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The Art & Science Of The Silver Spoon
Cupping Coffee is a labor of love, one that rewards you with membership in a very special club of coffee aficionados. Even after 25 years of cupping, I confess I’m still like a kid in a candy shop when I’m at the cupping table. There is a certain excitement to the ritual sniffing and sipping. Each new cup is mysterious; each spoonful the key that can transport you to a coffee farm half-way around the world or open the door to a new origin, a new vintage or a special offering that you never knew existed.
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CR AFT OF CUP PING ( c o n t i n u e d ) Unlike the majority of the food and beverage industry, where tasters in white coats are sequestered in sterile laboratories, coffee cuppers seem to be a little more social. While taste assessment is essential for quality control and for determining a coffee’s appeal, it is also an opportunity for cuppers to engage the public and share their enthusiasm. Cupping is a system of classification based on a few learned skills. Once you learn these skills and have a chance to practice and become confident in your abilities, you’ll find that cupping reveals the answers to many of the most important roasting questions. Whatever your cupping level is, a good vocabulary is paramount for communicating with green coffee suppliers and for recording your impression of coffees received. Novice cuppers are encouraged to invent their own terms when first introduced to the revolving table and silver spoon. Learning a vocabulary of a hundred or so terms is daunting at first glance. It’s more important to write your impression in your own words when starting out and gradually integrate the professional terms as you become more accomplished. You can modify and add to your own list—it’s something you grow into. (To help you get started, check out the cupping glossary on page 36.) quality of the green coffee purchases and follow that up with an assessment of your production roast. Here are a few discoveries a roaster or green coffee buyer can make at the cupping table: What does growing altitude have to do with cup quality? Differences in acidity will become obvious when you taste high- and low-grown coffees from the same region. What decaffeination process yields the best taste? Here I recommend using as many samples from the same national origin as possible. You may not know the quality of the unprocessed beans, but you should be all right if using reputable sources. Try samples from each of the decaffeination processes: Cup methylene chloride, also known as MC or KVW; ethyl acetate, also known as EA or natural; water-processed; and CO2processed. Use regular unprocessed coffee from the same origin for a control, and note any papery or cardboard taste in the decaf samples. Some processes weaken the overall flavor, and others add off tastes. What is the difference in a washed coffee and a traditional dryprocessed coffee? Here you can compare washed and natural version of coffees like Brazils, Sumatrans and Sidamos. What does aging do to a coffee’s taste and acidity? Use aged and regular Sumatrans or Indian Mysore compared with Monsooned Malabar. At the same time, you can compare past-crop coffees with new-crop examples. Often, pastcrop coffees are marketed as vintage or aged coffees. How does tree variety contribute to taste? You can learn this by tasting beans from typica, bourbon and caturra trees. Check with brokers and importers for coffees with known pedigrees. Can a washed robusta taste as good as an average Arabica? Can I taste the difference between patiodried coffee and mechanically dried coffees? continued on page 28
There are so many reasons to get out your silver spoon: sourcing new coffees, trouble-shooting problems, developing new blends, comparing your products with the competition or educating your staff. But perhaps the most important reason for cupping is a business one: if you don’t cup, you’re disadvantaged by everyone else who does. Cupping is quality control. Without a doubt, it is the most valuable asset to maintaining and improving the quality of your product. As a proponent of specialty coffee, it’s important to assess the
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CR AFT OF CUP PING ( c o n t i n u e d ) Can I taste the difference between dry-pulped coffee and traditionally washed coffee? Of course, tasting isn’t just beneficial at the roastery. Most roaster/retailers also cup or taste their coffees at their shop to ensure the quality of the coffee from roaster to customer. Taste tests in a shop can be done with a variety of brewing methods, including French press, pouring over Melitta filters, and regular brewers. Discoveries that can be made with retail shop testing include: What contribution does the filter paper make to the taste of the coffee? What does a difference in grind do to the taste? What does a difference in water temperature do to the taste? Can I taste a difference when using tap water compared to purified water? Which milk producer delivers the best taste compliment to my coffee? What is the best water-to-grounds ratio for my brewer? How does my coffee change after 30 minutes in the brewer? What does a wooden stirring stick do to the coffee flavor? 2. Set-up: The set-up follows the design. First, everything should be labeled clearly and put into proper order. This means that coffees should be grouped, either by type, degree of roast, region or other category that offers some degree of order. The layout of these samples should be adequate for moving from sample to sample with convenience. Are controls in the right order? Is there room for more than one cupper? 3. Facility: This includes a number of components, including place, time, schedule and, ideally, an assistant. The place can be a table or counter, but the standard is a tall, round, rotating table. The time of day may be determined for the convenience to the parties involved or the availability of the space. Samples must be weighed out and ground, so a scale and grinder must be available. The assistant will need to have hot water ready at the right time as well as a good supply of cupping spoons, napkins, paper cups, paper towels, notepads, clipboards and pens. 4. Write-up: Notes are best written on cupping forms that will be helpful to the process. These forms can be tailormade to suit your purpose and include your company logo, a vocabulary list or other cupping aids. (Sample forms can be found on pages 31 and 32.) When doing the tasting, additional comments should be clear and even wordy, because it’s easier to edit than to recall some nuance days later. It’s useful to discuss the results afterward to see if there is agreement and a common conclusion. Sometimes it may be decided that the cupping should be repeated under different circumstances.
