A Glossary of Coffee Language
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 conducting a sensory evaluation of coffee. When not used to describe cup characteristics, the term acidity may refer to pH, or literal acidity.
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 Coffee Makers. Coffee brewers that automatically heat and dispense water into a filter and filter receptacle containing the ground coffee. Coffee then gets brewed into a carafe.
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.
Blade Grinder. Small coffee grinder using a propeller-like blade to grind coffee.
Blend. A mixture of two or more single-origin coffees.
Bloom. Sometimes called "pre-infusion", means introducing just enough water to saturate the grounds. Used in infusion brewing, typically brewers will first wet the grounds then wait 30-60 seconds before continuing to brew. The bloom can help brew fresh coffee consistently. It will improve the overall quality of the extraction for most drip brew techniques.
Body. The sensation of heaviness, richness or thickness and associated texture when one tastes coffee. Body, along with flavor, acidity, and aroma, is one of the principal categories used by professional tasters cupping or conducting a sensory evaluation of coffee.
Burr Grinder. Coffee grinder with two shredding discs or burrs that can be adjusted for maximum effectiveness. A conical burr grinder also provides the best consistency and most setting options.
Caffeine. An odorless, bitter alkaloid responsible for the stimulating effect of coffee and tea.
Cherry. Common term for the fruit of the coffee tree. Each cherry contains two regular coffee beans, or one peaberry.
Clean. Coffee cupping or tasting term describing a coffee sample that is free from flavor defects.
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.
Complexity. A tasting term describing coffees whose taste sensations shift and layer pleasurably, and give the impression of depth and resonance.
Cupping. Procedure used by professional tasters to perform sensory and quality evaluations on samples of coffee beans. The beans are roasted, ground, then 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.
Decaffeination Processes. Specialty coffees are decaffeinated in the green state, using 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 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 the caffeine is stripped directly from the beans by a highly compressed semi-liquid form of carbon dioxide.
Defects, Flavor Defects. Unpleasant flavor 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 freshly roasted coffee releases carbon dioxide gas, temporarily protecting the coffee from the staling impact of oxygen.
Direct Trade Coffee. In this method of global coffee trading, coffee importers and roasters source directly from farmers eliminating middlemen and associated expense. These traders also work with farmers to help improve farming methods to grow better coffee.
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 utilized 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 lower quality dry-processed coffees, the result is off-tasting, harsh coffee.
Earthiness. Either a taste defect or a desirable exotic taste characteristic depending on the palate of the person who is doing the tasting or its intensity.
Espresso brewing method. In this method coffee is brewed by forcing a small amount of nearly boiling water under pressure through finely ground coffee beans. Espresso is generally thicker than coffee brewed by other methods, has a higher concentration of suspended and dissolved solids, and has crema or foam on top. As a result of the pressurized brewing process, the flavors and chemicals in a typical cup of espresso are very concentrated.
Espresso roast. A full bodied dark roast with an intense robust flavor.
Brewing coffee is the process of drawing out the soluble material in roasted and ground coffee. As this coffee is brewed in hot water, hundreds of unique compounds are extracted from the ground beans – creating the unique flavor profile of each coffee.
These compounds are referred to as coffee’s solubility. Extracted coffee typically contains the following water-soluble compounds:
- Caffeine (bitter)
- Acids (sour and/or sweet flavors, like oranges, apples, or grapes)
- Lipids and fats (viscosity)
- Sugars (sweetness, viscosity)
- Carbohydrates (viscosity, bitterness).
Under-extraction occurs when not enough flavor has been taken out of the coffee grinds. There’s still a lot left behind that could balance out undesirables. The most obvious indicators of under-extraction are: sourness, lacking sweetness, saltiness and quick finish. Quick finish means once swallowed the flavor disappears. There is no pleasant lingering sensation - it's abrupt and unsatisfying.
Over-extraction occurs when too much of the soluble flavors are taken out of the coffee. This level of extraction results in unfavorable flavors. The most obvious indicators of over-extraction are: bitterness, dryness and generally lacking in flavor.
Fairly Traded Coffee. In this model of global coffee trading, small coffee farmers who would not otherwise have the financial resources to bring their coffees to market benefit from joining a cooperative. The cooperative then takes on the responsibility of selling the coffee into the marketplace. In exchange for this, the small farmers incur fees.
Most Fairly Traded Coffee is organic with no GMOs and the elimination of the most toxic pesticides during harvest.
Fermentation. 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.
Finish. The sensory experience of coffee just as it's swallowed varies from one coffee to the next. Some coffees may transform as they make their was across the palate, others may remain constant
Flavor. In cupping, or sensory evaluation of coffee, what distinguishes the sensory experience of coffee once its acidity, body, and aroma have been described.
Fragrance. As a specialized 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.
Green Coffee. Unroasted coffee.
Mild. A trade term for high-quality arabica coffees. Often contrasted with hard, or inferior, coffees.
Natural Coffee, Dry-Processed Coffee, Dry Method Coffee. Coffee processed by removing the husk or fruit after the coffee fruit has been dried. When only ripe fruit is utilized 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.
