A Glossary of All the Coffee Definitions You Need to Know
A, AA, AAA
Grade indicators, which vary by country, used to describe the largest beans: A in India; AA in Kenya, Tanzania, and Papua New Guinea; AAA in Peru.
An important category used by professional tasters in judging coffee; a fine coffee should have a pleasant tartness, but not be so acidic as to be bitter. See Cupping Method.
Coffee that is maintained in special warehouses for several years in order to reduce acidity and increase body. Aged coffee, also known as vintage coffee, is warehoused longer than old crop or mature coffees.
Old coffee plantation in the Sonsonate Department of western El Salvador. Founded by Spanish immigrants in the mid 1800’s, this estate, since agrarian reforms, has been broken up into 5 smaller fincas, of which one is Finca Las Nubes.
A Mexican coffee that has been grown at high elevations; a mountain-grown coffee. Somewhat extraneous, as almost all coffee is mountain-grown.
Standard American (that is, United States) medium brown roast, as used with the Robusta coffee variety in commercial coffees like Maxwell House.
One of the two major species of coffee, the other being Robusta. Coffee Arabica, or Arabican coffee grows at higher elevations and contains half the caffeine of Robusta. It is considered the more premium variety; nearly all specialty coffee is Arabica. Varieties include Typica, Bourbon, Arusha, Caturra, Paca, Pacamara, Mundo Novo, Maragogipe.
An important category used by professional tasters in judging coffee; a fine coffee should have a pleasant fragrance when hot and freshly brewed. See Cupping Method.
An Arabica Coffee from the slopes of Mount Meru in Tanzania. Cultivars have since been transported to other growing regions, including Papua New Guinea where it appears in the Kinjibi Tribal Plantation and Village Gardens. See Arabica.
This tasting term describes coffees that are complex, but where no one element overshadows the others. See Cupping Method.
A mixture of two or more types of coffee beans, often containing beans grown in different countries. A good blend will yield a balance of contrasting qualities for a complex, flavorful result.
See Jamaican Blue Mountain.
The trade name of a well-known brand of French press, or plunger coffee pot. See French Press.
Yet another important category used by professional tasters in judging coffee; body describes the sense of richness, heaviness, or thickness that a brewed coffee imparts. See Cupping Method.
The botanical name of one of the varieties of Coffea Arabica, so named after the island of Bourbon (now Reunion) where it was first discovered. Several premium coffees are from this varietal stock, which proliferates in much of Central and South America. Another Old Style original coffee, often noted for its chocolateyness and deep complexity. Like Typica, Bourbon grows best under a dense shade canopy. See Arabica.
A roaster that processes a set quantity, or batch, of coffee beans at a time.
Another name for a French press coffee pot. See French Press.
The odorless, bitter alkaloid that is responsible for the stimulating effect of coffee and tea. The amount of caffeine in a cup of coffee varies according to the type of bean, the geographic region, altitude of growth, the grind, and the method of preparation.
Robusta coffees, for example, normally have twice the caffeine content of Arabica coffees. A five-ounce cup of coffee will contain 75 to 155 milligrams of caffeine.
Normally the denser beans grown at high altitudes have a lower caffeine content, as do darker roasted coffees. It is important to note that all Arabica coffees are naturally about 98.5% caffeine-free because they contain 1-1.5% caffeine by weight. To qualify as decaffeinated, however, they must have 97% of this 1-1.5% removed.
This aroma descriptor is reminiscent of the odor and flavor produced when caramelizing sugar without burning it. Tasters should be cautioned not to use this attribute to describe a burning note.
A hybrid of the Coffea Arabica species that is fast-maturing and more disease-resistant than other Arabica varieties. Its quality is often considered inferior to the traditional Arabica varieties. See Arabica.
The claim of a objective (usually international) body that will attest to a coffee’s purity or proper production practices. The multinational nature of coffee agriculture results in a tremendous amount of fraudulent claims. After passing their stringent, and oftentimes expensive tests, a certifying body will allow their symbol will be displayed prominently on the packaging as well as any promotional materials. Certification typically declares some benefit for both growers and consumers, and while it may increase the cost of the coffee somewhat, it encourages sustainable practices in the industry. Some common certifications include Organic, Shade-grown, Bird-friendly, Eco-Friendly or Sustainable, Kosher, Fair-Trade, Child-Friendly, as well as others. See individual listings for many of these, as well as Fairly-Traded and Triple Certified.
The remains of silver skin on green coffee beans that are released during roasting. See Parchment.
