Coffee Terms and Glossary

Below is a collection of the terms, flavors and descriptors we use to identify the types of coffee we roast at Maddie and Bella. Coffee is a very personal thing, everyone is looking for flavors and complexities that appeal to them specifically. Feel free to read below, and find soething that intrigues or excites you.


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.

Altura

“Heights” in Spanish; describes Mexico coffee that has been high- or mountain-grown.

Antigua

Market name for one of the most distinguished coffees of Guatemala, from the valley surrounding the old capital of Guatemala Antigua.

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.

Balance

Tasting term applied to coffees for which no single characteristic overwhelms others, but that display sufficient complexity to be interesting.

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 flavor, acidity, and aroma, is one of the principal categories used by professional tasters cupping, or sensory evaluation of coffee.

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. 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 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.

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).

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 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.

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.

Excelso

A comprehensive grade of Colombia coffee, combining the best, or supremo, and the second-best, or extra, grades.

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.

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 utilizing 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.

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.

Green Coffee

Fresh, Unroasted coffee.

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 flavorful cup than do soft bean coffees, although there are many exceptions to this generalization. The hard bean/soft bean distinction is used most frequently in evaluating coffees of Central America, where it figures in grade descriptions.

Mature Coffee

Coffee held in warehouses for two to three years. Mature coffee has been held longer than old crop coffee, but not as long as aged or vintage coffee.

Monsooned Coffee, Monsooned Malabar

Dry-processed single-origin coffee from south India deliberately exposed to monsoon winds in open warehouses, with the aim of increasing body and reducing acidity.

New Crop

Coffee delivered for roasting soon after harvesting and processing. Coffees are at their brightest (or rawest) and most acidy in this state.

Old Crop

Coffee that has been held in warehouses before shipping. Old crop differs from aged or vintage and mature coffees in two ways: First, it has not been held for as long a period, and second, it may not have been handled with as much deliberateness. Depending on the characteristics of the original coffee and the quality of the handling, old crop may or may not be considered superior in cup characteristics to a new crop version of the same coffee.

Open-Pot Method

Brewing method in which the ground coffee is steeped (not boiled) in an open pot, and separated from the brewed coffee by settling or straining.

Organic Coffee, Certified Organic Coffee

Coffee that has been certified by a third-party agency as having been grown and processed without the use of pesticides, herbicides, or similar chemicals.

Peaberry, Caracol

A small, round bean formed when only one seed, rather than the usual two, develops at the heart of the coffee fruit. Peaberry beans are often separated from normal beans and sold as a distinct grade of a given coffee. Typically, but not always, they produce a brighter, more acidy, but lighter-bodied cup than normal beans from the same crop.

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.

Plunger Pot, French Press

Brewing method that separates spent grounds from brewed coffee by pressing them to the bottom of the brewing receptacle with a mesh plunger

Richness

A satisfying fullness in flavor, body, or acidity

Single-Estate Coffee, 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.

Single-Origin Coffee, Straight Coffee

Unblended coffee from a single country, region, and crop.

Soft Bean

Often used to describe coffees grown at relatively low altitudes. In the same context, coffees grown at higher altitudes are often designated hard bean. The lower altitudes and consequently warmer temperatures produce a faster maturing fruit and a lighter, more porous bean. Soft bean coffees usually make a less acidy and less flavorful cup than do hard-bean coffees, although there are many exceptions to this generalization. The hard bean /soft bean distinction is used most frequently in evaluating coffees of Central America, where it figures in grade descriptions.

Sumatra

Single-origin coffee from the island of Sumatra, Indonesia. Most high-quality Sumatra coffee is grown either near Lake Toba (Mandheling, Lintong) or in Aceh Province, near Lake Biwa (Aceh, Gayo Mountain). Distinguished by full body, deep, expansive flavor, and a low-toned, vibrant acidity.

Sun Drying

Drying coffee directly after picking (in the dry method) or after fruit removal (in the wet method) by exposing it to the heat of the sun by spreading and raking it in thin layers on drying racks or patios. A more traditional alternative to machine drying.

Tanzania

The best and most characteristic Tanzanian coffees display a rich flavor and full body, with a vibrantly winy acidity that makes them resemble the coffees of neighboring Kenya. Others are softer, gentler coffees..

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.

Varietal Coffee

As used by many people in the American specialty coffee industry, a term describing an unblended coffee from a single country, region, and crop. For example: Ethiopia Yirgacheffe, Kenya AA, or La Minita Costa Rica Tarrazu. However, to follow the California wine analogy more precisely, varietal coffees ought logically to come from a single predominant botanical variety of coffee tree; var. bourbon, for example, or var. typica. Increasingly, coffee writers use “single origin” rather than “varietal” to describe coffees from a single country, region, and crop.

Vintage Coffee, Aged 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.

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 aquapulp method, the pulp or mucilage is scrubbed from the beans by machine.

Whole-Bean Coffee

Coffee that has been roasted but not yet ground

Yirgacheffe, Yirga Cheffe, Yrgacheffe

(YUR ga Shef ay), Market name for one of the most admired washed coffees of Ethiopia, distinguished by its fruit-like or floral acidity and high-toned, complex flavor.