Glossary of Specialty Coffee: Understanding Coffee Jargon

Specialty Coffee: A Glossary

If you are new to the world of specialty coffee, you are probably lost in all the terminology. We don’t blame you, we were lost too when we started. To help you get a head start, we put together a glossary of certain terms that are often used in the world of specialty coffee. You can call it a little dictionary or cheat sheet of coffee terms.

Aeropress

The Aeropress is an immersion coffee preparation method in which coffee grounds are infused in water before being filtered out.  

Aerobic Fermentation

Aerobic fermentation is a fermentation method in which air is allowed to freely flow around the coffee (e.g. an open tank, or bucket). 

Anaerobic Fermentation

Anaerobic fermentation is a fermentation method in which the coffee is placed in a sealed tank in which no new air is allowed to enter. 

Arabica

Arabica is a species of the coffee tree known for its high-quality coffee beans.  It is superior to other coffee species (e.g. Robusta) in terms of bean quality. It is the only species cultivated in Colombia (though many varieties of the Arabica species are cultivated).

Aroma

The coffee aroma is the smell emanating from brewed coffee (as opposed to fragrance, which is the smell that emanates from dry, ground coffee beans). 

Barista

Barista is an Italian word meaning a person who is experienced in the art of brewing, preparing and serving coffee beverages. 

Bean

A coffee bean is a term used in reference to the coffee seed which is found inside the cherry.  The coffee seed is commonly called a bean because of its resemblance.

Blade Grinder

A blade grinder is a coffee grinder that uses propeller-like blades to slash coffee beans into coffee grounds. It is generally more affordable than a burr grinder, but does not produce evenly ground coffee, impacting the quality of the coffee brew. 

Blend (or Coffee Blend)

A blend is a mix of coffee beans from different sources (different farms, regions or countries). 

Body

The body of coffee is the feeling of a brewed coffee’s “weight” in one’s mouth 

Bourbon (Borbón)

Bourbon is a varietal of the Arabica coffee tree that produces high-quality, distinctive coffee. Further sub-varieties are Pink Bourbon (Bourbon Rosado) and Yellow Bourbon (Bourbon Amarillo).

Burr Grinder

A burr grinder is a coffee grinder that grinds the coffee by friction instead of slashing it with blades. Burr grinders are typically more expensive than blade grinders, but create a more uniform grind and better quality coffee brew. 

Caturra/Caturro

Caturra is a naturally occurring varietal of the Arabica coffee tree that is common in Colombia. 

Castillo

Castillo is a new varietal of the Arabica coffee tree designed specifically for being grown in Colombia and yielding maximum flavor and production. 

Chemex

A Chemex is a drip coffee preparation method that consists of an hourglass shaped glass recipient with a wooden wrap-around handle, in which a coffee filter is placed on top. Chemex filters are denser than other filters (i.e. less particles flow through the filters), which can create a sweeter cup of coffee. 

Cherry (or Coffee Cherry)

The coffee cherry is the fruit in which the coffee seeds are found. Each cherry normally contains two coffee seeds. 

Cold Brew

A cold brew is brewed coffee made by steeping cold water in coffee grounds for extended (4 hours or more) periods of time. Yields brewed coffees with distinctive, strong aromas and higher caffeine content.

Colombia (Varietal)

Colombia coffee is a new varietal of the Arabica coffee tree designed specifically for being grown in Colombia and yielding maximum flavor and production.

Cupping

A coffee cupping is the process of tasting brewed coffee to denote distinct flavors and characteristics. 

Defect

Defects are problems with coffee beans. Defects can occur on green coffee beans – before they are roasted – or on roasted coffee beans. Common defects on green coffee beans include damaged coffee beans, coffee beans that have been eaten by insects, or coffee beans that have fungus.  

Degassing

Coffee degassing is he process of letting the damaging gasses that emanate from recently roasted coffee beans escape the bag in which such newly roasted beans were placed. High quality coffee bags should have degassing valves, which let the CO2 from the roasted beans escape the bag, without letting the oxygen from the atmosphere enter the bags and cause the beans to lose flavor. 

Double Fermentation

Double fermentation is the process of fermenting the same coffee cherries and/or beans twice, at different stages. For example, the entire coffee cherry is fermented and then once the beans are extracted they are fermented again.  

Drip Method

Drip methods are a category of coffee preparation methods in which hot water drips at a constant rate over ground coffee placed in a filter. Typical coffee pot makers fall into this category. 

Dry Mill

A dry mill is a facility where the parchment skin is removed from the coffee bean and where coffee beans are sorted (with defective beans being discarded). In the case of natural coffee, this is also where the dry cherry pulp is separated from the coffee bean. 

Drying

Drying is the process of drying the coffee bean (or coffee cherry – in the case of natural coffee) to bring the coffee bean (or the coffee cherry) to the ideal humidity for processing. Coffee can be sun dried (also called patio drying) or dried in a heated silo (also called machine drying). 

