Coffee terminology for beginners and enthusiasts alike
Are you confused by some of the terms used by coffee aficionados and folks in the coffee industry? Though not intended to be exhaustive, here’s a brief list of key terms and definitions. They will help you to feel like someone who’s “in the know.”
The pleasant tartness of a specialty coffee. It is often referred to as brightness or liveliness which carries high notes of flavour in a coffee.
A device for brewing coffee. Coffee is steeped for 10–50 seconds (depending on grind and preferred strength). Then, it’s forced through a filter by pressing the plunger through the tube.
Ice cream (traditionally vanilla) “drowned” with a shot of espresso.
Coffee that is held in warehouses for several years, sometimes deliberately, sometimes inadvertently. Such ageing reduces acidity and increases the body.
Also known as a “City Roast”. Coffee beans are medium brown. The process results in offering full flavour, acidity, and varietal character. This roast style is traditionally preferred in the U.S.
An espresso that is cut with very hot water to fill an American-size cup.
It’s the earliest cultivated species of coffee tree (Coffea arabica). It accounts for 70 percent of the world’s coffee and is dramatically superior in cup quality in comparison to other coffee species.
This term typically refers to the smell that is released from freshly ground coffee (dry aroma) or from freshly brewed coffee.
When mentioning balance, coffee enthusiasts are talking about the particularities of a type of coffee. It means that no single characteristic overwhelms the others, yet the coffee displays enough complexity to be interesting.
We’ve all come across this word. A barista is an Italian term for a skilled, experienced espresso bar operator.
A machine that roasts a given quantity or batch of coffee at a time.
A device that uses a propellor-like blade to grind coffee.
The weak flavour is often found in low-grown robusta coffees – also caused by under-extraction when too little coffee is used.
A mixture of two or more single-origin coffees.
The perceived thickness, richness, or viscosity of brewed coffee. A full-bodied coffee is one with a heavy mouthfeel.
An heirloom botanical variety of Coffea arabica. Discovered on the island of Bourbon, now Réunion. It produces relatively low yields but is prized for its quality.
The salty sensation caused by excessive heat. This happens when the coffee has been left on the warming element too long after brewing.
A coffee grinder with two adjustable shredding discs or burrs.
CAFÉ AU LAIT
Coffee drink combining one-third drip-brewed coffee with two-thirds hot, frothed milk.
An odourless, bitter compound responsible for coffee’s stimulating effects.
An espresso drink created with one serving of espresso. It’s then topped with steamed milk and froth.
The flakes of the innermost skin of the coffee fruit cling to green coffee. During roasting, they loosen.
The classic hourglass-shaped filter coffee brewer. Chemex filters are denser than other paper filters. Many believe that this creates a sweeter, well-balanced cup of coffee.
The fruit of the coffee tree. Each cherry contains two coffee beans or one “peaberry.”
A term used to describe speciality coffee with no discernible defects in its flavour.
CLEVER COFFEE DRIPPER
A filter cone with a stopper allows coffee to steep before dripping to extract more flavour.
A high-tech, high-end, single-cup brewing machine.
Coffee grounds are steeped in cold water for ten to twenty hours. Next, they’d be strained to create a concentrate for iced coffee.
A term describing the layers of specialty coffee flavour.
Spanish term for an espresso topped with a small amount of flat steamed milk.
Thick, caramel-coloured foam that covers the surface of an espresso.
A process used by professionals to sample and evaluate coffees. Ground coffee is placed into cups, water is then poured over the grounds, and the liquid is tasted.
Coffee beans roasted to a medium-dark colour and beyond. Coffee oils then appear on the surface of the beans and varietal flavours are muted.
Coffee that has had at least 97% of its caffeine removed is classified as decaffeinated.
A natural process in which recently roasted coffee releases carbon dioxide. This protects the coffee from the staling effect of oxygen for several days.
A double espresso.
A spring-loaded device on specialized espresso grinders. It dispenses single servings of ground coffee.
Brewing method that allows hot water to settle through a bed of ground coffee.
DRY (OR NATURAL) PROCESS
Coffee is processed by removing the husk or fruit after the coffee fruit has been dried. When done carefully, dry-processed coffee can be fruity and complex.
A taste characteristic found primarily in coffees from Sumatra and Sulawesi. It occurs when the coffee has come into contact with the earth during drying.
Term for coffee taken to a medium-dark roast. Acidity diminishes and bittersweet flavours emerge. Also known as a Full-City or Viennese Roast.
A brewing method. Hot water is forced under pressure through a compressed bed of finely ground coffee.
Using water that is “just off the boil” (195-205° F) to draw flavour from coffee grounds. Coffee can be under-extracted and taste weak or over-extracted and taste bitter.
Coffee is purchased from farmers at a “fair” price as defined by international agencies.
Any method in which water filters through a bed of ground coffee. It also describes the drip method brewers. These use a paper filter to separate grounds from brewed coffee.
The sensory experience of coffee is just as it is swallowed.
Espresso topped with flat, steamed milk.
The distinction between the sensory experience of coffee. It refers to its acidity, body, and aroma.