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Cupping can be a daunting experience for newbies and old hands alike. There are a number of ways to make the process easier and more convenient. Much like a science experiment, cupping requires foresight, a scenario and premise focusing on the question you wish to address, and the results you expect to achieve. For instance, if you are comparing 10 lots of Colombian coffees, it helps to know as much as possible about each lot. In the end, it is not just the overall ranking you will leave the table with, but also an understanding as to why the coffees came out in that order. Are they the same age, same processing, grown at the same altitude, same tree variety? Planning will help you get the most out of every cupping. Add some controls and known quantities to expand the usefulness of the exercise.
a FeW More tipS
• The easier the process, the more fun it will be. Sometimes I highlight my cupping forms with colored markers. One color for major tastes and another for nuances. Above all, written comments are most valuable for cup-to-cup comparisons, ratings and rankings. • The easier the clean up the more likely you will be encouraged to do more cuppings. Here is where the trainee assistant can be very helpful. • Many successful roasters make morning cupping an everyday practice. These daily cuppings are conducted to check the latest roast quality and consistency. continued on page 30
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the Four StepS oF planning a Cupping
1. Design: The determination of purpose. What do we want to find out? What should we expect? How many coffees are going to be included? How many do we have? How many do we need? How many are manageable? Can it be broken into two if it is too large? What other coffees would be complimentary and add to the experience? What would be a suitable control coffee? 28 roast
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CR AFT OF CUPPING ( c o n t i n u e d ) • Separate cuppings may be conducted in the afternoon to assess samples representing possible replacement stocks or special offerings. • A daily quality-control cupping is a good opportunity to introduce a new employee to the practice. Sometimes I invite special guests or clients to join in. • For years, I have kept my cupping reports in loose-leaf binders for reference. Now I can keep them on a computer that can be searched by country of origin, estate name, region, bag marks or just chronologically by descending dates or ratings.
1 2 3 4 5 Woody Rich Nutty Winey Hidy Strawy Fishy Turpeny Fauna Woody 6 7 8 9 10 Caramelly Floral Spicy Earthy Fermented Baked Ashy Rioy Musty Herby Big Chocolaty Fruity Herbal Burnt Medicinal Moldy Grassy Tarry Chemical Cedary Smoky Slight Vanilla-like Rancid Petroleum Green Papery Cocoa Creosoty Malty Resinous Pungent Flat Earthy Cardboardy Stale Rubbery Bricky Soapy
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Bright Fruity Sharp Medium Impressive Brisk Tangy Smooth Moderate Pronounced Sweet Nippy Soft Mild Delicate Piquant Winey Flat Slight Disappointing
AromA TAinTs SubjeCtivity vS. objeCtivity
Cupping is an attempt at objectivity, but at every step assessments tend to become subjective. After all, no two cuppers have the same taste buds, with the possible exception of identical twins. Assessments are often skewed by preference or expectation. How could you ever be disappointed when cupping a Jamaican Blue Mountain sample? Isn’t it supposed to be the greatest coffee in the world? So don’t be discouraged if you find that your cupping responses don’t seem to match everyone else’s at the table. Remember, it was only a few years ago that many roasters were cupping an exemplary Kona coffee only to find out later that it was “Kona Rican.” Cupping is obviously not a perfect science. But it is a useful one—and one that you’re likely to enjoy each time you pick up your silver spoon.
