Coffee glossary

ALL YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT COFFEE

from A to Z

Acidity, Acidy, Acid

Usually, the pleasant tartness of a fine coffee. Acidity, along with flavor, aroma, and body, is one of the principal categories used by professional tasters in cupping, or sensory evaluation of coffee. When not used to describe cup characteristics, the term acidity may refer to pH, or literal acidity, or to certain constituents present in coffee that ostensibly produce indigestion or nervousness in some individuals.

After-Dinner Roast, Espresso Roast, Continental Roast, and European Roast

Terms for coffee brought to degrees of roast ranging from somewhat darker than the traditional American norm to dark brown. Acidity diminishes and a rich bitter-sweetness emerges. Among many newer American specialty roasters, roast styles once called by these names may in fact constitute the typical, “regular” roast of coffee.

Aged Coffee, Vintage Coffee

Traditionally, coffee held in warehouses for several years, sometimes deliberately, sometimes inadvertently. Such aging reduces acidity and increases body. Aged coffee has been held longer than either old crop coffee or mature coffee. Recently, some Indonesia coffee has been subject to a sort of accelerated aging involving deliberate exposure to moist air, much like India’s monsooned coffee.

American Roast

Coffee roasted to traditional American taste: medium brown.

Americano, Caffè Americano

Double espresso with a dash of hot water.

Aquapulp

Terms for a procedure 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 washing.

Arabian Mocha

Single-origin coffee from the southwestern tip of the Arabian peninsula, bordering the Red Sea, in the mountainous regions of present-day Yemen. The world’s oldest cultivated coffee, distinguished by its full body and distinctively rich, winy acidity.

Arabica, Coffea Arabica

The earliest cultivated species of coffee tree and still the most widely grown. It produces approximately 70% of the world’s coffee, and is dramatically superior in cup quality to the other principal commercial coffee species, Coffea canephora or Robusta . All fine, specialty, and fancy coffees come from Coffea arabica trees.

Aroma

The fragrance produced by hot, freshly brewed coffee. Aroma, along with flavor, acidity, and body, is one of the principal categories used by professional tasters in cupping, or sensory evaluation of coffee.

Automatic Filter-Drip Coffee Makers

Coffee brewers that automatically heat and measure water into a filter and filter receptacle containing the ground coffee.

Balance

Tasting term applied to coffees for which no single characteristic overwhelms others, but that display sufficient complexity to be interesting.

Barista

 Italian term for skillful and experienced espresso bar operator.

Batch Roaster

Apparatus that roasts a given quantity (a batch) of coffee at a time.

Blade Grinder

Small coffee grinder using a propeller-like blade to grind coffee.

Blend

A mixture of two or more single-origin coffees.

Body

The sensation of heaviness, richness, or thickness and associated texture when one tastes coffee. Body, along with flavour, acidity, and aroma, is one of the principal categories used by professional tasters cupping, or sensory evaluation of coffee.

Brazil

One of the world’s most complicated coffee origins. Most Brazil coffee is carelessly picked and primitively processed, and is not a factor in the specialty trade. The best (usually dry-processed Bourbon Santos) can be a wonderfully deep, complex, sweet coffee particularly appropriate for espresso. Almost all Brazil coffee is relatively low-grown, but the variety of processing methods (wet method, dry method, and semi-dry or pulped natural method) makes Brazil a fascinating origin.

Brew Head

The fixture protruding from the front of most espresso machines into which the portafilter and filter clamp.

Brown Roast

Also known as American Roast. Coffee roasted to traditional American taste: medium brown.

Burr Grinder, Burr Mill

Coffee grinder with two shredding discs or burrs that can be adjusted for maximum effectiveness.

Café au Lait

Coffee drink combining one-third drip coffee with two-thirds hot frothed milk.

Caffeine

An odourless, bitter alkaloid responsible for the stimulating effect of coffee and tea.

Cappuccino

An espresso shot with a layer of hot milk and a layer of foamed milk.

Cherry

Common term for the fruit of the coffee tree. Each cherry contains two regular coffee beans, or one peaberry.

