Glossary

 

 

AA- Letters used to grade the quality of a coffee bean. Kenya AA coffee beans, for example, pass through Grade 18 (18/64" diameter) sieve perforations but are too large to pass through Grade 16 (16/64" diameter) sieve perforations.

Acidity- A sensation in the mouth when tasting coffee.  Acidity is a bright, lively, sparkling feeling, most often associated with citrus fruits and vinegar.  In coffee, acidity is typically considered desirable. If too intense, it may seem sour, like a lemon, rather than merely acidy, like an orange.  Acidity is a basic characteristic of coffee quality and is almost always described in quality assessments. Note that in the context of coffee tasting, acidity does not refer to pH balance.

Acrid- A harsh sour taste. An acrid coffee can be described as tart, sharp, or acerbic.

Aftertaste- The echo of flavor that remains once coffee leaves the mouth.  The intensity of that echo or it’s pleasantness is the aftertaste.  It can also be called the finish. Aftertaste is a basic characteristic of coffee quality.

Alkaloid- Any of a group of organic, nitrogenous compounds that are physiologically active and usually bitter. The taste term "alkaline" describes a dry taste sensation mostly at the back of the tongue. While somewhat bitter, an alkaline taste is not necessarily disagreeable and is characteristic of many dark roasts and some Indonesian coffees.

Altitude- See Elevation

Altura- Means "heights" in Spanish and is used to describe high altitude or mountain-grown coffee.

Aquapulp- Terms for a procedure in which the sticky fruit pulp, or mucilage, is removed from freshly picked coffee beans by scrubbing in machines.

Antesia- Damage from the Antestia bug, resulting in coffee beans ranging from slightly discolored to almost entirely black and shriveled up.

Arabica- See Coffea Arabica

Aroma- A quality that can be detected by the olfactory system.

Artisan Coffee- Coffee produced by skilled Roasters using high-quality coffee beans from all over the world using both Robusta and Arabica. Accurate, good roasting equipment is also a requirement to create Artisan Coffee.

Ashy- Coffee odor similar to that of an ashtray or fireplace. An "Ashy" aroma indicates a dark roast and is not necessarily a negative attribute. Ashy coffees generally have a carbon-like flavor.

Astringent- Causing the mouth to pucker or feel dry upon ingestion.

Baked- Flat, dull, and uninteresting coffee. A baked flavor may be caused by roasting too slowly. Coffee roasted in a drum roaster for much more than about 17 minutes will likely be burnt or have a baked flavor.

Balance- Term used to describe coffees to which no particular flavor overwhelms others but has enough flavors to be interesting or complex.

Bar Pressure- An Espresso machine uses nine to ten Bars of pressure to force hot water through finely ground coffee when making espresso. A Bar is equal to 14.5 PSI, or roughly the pressure of one Atmosphere.

Barista- An Italian term for an experienced or skillful bar operator. In Italy, a Barista typically serves different varieties of beverages including coffee and alcoholic beverages.

Beneficio- A coffee mill where harvested cherries are processed and sorted before final bagging for export. Beneficio means a benefit, or profit, in Spanish. Traditionally, a Beneficio is the local mill where farmers bring ripe cherries for processing. Increasingly, farmers are installing their own mills or Beneficios.

Bird Friendly- Used to describe coffee grown in a shade canopy rather than in full sun. Shade-grown coffees create habitats needed for migrating songbirds, are easier on the environment, and arguably create higher quality coffee.

Bitter- Having a sharp, pungent taste.

Black Beans- Black, or very dark, unroasted beans. Black beans typically result from harvesting immature cherries or by harvesting dead cherries that fall naturally from the tree. Black beans can also result from exposure to water and heat and insect-damage. Unroasted coffee beans with more than 25% black, deep blue, or dark brown surface area, may be considered black beans. Black beans have a detrimental effect on coffee taste. The number of black beans in a representative sample is a basic measure of a coffee grade.

