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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.