New Crop. Coffee delivered for roasting soon after harvesting and processing. Coffees are at their brightest and most acidic levels in this state.
Old Crop. Coffee that has been held in warehouses before shipping.
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.
Pour-Over Coffee, Manual Coffee. This method involves brewing by hand and gives users more control over their coffee, controlling the time and amount of water in contact with the coffee.
Pour-Over style automatic coffee brewer. Brewers designed to automatically deliver the same process as the manual Pour-Over brewing method.
Pre-infusion. Sometimes called "bloom", means introducing just enough water to saturate the grounds. Used in infusion brewing, typically brewers will first wet the grounds then wait 30-60 seconds before continuing to brew. The bloom can help brew fresh coffee consistently. It will improve the overall quality of the extraction for most drip brew techniques.
Pulping. Process of removing the outermost skin of the coffee cherry or fruit. See Wet-Processed Coffee.
Pyrolysis. The chemical breakdown, during roasting, of fats and carbohydrates into the delicate oils that provide the aroma and most of the flavor of coffee.
Richness. A satisfying fullness in flavor, body, or acidity.
Light Roast (Light City, Cinnamon, New England, Half City)
Dry bean surface and light brown in color, this roast is more commonly used for balanced and approachable coffees. Acidity is usually high at this level, but body and aromatics have not yet been articulated. There will be no oil on the surface of these beans because they are not roasted long enough for the oils to break through to the surface.
Medium Roast (City, Breakfast, American)
Medium brown in color with some evidence of oil on the surface of the bean, this is a preferred roast level in most of the United States. Acidity, body, and aroma are increased in this roast level compared to Light Roast, and oils from the center of the bean have made more of their way to the surface of the bean.
Medium Dark Roast (Full City, Light French roast)
Rich, dark brown color with shiny and significant signs of oil on the bean. While acidity in the bean starts to decrease at this point, body and aroma are typically at their highest level. You might see many single origin coffees for espresso roasted to this level.
Dark Roast (Espresso, French, Italian, Viennese, High, New Orleans, European)
This roast produces shiny black beans with an oily surface. The darker the roast, the less acidity will be found in the coffee resulting in an overly bitter taste. Aroma and body will still be present.
Robusta, Coffea Canephora. Currently the only significant competitor among cultivated coffee species to Coffea arabica. Robusta makes up about 30% of the world’s coffee. It is a lower-growing, higher-bearing tree that produces full-bodied but bland coffee of inferior cup quality and higher caffeine content than Coffea arabica. It is used as a basis for blends of instant coffee, and for less expensive blends of preground commercial coffee. It is not a factor in the specialty coffee trade except as a body-enhancing component in some Italian-style espresso blends.
SCA, Specialty Coffee Association. An important and influential association of specialty coffee roasters, wholesalers, retailers, importers and growers that set specialty standards and create educational programs and events.
Semi-Dry-Processed Coffee, Pulped Natural Coffee, Semi-Wet-Processed Coffee. Coffee prepared by removing the outer skin of the coffee fruit (a process called pulping) and drying the skinned coffee with the sticky mucilage and the inner skins (parchment and silver skin) still adhering to the bean.
Shade Grown, “Bird Friendly.” Describes coffee grown under a shade canopy. Arabica coffee is traditionally grown in shade in many (but not all) parts of Mexico, Central America, Colombia, Peru, and Venezuela, and in some other parts of the world, including India and some regions of Indonesia and Africa. Elsewhere arabica coffee is traditionally grown in full sun, or near full sun.
Single-Origin Coffee. Unblended coffee from a single country, region, and crop.
Specialty Coffee. Practice of selling coffees by country of origin, roast, flavoring, or special blend, rather than by brand or trademark. The term specialty coffee also suggests the trade and culture that has grown up around this merchandising practice.
Turkish Coffee, Middle Eastern Coffee. Coffee ground to a powder, sweetened (usually), brought to a boil, and served grounds and all.
Vacuum-Filter Method. A brewing method that differs from other filter methods in that the brewing water is drawn through the ground coffee by means of a partial vacuum.
Wet-Processed Coffee, Wet Method Coffee, Washed Coffee. Coffee prepared by removing the skin and pulp from the bean while the coffee fruit is still moist. Most of the world’s great coffees are processed by the wet method, which generally intensifies acidity. In the traditional wet process, the coffee skins are removed (pulping), the skinned beans are allowed to sit in tanks where enzymes loosen the sticky fruit pulp or mucilage (fermentation), after which the loosened fruit is washed off the beans (washing). In the shortcut demucilage or aqua pulp method, the pulp or mucilage is scrubbed from the beans by machine.
Whole-Bean Coffee. Coffee that has been roasted but not yet ground.
Adapted from Coffee: A Guide to Buying, Brewing & Enjoying; Espresso: Ultimate Coffee; and Home Coffee Roasting: Romance & Revival. St. Martin's Press, theperfectdaily grind.com, weareandy.com