Understanding Specialty Coffee Jargon
Talking coffee is almost like talking in a specialized language; however, it is easy to understand, even for the beginner. Here is by no means a comprehensive list of some of the most common coffee terms.
|The desirable taste or flavor sensation of brightness or pop in a coffee; acidity does not refer to pH level or acid content of coffee but rather the flavor compounds such as citric, malic, or tartaric acids that are present in the bean; these acids are associated with flavors like citrus, apple, or wine
|A manual brewing method invented by engineer Alan Adler, of Aerobie Frisbee fame; this brewing method is extremely versatile, easy to use, and you can take it anywhere (camping); it combines full immersion brewing (grounds are fully immersed in water-think steeping in a french press) with percolation or pour-over brewing (water moves directly through the coffee grounds) and also introduces the variable of pressure which makes it extremely unique.
|See elevation; we use the measurement “meters above sea level” to describe the altitude at which a coffee is grown
|The botanical genus and species name for Arabica coffee, otherwise written as C. arabica; originated in the forests of Ethiopia and South Sudan, then famously spread throughout the world for the production of its seeds.
|Complex flavor compounds that are perceived by the sense of smell; while fragrance is the scent of dry grounds, aroma is the scent and flavor of wet coffee grounds; aroma is one of the main categories used by professional coffee tasters to judge the quality of a coffee.
|A harmonious coexistence of complementary flavors, mouthfeel, body, and acidity, where no singular characteristic dominates.
|A flavor sensation of acrid, unpleasant flavors caused by poor cultivation, roasting, brewing, or any combination of the three.
|Type of grinder that uses a blade propeller, similar to what you would find in a blender, that chops beans or spices while mixing; coffee grounds can be uneven in size, leading to uneven extraction within the brewing process; we recommend switching to a burr grinder (see burr grinder) for better results.
|A mixture of multiple coffees from different regions or processing methods; blends are often created to emphasize balance and harmony of taste and flavor sensation.
|A step in the brewing process that happens when you first introduce a small amount of water to the coffee grounds; the “bloom” refers to the visual expansion of the wet grounds which helps release trapped CO2 gases within the grounds.
|A tasting term that refers to the weight of the coffee on your tongue and how it coats your mouth. Coffee can be light (thin, delicate) to full-bodied (creamy, syrupy) and is a result of fat content. Think of the difference between drinking a cup of skim milk and whole milk. Skim milk is thin in contrast to whole milk which has a much thicker texture and a heavier weight on your tongue. Body, Viscosity, and Mouthfeel are often used interchangeably.
|A term used to describe either 1) coffee that has a higher brew-strength due to an increased coffee-to-water ratio or 2) intensity of flavor.
|Coffee plant variety, subspecies of coffee arabica named after the island of Bourbon (now Réunion) where it first appeared; bourbon is known for its exceptional quality when grown at high elevations and is often described by tasters as sweet and lush.
|Also called brew recipe, is the exact amount of coffee grounds used during brewing-coffee to water ratio. We recommend a 1:16 coffee-to-water ratio to begin (1 part coffee, 16 parts water) and adjust to personal preference. If your coffee is tasting weak or bland, try increasing the amount of coffee you use in relation to water. In contrast, if you coffee is tasting too bold or rich try decreasing the amount of coffee.
|A tasting term that refers to a high level of perceived acidity
|Type of grinder that uses two revolving abrasive surfaces called burrs in between which the coffee is ground. We recommend using a burr grinder for a more even and consistent grind which will ultimately brew better coffee compared to the blade grinder. More even grind size=even extraction=good coffee.
|An odorless, bitter compound responsible for coffee’s stimulating effects.
|A third party organization or company that has created a standardized list of requirements aimed at improving coffee farming. These standards may deal with environmental sustainability, working conditions and compensation to employees, and/or direct and long term relationships between farmers and roasters.