The fruit of the coffee tree in which the seeds (coffee beans) are extracted. Coffee cherries ripen at different times, so they are predominantly picked by hand. It takes approximately 2,000 Arabica cherries to produce just one pound of roasted coffee. Since each cherry contains two beans, your one pound of coffee is derived from 4,000 coffee beans.
Chicory is the root of the endive, which is roasted and ground like coffee; it may be brewed straight, or blended with coffee.
A very light roast, also known as New England Roast, that is even lighter than American Roast.
A light French Roast.
The volatile coffee essence developed in the bean during roasting. Also known as "Coffeol".
Cold Water Method
A brewing method where the ground coffee is soaked in a proportionally small amount of cold water for ten to twenty hours and then separated by the drip method. The resulting very strong coffee is stored and mixed with hot water as needed.
Pre-packaged, often pre-ground, and, in the case of instant coffee, even pre-brewed, these coffees found in vacuum cans in the grocery store. They are made with lesser beans, immature beans, and over-ripe beans, which imparts a bitterness to the coffee.
A professional tasting term for coffees that exhibit depth and resonance of flavors. See Cupping Method.
A large commercial roaster that roasts coffee continuously, as opposed to in batches.
The procedure by which individual cups of coffee are prepared according to established guidelines to assess the Aroma, Body, taste, and "mouthfeel" characteristics of a sample of coffee. Typically the same coffee is sampled hot and as it is in the process of cooling, evaluating the same sample 3-4 times in the span of a few minutes. See also Acidity, Aroma, Balance, Body, Complexity, Finish, Flavor, Fragrance, Richness.
A general term describing any roast of coffee darker than American Roast.
The process of removing most of the caffeine that naturally occurs in coffee. There are three methods of decaffeination: the solvent-water method, the Swiss water process (SWP) method, and the carbon dioxide method.
Literally "half cup" in French: a small cup used primarily for espresso.
Term for the process in which the sticky fruit pulp, or mucilage, is removed from freshly-picked coffee beans by scrubbing in machines. Mechanical demucilaging is gradually replacing the traditional wet processing procedure of removing mucilage by fermentation and washings. Also called Aquapulp, or Semi-Washed Process.
A brewing method in which hot water drips through a filter with ground coffee into a serving pot.
The removal of the parchment "husk" from the bean after the fruit pulp has been separated and the beans dried (if necessary). The final processing step prior to screening and grading of the beans.
A coffee processing method in which the beans are dried (either sun dried or mechanically) with the coffee fruit still adhering to the bean, then the husk or fruit is remove afterwards. Also known as the "Natural method", even though the dried fruit is subsequently removed by machine, leaving small bits behind. This "unwashed" coffee produces a more distinct flavor and heavy body. The result is often inferior to washed coffee or coffee that is wet-processed. See Processing.
Dark Brown Roast
Characteristics include oily beans with a distinctive bittersweet tang; low acid.
One of several terms, also including gaminess and wildness, referring to the off taste caused by carelessly processed natural coffee.
Eco-Friendly (Eco Cultivated)
Coffee cultivated through traditional, environmentally-conscious methods which help protect the ecosystem. These broad terms embrace several concepts such as organic practices, erosion control and maintaining native and migratory bird habitats. Environmental and sustainability organizations like Rainforest Alliance and others have developed sets of best practices and support growers while lobbying consumers to demand coffees that are grown and processed with these values. See also Certified, Fair-Trade, Fairly-Traded, Organic, Shade-Grown, Sustainable Coffee, and Triple Certified.
Coffee from El Salvador was historically considered generally dependable but undistinguished. It had a good body and rather listless acidity and flavor. Recently, however, El Salvador has experienced a renaissance in the production of gourmet coffees. These recent offerings are marked by medium to high Acidity, nutty or chocolatey overtones, and medium Body. One of the most quickly emerging origins in the world of fine Arabica coffees.
An elegant and basic coffee drink prepared by forcing hot water, under pressure, through finely-ground, dark-roasted coffee in a very short time. The key is the right level of pressure, which usually requires an expensive machine. It is typically served as a one-ounce drink in a demitasse. The hallmark of a good espresso is the crema, or milky film that forms on the surface.
Sometimes referred to as Continental or European Roast. See also Dark Brown Roast, above.
The natural home of the Arabica tree and the setting for most of coffee’s origin legends, Ethiopia is Africa’s top Arabica exporter and leads the continent in domestic consumption. About 12 million Ethiopians make their living from coffee, whose name is said to be a derivation of “Kaffa,” the name of an Ethiopian coffee-producing province.
The process of hand-preparing coffee through which imperfect beans, pebbles, and other foreign matter are removed.
Specialty coffees are often identified by Estate name rather than the regional or market name. Estate coffees are grown on medium-sized farms, rather than small farms or plantations, dedicated to producing specific types of coffees.