Also known as a press pot or plunger pot. Coffee grounds are steeped with water. A strainer plate is pushed down to separate the brewed coffee from the spent grounds.
Beans become very dark brown in colour having an oily surface. Acidity and varietal qualities fade; bittersweet notes dominate.
Coffee taken to a medium-dark roast which produces some oil on the bean surface. Varietal qualities mellow, body and sweetness increase, and acidity diminishes.
A term used for unroasted coffee beans.
Coffee is grown at altitudes of 4,000 to 4,500 feet. The higher altitudes and lower temperatures produce a slower-maturing fruit, and a harder, less porous bean.
Arabica specialty coffee is grown at altitudes of 3,000 feet and beyond.
Removal of the coffee bean’s skin, called parchment, just before sorting.
Coffee is generally roasted dark brown in colour and is rich and bittersweet in flavour. But the colour may range to nearly black and the flavour to nearly burned.
A serving of espresso combined with nearly three times as much steamed milk. It is then topped with froth.
A serving of espresso “stained” or topped off with a small quantity of hot, frothed milk.
After coffee beans have been de-fruited, they are dried in machines. This is possible by using rotating drums or cascading slides. The other option is to dry the beans on open patios.
Coffee from a single farm or from a specific part of the coffee farm.
Espresso combined with chocolate syrup and steamed milk.
Dry-processed, single-origin coffee from India. It is then exposed to monsoon winds in open warehouses with the aim to increase the body and reduce acidity.
Coffee is roasted soon after harvest when the beans are at their freshest and brightest.
Coffee that has been certified as having been grown and processed cleanly without the use of pesticides, herbicides, or similar chemicals.
A thin skin that covers wet-processed coffee beans.
A more traditional alternative to machine drying. Patio drying exposes de-pulped coffee beans to the sun’s heat.
A small, round bean formed when only one seed, rather than the usual two, develops at the heart of the coffee fruit.
An espresso machine that uses a piston operated by a lever. This forces brewing water at high pressure through a compacted bed of ground coffee.
In espresso brewing, a metal object with a plastic handle that holds the coffee filter then clamps onto the group.
A method of drip coffee. Water is poured in a thin, steady, slow stream over a filter cone filled with ground fresh coffee. One cup of coffee requires three minutes to brew.
Spent coffee from a portafilter or a Clover brewer.
Espresso shots are “pulled.” The term is a holdover from the time that machines were only lever-operated. One pull produces either a single or a double shot of espresso.
Process of removing the outermost skin of the coffee cherry or fruit.
An espresso machine that uses a pump to force brewing water at high pressure. The water goes through a compacted bed of ground coffee.
Defective coffee beans that fail to roast properly, remaining pale-coloured.
A cup of brewed coffee with espresso.
Espresso pulled short, containing less water, for a more concentrated drink.
Unpalatable green beans are heated to create complex flavours.
A low-growing, high-yield coffee tree. It produces full-bodied but bland coffee of inferior quality. It has higher caffeine levels than arabica. Used in cheap blends and instant coffee.
Coffee beans ripen at different times of the year, in different regions. They are available from specialty coffee roasters and in coffeehouses for a limited time.
Also known as “bird-friendly”. Coffee is grown under the shade canopy of native trees. It reduces the need for pesticides since birds act as natural insect control agents.
A single serving of espresso. Generally 1 to no more than 2 ounces.
The thin, innermost skin of the coffee fruit clings to dried coffee beans. It is either polished or floats-free during roasting.
Unblended coffee from a single country, region, and crop.
Also known as a vacuum pot. This brewer steeps fresh coffee grounds in an upper globe and draws brewed coffee into a lower globe.
After beans are dried, they are hulled and sorted at a mill. The best beans are sorted by size, density, or defects.
SPECIALTY COFFEE ASSOCIATION (SCA)
An important and influential association of specialty coffee roasters. It also includes wholesalers, retailers, importers, and growers.
Specialty coffee is distinguished by the quality of its raw material. It represents 10% of all coffee grown worldwide. Of that amount, only 1-2% qualify as superlative.
STRICTLY HARD BEAN
The highest grade designation is based on growing altitude in some Central American countries.
Used in espresso brewing. It is a small, pestle-like device with round, flat ends. It’s used to distribute and compress ground coffee inside the filter basket.
TERROIR (tare – wahr)
From the French word “Terre,”. It means land. Thus it denotes the influence on beans, geography, and climate.
A high-tech, single-cup fresh coffee brewer introduced on the market in recent times.
A botanical variety of Coffea arabica. The variety typica is one of the oldest and most traditional coffee varieties. Some of the best Latin American coffees are from the typica stock.
A term to describe a single predominant botanical variety of coffee tree, such as var. bourbon or var. typica. Often incorrectly used in the coffee world as denoting origin.
A tasting or cupping term. It is used to describe positive characteristics. These distinguish one type of coffee from those grown in other regions.
A medium dark roast that has the richness of dark roast without the carbon-smoky flavour, also known as a Full-City or Espresso Roast.
This process removes the skin and pulp from the bean while the coffee fruit is still fresh. Most of the world’s coffees are processed in this manner.