Blade Grinder- A coffee grinder that uses spinning blades to turn whole bean coffee to ground coffee. A blade grinder is simple and effective, but will produce an inconsistent particle size, or grind, compared to a burr grinder.

Blend- Usually refers to a mixture of two or more single-origin coffees. Sometimes the blend may contain other ingredients including flavorings, herbs, roots, or teas.

Body- A beverage’s weight or fullness as perceived in the mouth like a sensation of heaviness, richness, or thickness and associated texture. Body, along with flavor, acidity, and aroma, is one of the principal categories used by professional tasters cupping, or sensory evaluation of coffee.

Boiler- A pressure tank used to make hot water or steam, found in most espresso brewing machines.

Boulders- The largest coffee grounds in a particle size distribution.

Bourbon- A botanical variety of Coffea arabica. Bourbon first appeared on the island of Bourbon, now called Réunion, located in the Indian Ocean. Coffee produced from the Bourbon cultivar of the Coffea Arabica tree was named after Bourbon Island where it was first cultivated. Bourbon Island was later renamed Reunion and is located east of Madagascar in the Indian ocean. France introduced the Bourbon cultivar to Africa and Latin America. Bourbon became the second most commercialized Arabica variety after Typica. Both the Typica and Bourbon varieties of Arabica are produced in large quantities throughout the world but are slowly being replaced by more productive and disease resistant varieties such as Caturra. The Bourbon variety is bright yellow when ripe.

Bready- A bread-like, or grain-like, aroma. Insufficiently roasted, sour tasting, coffee will often have a bready aroma. Bready coffees may also be described as "green" or "beany."

Brew- Any method of making a coffee beverage from freshwater and roasted coffee grounds.

Burlap- A woven fabric made from fibers of the jute plant.

Burr grinder or Burr mill- Coffee grinder with two discs that grind coffee that can be adjusted. A burr grinder, or burr mill, uses rotating flat to conical metal disks with sharp ridges, or burrs, to evenly grind the coffee beans. A burr grinder is typically adjustable from very fine to coarse and produces a consistent particle size compared to the simpler blade grinder. Consistent particle size is important in brewing quality coffee, making burr grinders the choice of coffee professionals.

Canephora- The Botanical name for a Robusta coffee tree variety.

Caramelization- A complex series of sugar-browning reactions that creates numerous new compounds.

Carbonization- The formation of carbon from an organic substance by pyrolysis.

Chaff or Silver Skin- Part of the husk of the coffee seed released as beans expand during roasting.

Charge- To load beans into the roasting chamber of a coffee-roasting machine.

Charge temperature- The air temperature in an empty roasting machine just before a hatch is loaded.

Cherry- The fruit of a coffee tree which contains the coffee seed or green bean.

Chlorogenic acid- A polyphenol and antioxidant found in high concentration in coffee beans.

Coffea Arabica- Coffea Arabica trees produce nearly all of the worlds specialty coffee.  There are at least a dozen varieties, or cultivars, of the Coffea Arabica tree. These include Typica, Bourbon, Caturra, Catuai, Pache Comum, Pache, Catimor, Kent, Mundo Novo, Maragogype, Amarello, and Blue Mountain. Geisha is the oldest known Arabica.

Coffea Robusta (Coffea Canephora)- Robusta trees are "robust", meaning they are less susceptible to pests and disease and yield more coffee crop. Because of its ability to resist pests and disease, Coffea Canephora is the dominant coffee species grown at low elevations. Native to sub-Saharan Africa. Robusta is the second-most-planted coffee species and yields coffee with approximately double the caffeine of arabica coffee.

Coffee Berry Borer- The Coffee Berry Borer, or Hypthenemus Hampei, is one of the most significant pest problems for coffee farmers. The CBB is a black, two millimeters long, beetle that bores holes through the seeds coffee cherries. "Broca" is the widely used Spanish term for the coffee berry borer. CBB damage is also called "Broca damage".

