My English teacher asked me what "First quality" means?

No website on internet gives any definition of that term.

is it correct to say like this?

Starbucks is famous for its first quality coffee

  • it's simply a silly advertising phrase, meaning the same as "first-rate" "best-quality" or any similar hyperbolic phrase. Personally I would use a hyphen: first-quality. Note that you can modify "quality" with all sorts of adjectives ... "best quality" "worst quality" and so on. "First" here is sort of strange as an adjective, but there it is. If you simply look in the OED it gives many examples such as first love, first place, first base etc - it's certainly possible to say first quality.
    – Fattie
    Commented Jun 28, 2015 at 6:25
  • If I don't like Starbucks coffee, and I avoid it like the plague, could I say that Starbucks is notorious for its last quality coffee? It doesn't make much sense, so why would first quality coffee?
    – WS2
    Commented Jun 28, 2015 at 9:53
  • As used it needs a hyphen. Otherwise, you are referring to the first coffee Starbucks has sold that is of significant quality, implying that all previous types they sold were inferior. Commented Jun 28, 2015 at 10:49

3 Answers 3


It means that the quality is excellent or "first class" (i.e. of the best quality or in the highest division of quality).

While I haven't found a source for "first quality", there is a defintion for "first quality workmanship" in US Legal definitions:

first quality workmanship means construction which is free from any defect materially affecting appearance or serviceability.

You ask specifically:

is it correct to say like this?
Starbucks is famous for its first quality coffee.

It is grammatically correct, but I would prefer to say:

Starbucks is famous for its excellent coffee.

  • it's the "day of great answers by Free Radical" :)
    – Fattie
    Commented Jun 28, 2015 at 6:17
  • 1
    Does the phrase "factory seconds" mean "not first quality" per this legal definition?
    – user662852
    Commented Jun 28, 2015 at 18:11
  • @user662852: A pertinent question. I encountered the phrase "All materials must be new and first quality" in a construction specification - which I read to mean "Don't use anything second-hand, and don't use any factory seconds / factory rejects." Commented Jul 16, 2015 at 5:51

It looks to be a derivative of first-rate:

Foremost in quality, rank, or importance.

or First Time Quality:

Calculation of the percentage of good parts at the beginning of a production run.

It is in use as a (company)name that suggests good quality and not really a genuine term.

  • it's not really a "derivative" of first rate, I see no point in mentioning that. You have correctly quoted the OED definition "2 foremost in position, rank, or importance" ... it's that simple. Sure there are any number of other examples like first rate, first place, etc etc etc etc. ("first time quality" is totally irrelevant.)
    – Fattie
    Commented Jun 28, 2015 at 6:27

Well it's hard to say. First may refer to the notion that it's the earliest coffee picked, roasted or ground, indicating freshness.

However it more probably means this:

  1. Preceding all others in rank, dignity or excellence. Demosthenes was the first orator of Greece. Burke was one of the first geniuses of his age. Give God the first place in your affections.

In this case First would be synonymous with Best.

It may even be a Double Entendre (M.W.O), or rather a combination of those meanings.

Being the best is, of course, the claim of almost every advertiser. Since "Best" may be considered a matter of opinion, this arguably doesn't actually mean very much. Also, since it's Starbucks, don't dismiss the possibility that it's the least progressed too. I'd suggest something derisive as a result but that probably is not the type of answer your teacher wants.

In this context, since its being modified with an adjective Quality refers to its comparative rank; how good it is when judged against other coffees. This supports the "best" interpretation of the word first.

However, the only way to be sure is to call customer service. I wish you good luck with that, you'll need it. =P

All single word definitions reference Noah Webster's American Dictionary of the English Language, (1828)

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