City Roast

Also Light French Roast, Viennese Roast, Light Espresso Roast, High Roast, and Full-City Roast. Terms for coffee brought to degrees of roast somewhat darker than the traditional American norm, but lighter than the classic dark roast variously called espresso, French, or Italian. In the cup, full-city and associated roast styles are less acidy and smoother than the traditional American “medium” roast, but may display fewer of the distinctive taste characteristics of the original coffee. Among many newer American specialty roasters, roast styles once called full-city, Viennese, etc. may constitute the typical, “regular” roast of coffee.

Clean

Coffee cupping or tasting term describing a coffee sample that is free from flavour defects.

Coffee Oil, Coffeol

The volatile coffee essence developed in the bean during roasting.

Cold-Water Method

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, and others find bland.

Colombia

The standard Colombia coffee is a wet-processed coffee produced by small holders, and collected, milled and exported by the Colombian Coffee Federation. It is sold by grade (Supremo highest) rather than by market name or region. It can range from superb high-grown, classic, mildly fruity Latin-America coffee to rather ordinary, edge-of-fermented fruity coffee. Coffees from some estates and cooperatives and from privately operated mills are sold by region as well as by botanical variety (Bourbon is best). Narino State in southern Colombia is currently producing the most respected Colombia coffee. Mixed Medellin, Armenia, and Manizales Columbia coffees are often sold together as MAMs.

Commercial Coffees

Packaged pre-ground (pre-brewed in the case of instant or soluble) coffees sold by brand name.

Complexity

A tasting term describing coffees whose taste sensations shift and layer pleasurably, and give the impression of depth and resonance.

Continental Roast

Also known as Espresso Roast, After-Dinner Roast, and European Roast. Terms for coffee brought to degrees of roast ranging from somewhat darker than the traditional American norm to dark brown. Acidity diminishes and a rich bittersweetness emerges. Among many newer American specialty roasters, roast styles once called by these names may in fact constitute the typical, “regular” roast of coffee.

Continuous Roaster

Large commercial coffee roaster that roasts coffee continuously rather than in batches.

Crema

The pale brown foam covering the surface of a well-brewed tazzina of espresso.

Cupping

Procedure used by professional tasters to perform sensory evaluation of samples of coffee beans. The beans are ground, water is poured over the grounds, and the liquid is tasted both hot and as it cools. The key evaluation characteristics are Aroma, Acidity, Body, and Flavor.

Dark French Roast

A roast of coffee almost black in colour with a shiny surface, thin-bodied, and bittersweet in flavour, with an overlay of burned or charcoal-like tones.

Dark Roast

Vague term; may describe any roast of coffee darker than the traditional American norm.

Decaffeination Processes

Specialty coffees are decaffeinated in the green state, currently by one of four methods. 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 ProcessTM, 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.

Defects, Flavour Defects

Unpleasant flavour characteristics caused by problems during picking, processing (fruit removal), drying, sorting, storage, or transportation. Common defects include: excess numbers of immature or under-ripe fruit (unselective picking); inadvertent fermentation (careless processing); fermentation combined with invasion by micro-organisms, causing moldy, hard, or rioy defects (careless or moisture-interrupted drying); and contact with excessive moisture after drying, causing musty or baggy defects (careless storage and transportation).

Degassing

A natural process in which recently roasted coffee releases carbon dioxide gas, temporarily protecting the coffee from the staling impact of oxygen.

Demitasse

“Half cup” in French; a half-size or three-ounce cup used primarily for espresso coffee.

Demucilage

Terms for a procedure 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 washing.

Doppio

Double espresso, freshly ground and brewed at 92°C.

Dose

A spring-loaded device on specialised espresso grinders that dispenses single servings of ground coffee.

DP

Abbreviation for “double picked,” meaning the coffee in question has been subjected to hand picking to remove imperfect beans, pebbles, and other foreign matter twice rather than once.

Drip Method

Brewing method that allows hot water to settle through a bed of ground coffee.

​Dry-Processed Coffee, Dry Method Coffee, Natural Coffee

Coffee processed by removing the husk or fruit after the coffee fruit has been dried. When only ripe fruit is utilised and the drying is done carefully dry-processed coffee can be complex, fruity, and deeply-dimensioned. When the picking and drying are performed carelessly, as is the case with cheaper dry-processed coffees, the result is off-tasting, harsh coffee. The best and most celebrated dry-processed coffees are Yemen coffees, the Harrar coffees of Ethiopia, and the finest traditional Brazil coffees.