Coffee Leaf Rust (CLR)- Coffee Leaf Rust is a disease caused by fungus afflicting coffee plants and first became a problem for coffee farmers in Sri Lanka in the 1860s. CLR has since spread to every coffee growing region of the world, and it destroyed Brazil's crop in 1970 as it did previously on the Islands of Java and Sri Lanka nearly a century before. Many affected plantations replaced their Arabica trees with more disease resistant Robusta. Some affected coffee producing countries have since begun replacing the now less desirable Robusta trees with newer Arabica cultivars that are more disease resistant compared to the "heirloom" classics Typica and Bourbon. CLR is often prevented by the use of copper-based fungicides. The use of chemicals to prevent this, and other crop damages by fungus or pests, can sometimes take away certifications such as Organic.

Coffee-roasting machine- A specialized oven that transfers heat to coffee beans in a stream of hot gas while continually mixing the beans to ensure they roast evenly.

Cold-Water Method or Cold Brew- Brewing method in which ground coffee is soaked in a proportionally small amount of cold water for 10 to 20 hours. The grounds are strained out and the resulting concentrated coffee is stored and mixed with hot water as needed. The cold water method produces a low-acid, light-bodied cup that some find pleasingly delicate or easier to digest, but others may find bland.

Crema- The usually pale, antioxidant-rich, foam which covers the surface of coffees brewed into espresso or using other methods, like the french press. The color, amount, and dispersion of crema can dictate quality, roasting time, and freshness of the coffee. It may also indicate the skillfulness of a barista.

Creosote- A brown, oily liquid mixture of phenols and other organic compounds deposited in the exhaust ductwork of a coffee roaster.

Crust- The layer of saturated coffee grounds that floats to the surface when cupping (tasting) coffee. As part of the traditional coffee cupping method, called "breaking the crust", the grounds are agitated to release trapped vapors allowing the cupper note the coffees unique characteristics. The crust is then scooped out with a spoon before tasting the brewed coffee.

Cupping- A systematic, somewhat standardized, method of evaluating coffee.

Dark roast- A smoky, bitter roast produced by discharging beans after the onset of the second crack.

Decaffeinated Coffee or Decaf Coffee- Coffee in which the caffeine has been extracted during the green bean stage by the bean using one of the following methods: European, Traditional, Swiss Water Processed, Mountain Water, or using the carbon dioxide method. The direct solvent method involves treating the beans with solvent, which selectively unites with the caffeine and is removed from the beans by steaming. The indirect solvent or solvent-water method involves soaking the green beans in hot water, removing the caffeine from the hot water by means of a solvent, and recombining the water with the beans, which are then dried. Both processes using solvents often are called European Process or Traditional Process. The water-only method, commonly known by the proprietary name Swiss Water Process or Mountain Process, involves the same steps but removes the caffeine from the water by allowing it to percolate through a bed of activated charcoal. In the carbon dioxide method, which is only beginning to be established in the specialty-coffee trade, the caffeine is stripped directly from the beans by a highly compressed semi-liquid form of carbon dioxide.

Development- The degree of breakdown of a roasted coffee bean’s cellulose structure.

Disease- Disease refers to any disease that might afflict a coffee tree plant. There are many coffee plant diseases that can damage a coffee crop, but most are caused by the fungus (mold). The most prevalent coffee mold problems are Coffee Leaf Rust (CLR), which shows as yellow-orange blotches on the leaf, and Coffee Berry Disease (CBD), which lives in the bark of the tree and produces spores that attack the coffee cherries. CLR, CBD, and Coffee Berry Borer (CBB) are significant disease and pest problems facing the worlds coffee farmers. Often, the use of chemicals are needed to treat these conditions in order for the farmers to save their crop but unfortunately will lose the Organic certification because of this.

Double picked- A term describing when coffee cherries are handled by hand twice, once when being picked off the tree and again when sifting for impurities such as imperfect beans, pebbles or other foreign matter.

Drop- To discharge beans from a coffee machine.