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Thick Light Watery 10 Oily Heavy Impressive Buttery Full Disappointing Creamy Medium Thin
Chocolaty Caramelly Sweet Complex Toasty Nutty Fruit-like
Mellow Earthy Grainy Vanilla-like Pruny Mild Pungent
Cereal Smoky Citrusy Smooth Musty Cinnamon Spicy
Berryish Clean Bitter Leathery Winey Malty Strong
Cedary Tobaccoey Woody
E Aftertaste & Finish
1 Strong Clean Floral Long 2 3 4 Moderate Fresh Spicy Fast-fading 5 6 7 8 9 Negligible Resonate Winey Astringent 10 Weak Rounded Fruity Thin
ON The NexT seveRAl PAGes, Roast presents a unique collection of cupping resource materials*, including cut-and-copy forms, a vocabulary sheet and a glossary. The forms are also available for downloading at www.roastmagazine.com.
Fermented Bitter Herby Chemical Rank Harsh Oniony Medicinal Rioy Soury Peasy Metallic Dirty Fresh Under-dev. Burnt Pungent Past-crop Chocolaty Complex Deep Mellow Acrid Potatoey Petroleum Earthy Edgy Cabbagy Turpeny Groundy Hard Soapy Moldy Rough Musty Resonate Green Carbony Ashy Scorched Vanilla-like Smoky Heavy Smooth Sharp/Salty Hidy Vinegary Fauna Baggy Grassy Burnt Acerbic Insipid Green Charred Caustic Vapid Rounded Grassy Cresoty Fishy Tippy Pungent Rich Round Hardy Hay-like Ashy Rancid Bland Strawy Carbony Alkaline Neutral Woody Tarry Brackish Stale Papery Balanced Soury Tarry Rubbery Baked Roasty Broad Intense Bittersweet Fishy Briny Cocoa Cardboardy Rubbery Astringent Baked Creosoty Pasty Tippy
-5 -4 -3 -2 -1 +1 +2 +3 +4 +5 Exceptional Very good Fair Exemplary Good Poor Excellent Outstanding Above Average Average Defective Foul
31 Cupping Form 32 Evaluation 34 Vocabulary 36 Glossary
*These forms were developed by Robert Barker and Roast magazine; they are not official forms of any industry group.
G Cupping Score
This form is based on a 100-point scale. Combine all of the above scores and add 40 to determine the overall score.
Piquant Biting Bitter Harsh Bland Powerful Fullflavored
DArk roAsT AsseTs
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Received date Origin Green appearance Vendor Roast
Sample # Region / Name
Vendor reference # Agtron # WB Grade
Fragrance/Aroma Flavor Strength/Intensity Sweetness Bitterness Acidity Body Aftertaste/Finish Balance Terroir Distinction
1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2
3 3 3 3 3 3 3 3 3 3
4 4 4 4 4 4 4 4 4 4
5 5 5 5 5 5 5 5 5 5
6 6 6 6 6 6 6 6 6 6
7 7 7 7 7 7 7 7 7 7
8 8 8 8 8 8 8 8 8 8
9 9 9 9 9 9 9 9 9 9
10 10 10 10 10 10 10 10 10 10
Cupper 32 roast
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Sweetly floral Sweetly herbal Sweetly spicy
Balanced Bright Brisk Clean Complex Deep Delicate Fresh Gentle Mild Mellow Resonate Rich Round Smooth Soft Strong Sweet Velvety
AromAs & scenTs
Caramelly Floral Spicy Earthy Chocolaty Fruit-like Herbal Woody Nutty Acidy Cedary Smoky Vanilla-like Winey Malty Pungent
Terms noT so comPlimenTAry
Biting Flat Vapid Thin Edgy Dull Insipid Negligible
Fermented Baked Ashy Rioy Musty Herby Burnt Medicinal Big Moldy Grassy Tarry Chemical Hidy Strawy Fishy Turpeny Rich Full Fauna Woody Rancid Petroleum Green Papery Cocoa Creosoty Rounded Earthy Cardboardy Stale Rubbery Bricky Soapy
Bright Winey Fruity Moderate Brisk Tangy Sweet Smooth Nippy Piquant Soft Flat
Flat Oily Buttery Thick Heavy Full Watery Creamy Thin Light Medium
AromA inTensiTy PrimAry FlAvor noTes
Acidy Bitter Bland Fruity Harsh Mellow nippy–piquant slight–harsh soft–neutral soury–ferment caustic–medicinal delicate–mild Pungent Salty Sharp Soury Sweet Winey creosoty–phenolic briny–brackish astringent–rough acrid–hard acidy–mellow tangy–tart
Resonate Fresh Hard Long Weak Rounded Clean Astringent Fast-fading Negligible
Underdeveloped Grassy Past-croppish Scorched Baked Green Stale Tippy
Caramelly Smoky Herbal Earthy Nutty Toasty Floral Spicy Chocolaty Cereal Fruit-like Cinnamon Earthy Edgy Cabbagy Turpeny Groundy Hard Soapy Moldy Rough Musty Sharp/Salty Hidy Vinegary Fauna Baggy Tippy Vanilla-like Grainy Berryish Leathery Woody Malty Grassy Burnt Acerbic Insipid Green Charred Caustic Vapid Hay-like Ashy Rancid Bland Strawy Carbony Alkaline Neutral Citrusy Tobaccoey Cedary
