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A Glossary Of Coffee Culture Terms
Written by: Garrett Oden
I used to hate going to coffee shops.
I didn’t understand the culture or lingo and always felt uneasy and unwelcome as a customer. It seemed like there was so much to learn about coffee that I could never fit in - I was a complete outsider.
Well, I eventually became a coffee professional - and if I can learn my way around coffee culture, so can you.
This glossary of coffee culture terms will give you a strong foundation for coffee world lingo that will give confidence when it comes to interacting with cafes and enthusiast friends.
Let’s hop right in.
Espresso - A shot of espresso is a concentrated form of coffee created by forcing hot water through super-fine coffee grounds at 7-10 atmospheres of pressure. Espresso is the brewing method itself, as well as the final beverage.
Filter Coffee - Black coffee made with a brewer that uses a metal, paper, or cloth filter, like a french press or pour over cone. Typically refers to coffee that’s not espresso and not drip coffee, though sometimes it includes drip.
Drip Coffee - Coffee brewed with a standard automatic drip coffee pot.
Coffee Menu - In a specialty coffee shop, the coffee menu usually includes an array of information about each coffee offering, including the origin country/farm, tasting notes, and processing method.
Latte Art Throw Downs - Fun competitions where baristas in a tournament bracket face off (usually 1v1) with their latte art. Baristas are judged based on art complexity, symmetry, and contrast, though many creative rulesets are used around the world.
Cafe - In America, a cafe is generally a casual place where coffee and food come together to form a welcoming environment. The coffee can be stellar, but it shares the stage with food and other merchandise. Think Panera Bread, Corner Bakery, and La Madeleine.
Coffee Shop - Typically a more coffee-centric environment with plenty of space for patrons to relax and enjoy their beverage, pastries, and other small food items. Think your average Starbucks, Peets, and most locally-owned specialty shops.
Espresso Bar - The smallest coffee shop type where coffee and espresso are the centerpieces. These smaller spaces are often to-go focused, have minimal seating for just a few customers, and feature few side items like pastries. Think small shops like Blue Bottle in major urban centers and most bakeries.
The Professional Coffee World
Specialty Coffee Association - A global specialty coffee conglomerate organization built up of various national organizations that provides training and certifications, organizes research and development, and plans the world’s largest professional coffee competitions.
International Coffee Organization - A 50+ year old international organization that works with coffee producing countries to provide sustainability training, economic relief to struggling regions, and develop the global coffee industry.
World Barista Competition - The world’s largest annual coffee competition where national champion baristas from around the world compete via 15-minute routines where every action and word spoken is judged critically and scored.
Cup of Excellence - An organization that organizes coffee competitions in producing countries that identify farming and processing leaders, develops a platform for competitors to sell their crops, and encourages a shift towards quality at the farm-level.
C-Market - The shorter term for “coffee market”. Refers to the global price of commodity coffee at any given time, which is determined by supply and demand (often between $1.50 and $2.00 per pound). Specialty coffee buyers rarely if ever buy coffee according to the C-Market price.
Fair Trade - A regulated certification by Fair Trade USA that identifies farms that meet a rigid set of criteria on environmental and economic sustainability. As a result, certified farms are able to sell their crops at a higher price than many non-certified farms.
Specialty Coffee - An approach to coffee that is fueled by globally conscious ethics, a rich appreciation for quality and diversity, and a thriving community that spans the globe. Can literally refer to specialty-grade coffee, which receives a score of 80-100 points and has little or no defect beans.
Commodity Coffee - Coffee on the lower end of the scale that’s sold and traded at C-Market prices to buyers who have little interest in aiming for quality. Often goes towards low-grade blends and instant coffee.
Bean Origin - Refers to the origin of the bean and can be as vague as the country of origin and can be as detailed as a particular lot on a specific farm.
Tasting Notes - The means by which coffee companies communicate the subtle nuance flavors of their coffee offerings. Can include aromas, acidity, mouthfeel, aftertaste, sweetness, bitterness, and general flavors.
Processing Method - Refers to how the coffee cherry skin and mucilage was removed from the seeds (beans) within, as well as the fermentation and drying methods. Communicated because each method has a major impact on flavor.
Premium/Gourmet - Lower than specialty-grade beans that aren’t bad necessarily, but are not top-notch quality. The terms aren’t regulated and have become empty marketing words that do not really communicate quality.
Freshly Roasted - Refers to beans that have been roasted within the last 1-14 days, while the beans are still at peak freshness and flavor.
Environmental Sustainability - The issue that many farms are not well-equipped to prevent environmental damage in their local regions. Combated by many certifications, including Fair Trade, the Rainforest Alliance, and the Bird Friendly Coffee.
Economic Sustainability - The issue that coffee growing has become less profitable in the last fifty years and that many young growers are replacing coffee with better earning crops. Combated by a few certifications, such as Fair Trade and UTZ.
Gender Inequality - The issue that, while women make up 80% of the coffee labor force worldwide, they often make 30% less than men workers. This leads to economically disadvantaged homes, loss of dignity, and hurting families.
Coffee Plant Genetic Diversity - The issue that coffee plants in many parts of the world lack genetic diversity, making large regions extra susceptible to climate change and disease. In other words, there are too many eggs in one basket (genetic variety) and the risk of crop devastation is high.
Climate Change - The issue of unnaturally rapid warming causing many farms to become unsuitable for quality coffee growing. Some estimates show an 80% decline in prime coffee growing land by 2050.
There are many sides to coffee culture, but hopefully this has given you a well-rounded understanding of the things we think and communicate about on a daily basis.
Though the best way to get involved in coffee culture is to immerse yourself, this glossary should make that a bit easier.
Diving into coffee tasting is another great way to start learning about coffee. When you taste coffees from all over the world, you begin to fall in love with how exotic and diverse they can be.
And we’d love to help you do that.
Our JavaPresse Coffee Club sends you beans from the world’s best coffee farms. We roast them and ship them on the same day, which means you get to enjoy the coffee at peak freshness (and flavor).Check it out!