Glossary

This glossary will cover an assortment coffee terms used on this web site, including many varieties of coffee, frequently encountered tasting terms, coffee pests and diseases, coffee growing and processing terms, etc. Other glossaries are available at Coffee Review (general); Lucidcafe (coffee tasting and flavor terms); Sweet Marias (visual guide to roast levels); Coffee Shrub, a division of Sweet Marias (cultivar, roast and cupping terms); and CoffeeCuppers (roast terms).

It will be updated as needed.


AA — a size grade of coffee bean, often used to describe Kenyan coffee. The beans are larger than a Grade 16 sieve of 16/64″ diameter, but smaller than a Grade 18 sieve of 18/64″ diameter. Even number grades are usually for arabica coffees, odd numbers for robusta.

Acidity — A coffee flavor attribute denoting “brightness,” or tangy, tart, or wine-like flavors. It has nothing to do with the acid (or pH level) of coffee, which is actually less acidic than apple juice and most colas.

Arabica – see Coffea arabica

Balance — A coffee flavor attribute in which no single flavor or characteristic dominates.

Beneficio — Spanish name for the local coffee mill where the harvested ripe cherries are processed.

Bergendal – a Typica cultivar grown on Sumatra. This variety may be a result of natural crossbreeding of Typicas on the island, and perhaps not have a consistent heritage.

Bicho mineiro – see Leucoptera coffeella

Bird-Friendly — The trademarked seal for coffee certified as shade grown by the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center, a division of the Smithsonian National Zoological Park. Bird-Friendly certified coffee is grown under strict environmental standards and also must be certified organic. Official coffee website.

Bloom — Fresh coffee releases carbon dioxide, and will expand and bubble when hot water hits the grounds. This is most evident when coffee is prepared in a French press.  The fresher the coffee, the larger and more vigorous the bloom. Whole bean coffee will lose much of its bloom within 10 days of roasting. Pre-ground coffee will go flat much sooner as it off-gases its carbon dioxide very quickly.

Body — The feel of coffee in your mouth, especially if heavy, rich, or thick.

Blue Mountain– A variety of typica (which see) grown in the Blue Mountains of eastern Jamaica; it has also been exported and is grown in other countries, most notably Papua New Guinea. The Coffee Industry Board of Jamaica designates which beans can be legally labeled Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee.

Bourbon — A  traditional, older variety of Coffea arabica that is one of the types most often grown in the shade. Originated on the Indian Ocean island of Bourbon (Reunion) with broad leaves, a bushy habit, and small, clustered fruits. There are red, orange, and yellow varieties.

Broca — see Hypothenemus hampei

Brown coffee scale — see under Coccus viridis

Brown hemispherical scale — see under Coccus viridis

“C” Market – The commodities market where coffee futures are traded; the price of coffee is based on the “C” market price. IntercontinentalExchange (ICE) is the financial company that operates the futures market where coffee is traded after acquiring the New York Board of Exchange in 2007. The current C price can be located here.

Caracol– see Peaberry

Catimor — A cross between Caturra and Hibrido de Timor. High yields, often grown as sun coffee, with a reputation for inferior quality.

Catuai — A semi-dwarf type of Coffea arabica that is a cross between the Mundo Novo and Caturra varieties. There are red (rojo) and yellow (amarillo) catuais, named for the color of the cherries. High yield and hardy. Often grown as sun coffee.

Caturra — A compact, multiple-branching form of the Bourbon variety of Coffea arabica, common in Brazil and Colombia. Disease resistant and fast-maturing, the higher yield of Caturra apparently comes at a cost to good taste. Considered lighter-bodied and more acidic than traditional bourbons. Often grown as sun coffee, it requires a lot of management and fertilizer.

Cercospora [Mycosphaerella ] coffeicola — A fungus found throughout the tropics known as coffee leaf spot disease. It creates a small, expanding spot with a brown edge and a gray center on leaves and sometimes cherries. It tends to grow in conditions with high humidity, warm temperatures, and ample rainfall.