Earthiness

Either a taste defect or a desirable exotic taste characteristic depending on who is doing the tasting and how intense the earthy taste in question is. Apparently earthiness is caused by literal contact of wet coffee with earth during drying. Indonesia coffees from Sumatra, Sulawesi and Timor are particularly prone to display earthy tones.

Ecuador

At best, Ecuador coffees are medium-bodied and fairly acidy, with a straightforward flavor typical of Central and South American coffees.

El Salvador

El Salvador coffees tend toward softer, less acidy versions of the classic Central America flavour profile. The best high-grown El Salvadors from trees of the bourbon and pacamara varieties can be fragrant, complex, lively, and pleasingly gentle.

En Pergamino, In Parchment

Parchment Coffee. Describes wet-processed coffee shipped with the dried parchment skin still adhering to the bean. The parchment is removed prior to roasting, a step called milling.

Espresso

Espresso is brewed by rapidly forcing a small amount of nearly boiling water through finely ground coffee beans. The result is small coffee with a natural crema (foam). Espresso is the base for a lot of other coffee drinks such as Americano, Cappuccino, Espresso Machiato, Latte, etc.

Estate-Grown Coffee

Coffee produced by a single farm, single mill, or single group of farms, and marketed without mixture with other coffees. Many specialty coffees are now identified by estate name, rather than the less specific regional or market name.

Ethiopia

Ethiopia is a very complex coffee origin. The best Ethiopia dry-processed coffee (Harrar or Harar) tends to be medium-bodied and brilliantly acidy with rough, fruity or winy tones. The best washed Ethiopian coffee (Yirgacheffe, Sidamo, some Limu, and some washed Djimah) is light-bodied but explosive with complex floral and citrus notes.

European Preparation

Used to describe coffee from which imperfect beans, pebbles, and other foreign matter have been removed by hand.

Fair Traded Coffee

Coffee that has been purchased from farmers (usually peasant farmers) at a “fair” price as defined by international agencies. The extra paid these farmers under fair trade arrangements is extremely modest, by the way.

Fermentation

An important but confusing coffee term with two main meanings. 1) As a positive component of the wet method of coffee processing, fermentation is a stage in which the sticky pulp is loosened from the skinned coffee seeds or beans by natural enzymes while the beans rest in tanks. If water is added to the tanks the process is called wet fermentation; if no water is added it is called dry fermentation. 2) In sensory evaluation, or cupping, of coffee, fermentation is an important descriptor for a range of related taste defects set off when the sugars in the coffee fruit begin to ferment. Sensations described as ferment can range from sweet, composty, rotten-fruit tastes to harsh, moldy, musty, or medicinal tastes.

Filter Holder, Portafilter

In espresso brewing, a metal object with plastic handle that holds the coffee filter, and clamps onto the group.

Filter Method, Filter-Drip Method

Technically, any brewing method in which water filters through a bed of ground coffee. In popular usage, describes drip method brewers utilising a paper filter to separate grounds from brewed coffee.

Finish

The sensory experience of coffee just as it is swallowed (or, in the professional cupping procedure, just before it is spit out). Some coffees transform from first impression on the palate to finish; others stand pat.

Flavoured Coffees

Coffees that in their roasted, whole-bean form have been mixed with flavouring agents.

Flip-Drip, Neapolitan Macchinetta, Macchinetta

A style of drip method brewer in which the ground coffee is secured in a two-sided strainer at the waist of the pot between two closed compartments. The brewing water is heated in one compartment, then the pot is flipped over, and the hot water drips through the coffee into the opposite compartment.

Fluid Bed Roaster, Fluidized Bed Roaster, Air Roaster, Sivitz Roaster

A roasting apparatus that works much like a giant popcorn popper, utilising a column of forced hot air to simultaneously agitate and roast green coffee beans. These devices are sometimes called Sivitz Roasters, after their populariser and first American manufacturer, inventor Michael Sivitz.