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Fair-trade (usually in conjunction with Fair Farming Practices)
The practice of applying a premium to the price a small coffee farmer is paid in order to ensure he derives a "living wage" from his work regardless of the market conditions that traditionally drive the price of coffee, and to assist the farmer in developing more sustainable growing practices, increase the quality and value of their coffee and, consequently, the quality of life for they and their family. It’s very much like a minimum wage. See also Certified, Eco-Friendly, Fairly-Traded, Organic, Shade-Grown, Sustainable Coffee, and Triple Certified.
A relatively new approach to trade, one that includes informed consumers, honest and fair trade relationships and cooperative principles. At times used as a distinction from "Fair-trade" which has sought a unified certification mechanism at times out of step with the realities of grower who may not have the economic or social ability to meet all the criteria set by external and often international bodies. See also Certified, Eco-Friendly, Fairly-Traded, Organic, Shade-Grown, Relationship Coffee, Sustainable Coffee, and Triple Certified.
Spanish for "Farm". May range in size from small family operations to larger estates, typically organized to grow specific coffee types.
The aftertaste that lingers in the mouth when sipping coffee. Finish may be considered long, flat and acidic, or brief and effervescent, depending on the length and consistency of the taste. See Cupping Method.
Flavor is what distinguishes the taste of a coffee once its aroma, acidity and body have been described. See Cupping Method.
Coffees that have been mixed with flavoring agents while in their roasted whole bean state.
Fluid Bed Roaster
A roasting machine that uses a column of hot air to agitate and roast the green coffee beans, much like a popcorn popper. They are also called Sivetz Roasters, after their inventor, Michael Sivetz.
The smell of the ground coffee beans. Yet another important category used by professional tasters in judging coffee. See Cupping Method.
Also called a Bodum, Cafetiere, or plunger pot, this brewing method combines hot water and ground coffee, and then separates the grounds by pressing them to the bottom of the pot with a mesh plunger.
Also known as Heavy or Spanish Roast. This roasting style is darker than American Roast and approaches that of espresso. The roast may vary in color from dark brown to nearly black and the flavor can vary from rich and bittersweet to thin-bodied and burned.
Good Hard Bean
This is a grade of coffee that is grown at altitudes of 3,300 to 3,900 feet.
The highest quality designation for rating beans. In El Salvador it defines less than 6 defects per 1000g of beans. See also Specialty and Standard.
Quality designation for coffee beans. Criteria for determining grade include size, density, altitude, and number of defects (such as twigs, stones, bugs, under- or overripe beans) per pound. Generally the best beans are graded A, AA, AAA or grade one. Next is A grade, AB grade, X grade and Y grade.
Unroasted coffee beans that look and taste green.
This is a trade term for low-quality coffee, as opposed to mild coffee.
Hard Bean (HB)
Coffees grown at altitudes above 3,000 feet are described as "Hard Bean" or HB; above 4,500 feet is referred to as "Strictly Hard Bean" or SHB. The higher altitudes and lower temperatures produce a slower maturing fruit and a harder, less porous bean, and are thus more desirable. Terms like SHB, SHG, and the like can vary from region to region, and are used more pervasively in Latin American coffee growing areas. See also Soft Bean and Strictly High Grown.
High Grown (HG)
Arabica coffees grown at altitudes over 2,000 feet (often higher: typically 2300 to 3900 feet above sea level) are generally superior to coffees grown at lower altitudes. The term High-Grown is used in many Latin American coffee grade descriptions. See also Strictly High Grown and Standard.
Those enlightened individuals who take a serious interest in the coffee they prepare and consume. Also the equipment they use to prepare their liquid gold (whether it be as simple as "popcorn poppers", or more sophisticated roasters, RK drums, etc.). It can take as little as 10 minutes to roast your own coffee beans to perfection.
Varies widely with roaster preference.
This coffee roast is considerably darker than American Roast. It includes a range of beans that are dark brown in color with a rich, bittersweet flavor to almost black with a nearly burned flavor.
Jamaica Blue Mountain
One of the most respected coffees in the world from the Blue Mountain District of Jamaica. Grown on estates at over 3,000 feet, this premium coffee is full-bodied, rich in flavor, and has a sophisticated, smooth acidity. The Jamaica Blue cultivars have been transported to many other areas of the world.
A light-bodied, earthy, medium acid straight coffee from Java, also called Java Arabica. At its best, it offers the low-toned richness characteristic of Indonesian and New Guinea coffees, only lighter.