|A dominant flavor trait or persona of a coffee; usually describes acidity and/or body; can be described as full bodied, rich, complex, dynamic, bright, lively, balanced)
|An iconic manual brewer with a timeless design invented in 1941; brews a clean cup and maintains body and balanced flavors with fewer fatty oils than what you’d get out of a standard-drip brewer.
|Flavor category used to describe coffees that exhibit tastes and aromas reminiscent of chocolate or cacao. Coffees with a chocolate-driven taste profile are often balanced, lower in acidity, and are accompanied by tasting notes of nuts, baking spices, caramelized sugars
|Flavor category used to describe coffees that exhibit tastes and aromas reminiscent of citrus fruit. These coffees are often roasted lighter to showcase and bring out a coffee’s acidity.
|A term used to describe a coffee that is free from flavor defects.
|The Coffee Belt or Bean Belt is a figurative waistband of the globe encompassing all of the well-known coffee growing regions. This range exists near the equator between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn where ideal climate conditions exist for growing coffee.
|Coffee grounds are steeped in cold water for several hours to create chilled coffee that is lower in acidity and usually quite concentrated.
|A term used to describe a coffee that has a great depth of flavor; coffee may have many different tastes and aromas that change with each sip.
|Sometimes called “dwell time” or “brewing time” refers to how long coffee grounds remain in contact with hot water during brewing.
|A group of coffee producers cooperating to improve quality and position within the coffee supply chain.
|A portmanteau (a combination of two words) of “cultivated” and “variety”. The distinction between “cultivar” and “variety” is that not all varieties of (Arabica) coffee are cultivated by humans. While almost all varieties found in Central and South America and the Pacific are indeed cultivated, there are some 3,000 wild varieties found in Ethiopia and parts of Eastern Africa. In every scenario, with the exception of Ethiopian Heirloom varieties, cultivar and variety can be used interchangeably.
|An efficient practice that involves observing coffee tastes, aromas, and quality.
|Coffee roasted to a dark brown color with oils surfacing the bean; will have very little to no origin taste characteristics and the flavor profile is driven by roasty, carbony, smoky, bitter, and rich tastes; will have less acidity and bold flavors that result from roasting the beans longer while reaching higher temperatures.
|Coffee that has had its caffeine removed through one of several different processes. The decaf process happens before the coffee is roasted and is accomplished with either the use of water or a natural solvent. See Swiss Water Process, Mountain Water Process, EA Sugarcane Process.
|A non-universal term used to describe a relationship-centered trade system between farmers and roasters. This long-term and direct relationship encourage roasters to pay higher prices to farmers and reward them for quality.
|The most commonly used commercial roaster, utilizes a “drum” or rotating cylindrical chamber that is made of perforated or solid steel to agitate and heat the “green” or unroasted coffee.
|Earth-like in taste or aroma. Coffees from Indonesia, and specifically Sumatra, are known for producing coffees with earthy flavor characteristics due to the unique way the coffee beans are processed.
|The height (meters) above a given level (sea level) at which a coffee was grown. Coffees grown at higher elevations (cooler temperatures) will slow the growing and ripening process creating a more complex and pronounced acidity. Coffees grown at higher elevations will often have citrus or fruity flavors. Coffees grown at lower elevations (warmer temperatures) will usually have lower acidity and chocolate, nutty, or earthy flavors.
|A brew method by which finely ground coffee is compacted and brewed using 8 – 9 bars of atmospheric pressure at approximately 200°F for 20 – 30 seconds that produces a concentrated coffee beverage of 1 – 2 ounces. This does not refer to roast level or a particular blend of coffee but rather coffee roasted or blended in a way that makes it ideal (but not exclusively) for preparing as an espresso. Bar pressure and brew temperature may vary depending on the style of espresso machine and its capabilities.
|Espresso roast doesn’t refer to roast level (light, medium, dark). Espresso is a brewing method. Roasters can choose to roast a coffee in a certain way that is suitable and ideal on their espresso machine. This usually involves softening acidity and increasing body and mouthfeel. Coffees roasted for espresso are just as good, if not better when brewed as a drip (or any other method).