Coccus viridis A coffee pest (also attacks citrus and other crops), commonly known as green coffee scale. Probably originated in Brazil, but now found throughout the tropics and Australia and Hawaii.  Another scale that is a coffee pest is the brown hemispherical scale, Saissetia coffeae; it has many hosts and is found throughout the tropics. Scale insects feed on the plant fluids and are damaging in large numbers.

Coffea arabica –  This species is the highest quality coffee, used by specialty roasters. It grows best at higher altitudes — 3000 to 6500 feet — and because it grows slowly the flavors are more concentrated. This species tend to be susceptible to various diseases, and has a lower caffeine content than C. canephora (below). Arabica is a deep-rooted shrub, and is self-pollinating. Unlike other coffee species, which have two sets of chromosomes (22), arabica is a tetraploid (44 chromosomes).

Coffee berry disease — see Colletotrichum coffeanum

Coffea canephora This species is more commonly referred to as “robusta,” although this actually refers to the upright variety of canephora; there is a spreading variety known as nganda.  Robusta is a lower-growing and shallow-rooted, harsher and more bitter variety that is used in cheaper coffees, or as fillers.  Robusta tends to be more hardy and disease-resistant, will grow better in the sun than arabica, and tends to have higher yields. It has a higher caffeine content than arabica.

Coffee borer – see Hypothenemus hampei

Coffee leaf miner — see Leucoptera coffeella

Coffee leaf rust – see Hemileia vastatrix

Coffee leaf spot disease — see Cercospora coffeicola

Coffee rustsee Hemileia vastarix

Coffee scale — see Coccus viridis

Coffee twig borer – see Xylosandrus compactus

Coffee wilt diseaseA disease caused by the soil fungus Fusarium xylaroides (Gibberella xylaroides). Causes wilting, die back, and death. Serious cause of robusta crop loss since the 1990s in east Africa, especially Uganda.

Colletotrichum coffeanumA fungal disease found in Africa. Infected berries show dark sunken pits that eventually turn the whole cherry black.

Complexity — A coffee flavor attribute describing coffee that “has a lot going on,” with an array of flavors, whether subtle or dominating, that can be tasted. Flavors may change as the coffee cools. A complex coffee will be interesting, not boring and one-dimensional.

Cup of Excellence — A competition in which a jury selects the best coffees of a particular country each year. Current participating counties are Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Rwanda. Coffees are auctioned on the Internet after the competition to the highest bidders. The most prestigious award in specialty coffee. Official website.

Cupping — The method in which coffee is evaluated in a standardized manner. It involves deep inhalation of the dry and wet grounds to judge aroma, and tasting via a slurping method to distribute the coffee over the entire palate. Judges generally score the coffee’s aroma, body, taste (including acidity and sweetness), and finish. Coffees scoring over 80 on a 100-point scale are considered specialty coffees.

Dry process — Ripe cherries, with the skins on, are dried in the sun (sometimes on the tree) before being hulled (beans removed from dried fruit). The process can take up to two weeks, and care must be taken to prevent mold, mildew, or other spoilage. Common in drier countries such as Africa, Brazil, and parts of Indonesia (though now being tried in Central America). Dry process coffees are usually heavier in body, with a more syrupy mouthfeel, and pronounced fruit flavors. Also called “unwashed” or “natural”.

Excelso — a size grade of coffee bean, often used to describe Colombian coffee; a size below Supremo. Excelso beans are able to pass through a Grade 16 (16/64″ diameter) sieve, but not a 14/64″ one. Even number grades are usually for arabica coffees, odd numbers for robusta.

Fazenda — Portugese word for “farm” or “plantation.” As Portugese is the language of Brazil, coffee farms in that country are often referred to as fazendas.

Finca — Spanish word for “farm” or “plantation.”

Finish — A coffee flavor attribute that refers to the taste that remains on the palate after it is swallowed.

French mission variety — In Kenya, the bourbon variety of arabica coffee is sometimes called this.