Drum roaster- A coffee-roasting machine in which the beans are tumbled in a rotating, cylindrical drum. A drum roaster roasts coffee in batches and uses a drum to hold the roasting coffee. As the drum spins, hot gasses transfer heat to the drum and the drum conductively heats the tumbling coffee beans. Some drum roasters have perforated drums that allow hot gasses to pass through the drum and convectively heat the roasting coffee. Most commercially available coffee is either air roasted or drum roasted.

Elephant Beans or Ears- An cluster of two or more deformed beans that grew closely locked together, but sometimes separate during processing or roasting. Also called "ears", due to their often ear-like appearance.

Elevation- The effect elevation has on coffee is complicated.  Higher elevation coffees tend to be regarded as higher quality.  This is because higher elevation coffees are usually sweeter and more complex than their lower elevation counterparts.  But this isn’t strictly due to elevation and actually has more to do with temperature. See Temperature below and then make your way back here. So, making assumptions about the quality of coffee based on elevation alone is misleading.  Now with that said, higher elevation coffee is probably better relative to a lower elevation coffee within a small geographic area. Knowing the elevation of a coffee that came from Costa Rica, for example, would be a good indicator of quality because the country is small and all roughly similar in latitude.  Brazil, on the other hand, is far too large for elevation alone to be used as an indicator since it stretches from 5° N to 33° S.

Endothermic- A reaction requiring the absorption of heat energy.

Environmental temperature- The air temperature in a roasting machine.

Endothermic Flash- A phenomenon during First Crack in which the release of water vapor from the inner beans cause the bean’s surface temperature to suddenly cool.

Exothermic- Releasing heat.

Espresso- Used to describe both a roast of coffee and a method of brewing in which hot water is forced under pressure through a compressed bed of finely ground coffee. In the largest sense, it can refer to an entire approach to coffee cuisine, involving a traditional menu of drinks, many combining brewed espresso coffee with steam-heated, steam-frothed milk.

Fair Trade Coffee- Coffee that has been purchased from farmers at a "fair price" as deemed by international agencies. Fair Trade pricing does not necessarily apply to all the farm workers involved in producing the coffee nor does it imply that the price provides the farmers a livable wage.

Ferment- A green-coffee defect that is the result of chemical breakdown by microbes. Coffee allowed to ferment too long during wet processing. After de-pulping coffee cherries to remove the skin and some of the pulp, the separated seed will still have a significant amount of pulp attached. The remaining pulp can be loosened by fermentation, allowing it to be washed away before drying. If fermentation is not stopped as soon as the remaining parchment is no longer slimy, and has a rough texture, the coffee may acquire oniony or soury flavors.

Fines- Tiny cell-wall fragments produced by grinding coffee beans.

First crack- A phase of coffee roasting characterized by loud, popping noises created by the release of pressure and water vapor from the inner beans. The first of two distinctly different periods of cracking sounds during a roast, when the coffee beans are giving off their own heat and expanding suddenly. "first crack" begins at bean probe temperatures around 400 degrees Fahrenheit, making a sound similar to popcorn, and then diminishes, and sometimes stops momentarily, before the start of "second crack". "Second crack" begins at bean probe temperatures around 440 to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. The darkest of palatable roasts (Dark French) is attained at the peak of "second crack". If the roast is allowed to continue to completion of "second crack", the coffee will be burnt and may catch fire.

Floaters- Coffee cherries that float in water and are 'floated-off' during wet-processing. Underripe, dried, damaged, or deformed coffee cherries tend to float and are discarded at the beginning of wet processing. Also called "lights".

French Press- Brewing method that separates spent grounds from brewed coffee by pressing them to the bottom of the brewing receptacle with a mesh plunger.

Froth- The process of making froth, or velvety hot foam, from milk using the steam wand of an espresso machine. A Barista skillfully uses the steam wand to draw air into the milk until the mixture reaches 155 to 165 degrees Fahrenheit and the foam becomes thick and velvety.

Green coffee or Green bean- Term describing the coffee seed from a ripened cherry prior to roasting.

