Glossary of Coffee Terms

Learning about coffee can feel like an ongoing vocabulary lesson.

Acidity: A descriptor used in coffee cupping to indicate the perceived brightness and zest; rated according to magnitude of intensity

Acidy: A taste sensation perceived on the tip of the tongue; related to the presence of sweet-tasting compounds; has nippy (more sweet) and piquant (more sour) as related descriptions

Aftertaste: A term used in the cupping process to describe the sensations after swallowing brewed coffee (duration and flavor descriptors)

Altura: Means "heights" in Spanish and refers primarily to Mexican coffee that has been “high-grown”

Arabica: The shortened name of the species of coffee, Coffea arabica, cultivated for its high-quality. It is considered to produce better coffee than the other major commercially grown coffee species, Coffea canephora (robusta). Arabica contains less caffeine than any other commercially cultivated species of coffee.

Balance: A term used to describe the overall liking of the integration of all sensory attributes; how well it all comes together

Body: A term used in the cupping process as an evaluation of the fluid in brewed coffee for fat content (oils) and heft (sediment/colloids); also referred to as mouthfeel

Cherry: The berry-like fruit of the coffee tree; also a descriptor referring to the dry processing (or unwashed processing method) of coffee as in Indian Robusta "Cherry."

City: A roast level referring to what you'll typically get just after first crack has finished; the lightest level we're comfortable with when it comes to typical cuppings

City+: A roast level referring to a point about one third of the way between first and second crack; probably the most often used roast level for cupping

Coffee "C"® Market: The trading market for washed Arabica coffee futures and options at the New York Board of Trade; used to gauge global supply, demand and base price for the world's coffee market. More information can be found at the NYBOT's website: www.nybot.com

Cupping: A systematic method used to evaluate different aspects of a sample of coffee, and ultimately to differentiate coffees from one another. See our Cupping page for more details.

Delicate: Primarily used as a cupping term to describe the taste sensation of brewed coffee; perceived on the tip of the tongue and related to the presence of tame, sweet-tasting compounds in brewed coffee; Not as sweet as the broader, related term mellow.

Dry Fragrance: A term used in the cupping process as an evaluation of the gasses emitted from freshly ground coffee

EP: Short for Euro Prep; meant to refer to a somewhat higher level of quality used in sorting of coffee in order to reduce the amount of defects

Excelso: A grading term based on bean size; used with Colombian coffees, smaller than the larger "supremo" size; often inappropriately used to refer to the quality of a bean

Fair Trade: A certification and labor movement that strives to produce more equitable practices and economic benefits for producers of certain goods like coffee. Check out this link at TransFair USA for more info: http://transfairusa.org/content/about/overview.php

First Crack: A point in the roasting process when moisture inside the coffee bean is rapidly released and as it does the bean expands and pops (the crack) with the release of the moisture; usually sounds a bit like popcorn popping, but not as intense in frequency of the pops

Full City: A medium roast level referring to a point about two'thirds of the way between first and second crack which might be quickly approaching

Full City+: A medium-dark roast level referring to a roast that stops when second crack has just begun

Light French: Also known as Full City++; a dark roast level that refers to a roast that is stopped when second crack is well underway, and rolling

Mellow: A taste sensation perceived on the tip of the tongue like acidy; generally related to the presence of sweet-tasting compounds, but tamed down from the acidy descriptors; has mild (sweeter) and delicate (less sweet) as additional descriptors

Mild: Primarily used as a cupping term to describe the taste sensation of brewed coffee; perceived on the tip of the tongue and related to the presence of tame, sweet-tasting compounds in brewed coffee; sweeter than the broader, related term mellow

Monsooned (monsooning): A process that exposes coffee to moist monsoon winds over a period of time (usually a year), altering the composition of the bean so that it greatly swells in size, lightens significantly in color, and mellows in taste

Mouthfeel: A term used in the cupping process as an evaluation of the fluid in brewed coffee for fat content (oils) and heft (sediment/colloids); also referred to as body

Nippy: Primarily used as a cupping term to describe the taste sensation of brewed coffee; perceived on the tip of the tongue and related to the presence of sweet-tasting compounds in brewed coffee; more sweet than the broader term acidy

Peaberry: A single-beaned coffee cherry remnant rather than the usual one half of the cherry's total bean; generally considered to be somewhat higher quality or have higher demand to some perception of additional sweetness resulting from the peaberry structure

Piquant: Primarily used as a cupping term to describe the taste sensation of brewed coffee; perceived on the tip of the tongue and related to the presence of sweet-tasting compounds in brewed coffee; more sour than the broader term acidy

Robusta: The commonly used term to describe coffee of the coffea canephora species; tends to be a more robust, hardy plant that is easier to care for than the Arabica variety while also being of considerably lower grade; has approximately double the amount of caffeine as Arabica beans

SHB: Short for "Strictly Hard Bean"; a grading term used primarily in Guatemala and Costa Rica referring to the highest quality bean available resulting from a high altitude growing condition, a slowly maturing bean and therefore a dense, hard bean

SHG: Short for "Strictly High Grown"; a grading term used in some Central American countries synonymous with strictly hard bean (above); the high altitude growing condition results in a slowly maturing bean and therefore a more desirable dense bean

Second Crack: A point in the roasting process when the temperature has risen enough to cause the bean fibers and structure to break down and burn; an audible snap (different than first crack's "pop") begins and tends to pick up speed quite significantly

Supremo: A grading term based on bean size; used with Colombian coffees, larger than the "excelso" size; often inappropriately used to refer to the quality of a bean

Tangy: Primarily used as a cupping term to describe the taste sensation of brewed coffee; perceived on the sides of the tongue and related to the presence of sour-tasting compounds in brewed coffee; sweeter than the broader, related term winey

Tart: Primarily used as a cupping term to describe the taste sensation of brewed coffee; perceived on the sides of the tongue and related to the presence of sour-tasting compounds in brewed coffee; more sour than the broader, related term winey

Taste: Refers to the sensations that come about from the interaction between the soluble chemical compounds in the brewed coffee and the taste receptors in mouth; the four main sensations are sweet, salty, sour, and bitter. Flavor descriptors will further accentuate taste sensations in the cupping process.

Wet Aroma: A term used in the cupping process as an evaluation of the vapors emitted from brewed coffee in the cup and once it is taken into the mouth and aerated across the surface of the tongue

Winey: A taste sensation perceived on the sides of the tongue; related to the presence of sour tasting (not bitter!) compounds; has tangy (sweeter) and tart (more sour) as related descriptions