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Coffee Glossary

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The “tang” in coffee. Higher grown coffees typically have more acidity. Acidity can range from sweet, as in some Central American beans, to winey, as with some exceptional African beans. Darker roasted coffees typically have less acidity than the same varietal that is roasted lighter. Coffee acidity has nothing to do with chemical acidity of pH factors.


The jewel of the coffee trade. Grown at high altitudes in cooler climates, Arabica beans develop slowly, with concentrated regional flavors. Harvested no more than twice yearly, they contain half the caffeine of Robusta beans but are of superior quality and taste.


The fragrance of brewed coffee. Aroma can be smoky, grassy, winey, caramel, nutty, floral, and chocolate—and many more.


Brewed coffee’s “weight”—its mouthfeel, heaviness, and richness. Along with acidity and favor, it’s one of the three fundamental characteristics of coffee flavor.


The fragrance of freshly ground coffee beans.


The naturally occurring stimulant found in coffee beans. It’s an alkaloid that gives coffee its “buzz.”


Layer of dried skin on coffee beans. Though most disintegrates during roasting, it is sometimes ground into coffee to bulk up the product. Custom Coffees never adds chaff to our roasted coffees.


The fruit from a coffee tree. Each cherry contains two coffee beans.


Depth and layering of taste elements in a coffee. A complex coffee has a number of layers working together to create an interesting, cohesive coffee.


The practice of tasting and discovering flavors and aromas of coffee. Similar to a wine tasting, cuppers first smell a brewed coffee and note the aromas. Then they slurp the coffee and observe the body, flavors, acidity, and aftertaste of each cup.

Fair Trade

The practice of offering producers additional money above the going trade rate of coffee. Fair trade is generally executed via a co-op and is meant to promote improved trading and sustainable farming practices.


Along with acidity and body, flavor is one of the fundamental essences of coffee. Flavor embodies the characteristics of a varietal’s growing region.


Grind describes the fineness of milled coffee beans. The grind you choose depends on the method you use to brew your coffee. (Also: Coffee grounds do much more than make great coffee. Adding grounds to compost or houseplant soil adds nutrients to your greenery.)

  • Coarse: French press, plunger press, percolator, vacuum pot
  • Medium: Drip coffee maker with flat-bottomed filters
  • Fine: Espresso moka pot, drip coffee maker with cone filters
  • Extra fine: Espresso machines • Turkish: Cezve, ibrik

Hard bean

Coffee grown in higher altitudes, resulting in a slower maturation of the fruit and a harder bean. Generally more acidic and flavorful than soft beans.


A Certified Organic coffee means that an international organic certification authority certified that the coffee is grown without pesticides and chemical fertilizers. A number of coffees that are grown use organic practices but are not Certified Organic.


Region where a coffee is grown.


Refining a coffee plant’s raw fruit into coffee. This process is done one of three ways:

  • Wet: The beans are immediately picked when ripe and the outer pulp is washed off after a fermentation process.
  • Semi-dry: Beans are allowed to dry partially on the tree and are then harvested. The pulp is brushed off by machine and water.
  • Dry: Similar to semi-dry processing, the varietals are allowed to dry longer. Dry-processed coffee is has less acidity than wet-processed coffee.


Roast is the internal development of flavor in coffee. Color is considered, but is not an absolute indicator of flavor. A darker coffee varietal, for instance, may have been roasted for a shorter period of time than a lighter colored coffee. Each roast has its own unique attributes.


A highly caffeinated, substandard bean with a crude, harsh flavor. Commonly used by commercial roasters. Because it’s more disease-resistant and generally grows in lower altitudes, it is often considered easier to grow than Arabica coffee. Robusta is harvested as many as three times per year.

Shade Grown

Ecologically and sustainably grown coffee. Beans are grown either amidst a rainforest or within other agricultural cultivations that cause no destruction to the natural habitat.

Soft Bean

Describes coffee grown in low altitude regions. Soft beans usually have low acidity and mild flavor.

Variable Arresting Technology (VAT)

Our proprietary methodology for roasting coffee. The process emphasizes each varietal’s full flavor based on chemical composition, not density or origin. We never add the chaff back to our roasted coffee. For more about VAT, see How We Roast.


Refers to subspecies of the coffee plant. In more recent times, the term is also used to signify a bean’s country of growth. We use the term both ways.

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