French press — A manual coffee preparation device consisting of a receptacle and a screened plunger. Coarsely ground coffee is placed in the receptacle and steeped in hot water, usually for around four minutes. Then the plunger is depressed, holding back the grounds for pouring. Also known as a press pot or cafetière.

Geisha/gesha — A type of Coffea arabica which originated in Ethiopia, was brought to Costa Rica and then Panama. It is relatively low yielding, grows best at high altitudes, and has a unique, intense, floral or tea-like flavor. It became wildly famous around 2004, when Hacienda La Esmeralda began receiving record-breaking prices at auction for their green Gesha small lots.

Hemileia vastarix — A coffee pathogen, known as coffee rust. A fungus that causes yellow spots on leaves, reduced photosynthetic ability, and eventually leaf drop. This causes a lack of nutrients going to growing shoots, and so can impact future growth of the plant. Spores require rain to germinate (high humidity is not adequate). Disease spreads more quickly in dense plantings and is less severe in shaded plantings, as the spores require a certain light intensity to germinate. Temperatures at farms at higher elevations are often too cool for the fungus.  Native to Africa, but now found in many coffee-producing nations. Some coffee cultivars have resistance, notably the Catimor variety, and also Catuai and Mundo Novo. Overview at James Hoffman’s blog here.

Hemispherical scale — see under Coccus viridis

Hibrido de Timor — A natural hybrid of Coffea arabica and C. canephora, with two sets of chromosomes like arabica.

Hypothenemus hampei — A pest of coffee, an insect commonly known as the coffee bean borer, broca, or la broca. Native to Central Africa, but now found in many coffee-producing nations. The female of this tiny beetle bores into the coffee cherry and lays about 15 eggs; the larvae feed on the developing bean. Usually, the cherry drops from the tree. The best defense is making sure there are no unpicked beans left on the trees or laying on the ground. Because they spend much of their life inside the cherry, controlling borers with insecticides can be difficult.

Icatu — A hybrid coffee that is a backcross of Hibrido de Timor with Mundo Novo or Caturra.

KP or KP 423 variety — a variety of bourbon arabica coffee grown in Africa; fast grower with good drought resistance.

La Broca — see Hypothenemus hampei

Leucoptera coffeella — A coffee pest, an insect commonly known as coffee leaf miner or bicho mineiro. Native to Africa, but now found in many coffee-producing nations. The leaf damage from the larvae of this small moth means less leaf surface is available for photosynthesis, resulting in stunted plants and reduction in yield. It has developed resistance to insecticides in some areas.

Mandheling coffee variety — once more specific, now refers to wet processed coffee Aceh or North Sumatra.

Maracatu — A hybrid between Maragogype and Caturra. Also known as Maracaturra.

Maragogype — A large-beaned (“elephant bean”), large-leaved Brazilian mutation of Coffea arabica var. typica. Porous beans are not especially flavorful, and low-yielding. (Roasting a larger bean correctly takes some finesse, so buy from a specialty roaster.)

Microlot — A “limited edition” selection of coffee beans from a single estate, often the beans from a particular section of a farm which might have a particular microclimate that imparts a special flavor to the beans. Sometimes a microlot might also be limited not only to a particular section or plot on a farm, but also only beans harvested at a particular day or time period.

Mundo Novo — A type of Coffea arabica that is a cross between Typica and Bourbon varieties. It is high yield, can be planted in high density. Popular in Brazil.

Mycena citricolor — a fungal disease also known as Ojo de gallo, or eye of the rooster.

N 39 variety — a variety of bourbon arabica coffee grown in Africa; fast grower with poor resistance to some pests and diseases.

Natural process — see Dry process

Ojo de Gallo — see Mycena citricolor

Paca — A high yielding  type of Coffea arabica that is a cross between the Bourbon and Caturra varieties.

Pacamara — A type of Coffea arabica that is a cross between Maragogype and Paca varieties, developed in El Salvador. Especially flavorful when grown at high altitudes.

Parchment — The final, thin, papery covering on a coffee bean that remains after the skin and pulp have been removed. Also known as silverskin or pergamino.

