May 18, 2021   1:54am

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Coffee: Buzzwords, roasting facts, and a tasting glossary

These days the “buzz” you get from coffee is more than from the caffeine in the cup. Our very own barista Jessica un-muddies the water (so-to-speak) by filling you in on what all the buzzwords and references actually mean, so you can get exactly what you want …



Shade Grown
This is as simple as it sounds. Coffee was originally always farmed under shade trees. It wasn’t until the 1970’s when a hybrid was created that actually fared better in direct sunlight. At that point many of the shade trees were cut down in order to grow coffee in a much easier manner on more land than was usable before. Ultimately, however, the destruction of the shade grown method caused numerous environmental problems including global warming, erosion and the loss of many bird habitats. Bird foundations and environmental groups have now started a movement to return to the shade-grown method — to downsize the use of pesticides, to create places for migratory birds to rest and, ultimately, to return the best flavor to coffee possible. For more information, check out the following links:
Coffee Habitat
Earth Easy
Audubon Society

Fair Trade
An organization that promotes a more fair trade between coffee farmers and coffee buyers than has been the norm. When a bag of beans says Fair Trade, it means the fair trade organization has certified it. However, coffee beans can be fairly traded without that certification. In fact, it’s becoming apparent that some beans are MORE fairly traded than Fair Trade beans themselves. Though the organization’s mission was to eliminate the middleman in the coffee industry, they have succeeded in becoming that middleman, so while farmers are receiving a larger percentage of profits than in the past, Fair Trade is eating up some of the profits that could also potentially go to the farmers.

Organic coffee is becoming increasingly sought after. There was a 56% increase in organic coffee purchased from 2003 until now. Elimination of synthetic pesticides and other substances for three years, crop rotation, and conscientiousness about environmental consequences are all ways farmers produce organic coffee. There are various trademarks that fall under the Organic umbrella including Fair Trade and Bird Friendly. Click here for more information.


  • Generally speaking, a darker colored bean has been roasted longer, in turn giving it a more roasted and strong flavor. When patches of oil begin to appear on a bean, or if the bean is covered in oil, you know it’s been roasted longer and at a higher temperature than medium or light roasts. However, a darker roast of one bean can actually result in a lighter color that a lighter roast on another bean.
  • The less a bean is roasted, the more you can taste the natural flavors of the bean. The longer it’s roasted, the original flavors are subsumed by the flavor of the roast, a smoky, burnt, or cooked flavor.
  • Roasting is measured in a time period called a “crack”. Almost all beans are roasted beyond their first crack which falls somewhere between 380 and 400 degrees Fahrenheit. The bean literally cracks and releases carbon dioxide. After that, beans are roasted for various amounts of time and at various higher temperatures and named accordingly. Some beans are roasted beyond the “second crack”, which falls at approximately 435 degrees Fahrenheit. These are the espresso roasts. Click on this print-out-able word document that is a Reference Guide to Roasting Styles.

TASTING TERMS according to Kenneth Davids, author of “Home Coffee Roasting: Romance and Revival”

Acidity, acidy
“Neither acidic nor sour, an acidy coffee is brisk and bright. It is analogous to the dry sensation in wines. Coffees lacking acidity tend to taste bland and lifeless. Some coffees carry their identities in their acidy notes. For example, coffees from Yemen and from East Africa display a striking, fruity, red-wine-like acidity. The darker a coffee is roasted, the less acidy it becomes.”

Body, mouthfeel
“Body is the sensation of heaviness in the mouth; mouthfeel is the sensation of texture: buttery, gritty, oily, smooth, thin, watery, lean, astringent. Body is mainly a sensation rather than a measurable fact. Body increases as coffee approaches a medium to dark brown roast. It decreases again when it passes into a very dark roast, becoming lean and gritty.”

“Less developed in very light roasts, peaks in intensity in medium to medium-dark roasts, and lessens and simplifies in very dark roasts. For professionals, some qualities of coffee may be more apparent in the aroma than in the taste of coffee itself.”

“A complex coffee enables certain strong sensations such as acidity and sweetness to coexist. Complexity is undoubtedly at its peak in the middle ranges of roast style, from medium through the moderately dark to dark roasts used for espresso.”

Depth, dimension
“Depth describes the resonance of sensual power behind the sensations that drive the taste of the coffee. It is a tricky and subjective term, but one that profitably invites us to consider how certain coffees open up and support their sensations with a sort of a ringing, echoing power, whereas others simply present themselves to the palate before standing pat or fading.”

Origin distinction, varietal distinction, varietal character
“These terms describe qualities that distinguish one unblended green coffee from another when the coffees are brought to the relatively light “cupping” roast used in professional coffee evaluation.”

“Another self-evident term, this one describing coffees in which the acidity is strong but not overwhelming, the body substantial, and no taste idiosyncrasy dominates.”

Hope this helps you better enjoy your next cup of coffee,


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