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Glossary of Coffee Terms

This section is for YOU, so if you have any terms you would like to see defined here, please e-mail me with your requests.

Acidity - This term has nothing to do with the bitterness or acid taste/feel from too much stomach acid. It is an old cupping term that refers to the degree of flavor in a cup. For example, a coffee you would consider “flat” would be one with a low acidity score. I came up with a different, hopefully more descriptive term a few years ago: see Brightness

Aloha - Aloha is probably the most often-used word in Hawaii. It means hello and good-bye most commonly as greetings, but it also, in an active sense, means friendship, love, best-wishes, all that is good in the world. The real definition goes far beyond my knowledge, but I find it similar to an old Gaelic word “namaste”, which means roughly “all that’s good in me wishes the best to all that’s good in you”. Live aloha.

Aroma - Smell…that’s aroma. Wake up and “aroma” the coffee? Pretty simple, huh? Nothing beats the aroma of freshly ground coffee, and that aroma, being undiluted, can actually tell us more about the coffee than the aroma in the cup itself. It is surely a prelude to what you will taste. Aroma in the cup actually has more to do with the roast than the coffee itself. It can be very light in lighter roasts, growing to its peak at city or full-city roasts, then gradually declining as the roast gets darker and darker and darker - can you recognize the aroma of charcoal?

Balance - Good acidity/brightness, but not too overpowering; full-bodied, but not too heavy; chocolaty, but not like a candy bar; fruity, but doesn’t count as a major food group on your diet - that’s the epitome of ideal balance: a 5 on our scale. As one or more of these factors dominate the cup, the rating drops. Does it matter? That’s one of the wonderful, completely subjective things about coffee - it’s all up to you!

Body - Body is NOT that thing that keeps your hat from resting on your shoes. Body IS that sensation of fullness or heaviness in your mouth when you take a mouthful of coffee - please let it cool a bit first: there is no coffee term for burnt body. As with all coffee terms, it is both relative and subjective. Body tends to increase in lighter roasts (up to full city) and decreases as the roast gets dark and oily. Additionally, slower roasting, as in a drum roaster, tends to increase body.

Brightness - Brightness is a term I came up with a few years ago to use instead of “acidity”, which had been around for eons in the coffee industry, but known only to a relatively few people. As the home roasting industry grew, more and more people became confused by the term, so I thought of “brightness” as being more easily understood.

Chaff - Chaff is the thin, paper-like, tannish-brown substance that flies off (if you are using an air roaster) your coffee beans as they expand during the roast cycle. Prior to roasting, it is known as silverskin, which is a protective coating left on the beans after processing. For clarification, it is not a coating added in processing, it is a natural part of the bean itself.

Complexity - As the descriptor implies, this is a complex term akin to the meaning of life in general. Can a coffee be chocolaty, fruity and flowery all at the same time? Can buttery and earthy co-exist in the same cup? The more divergent, subtle or distinct, flavors you can discern from a single coffee, the higher the complexity rating. On the other end of the spectrum, when was the last time you had instant coffee?

Mahalo - The Hawaiian word for thank you. Followed by “nui loa” (mahalo nui loa), it means thank you very much.
What's this got to do with coffee? mahalo for indulging me.

FT - Fair Trade. These coffees are certified Fair Trade, which helps support the people and communities actually growing the coffee.

Organic - These coffees are certified organic, meaning they are raised without synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, or herbicides.

FTO - Fair Trade Organic. These coffees are certified both as organic and fair trade.

RFA - Rainforest Alliance. This signifies these coffees are Rainforest Alliance certified. These coffees are grown in ways that minimize the impact on the local ecology and to preserve remaining rainforests. Read more.

SHB/SHG - "Strictly hard bean" and "Strictly high grown", respectively, and meaning the same thing. Beans grown at higher altitudes tend to grow more slowly and form denser beans, thus the nomenclature. These typically command higher prices than lower-altitude beans from the same region/varieties due to the more uniformly dense nature of the beans and slower growing cycle.

Process - The "process" by which coffee beans are removed from the coffee fruit and dried. This can range from Natural, which is essentially pulling the fruit from the plants and letting them dry in the fruit naturally, to various forms of Washing, which involves using water to wash and transport the beans prior to drying. Read more about how coffee is made.

Elevation - The elevation above sea level where the coffee grows. This is typically expressed in meters, as most coffee-growing countries use the metric system.

Happy Roasting!

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