Gourmet Coffee- Sometimes called "specialty" or "premium" coffee, gourmet coffees are made from exceptional coffee beans. Gourmet coffees have distinctive flavors, specific to botanical variety, processing method, and the unique characteristics of the soil and environment that produces them.

Grind- The particle size of ground coffee. The recommended grind depends on the brewing method. The grind should be adjusted to create the desired amount of coffee extraction. The finer the grind, the quicker coffee can be extracted. Too much coffee extraction will remove unwanted chemicals and make the coffee taste bitter, while too little extraction will cause the coffee to taste flat and watery. Finely ground coffee has more surface area than coarsely ground coffee which allows for quick extraction, but the increased surface tension will not allow water to pass through the grounds by gravity. Espresso machines force hot water through very finely ground coffee at eight to ten times atmospheric pressure (8 to 10 Bars) to quickly make coffee that is neither under-extracted or over-extracted. Experience has found that with an espresso machine, the optimum flavor is achieved by adjusting the grind so that a 1.5-ounce shot glass fills in about 25 seconds. A medium grind is used for filter-drip coffee machines and a coarse grind is used for brewing with a French Press. The finest of all grinds is the powdery Turkish Grind, used to make Turkish Coffee.

Harvest Method-  There are basically three ways to remove the coffee cherry from the tree:

Selective Harvesting
The cherry is hand-picked from the tree at peak ripeness and under-ripe cherries are left to be picked at a later date.

Manual Strip Harvesting
The cherries are picked from the tree by hand but unlike the aforementioned method, the harvester is merely pulling all of the cherries off each branch at once regardless of ripeness.

Mechanical Strip Harvesting
Equipment is used to indiscriminately pull the cherries from the tree regardless of ripeness.

Hermetic- Refers to airtight containers used to store roasted coffee.

Italian roast- The darkest commercial roast, which produces bitter, pungent, acrid coffee.

Kona- An Arabica coffee grown specifically in Hawaii, USA and is considered to be a gourmet coffee because of rich volcanic soil conditions.

Maillard reactions- Chemical reactions between amino acids and reducing sugars that contribute to coffees brown color and roasty flavors.

Malty- The aroma of malt. Often used together with Cereal and Toast-like to include the aroma of cereal, malt, and toast. "Cereal", "Malty", and "Toast-like" describe grain-like aromas and flavors of roasted grain (including roasted corn, barley, or wheat), malt extract, freshly baked bread, or toast.

Medicinal- The smell of medicine, or iodine. A medicinal flavor with notes of iodine which can result from cherries drying while still on the coffee plant. Medicinal flavors cannot be hidden well by blending.

Medium roast- Roast dropped just before or just after the onset of second crack. Full city and Viennese are medium roasts.

Middle Eastern coffee or Turkish coffee- A brewing method in which the roasted coffee is ground very fine, sweetened, boiled, and served without filtering. The grind of the coffee is so fine that most dissolves when brewed while only a few grounds remain at the bottom of a served cup of coffee.

Milling- Mechanical removal of the dry parchment skin from wet-processed coffee beans, or the entire dried fruit husk from dry-processed beans.

Mouthfeel- The in-mouth tactile sensations produced by a beverage. Organic acid A carbon-containing compound with acidic properties.

Organic Coffee or Certified Organic Coffee-Coffee that has been certified by a third-party company as having been grown and processed without the use of unapproved pesticides, herbicides, or similar chemicals. The third-party company or agency involved in the certification determines what chemicals may or may not be used.

Pales- Unroasted yellow coffee beans that stink when crushed or ground. Pales may result from drought or from harvesting immature coffee cherries.

Peaberry- A small, round bean formed when only one seed, rather than the usual two, develops at the heart of the coffee fruit. Peaberry beans are often separated from normal beans and sold as a distinct grade of a given coffee. Typically, but not always, they produce a brighter, more acidic, but lighter-bodied cup than normal beans from the same crop.

