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Coffee Terms

Coffee Glossaries:

Drinks & Recipes


Classification & Grading

Bean Defects

Plant Varieties

Producing Countries

Cupping & Tasting

Farming & Processing

Organizations & Certifications


Coffees by Origin

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Coffee Terms - Glossary of Coffee Terminology.

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From farming and processing terms, to coffee roasting and Barista lingo, you can find it here. 

Coffee Countries


Worldwide production of coffee is over 100 million bags (132 LBS each) every year, which is enough for every person on earth to have 100 cups.

The table at left represents roughly 95% of the world's coffee production in the year 2007.  Vietnam has increased its production in recent years and now produces more coffee than Colombia.  While many countries produce and export coffee, barely over a dozen have a significant share of the more lucrative gourmet market.

 Coffea Cherries

Coffee Farming and Coffea Plant Varieties

Coffea plants are native to Ethiopia, where they still grow wild in the Southwestern Highlands of the Kaffa and Buno districts. The beginning of the coffee industry is unclear, but coffee became a commodity sometime before 1500.

Coffea plants produce cherries normally having two seed halves known as coffee beans. Coffea trees grow to 40 feet high, but are normally pruned by farmers to a manageable height. There are two commercially available coffea species, Robusta and Arabica. Robusta is more "robust", due to a natural resistance to disease and infestation. Both species grow well between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn. Arabica beans are highly regarded as having the best flavor. Arabica plants are mostly grown at higher elevations where temperatures and rainfall are fairly consistent, and where there are fewer insects. Because of the steep terrain where Arabica is typically grown, harvesting is normally done by hand.

Ripe coffee cherries are harvested and processed various ways to remove the skin, pulp, and parchment (husk). The husks of the dried seeds are removed to expose the "coffee beans". At low altitudes, where the land is generally flat, coffea cherries are easily harvested by machine. There are three distinctly different coffee processing methods; wet process, dry process, and semi-dry process.

The first commercially harvested Coffea plant was Typica Arabica, followed by Bourbon Arabica and Robusta. Robusta replaced many Arabica plantations as they were ruined by Rust Disease. Today there are more resistant and higher yielding Arabica varieties slowly replacing the classic Typica and Bourbon varieties. 

Bean Classification and Grading

There is currently no widely adopted standard for grading coffee. The SCAA has a detailed standard for bean classification, but world wide implementation of the SCAA standard is minimal. In general, the predominant method of grading coffee is by green bean size, followed by the number of defects in a sample. Brokers and roasters maintain quality by identifying defects, cupping new lots, and by buying from consistent and reputable suppliers. See Classification and Grading for related coffee information.

Coffee Bean Defect Terminology

The coffee bean undergoes many processes. From the beginning as a seed to the time the coffee is roasted, there is opportunity for defects. Major causes of defects are weather, insects, disease, improper husbandry, and imperfect processing. A small percentage of defects can be found in any bag of coffee. High quality sourcing and inspection, along with cupping and tasting, is the conventional method of finding premium coffees for the more profitable specialty market. The number of coffee bean defects in a coffee sample is generally part of coffee classification and grading.

Barista and Brewing Terminology

In the 1960s, coffee consumption in the United States appeared to have peaked, even though it was mostly poor quality canned Robusta. In the early 1970s, US consumption was in decline, but things changed when Mr Coffee, an automatic drip brewer, was introduced. The early 1980s brought Italian espresso machines and an espresso coffee culture that is still growing and evolving.  Much of the terminology used to in the coffee industry has its roots in Italy, and to a lesser extent France.

Cupping and Tasting Terminology

The basic steps of cupping are: smell the freshly grounds; mix two tablespoons of medium ground coffee with six ounces of hot water and let sit for three minutes; break (agitate) the crust with your nose directly above the glass to sample the aroma; taste while still hot with a heavy slurping action to cover the tongue; Retaste when lukewarm; note the flavors, aroma, body, and aftertastes. Cuppers generally rinse their mouth with water to help clear away tastes previous samples.

Many coffee tastes are difficult for most to detect and flavor differences between coffee varieties are usually subtle. Flavors vary by origin, but also by roast, freshness, and type of processing. Tasting and cupping may be done to detect defects, to insure consistency, and before purchasing a large quantity. See Cupping and Tasting coffee glossary.

Coffee Drinks and Recipes

Flavored syrups are typically added to milk based espresso drinks (e.g. double tall chocolate caramel cappuccino). Flavored coffees, on the other hand, are flavored after roasting and before grinding, and are generally made from the lowest grade beans.

When placing an order at an espresso bar, say the number of shots, drink size, then drink style and name, followed by any other request. The following are examples of espresso drinks: Double Tall Decaf Latte, Quad Vente Iced White Mocha, Single Tall Why Bother with Room, Triple Tall Dry Cappuccino, Short Non-Fat Sugar Free Vanilla Latte, Single Short Decaf Americano, Quad Vente Caramel Macchiato.  See Brewing and Preparing coffee glossary for more barista lingo.

Coffee Organizations and Certifications

There are many organizations related to coffee. The most influential worldwide and in United States are the ICO and SCAA. Both are trade organizations dedicated to quality and sustainability of coffee production, and to the coffee industry as a whole. The ICO is the main intergovernmental organization that facilitates international cooperation in support of the worlds coffee market. Many smaller coffee organizations are focused narrowly on the environment and/or conditions for families involved in the coffee export business.

Coffee Roasting Terminology

Since the 1500s, possibly earlier, coffea plant seeds were being heated to make coffee beverages. Since then, coffee has risen to become the world's most popular beverage.

Although the coffee beans are dried during processing, their moisture content is still about 11%. In order to reach the temperatures necessary for flavor development, the beans must reach temperatures above 370F, roughly the temperature at which sugars begin caramelizing. Much of the time required to roast a batch of beans is spent boiling off moisture. The actual roasting process is short (several minutes), and to prevent baking, the roasted beans cooled rapidly (5 minutes or less). There are two periods of cracking sounds during a roast, "first crack" and "second crack". The temperatures where the first and second cracks begin and end varies by type of bean and type of roaster. "First crack" typically begins at a bean surface temperature of 400 degrees Fahrenheit, when beans suddenly expand, making a sound similar to popcorn. At bean probe temperatures around 440 to 450 degrees Fahrenheit, the first crack has usually ended and a series of more intense crackling sounds, called "second crack" can be heard. If the roast is ended at the beginning of first crack, the coffee will taste under-roasted. Roasts brought to the beginning of second crack will be between medium and dark. Second crack is where the realm of dark roasts begins and where roasty flavors are created. See Roasting for related coffee information.

Coffees by Origin

Gourmet Arabica is typically identified by origin. High grown Arabica varieties have the most demand and fetch the highest prices. There are hundreds of coffee growing regions, but only about a couple dozen are widely known for consistently producing large quantities of specialty grade Arabica.

With a few exceptions, the best coffees are harvested in remote mountainous regions not too far from the equator. The bulk of the world's Arabica is produced in mountainous areas of Central and South America, followed by the highlands of Indonesia and eastern Africa. Most islands do not have the combination of high altitude and ideal climate necessary for specialty grade Arabica.  A notable exception is Jamaica's Blue Mountain and the slopes of Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea on the island of Hawaii.

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