A 9,000 member tribe in the Western Highlands of Papua New Guinea who collectively own 100% of their Kinjibi Plantation, which grows and processes their own Arabica beans, characterized by Wet-pulped (traditional washed) and Sun-dried processing.
A blend of Kona and other coffees that tries to simulate the richness of Kona at lower cost.
See Cinnamon Roast, above.
Pronounced MAH-rah-goh-SHZEE-peh, this Arabica coffee is distinguished by its extremely large, porous beans and low yield trees. It was first discovered in Maragogipe, Brazil, and is now typically seen a little more in the Americas, though rare enough to remain a bit of al novelty. See Arabica.
Mature coffee is held in warehouses for two or three years in order to reduce acidity and increase body. Mature coffee is held longer than old crop coffee, but less than aged, or vintage coffee.
Characteristics include dry beans with a slight sweetness and medium acidity.
Mundo Novo (Mondo Novo)
A hybrid of the Coffea Arabica species that was first developed in Brazil, and has since moved to other growing regions, including Papua New Guinea, where it appears in the Kinjibi Tribal Plantation and Village Gardens coffees. Rare enough to remain novel. See Arabica.
Straight coffee grown in Papua New Guinea that is moderately rich, full-bodied, and has the low key acidity that distinguishes all of the coffees of the Malay Archipelago and Indonesia.
These old botanical varieties are considered superior to the newer varieties. The old Arabicas include varietal Bourbon, varietal Blue Mountain, varietal Typica. Often denoted as "Old Style". See Arabica.
This is coffee that has been held in warehouses before shipping. Old crop may or may not be superior in cup characteristics to a new crop of the same coffee.
Coffee that has been certified by a third-party agency as having been grown without the use of pesticides, herbicides or similar chemicals. Buying organic supports a safe environment for the farmers and their families as well as for the ecology of the earth. See also Certified, Eco-Friendly, Fair-Trade, Fairly-Traded, Organic, Shade-Grown, Sustainable Coffee, and Triple Certified.
A creation of Salvadoran agricultural scientists. This is a shorter, higher yielding tree that is grown a lot in El Salvador, but in most opinions, is also inferior to the Bourbon species. See Arabica.
Another creation of Salvadoran agricultural scientists in the 1960’s. This bean is 75% larger than the average coffee bean and is noted for its light, smooth flavor. Was created by crossing the low yield large bean variety, Maragogipe, with the higher yielding Paca. See Arabica.
The thin crumbly paper-like covering that is left on wet-processed coffee beans after the coffee berries have had the pulp removed and the beans dried. See Processing and Washed Coffee.
A small round or football shaped bean that is formed when the coffee cherry develops only one seed as opposed to the usual two. Peaberry beans are usually sold as a separate grade of the particular coffee.
PNG or Papua New Guinea
Coffee was first introduced to this Pacific Rim nation in the 1940’s, and became both widespread and widely foreign controlled by the 1960’s. Efforts like Kinjibi coffee symbolize an effort to recapture a national resource for the benefit of local communities and indigenous tribes.
The act of removing the coffee cherry pulp from the seeds. Coffee cherries are either sun dried and milled, or fermented and pulped, or a combination of methods. See Demucilage, Dry Method, Semi-washed, and Washed Coffee.
A chemical breakdown that occurs during roasting that brings out the aroma and flavor of the coffee.
Discolored or deformed coffee beans.
A way of doing business that brings buyers and growers/sellers into direct, one-to-one personal and business relationships that have greater price transparency and regular contact. The model not only eliminates the inefficiency and cost of non-essential middlemen, but builds long-term meaningful relationships, pays top dollar for top quality, and often invests in local projects of mutual interest and benefit. Relationship Coffee seeks to incorporate the following elements:
Purchases are from a specific grower group, or grower. Often the best of the farm’s harvest is guaranteed for the relationship buyer.
Seller works with grower to build grower’s "brand identity" in the consuming country, and offers educational and marketing content to the customer.
Periodic visits with growers to better understand their operations and issues.
Direct communication with the grower on quality standards and other business issues.
See also Fairly-Traded.
The quality of fullness in flavor, body, and/or acidity. See Cupping Method.
The only significant competitor among cultivated coffee species to Coffea Arabica. Robusta grows at lower elevations and has a higher yield of coffee per plant; the result is an inferior cup with higher caffeine content than the classic Coffee Arabica. Low production costs and high disease resistance help make Robusta the staple of commercial coffee roasters for use in commercial tinned coffee. See Arabica.
Technological treatment to sort the cherries according to their size, density and degree of maturity. Also separates foreign bodies and other impurities coming from defective cherries.