Percolation- Technically, any method of coffee brewing in which hot water percolates, or filters down through, a bed of ground coffee. The pumping percolator utilizes the power of boiling water to force water up a tube and over a bed of ground coffee.

Process- After the coffee cherry is picked from the tree, the seed must be removed from the surrounding layers and dried. There are several methods to accomplish each stage of the drying process each one having advantages and disadvantages, of course.  Each variation of the process affects cup quality and taste.

Washed
Also known as Wet process, this practice is most common in areas with access to plenty of water such as Central America.  The seed is separated from the outer layers (pulp) and then left to soak in water until the mucilage is removed. Another variation is to use machinery to remove the mucilage.  This method is widely accepted as the cleanest, most consistent and most acidic. Simply put, washed coffees offer a cleaner more subtle cup than naturals and what you taste is inherent to the seed itself and not the sweet mucilage or fruity skin of the cherry.  

Natural
The cherry is picked from the tree when ripe and dried with the skin and mucilage intact.  When the cherry and seed have dried to 9-12% moisture content, the seed is then removed from the outer layers.  The natural process tends to have more sweet, citrus and fruity notes which it has absorbed from the pulp and skin of the cherry.  Natural processed coffees are typically more full-bodied and less subtle in flavor than washed coffees.


Honey (pulped natural)
After the cherry is removed from the tree, the skin is removed but the mucilage is left intact surrounding the seed for the drying phase.

Monsooned
A very rare method of processing coffee only done in one place on earth, the west coast of India.  The coffee is harvested and washed as usual but then left to dry in warehouses on the coast during the monsoon season for 3-4 months.  The beans are carefully rotated daily and raked for even drying. During this process the beans repeatedly gain and lose moisture, swell to nearly double their original size, and turn a pale golden color.  Another side effect of this method is a nearly neutral p.h. balance. This process is a replication of transporting coffee from India to Europe on wooden ships over a six month trip around the Cape of Good Hope.  When those slow wooden ships were replaced with faster modern ships and the Suez Canal was completed in 1869, coffee drinkers in Europe noticed a decline in balance and quality in their coffee and this drying process was born.  

Pulping- Removing the pulp as part of the wet process. After picking coffee cherries, the first step of processing, using the wet method, is to remove the skin and pulp. Conventional pulping machines have a rotating cylinder that collects harvested cherries immersed in water and presses them against perforations just large enough for the beans to pass. The beans of soft cherries are pushed through the perforations and collected separately while the harder green cherries along with the skin and much of the pulp from the ripe cherries are passed through the machine.

Pungent- A strong or sharp taste or smell; usually refers to spiciness.

Roast profile- A graphical representation of the progression of bean-probe temperature readings during a roast.

Robusta- See Coffea Robusta

Scorching- The burning of bean surfaces during the early stages of a roast.

Second crack- A phase during a dark roast in which the release of carbon dioxide from the beans creates loud, popping noises.

Shrinkage- The weight lost by coffee beans during roasting.

Soluble chemistry-The coffee components that can be dissolved in water.

Specialty coffee- Any reference to coffee, or the coffee business, related to the use of higher-quality arabica coffee beans.

Temperature- The temperature at which the coffee grows has a huge impact on cup quality.  Like anything else, this factor doesn’t necessarily make or break a good coffee but it will have an enormous part.  Coffee that grows in cooler climates takes longer to ripen creating a more complex flavor profile.

Tobacco- The aroma and flavor of fresh tobacco in brewed coffee. A tobacco-like taste is not necessarily disagreeable and is found in various specialty coffees throughout the world. A tobacco-like taste or aroma should not be confused with characteristics of burnt tobacco or ash.

Tipping- Burn marks at the long ends, or "tips," of coffee beans.

Trowel- A small scoop mounted in the faceplate of a coffee roaster for sampling beans during roasting.

Underdeveloped- A term describing a part of a coffee bean's structure not sufficiently broken down by roasting.

Variety- A particular breed of coffee tree.

Whole bean coffee- Coffee that has been roasted but not yet ground.