Coffee Glossary

Coffee Glossary

Coffee Glossary

The world of coffee has many weird and wonderful words. Here's Colture's guide to understanding some common terminology.

Arabica
Short for “coffea arabica”, the most widely grown and well-known species of the coffee plant. It’s deemed superior to its sibling robusta (the other species of bean that’s generally grown). Arabica is highly favoured for its complexity and balance of flavour.

Bloom
Pouring a small amount of water onto the coffee at the beginning of a pour-over brew (e.g. slow-drip coffee) in order to start extracting coffee. It's called the bloom because of the way the coffee puffs up and swells when it’s in contact with water.

Cascara
A tea drink made from dried coffee cherry skins. The taste is similar to dark currants, sweet hibiscus and cranberry flavours, and possibly some wine flavours as well. It’s low in caffeine but high in antioxidants.

Cherry
The fruit of the coffee tree is sometimes called a cherry or berry. There are normally two seeds inside the cherry, which are the coffee beans.

Cooperative
A group of coffee producers cooperating to gain better access to things such as financial loans, fertilisers, and educational/business support.

Cup quality
Characteristics that define the coffee overall (flavour, acidity, body, mouthfeel).

Defect
Imperfections caused by different growing or processing factors, e.g. the coffee was not turned enough during the drying phase, or the coffee plant caught a disease. This normally contributes to unpleasant-tasting coffee.

Extraction
The process of brewing coffee, when some of the ground coffee is dissolved in the water.

  • Over-extraction: When too much of the soluble material is dissolved than desired while brewing coffee, it results in a bitter, harsh and unpleasant taste.
  • Under-extraction: When not enough of the soluble material is dissolved, due to less contact time between the coffee and water; this results in sour, acidic, sometimes salty tastes.

Fines
The smallest particles created when you grind coffee. No matter what size you set your grind to, there will always be smaller particles breaking off.

Green coffee
The coffee industry term for raw coffee. This is the state in which coffee is traded internationally, before being roasted after it arrives.

Grind size
The main variable that determines how fast or slow your coffee will dissolve from its particles, based on surface area. With finer grind sizes, the water takes longer to pass through; with coarser grinds, the water will run through the coffee bed quicker.

MASL/masl
Metres above sea level. Used in terms of elevation, or how high the coffee is grown at. Coffee grown at higher altitudes (over 1200masl) tends to enable slow maturing, meaning sugars have time to develop, along with fewer pests and good regular rainfall, which contributes to healthy-growing coffee plants. Lower altitudes (below 1200masl) aren’t considered bad, but they may be lighter-bodied and have a lower acidity that can be tasted in the final cup.

Microlot
Coffee sourced from an extremely small region, possibly a farm or single piece of land where a family may grow coffee. These are often sought after, as they are grown in small quantities or under unique growing or processing conditions.

Peaberry (PB)
Term used to describe a single bean forming inside a coffee cherry instead of two.

Processing
The processes that take place from start to finish which involve coffee, e.g. growing, harvesting, pulping, fermenting, drying, storing, transporting, roasting and brewing.

  • Washed process: Coffee beans are removed from their cherries/fruit by a machine that mechanically pulps them, forcing the beans out. These beans are then fermented to break down the sticky fruit flesh that’s hanging onto them. After that, it's washed off and the coffee beans are dried carefully by spreading onto patios or drying tables, turned regularly to maintain a slow, consistent drying process. This usually results in clean, fresh-tasting coffee, tickling with acidity and fresh fruit.
  • Natural process: Coffee cherries are picked whole and carefully dried in the sun until the entire cherry is dry. This allows the fruit to wither and dry naturally, and generally contributes to a bigger body, a fruitier finish, and a sometimes boozy-tasting cup.
  • Honey process: This is a combination of washed and natural processes. The coffee bean is removed from the fruit, but a variable amount is left on during the drying stage. This process can sometimes result in nutty, honey-like flavours.

PTD
Potato taste defect: a bacteria known as Pantoea finds its way into coffee beans through the skin of the cherry, normally caused by a specific type of insect called Antestia, which creates a way for the bacteria to enter. It is not visible. This is a defect commonly found in parts of East Africa, as a result of which a single bean will smell strongly of potato skins when ground and brewed.

Raised beds
Also known as African drying beds, raised beds keep the cherries away from the ground, allowing air to circulate more easily. This results in cherries that dry evenly, maintaining consistent coffee.

Robusta
One of the two main commercially grown species of coffee, robusta is considered lower in quality when compared to arabica, but is more robust (hence its name), easier to grow at lower altitudes, and more resistant to pests and disease. However, it usually presents itself with prominent bitterness and is commonly used as instant coffee, or in some blends for a little kick.

SCA Score
The Specialty Coffee Association’s graded coffee score (SCAA for America and SCAE for Europe).

Single origin
Coffee that is exclusively from one farm or region, rather than being part of a blend from multiple regions.

Traceability
Knowing where the coffee comes from, who produced it, how much, what country, farm, region, and often the farmers themselves. It’s so important to know where to buy coffee, and the conditions these coffees are grown under.

Varietal
Natural mutations or coffee plants that have been bred for a specific purpose, e.g. higher yielding or particular resistance against disease. From Arabica, some of the common varietals include Typica, Bourbon, Caturra, Mundo Novo, SL28 and Catuai.