the actual bean would be like. Most people were overwhelmed by all the information we included on the coffee bags and needed some sort of initial binary categorization to get the decision ball rolling.

I started seeing patterns in coffee lovers. Those who enjoyed the wine and berry notes of naturals were often bored by flavors found in washed coffees. Conversely, those who craved the nuanced acidity in a washed coffee would find natural coffees to be ‘out of balance’ or ‘overpowering’. Or, there would even be those who appreciated both extremes for different reasons (like me!).

I wanted to affirm these preferences equally in the same way that a vintner will produce both white and red wines. I came up with the white band and black band system as a way to always have an exquisite washed coffee and a stellar natural at any given time. 


So, the simple way to understand our offerings by band or badge color is to know that the red is what we are currently using for espresso, the white is the premium washed coffee, and the black is the premium natural offering. 

The green bands are still used for everything else we carry. In their case, there might not be a color indicator for processing, but it is included prominently in the second line, just under the coffee’s name. Or, in the case of the online badges, a large icon of a sun or a water droplet are used to indicate natural or washed, respectively.


If you are overwhelmed by the minutia included on the tags of specialty coffee these days and are looking for a starting point in understanding them, begin with processing. I promise, it is the single most tangible origin detail there is. A lot of things get exaggerated in coffee but this is not one of them. 

You may have noticed that many high craft items have a binary categorization as a gateway. Wine, as I mentioned, has red and white; pipe tobacco has English and aromatic; and beer has ales and lagers—to name a few. Try the black and white system at Cartel to learn about the binary gateway of coffee: processing.

Once you experience the differences associated with processing, you can build on your confidence by exploring more subtle aspects like genetics and terroir. No matter how developed your palate is, or how vibrant the chromatics on your coffee ‘palette’ are, try exploring the colors of Cartel.