Peaberry — A bean mutation where the cherry produced one small, rounded, fused bean rather than two flat-faced beans. May occur in any botanical variety, usually accounting for about 10% of the crop. Also called a  “caracol.”

Pergamino — see Parchment

Pulped natural process — Part way between a dry and wet processed coffee, the cherries are depulped (stripped of their skin) and then dried in the sun with some or all of the mucilage still left on the beans. Although more commonly used in drier countries, it is now being used more frequently in Central American countries, especially El Salvador.

Rainforest Alliance — An organization “working to conserve biodiversity and ensure sustainable livelihoods by transforming land-use practices, business practices and consumer behavior.” Their sustainable agriculture division certifies agricultural products, including coffee, as being sustainably grown by having met a certain set of standards. Standards include both environmental and social standards. Rainforest Alliance allows coffee containing as little as 30% certified beans to carry their seal, but the percentage of beans should be declared on the package. Official coffee website.

Robusta — see Coffea canephora

Roya see Hemileia vastarix

Ruiru 11 — A dwarf, disease-resistant, higher yielding variety of coffee grown in Kenya, also developed by Scott Laboratories from their SL series beans. It’s often grown at lower altitudes than the SL series.The cup quality is inferior to SL28, at least in part because it has Hibrido de Timor parentage in it.

Rust see Hemileia vastarix

Scottish mission variety — In Kenya, the bourbon variety of arabica coffee is sometimes called this.

Semi-natural process — see Pulped natural process

Semi-washed process — see Pulped natural process

Silverskin — see Parchment

SL – The SL series Bourbon strains, developed in the mid-20th century by Scott Laboratories, are often grown in Kenya. SL28 is the most well-known, grown at higher altitudes. SL34 is another common variety. Drought-resistance is a frequent characteristic, but these varieties are also prone to both coffee rust and coffee berry disease, which are common in Kenya.

SMBC or Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center — see Bird-Friendly.

Strictly Hard Bean (SHB) or Strictly High Grown (SHG) – Refers to beans grown at altitudes over 4500 feet (about 1400 meters). Because coffee matures more slowly at high altitudes, the beans are denser. This can help concentrate flavors, and more even roasting.

Sun dried – After coffee beans have been removed from the skin and pulp (see Dry Process, Wet Process), they must be dried to 11-12% moisture. Sun dried coffee is spread in long rows on concrete patios or on raised beds or tables in the sun. It is raked and rearranged often, and covered at night or in rain. Depending on how the coffee is processed and weather conditions, it can take 6 to 14 days to dry.

Supremo — a size grade of coffee bean, often used to describe Colombian coffee, generally one of the largest size; larger than a Grade 16 sieve of 16/64″ diameter, but smaller than a Grade 18 sieve of 18/64″ diameter.  Even number grades are usually for arabica coffees, odd numbers for robusta.

Typica — A  traditional, older variety of Coffea arabica with nearly horizontal branching, coppery leaves, and slightly elongated beans that is one of the types most often grown in the shade. Tends to be lower yielding.

Villa Sarchí – a semi-dwarf mutant variety of Bourbon.

Washed coffee — see Wet process

Wet process — Ripe coffee cherries are depulped (the skin removed by a machine that gently squeezes the beans out of their skin), then the beans are soaked in water to help break down the sticky mucilage that covers the beans. This fermentation takes a few days, depending on conditions. The beans are then washed, usually in water running through narrow canals, until they are perfectly clean. In some cases, machines are used to remove all or most of the mucilage. This mechanical “washing” reduces the need for so much water. In either case, after beans are clean, they go on to be dried. Wet processing is practiced through most of Latin America, preserves brightness and acidity, and results in a “cleaner” cup.

Xylosandrus compactus – A coffee pest, commonly known as coffee twig borer or black twig borer. Native to Asia but now found in many coffee-producing countries where it has been found on over 200 hosts. A tiny beetle that bores into a twig and lays eggs in a small excavated chamber. This is the source of damage, as the larvae do not eat the plants, but feed on a fungus cultured on the walls of the brood chamber.

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Revised on March 23, 2014

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