|Also, plantation; coffee is grown from one farm, mill, or cooperative; estates are generally large farms who produce a significant amount of coffee on an industrial scale.
|A mixture of wild or indigenous “heirloom” varieties that are not individually classified, while they still may be farmed and used for commercial production.
|Ethyl acetate decaf
|A natural decaffeination process that involves exposing green beans to water, steam, and an Ethyl Acetate solution. Ethyl Acetate is an organic compound or ester that is common in bananas and is a byproduct of fermented sugar. It is used as a solvent to attract and remove caffeine from the coffee beans.
|A term that refers to the brewing process and one we use interchangeably with “brewing”; the action of dissolving soluble flavors from coffee grounds into water.
|A private program that certifies and assures farmers or coffee growers are paid a minimum price for coffee. Fair Trade USA is an organization whose mission is to improve the lives of agricultural producers. They have established criteria for certifying that farmers are fairly compensated for their product and that ethical employment practices are upheld.
|Refers to the microbial reaction of yeasts and bacteria that break down the sugars in the coffee beans during and before the processing stage. Fermentation is responsible for the acids and flavors in your cup of coffee.
|The material used to separate brewed coffee from spent coffee grounds; typically paper, metal, or cloth.
|Finca is simply the Spanish word for farm. A coffee farm can range in size, but generally, it is a privately owned parcel of land managed by a family or extended family. Larger farms may have a mill on-site to process their own coffee cherries, while smaller farms will sell their harvest to a local mill to be processed.
|A stage in the roasting process named after the audible cracking sound produced by the application of heat to the coffee beans at a certain temperature/time within the roast. It is the result of physical expansion of the coffee seeds as water and carbon dioxide split and CO-2 outgassing occurs. Once a coffee has begun first crack, it has reached light roast territory and is then palatable and aromatic. Roasters might mistake first crack as coffee beans applauding their performance. See second crack
|The combination of both aroma and taste. Roasted coffee has hundreds of flavor compounds found in other fruits, vegetables, plants, and foods.
|Words that help describe the natural flavors present within coffee. Similar to what you might find on a bottle of wine, flavor notes help to describe different compounds that remind us of other-similar flavors. A coffee from Ethiopia might have flavors that remind us of berries, citrus, and black tea. These flavor notes help describe what coffee has to offer and are there to help us differentiate coffee.
|A roasting term historically used to describe a dark, oily, and smoky roast; often used to describe a roaster’s darkest and most intense offering. Today, the term is often used interchangeably with dark roast (of any degree).
|Flavor category used to describe coffees that exhibit tastes and aromas reminiscent of various fruits. These coffees are often roasted lighter to showcase and bring out nuanced flavors that are inherent to the bean.
|Full natural process
|Also natural, dry process, a straightforward process that involves leaving the coffee seeds to dry inside of the coffee fruit. The fruit is typically dried on patios or raised beds and can take several weeks depending on climate. This method usually imparts a strong fruity flavor on the beans due to the extended contact time with the fruit. Naturals typically have less acidity and more body than Washed or Wet Processed coffees.
|A brew process that involves submerging and saturating coffee grounds completely in water for a period of time before straining and separating the grounds by a filter.
|See washed process
|Raw coffee seeds that have been processed appear yellow-green or bluish-green in color prior to being roasted. Coffee turns brown during roasting due to the Maillard reaction, Strecker Degradation and sugar browning due to caramelization.
|A process that involves removing the coffee seeds from the skin of the coffee fruit and allowing them to dry in the sun with some or all of the mucilage layer intact. Mucilage is a sticky, sugary layer beneath the skin, surrounding the seed that has a texture and color similar to honey (miel).
|A step in the coffee supply chain when the dried husk surrounding the coffee bean is removed or “hulled” (including the exocarp, mesocarp, and endocarp/parchment).