Fragrance

As a specialised term in cupping, or sensory evaluation of coffee, fragrance describes the scent of dry coffee immediately after it has been ground but before it is brewed.

French Press, Plunger Pot

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

French Roast, Heavy Roast, Spanish Roast

Terms for coffee brought to degrees of roast considerably darker than the American norm; may range in colour from dark brown (see Espresso Roast) to nearly black (see Dark French Roast) and in flavour from rich and bittersweet to thin-bodied and burned.

Frothed Milk

Milk that is heated and frothed with a steam wand as an element in the espresso cuisine.

Green Coffee

Unroasted coffee.

Guatamala

Guatemala is a complex coffee origin. Strictly Hard Bean grade coffees from the central highlands (Antigua, Atitlan,) tend to exhibit a rich, spicy or floral acidity and excellent body. Coffees from mountainous areas exposed to either Pacific (San Marcos) or Caribbean (Cobán, Huehuetenango) weather tend to display a bit less acidity and more fruit.

Hard

Trade term for low-quality coffee, in contrast to mild coffee. In Brazil, Hard is a grade name for coffee that has been tainted by micro-organisms during drying and displays harsh, nuance-dampening flavour notes.

Hard Bean

Hard Bean.  Term often used to describe coffees grown at relatively high altitudes; in the same context, coffees grown at lower altitudes are often designated Soft Bean. The higher altitudes and lower temperatures produce a slower maturing fruit and a harder, less porous bean. Hard bean coffees usually make a more acidy and more flavourful cup than do soft bean coffees, although there are many exceptions to this generalisation. The hard bean/soft bean distinction is used most frequently in evaluating coffees of Central America, where it figures in grade descriptions.

Heavy Roast

Also known as French Roast and Spanish Roast. Terms for coffee brought to degrees of roast considerably darker than the American norm; may range in colour from dark brown (see Espresso Roast) to nearly black (see Dark French Roast) and in flavour from rich and bittersweet to thin-bodied and burned.

High-Grown

Arabica coffees grown at altitudes over 3,000 feet, usually higher. Such coffees are generally superior to coffees grown at lower altitudes. The term high-grown is also used in many Latin American grade descriptions.

India

India coffee is grown in the south of the country. The best is low-key, with moderate body and acidity and occasional intriguing nuance; at worst it is bland. Mysore is a market name for certain high-quality wet-processed India coffees. Coffees from the Shevaroys and Nilgiris districts generally tend to display more acidity than coffees from other south India regions. Also see Monsooned Coffee.

Indonesia

Indonesia coffees are usually marketed under the name of the island of origin; see Sumatra, Sulawesi, Java, Timor. At best, most are distinguished by full body, rich flavour, and a low-toned, vibrant acidity. At worst, many display unpleasant hard or musty defects. Others display an earthiness which many coffee lovers enjoy and others deplore.

Italian Roast

A roast of coffee considerably darker than the traditional American norm. Usually dark brown in colour and rich and bittersweet in flavour, but may range in colour to almost black and in flavour to nearly burned.

Jamaica

Jamaica Blue Mountain is, or was, a balanced, classic coffee with rich flavour, full body, and a smooth yet vibrant acidity. These characteristics and its relatively short supply have made it one of the world’s most celebrated coffees. Whether it still merits this distinction is subject to debate among importers and roasters. Lower-grown Jamaica coffees (Jamaica High Mountain) tend to be less acidy and lighter in body. Other Jamaica coffees are undistinguished.

Java, Java Arabica

Unlike most other Indonesia coffees, which are grown on tiny farms and often primitively processed, Java coffees are grown on large farms or estates, most operated by the government, and are wet-processed using modern methods. The best display the low-toned richness characteristic of other Indonesia coffees, but are usually lighter in body and more acidy. Old Java, Old Government, or Old Brown are mature coffees from Java, created to mimic the flavour characteristics of the original Java coffee, which was inadvertently aged in the holds of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century ships during their passage to Europe.

Kenya

Kenya coffees are celebrated for their deep, winy acidity, resonant cup presence, and complex fruit and berry tones. Of the world’s great coffees, Kenyan probably is the most consistent in quality and most widely available.

