Coffee Terminology

Arabica.  One of the two main species of coffee. Arabica beans are generally higher quality. Arabica coffee grown at high altitudes produces the best flavors and contains less caffeine than robusta coffee.

Clean Cup.  A term professional tasters use to describe a coffee taste that is free of defects.

Coffee Cherry. Coffee beans are the seeds of a fruit known as the “coffee cherry.” They resemble a cranberry or plump holly berry.

Cupping. The process in which expert “cuppers” taste coffee. Coffee is described by a number of terms used by coffee tasters. In this and many other ways, coffee is much like wine. A few of the most basic and widely used terms are:

Aroma. This refers to the smell of the coffee. Is it faint, delicate, strong, fragrant, or flowery?

Acidity. This is not considered to be a negative characteristic. High acid coffees have a sharp, quality that gives them liveliness and snap in the cup. Acidity can be high, medium, or low.

Body. This is the impression of weight and texture. Is the coffee thin, full, light, heavy, buttery, oily, rich, smooth, slight, or syrupy?

Burnt.  Carbonized flavor in coffee beans that have been over-roasted. It produces a charcoal-like taste.

Flavor.  This is the combined impression of aroma, acidity, and body.

Bitter. A harsh, unpleasant kick usually felt in the back of the tongue.

Mellow.  This would describe a full, well balanced, satisfying coffee. It implies a medium or low acidity coffee.

Thin. This would describe coffee with a watery body and a lack of flavor.

Green Coffee. The seeds of the coffee cherry. It is un-roasted coffee, usually a pale green or straw color.

Parchment.  A natural shell that remains on the coffee bean after it has been dried and protects the coffee’s flavors and moisture.

Peaberry.  This is a single coffee bean that has developed in a coffee cherry. It only occurs in approximately 2% of harvested cherries.

Robusta.  Lower grade coffee beans that are found in most supermarket canned coffees. The flavor tends to be harsh. This coffee is grown at lower elevations. It is against the law to grow robusta in Costa Rica.

Strictly Hard Bean (SHB).  Refers to arabica coffee that has been grown in elevation above 3,900 feet producing a denser more flavorful coffee.

Valve-lock Bags.  Packaging that incorporates a one-way valve to allow coffee’s natural gases to escape without letting air into the package. This allows fresh roasted coffee to be packaged soon after roasting and preserves freshness.

Varietals.  Unblended straight coffees from a select region or specific country. A blend is made when two or more varietals are mixed together.

Washed Coffee. Coffee beans that have been fermented and placed in running water to remove the seed (coffee bean) from the fruit around it producing a clean cup of coffee.