Need help understanding coffee terminology?
We have put together a Jargon Buster to help you understand your favourite coffees and why you love them so much.
What is a coffee region? Simply, a coffee region is where the coffee is produced. If you think about it, it is a bit like a postcode. Firstly, we know the country – Colombia for example.
Next, we know the region of Colombia – Tolima. Sometimes we can even know the farm – La Marina.
As a UK address this would be:
Columbia, Tolima, La Marina.
UK, Greater London, Regent Street.
There are two main types of coffee, Robusta and Arabica. Robusta is very robust, hence the name. It can be grown at a much lower altitude and isn’t usually bothered by diseases. On the down side, it tastes like burnt tires! It has a purpose, just not for us fussy chimps.
Arabica on the other hand currently has 129 species. These species are known as varietals. The original of these varietals is known as Typica, and all types of Arabica coffee stem from this.
As coffee has come across issues such as coffee leaf rust and insects, new varietals have been formed. By taking a parent of two different types, a new, more robust or more flavoursome coffee can be born.
As an example, Mundo Novo is a hybrid of Bourbon and Typica. These parents were chosen for their disease resistance and high yields. It gets its name from the area in Brazil where it was discovered.
Other popular varietals include Bourbon, Caturra, Maragogype, SL-28, Geisha, Pacas along with many others.
Coffee beans as we know them are the seed of the coffee cherry. After the coffee cherry has become ripe, they are picked, usually by hand. There are many different processes that are available to remove the flesh from the cherry exposing the seed, or bean below.
The three most popular of these are known as Natural (or sun dried), Pulped Natural (or honey) and Washed.
The Natural process is where the ripe cherries are laid out on patios to sunbathe as farmers manually rotate them, using the power of the sun to remove the flesh from the seed. Natural coffees often take on a fruitiness if done correctly.
Pulped Natural or Honey coffees usually start their processing life by taking a dip in the pool. Ripe cherries sink to the bottom, while unripe cherries float to the top and are removed. The ripe cherries are then mechanically ‘de-pulped’ to remove the flesh before being laid out to dry in the sun. Pulped Natural coffees can dry quickly as they have already been stripped of their flesh. This can lead to an increased sweetness and body in the bean.
In the world of Honey processing, many different terms are often used. These go somewhere to describing how much of the pulp has been removed from the bean.
For instance, you may see terms like black honey, red honey, yellow honey and white honey. With black and red honey coffees, the beans are dried with almost all of the pulp still attached. These coffees will be closest to their naturally processed friends, in the taste sector. The difference between red and black is the speed that the beans are dried. Black honey is dried slower than red honey.
Yellow honey processing removes between 20 and 50 percent of the pulp creating a middle ground bean, in the middle of everything!
White honey processing removes the most of the pulp from the bean – around 90 percent. This process creates a bean that is closer to its washed compadres.
Washed coffees follow the same process as Pulped Natural coffees. Before being laid out to dry, however, they are added to a fermentation tank to remove any remaining cherry flesh. After this, they are washed again to remove any leftover debris, before being laid out to catch some rays.
With all of the above, the beans are then traditionally rested for a month or two to improve the way the beans age. Following this, the beans are hulled to remove their protective skin before being examined and graded.
Altitude is exactly what is says – how high was the coffee grown? That bit is easy, but what difference does it make?
Coffee grown at higher altitudes is often more acidic than coffee grown at lower altitudes. Like a coffee that is sharp and acidic? Chances are it was grown at a high altitude!
This increased acidity is caused by the reduction in temperature higher up. The distance from the equator also has an impact too. For instance, coffee grown on the equator at 2000 feet will be a different distance from the sun that coffee also grown at 2000 feet in Hawaii. The altitude also controls the beans density. Higher grown coffees are often more dense than lower-grown coffees. If the coffee is grown higher this leads to cooler nights. Cooler nights leads to slower growing beans, which in turn leads to the beans being denser.
‘Body’ is a term used to describe a coffee’s mouth feel. How does it feel in your mouth? Is it thin and tea like or creamy and heavy? There are lots in between too, see the ‘old’ taster’s flavour wheel for more.
Acidity is used to describe the coffees refreshing taste or crispness. Positive acidity can give fruity tastes such as citrus whilst negative acidity can give sourness. For more coffee descriptors, see the coffee tasters wheel below:
Quite self-explanatory, this determines the size of the grind. That said, why are different grind sizes needed?
If coffee is ground very finely, the water will take longer to pass through it. At the other extreme, if coffee is ground very coarse, the water can pass through it too quickly. This can lead to over or under extracting the coffee flavours. Under-extracted coffee can be sour and over extracted coffee can be bitter.
This is why different grind sizes are needed.
As a guide, coffee for an espresso should be ground finely, like soft sugar.
Learn more about how to grind coffee here.
A filter grind should be ground like rough sugar whereas a cafetiere grind should be more like caster sugar.