Fermentation

Fermentation is the process in which sugar is turned into alcohol by microorganisms. Fermentation can be used at various stages of coffee processing to facilitate coffee processing and/or enhance certain flavors. 

Filter Method

Filter methods are a category of coffee preparation methods in which water passes through a bed of ground coffee placed in a filter. 

Finca

Finca means the term farm, in Spanish. Used particularly in Colombia in reference to coffee farms. 

Fragrance

The coffee fragrance is the smell that emanates from dry, ground coffee beans (as opposed to aroma, which is the smell that emanates from brewed coffee).

French-Press

A French-Press is an immersion coffee preparation method in which the coffee grounds are immersed in water before being separated from the brew by a strainer plate.

Geisha (or Gesha)

Geisha is a varietal of the Arabica coffee tree from Ethiopia and known for yielding floral flavors. It has gained tremendous popularity in the past 5 years and is now planted in Colombia.

Green Coffee Bean

Green coffee beans are just the coffee beans after they have been removed from the cherry, dried, and processed through a dry mill to have its parchment skin removed, but before they have been roasted. 

Honey

Honey processed coffee refers to a coffee processing method in which the mucilage is not removed from the coffee bean before the coffee bean is dried. The mucilage dries over the coffee bean, leaving the parchment of the bean with characteristic stains.

Micro-lot Coffee (or Microlot Coffee)

Micro-lot coffees are coffee beans that come from a single lot from a single farm. These coffees come from the same coffee trees, planted in the same section of a given coffee farm. Yields are generally very low, but micro-lots produce the most differentiated and excellent coffees available for consumption. 

Mucilage

The mucilage is the viscous protective layer that surrounds the coffee bean. This layer remains on the coffee bean when extracted from the cherry (in the wet mill) and must be removed through a separate process.  

Natural

Natural processed coffee refers to coffee processed in a way in which the coffee cherry as a whole is dried (as opposed to the coffee cherry being removed first, and then only the coffee bean being dried).

Parchment

The coffee bean parchment is the small protective skin surrounding the coffee bean. Named parchment skin because it shares color and texture with parchment. 

Pour-Over Method

A pour-over method is a drip coffee preparation method in which a barista gently, and methodically, pours water over coffee grounds disposed in a filter. This method allows for optimal control of the brewing method and permits a coffee to best express its flavors. The Chemex and v60 methods are two pour-over methods. 

Quakers

Quakers are defective coffee beans that fail to be roasted properly. Following a roast, quaker coffee beans remain pale compared to the beans that have been roasted properly. They must be discarded because they negatively affect the coffee brew. 

Robusta

Robusta is a species of the coffee tree known for its stronger, higher caffeine-content and earthy coffee beans.  It is not suited for specialty coffee and is not grown in Colombia. 

SCA

The SCA is the Specialty Coffee Association of America – an organization dedicated to promoting specialty coffee. 

Specialty Coffee

Specialty Coffee (in contrast to commercial coffee) refers to the highest grade of available coffee. Technically, specialty coffee refers to coffee that has been harvested with care, selected, deprived of any defects and roasted professionally. Specialty coffees produce cups with unique flavors and can be as differentiated (and unique) as wines. 

Single-Farm Coffee (or Single-Estate Coffee)

Single-farm coffee refers to coffee beans that come from a single farm. Coffee from single farms have the benefit of being from the same terroir and generally present similar taste characteristics. Single-farm coffees are also more traceable, which allows for better control of the quality of the coffee beans.

Single-Origin

Single-origin coffee refers to coffee beans that come from a determined region. The region can be as large as a country (e.g. coffee can be from the single origin of Colombia) or a sub-region of a country (e.g. coffee can come from the Huila region of Colombia). Most single-origin coffees are blends made from various coffees of the region. 

Terroir

The terroir denotes the characteristics that can only be found in a certain place of the world, such as soil type, winds, altitude, etc. and that are reflected in the coffee grown in such conditions. 

Washed Coffee (or Wet-Processed Coffee)

Washed coffee is a coffee processing method in which the cherry is removed and then the mucilage is removed by washing with water.  The coffee bean is then dried.

Wet Mill

A wet mill is a facility where the pulp of the coffee cherry is removed in order to extract the coffee bean.  

Variety

A coffee variety is botanical variety of a coffee tree species. In the world of specialty coffee, the Arabica species is considered the highest quality.   

V60

The v60 is a drip-coffee preparation method consisting of a V-shaped plastic, metal or glass cone in which a filter, and then coffee grounds are placed, to brew coffee. The “60” comes from the 60 degree angles of the cone.   

Yirgacheffe

Yirgacheffe is a varietal of Arabica coffee tree originally from Ethiopia and uncommon in Colombia. It is more challenging to cultivate than other varietals, but yields coffee beans with more distinctive flavors.