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Roasting Terms

  • Air Roaster: A coffee roaster where the heat and bean agitation are both created by a strong upflow of hot air
  • Drum Roaster: A coffee roaster where the beans are agitated inside a vaned metal drum, and the heat is provided by the hot metal of the drum, and optionally by a flow of hot air through it.
  • Roast Profile: A graph of bean temperature during the roast plotted against time.
  • First Crack: The loud popping in a roast when the beans reach 385F to 400F, as the trapped steam cracks them open and vents
  • Second Crack: The crackling noises in a roast when the beans reach 440F to 450F, as the cellulose matrix of the beans begins to break down.
  • Cinnamon/New England Roast: A very light roast, used mostly for cupping, with a stop temperature around 420F
  • City Roast: The lightest commercial roast, with a stop temperature around 430F to 435F.
  • Full City Roast: A medium commercial roast, with a stop temperature around 440F to 445F. Sometimes called "North Italian" when for espresso blends.
  • Vienna Roast/Italian Roast: A dark commercial roast, with a stop temperature around 450F to 455F. Sometimes called "South Italian" when for espresso blends
  • French Roast: A very dark roast, with a stop temperature around 460F to 465F
  • Agtron Rating: An alternative way of characterizing the degree of roast. Agtron is a company with technology that measures the beans' or ground coffee's luminance. Agtron 100 is white; agtron 0 is black; roasted coffee ranges from 65 to 20.

Cupping Terms

  • Breaking the Crust: Breaking apart the cap of coarse grounds on the top of a cup, after the coffee has brewed, to begin the tasting.
  • Cupping Spoon: a spoon, about the size of a soup spoon, but perfectly round, used to sample coffee during a cupping session.
  • Slurp and Spit: The colloquial term for slurping the coffee from the spoon, tasting it, and then spitting it out. This is done when too many coffees are cupped to drink them all.
  • Triangle Cupping: Used when one wants to make certain that two coffee samples are different. One tastes three cups of each; but with one cup from one group mixed with two from the other. The tasters have to pick out the odd samples.

Coffee Scoring Terms

  • Dry Aroma: The aroma of the ground coffee.
  • Wet Aroma: The aroma of the brewed coffee.
  • Body: the feel of the coffee as it coats the tongue; it's heft, and whether it feels oily, watery, or grainy.
  • Acidity: The tangyness of a coffee on the tongue, along with its tart fruit flavors. Sourness and acerbity, as opposed to tart or tart/sweet tastes are penalized.
  • Flavor: The basic tastes (sweet, sour, bitter and salty) of the coffee, along with its aromatic impression as it is tasted.
  • Finish: The flavors in the aftertaste
  • Cuppers Corrections: Points awarded if a low acid coffee is fruity, or a low body coffee is buttery. Points deducted if a high acid coffee is sour, or a high body coffee is dry and grainy.
  • Transparency/Cleanliness: a criterion for judging aroma, taste, and finish. The degree to which the flavors are clear, well defined, and not masked by dull bitterness.
  • Balance/Sweetness: another criterion for judging aroma, taste, and finish. The degree to which the bitter and sour flavorings in the coffee are balanced by sweetness.
  • Complexity: the final criterion for judging aroma, taste, and finish. The multiplicity of flavors.

Flavor Descriptors

  • Classic Cup: A coffee that taste like coffee, without unusual flavor components. Classic cups with great transparency and balance are highly prized but almost impossible to describe in a way that does them justice.
  • Taste Wheels: A systematic terminology devised by Ted Lingle of the SCAA in his cupping manual for describing the faults, basic tastes, and unusual flavors in coffees. It has become a de facto standard for English speaking cuppers.