|A coffee that is offered at the peak of its freshness for a small period of time. Since coffee is a crop, it is harvested at different times throughout the year and will only be available at certain times as well.
|Coffee roasted to a light brown color with no visible oils and can have an uneven appearance on the surface of the bean; light roast highlights the complex nuanced flavors that are inherent to the bean and will have a more pronounced acidity.
|Coffee that is grown on one farm or in one section of a farm or estate; “microlot” and “nanolot” coffees are usually one specific plant variety grown on a single farm. The term usually describes a smaller quantity or batch of coffee grown in a specific area.
|Coffee roasted to a medium brown color with no or little oils present on the surface of the bean; medium roasts range from medium-light to medium-dark; middle ground between light and dark; a roast degree that combines nuanced flavors inherent to the coffee seeds with roasty caramelized sugars to create a balanced cup.
|Coffee is grown on one farm and often in one section or lot of that single farm; microlot coffees are usually one specific variety grown on one farm.
|Mountain water process decaf
|A process that uses water to remove the caffeine molecules from the coffee beans. All Mountain Water Decaf is processed at a facility in Mexico called Descamex.
|The pulpy fruit layer of a coffee cherry must be fermented and removed during processing.
|Coffee that was produced without the aid of synthetic substances like herbicides or pesticides.
|The country or region where coffee was grown; see single-origin.
|This happens when more soluble solids (flavor molecules) are extracted than desired; coffee will taste bitter, harsh, and astringent.
|The protective layer surrounding each bean that must be removed before exporting and roasting.
|Also called “caracol”; peaberry (PB) is a grade of coffee that is often separated and sold as a unique product; the result of a natural mutation that occurs when there is a development of one seed (bean) inside of a coffee cherry rather than the usual two. When a coffee fruit with one small-rounded bean is found, it is usually separated from the rest of the crop and is sold as peaberry. The unique rounded bean shape allows for uniform roasting.
|Extraction of coffee solids by the process of passing water directly through a bed of coffee grounds; percolation is often used interchangeably with “pour over” brewing and is not to be confused with the old percolator method of brewing; all pour-over methods, drip included, fall into this category.
|A manual brewing method that employs a conical shaped dripper (made of glass, ceramic, metal, or plastic) where a brewer pours hot water in a deliberate and controlled manner over coffee grounds in a paper, metal, or cloth filter. The water and grounds mix together to form the slurry, and gravity pulls the brewed coffee through the filter, leaving the spent grounds behind. This method produces a clean, bright cup. See Hario v60 and Kalita wave.
|The method by which a coffee’s outer layers of skin, mucilage, and parchment are removed after harvesting and before exporting; see washed, natural, and honey process.
|Pulped natural process
|Pulped natural, honey, and miel describe the same process in which fresh coffee cherry is pulped like a washed coffee, removing the outer skin of the fruit and exposing the sticky mucilage. The seeds are then dried directly after being pulped rather than undergoing fermentation to remove the mucilage from the parchment-like in the washed or wet process.
|The process of removing the seeds from the skin and pulp of the coffee fruit.
|A person certified by the CQI Coffee Quality Institute that grades and scores coffees according to SCA Specialty Coffee Association standards.
|Refers to the region or area in which a coffee is grown or produced. Tarrazu is a famous growing region in Costa Rica.
|A satisfying fullness in flavor, body, or acidity.
|Bags of coffee will include the day that the coffee was roasted
|The process by which green coffee is heated in a roasting machine (roaster) and undergoes several chemical changes making it suitable for brewing and consumption.
|Also known as Coffea canephora is a species of coffee that thrives at low elevations; usually a cheaper and less desirable tasting coffee with more caffeine and bitterness.
|A coffee offered seasonally for a brief period of time.
|A stage in the roasting process named after the second time an audible cracking sound is produced from the beans. Once coffee has reached the second crack, it is getting into dark roast territory. Second Crack is the physical fracturing of the cellular matrix of the coffee. This matrix is wood, also called cellulose, and consists of organized cellulose that reacts readily to heat.