A processing method whereby the skin of the cherry is removed, but the flesh or pulp is allowed to dry on the bean and is removed later by a machine that temporarily wets the bean again. "Semi-washed" coffee is said to combine the full body and clarity and acidity of more common dry and wet processing methods. See also Demucilaged and Processing.
Coffee that is grown on farms that have not extensively cleared their existing rainforest canopy, and therefore provide a nesting and habitat for birds. A number of organizations, including the Audubon Society and the Smithsonian Institute have sponsored certification programs with similar goals of encouraging such sustainable growing practices. See also Certified, Eco-Friendly, Fair-Trade, Fairly-Traded, Organic, Sustainable Coffee, and Triple Certified.
Soft Bean (SB)
Coffees that grow at relatively low altitudes (under 3,000 feet) are often described as soft bean, particularly in Latin American coffee-growing regions. These soft bean coffees are faster maturing and more porous than the hard bean due to the lower altitude and warmer temperatures. See also Hard Bean.
Sonsonate or Sonsonate Department
One of the 6 main coffee growing regions of El Salvador, and home to the Altamira Plantation and Finca Las Nubes. A lesser known but highly regarded region, some of the nation’s best coffees come from the highest reaches of this Department.
One of those "catch all" terms that gets used for a number of things, including coffee grown under 2300 feet altitude, as well as a quality designation beneath "Gourmet" and "Specialty". Generally an inferior product, often used more in commercial brands. See also Gourmet and Specialty.
The mid-range quality designation for rating beans. In El Salvador it defines less than 10 defects per 1000g of beans. See also Gourmet and Standard.
Coffee that is unblended; from a single crop, region, and country.
Strictly Hard Bean (SHB)
See Hard Bean and Strictly High Grown below.
Strictly High Grown (SHG)
The finest "Gourmet" or "Specialty coffees" are grown in select mountainous regions between 4000 and 6000 feet above sea level in elevation. Common designations for these specialty Arabica coffees, particularly in El Salvador and other Latin American coffee-growing regions, are "SHG" or "Strictly High Grown", and "SHB" or "Strictly Hard Bean". The higher altitudes and lower temperatures produce a slower maturing fruit and a harder, denser bean, and are thus more desirable. See also Hard Bean.
After the outer skin of the coffee fruit is removed the beans, still covered with sticky mucilage, must be dried. How the bean is dried also affects flavor and quality. Sun drying is one option. Generally, sun-dried coffees, which are spread out on patios to dry in the sun, are considerably preferable to machine-dried coffees which greatly utilize rainforest wood to heat the beans for drying, though sun-drying can be significantly effected by weather and environmental conditions. See Processing.
As defined by the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA), "sustainability is growth which satisfies the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to satisfy their own needs." The SCAA believes the coffee industry should take the lead in sustainable agriculture worldwide, involving everyone from producers to consumers. In essence, sustainability is an entire set of farming practices, consumer patterns, and economic priorities that hold environmental and community health up as equal if not more important to other formerly central questions of cost and quality within the coffee industry. See also Certified, Eco-Friendly, Fair-Trade, Fairly-Traded, Organic, Shade-Grown, and Triple Certified.
This straight coffee from Tanzania resemble the coffees of Kenya but are less admired due to slightly lighter body and less consistent acidity. Arusha and Moshi are the most notable.
Coffee that is certified Organically grown, Fair-traded, and Shade-Grown or "Bird Friendly". Multi-Certified coffees seek to close the loopholes that make individual certifications weak. See also Certification, Eco-friendly, Fair Trade, Fairly-Traded, Organic, Shade-Grown, and Sustainable Coffee.
An early botanical variety of Coffea Arabica, and along with Bourbon and Blue Mountain, considered to be superior to the newer varieties. The variety that was principally planted in Papua New Guinea, often characterized by its fruit overtones. See Arabica.
Vacuum Filter Method
A method of brewing coffee in which the brewing water is drawn down through the ground coffee by means of a vacuum.
The tasting term that describes the positive characteristics that distinguish a given coffee from coffees of other regions.
Pure, unblended, single-origin coffees from a particular country or geographical region. The name of a varietal often includes the estate name. As with wine appellations, the varietal system suggests what kind of soil, climate and cultivation methods were used.
A light dark roast, darker than American Roast, considered the most common specialty roast.
Washed Coffee (Wet Processed)
Coffee prepared by removing the pulp and skin from the beans while the coffee berry is still moist. Various layers of skin and fruit around the bean are stripped off gently and gradually (usually in large pools of water). These "washed" coffees tend to be more consistent, cleaner, and brighter, or more acidy in taste. Many of the world’s greatest coffees are wet-processed. See Processing.
Whole Bean Coffee
Coffee that has been roasted and not yet ground.