Processing Terms

  • General: The coffee fruit is similar to a cherry, with a skin, pulp, and a (double) pit. The skin and pulp have to be removed, and the seeds dried, so they can be shipped and roasted
  • Wet Processed or Washed: The skin and pulp are removed by fermenting them quickly, and washing them off. This creates brighter, cleaner, and lighter bodied coffees.
  • Dry Processed or Natural: The skin and pulp are allowed to dry over a week or so, they are then easily peeled off. This creates a heavier bodied, sweeter, more subdued coffee that can be tainted by ferment flavors.
  • Pulped Dry Process or Semi-washed: The skin is washed off, but the pulp is allowed to dry on the bean over 24 to 48 hours. This creates an intermediate between dry and wet process coffee.
  • Patio or Sun Drying: After being depulped, the beans are dried on patios or platforms by the sun. This is considered preferable to kiln drying. Kiln drying is used when an overly humid climate can rot beans left to dry in the sun.

Coffee Species and Cultivars

  • Robusta: a lowland coffee species originating in West Africa that has higher yields and greater pest resistance than traditional coffee. Mostly used in very inferior coffees due to its medicinal taste. Very carefully grown and processed Robustas are found in small proportions in some premium espresso blends to improve crema and body.
  • Arabica: The traditional high grown coffee originating in Ethiopia. There are many varietals.
    • Heirloom: The coffee trees of Yemen and Ethiopia. More variable and genetically closer to wild coffee than other cultivars.
    • Typica: The standard cultivar used throughout the world, descended from the first coffee trees planted in Indonesia and the Americas by Europeans.
    • Bourbon: An American mutation of Typica used throughout Central and South America. Generally produces a more mellow cup than Typica
    • Caturra, Catuai, Icatu, Mondo Novo: High quality modern varietals derived from Bourbon, used in the Americas. Produce lighter bodied and more acidic coffees than Bourbons
    • Kent: A variant spread by British planters in Africa and India; derived from old stock Indian varieties planted during the Moghul Empire.
    • SL28 and SL34: Hardy modern variants of Kent used in Kenya. Makes outstanding coffees.
    • Sumatra Typica: A Typica variant used throughout Indonesia.
    • Maragogype: A Peruvian varietal that produces huge beans. The cup is light and nutty. Grown in Central Americas as well.
    • Pacamara: A recent Maragogype/Caturra cross that produces a still nutty, but brighter cup, than straight Maragogypes.
    • Inferior Cultivars: Crosses between robusta and arabica created to increase yield. Catimor (Central America), Variedad Colombia (Colombia), and Ruiri 11 (Kenya) are infamous for their low quality.
  • Peaberry: Not a varietal, but a condition where the two coffee seed halves fuse, forming one small spherical bean, rather than two flat faced ones. Some consider peaberries as more flavorful than regular beans. When forming a small but significant proportion in an otherwise regular lot of beans, they are a flaw; since they roast at higher speed, and may char. 100% peaberry selections can be of very high quality.