Kopi Luwak

Kopi Luwak is the most exclusive coffee in the world; only a few hundred kilos are produced every year. This is all to do with the special production process: the coffee beans get their refined, nutty tasty with the help of the Asian Palm Civet, a predator who feeds on the ripest coffee berries. The result is a coffee that is considered "heaven on earth" by coffee lovers.  Kopi is the Indonesian word for coffee and Luwak is the local name for civet. It has a unique, sensational taste: earthy, mossy and exotic all at once. The rich, heavy flavour has an undertone of caramel and chocolate; the body is almost syrupy.

Latte, Caffè Latte

A serving of espresso combined with about three times as much hot milk topped with froth.

Light Roast, Cinnamon Roast, New England Roast

Coffee brought to a degree of roast of coffee lighter than the traditional American norm, and grainlike in taste, with a sharp, almost sour acidity. This roast style is not a factor in specialty coffee.

Macchiato

"Macchiato" is the Italian word for "stained". An espresso macchiato is an espresso shot finished by carefully spooning milk foam on top. A latte macchiato is normally served with a big cup full of frothed milk and a shot of espresso is poured through the foam. This reverse pouring technique results in a layered drink that separates the flavours and textures of both coffee and milk.

Macchinetta

Also called Flip-Drip. A style of drip method brewer in which the ground coffee is secured in a two-sided strainer at the waist of the pot between two closed compartments. The brewing water is heated in one compartment, then the pot is flipped over, and the hot water drips through the coffee into the opposite compartment.

Machine Drying

Coffee must be dried, either directly after picking (in the dry method) or after fruit removal (in the wet method). Sun drying is often replaced or supplemented by drying with machines, either in large, rotating drums or in cascading silos. Machine drying can be superior or inferior to sun drying in terms of promoting cup quality, depending on weather conditions, drying temperature, and other factors.

Mature Coffee

Coffee held in warehouses for two to three years. Mature coffee has been held longer than old crop coffee, but not as long as aged or vintage coffee.

Mexico

The best Mexico coffees (Oaxaca Pluma, Coatepec, Chiapas) are distinguished by a light body and a delicate, pleasant acidity. Highland Chiapas coffees can be bigger and more richly acidy.

Microwave Brewers

Brewing apparatus designed to take advantage of the unique properties of the microwave oven. Over the years microwave brewers have incorporated a variety of technical means, ranging from open-pot through various approaches to filter-drip. At this writing, none have made an impression on the market.

Middle Eastern Coffee, Turkish Coffee

Coffee ground to a powder, sweetened (usually), brought to a boil, and served grounds and all.

Mild

A trade term for high-quality arabica coffees. Often contrasted with hard, or inferior, coffees.

Milling

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

Mocha, Moka, Mocca, Moca

Single-origin coffee from Yemen; also a drink combining chocolate and (usually espresso) coffee. The coffee, also called Arabian Mocha, Yemen, or Yemen Mocha, takes its name from the ancient port of Mocha. It is the world’s oldest cultivated coffee, distinguished by its distinctively rich, winy acidity and intriguing nuance. Coffee from the Harrar region of Ethiopia, which resembles Yemen coffee in cup-character, is also sometimes called Mocha.

Neapolitan Roast

Term for coffee brought to a degree of roast darker than the typical espresso roast, but not quite black.

New Crop

Coffee delivered for roasting soon after harvesting and processing. Coffees are at their brightest (or rawest) and most acidy in this state. Also see Old Crop.

Old Arabicas

Botanical varieties or cultivars of the Coffee arabica species that were developed by selection relatively early in the history of coffee, such as variety bourbon and variety typica, as opposed to hybrid varieties that have been developed more recently in deliberate efforts to increase disease resistance and production. Many experts contend that the modern varieties of Coffea arabica produce coffee that is inferior in cup quality and interest to the coffee produced by the more traditional old arabica varieties.

Open-Pot Method

Brewing method in which the ground coffee is steeped (not boiled) in an open pot, and separated from the brewed coffee by settling or straining.

Organic Coffee, Certified Organic Coffee

Coffee that has been certified by a third-party agency as having been grown and processed without the use of pesticides, herbicides, or similar chemicals.

Patio Drying