|Often referred to as a bean, made mostly of a wooden cellulose structure.
|A unique hybrid process that involves removing the seeds from the coffee fruit and laying them out to dry without using water like in the wet or washed process. The sticky mucilage and the inner skins (parchment and silverskin) are still intact and aren’t removed or washed with water.
|Thin tissue paper-like layer surrounding the seed that comes off during roasting, referred to as chaff.
|A vague term used to describe coffee grown in one specific place and roasted to highlight it’s specific flavor characteristics. Generally speaking, single-origin coffees will be a light to medium roast level.
|Single-origin espresso (SOE)
|A specific single-origin coffee that was sourced and roasted in a way that is recommended for being optimally brewed as espresso.
|The mixture of coffee grounds, water, and gases during brewing.
|A compound that is capable of being dissolved into water. In this case, we are referring to the 28% of the coffee bean that is capable of being dissolved into water, where ideally only 18 – 22% is extracted into the final solution.
|A liquid capable of dissolving other compounds.
|Specialty coffee is distinguished by the quality of its raw material; coffee is considered “specialty” if it scores 80 or above (out of 100) by licensed Q graders.
|Specialty Coffee Association (SCA)
|A nonprofit, membership-based organization that represents the entire specialty coffee supply chain.
|Something we are unfamiliar with at Clive Coffee; all of our coffee is roasted fresh to order and sent immediately to your door.
|A metric used to gauge the concentration of dissolved coffee solids in brewed coffee; “strong” coffee does not refer to a dark roast, but rather, a large number of soluble coffee solids dissolved in the final cup.
|Swiss water process decaf
|A trademarked decaffeination method that removes caffeine from coffee beans using hot water, steam, and activated charcoal rather than chemicals or solvents.
|Sense experienced by the tongue and describes sensations of saltiness, sweetness, sourness, bitterness or umami. We often relate specific tastes in coffee with tastes of other fruits, plants, and foods. For example: this coffee has tastes that remind us of chocolate, citrus, or fruit.
|Notes that help describe flavors present within coffee. Similar to what you might find on a bottle of wine, tasting notes help to describe different flavor compounds that remind us of other-similar flavors. A coffee from Ethiopia might have flavors that remind us of berries, citrus, and black tea. These tasting notes help describe what coffee has to offer and are there to help us differentiate coffee.
|Water temperature; for optimal extraction to take place, the slurry must remain within the range of 195° – 205°F for the entire duration of brewing.
|Flavor trait, quality, or characteristic
|Also referred to as “agitation” is the chaotic mixing of grounds, gases, and hot water during coffee brewing.
|Coffee plant variety, subspecies of coffee arabica that is supposed to have originated in southwestern Ethiopia.
|Coffee that was brewed when fewer soluble solids (flavor molecules) are extracted than desired; coffee will taste weak, watery and sour.
|The United States Department of Agriculture sponsored certification program that indicates that an agricultural product has been produced through approved methods that integrate cultural, biological, and mechanical processes that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity. These standards maintain that synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, irradiation, and genetic engineering may not be used.
|Refers to the botanical species of coffee and is often used interchangeably with “cultivar”. We use variety to describe different botanical sub species, hybrids, and mutations of coffea arabica. Think type of coffee plant like varieties of grapes for wine. Typica and Bourbon are the two most commonly cultivated varieties around the world.
|Sometimes called wet process, the washed method makes up the majority of specialty coffee. While the method varies from country to country and region to region, the general principles are the same. Ripe coffee cherries are hand-picked, sorted, and de-pulped (removing the skin and some mucilage). The cherries’ fruit layer is exposed and must be fermented to help wash away the sticky mucilage that clings to the parchment. Once the parchment is clean, it must be sun-dried on a raised bed or patio until reaching 10-12% moisture content. It will rest in its parchment layer for up to 3 months before it is exported. These coffees are clean and bright and are prized for their clarity and sweetness.