Typical Taste Characteristics By Coffee Region

  • Central America:
    • Mexico: Oaxaca Pluma and Alta Pluma are light bodied with milk chocolate flavors, and an exceptional ability to carry the flavors into darker roasts. Some Chiapas coffees can also be very good.
    • Guatemala
      • Antigua: Spicy, smoky cups that can take darker roasts. Heavier bodied than most centrals
      • Huehuetenango: delicate, delightfully floral, and buttery
      • Other: Other regions in Guatemala produce some outstanding classic cup coffees.
    • Costa Rica:
      • Terrazu: Powerful and sweet citrus and nut flavors, heavier bodied than most centrals
      • Other: Some excellent classic cups come from other regions.
    • Panama: Panama coffees have an awesome reputation among professionals and are virtually unknown by the wider public. The quintessential classic cup coffee.
    • Nicaragua: Milder in acidity than most centrals. Nicaraguan Bourbons can have a variety of middle flavors like pear or vanilla; and roast flavors reminiscent of pie crust or chocolate.
    • El Salvador: Similar to Nicaragua. El Salvador is producing some pulped natural coffees that are suitable for espresso
  • South America
    • Colombia: Medium bodied, medium acid coffees, some of very high quality. Mostly classic cup, but with occasional surprises.
    • Brasil: Creamy bodied, low acid coffees. Much Brazilian coffee is of poor quality, but some, used in premium espresso, are very fine. These are mild tasting, mostly with milk chocolate, cherry, and sassafras notes
    • Peru: Very high grown coffees. Poor samples are thin and sour; good ones are also acidic, but have the sweetness, body, and rich caramel roast tastes to balance.
    • Bolivia: A new area. Medium bodied coffees like Colombia, some very fine.
  • Islands
    • Jamaica, Blue Mountain: When good, a quintessential classic cup, mellow and sweet.
    • Hawaii, Kona: Classic cup with fruit and vanilla flavors, sweet.
    • Puerto Rico, Haiti, Cuba, and Santa Domingo: The good coffees are smoky sweet with peat and molasses flavors. Highly prized by italian blenders for espresso.
    • St Helena and Galapagos: Floral coffees from heirloom varieties reminiscent of Ethiopian Yrgacheffe and washed Sidamos
    • Australia: Rejoining the coffee growing world after a long absence. Too early to tell how the quality will turn out.
  • East Africa/Arabia
    • Kenya: A famous quip in the trade is that Kenyas come in three varieties: Citrus, Blackcurrant, and Horsehair. Great Kenyas will show the citrus and blackcurrant in a single cup, along with spice, sweetness, and some wineyness. We pass on the horsehair.
    • Ethiopia
      • Harar: Famous for its blueberry notes. Also expect apricot, chocolate, leather, wineyness, and even gamey notes. These are dry process, complex cups, prized for espresso blends
      • Yrgacheffe: Famous for its potent floral aroma. Delicate citrus and green tea notes accompany the flowers. Great Yrgs also have balancing sweetness and middle fruit flavors.
      • Other: Other regions produce cups intermediate between the Harar and Yrgacheffe extremes. Quality can be very uneven; but well prepped lots can be spectacular.
    • Tanzania, Rwanda and Zimbabwe: Similar to Kenyas, but more understated in acidity and fruit. Frequently have ceder flavors.
    • Yemen: Dry process, similar to Harar. The best ones are dizzyingly complex, and have an effect similar to well aged wine or brandy.
    • Burundi and Uganda: Lower acid, heavier bodied coffees with vanilla and chocolate roast tastes. In good years, they can taste like spectacular "super-javas;" but sadly, their quality is very uneven.
  • Indonesia
    • Java: The first coffee growing area under European control; so the name has become synonymous with coffee. Good quality Java is a very low acid, very heavy bodied classic cup. Aged (old brown) Java has intense woody roast tastes, extremely heavy body, and almost no acidity.
    • Sumatra
      • Mandheling: A dry process, heavy bodied, low acid, sweet coffee with earthy, mushroomy flavors. The great ones have dark roast flavors somewhere between chocolate and molasses.
      • Other: Wet and semi-wet process coffees from Gayoland and Aceh have somewhat more acidity and fewer deep flavors. Good lots are sweet and plummy; poor lots somewhat dry and acerbic
    • Sulawesi Toraja (formerly Celebes Kalossi): A semi-wet processed coffee, classic cup like Java, but with more exotic spice and dark fruit flavors. Roast flavors tend towards chocolate.
    • Papua New Guinea: Fruitier and lighter bodied than Sulawesis. Poor ones can taste like beef broth; good ones like pleasantly exotic classic cups.
    • Bali: Prized by the Japanese for its flawless processing and translucent emerald beans, hence expensive. Similar in its virtues and faults to Papua New Guinea
  • India: The first region outside Arabia to cultivate coffee. Indian coffees are very well processed. The highest grades are spicy and have hints of tropical fruit. Monsooned varieties (a form of aging) are very heavy bodied, have intense loamy and woody flavors, and are very low acid. Italian blenders use Indian coffees in preference to Indonesian ones as bases for espresso blends. Their use in the US is just beginning.


UPDATED: June 27, 2005