DArk roAsT TAinTs
Carbony Pungent Rubbery Bitter Fishy Creosoty Tarry Burnt
Fermented Bitter Herby Chemical Rank Harsh Oniony Medicinal Rioy Soury Peasy Metallic Dirty Acrid Potatoey Petroleum 34 roast Woody Tarry Brackish Stale Papery Fishy Briny Cocoa Cardboardy Rubbery Astringent Pasty Baked Creosoty
Strong Insipid Stale Full Vapid Weak Acerbic Thin Brackish Watery Briny
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ceDArish An aroma scent reminiscent of cedar. A positive woody taste. cereAl The aroma or taste of malt
or bread. See malty and toasty. A clean fresh grain smell.
Washed coffees often taste “cleaner” than natural-processed coffees. Synonymous with clarity in taste.
DirTy An undesirable, unclean smell
or taste. Can imply a defect such as sourness, earthiness or mustiness. Something foul or foreign in the taste.
eDgy A taste flaw bordering on hard. See sharp. eArThy A complex mustiness found in certain dry-processed, low-acid coffees. Often considered a taint in washed coffees. The smell of freshly turned soil. See potatoey, dirty, groundy.
cocoA A sweetish chocolate smell of
completely stale roasted coffee. Not to be confused with chocolaty.
Dry-ProcesseD Coffees harvested
and dried in cherry. Also called natural-processed coffee. Coffee processing can determine the presence and strength of certain aromas and tastes prominent in the brew. Knowing whether a coffee is washed or dry-processed will suggest different expectations in several major characteristics. Dry-processed coffees are expected to have more strength, less acidity and heavier body than their washed counterparts. There are several processes between the fully washed process and the traditional dry process. You may see terms such as semi-washed or pulped natural. Knowing the process is helpful in making a quality assessment. See washed process and natural.
Why ANOTheR CUPPING GlOssARy?
Mainly because we have more novice roasters in this country than ever before, and many have limited cupping experience. It is likely that most are accustomed to using abbreviated glossaries with only the most basic terms. The assessments made at a cupping session are usually documented by a written record on a cupping form. If that record is going to serve a useful purpose when called upon in the future, it needs to be concise and clear to anyone familiar with the language. This is not to say that one needs the Oxford International Dictionary to cup, but even the best of us get stumped now and then for just the right word to express a thought. These descriptions are not made up by me, but are a compilation of many glossaries that I have collected over 30 years. It is not to be considered definitive or end-all. Glossaries are just aids for clarity of thought and notation, both of which are germane to the cupping process. In the past, only seasoned professionals were responsible for buying green coffee for large regional and national roasting companies. These people came up through the ranks and learned the language of coffee quality over a number of years. Today many small neighborhood micro-roasteries are owned by young entrepreneurs who have entered the business with little or no coffee trade experience other than ordering a Frappuccino at Starbucks. I hope this glossary will help those who have reached a plateau and wish to hone their cupping skills in order to describe the “specialty” in specialty coffee. –Robert Barker
AcerBic A taste fault in brewed
coffee that leaves an acrid and sour taste. The result of leaving brewed coffee on heat.
BAggy An off-taste or smell
similar to that of burlap bags. Either a storage problem or biological in nature. Similar to corky as it relates to some wines.
assessed in weakly brewed coffee. Not a measure of actual viscosity.
chemicAl A taste or aroma
suggesting a phenolic or hydrocarbon presence. See medicinal. It may be inherent in the coffee or the result of contamination.
comPlexiTy Balance and intensity
in flavor. The impression of a wellblended coffee. An interesting mix of flavors, undertones and aftertastes. Opposite of dull or one-dimensional. A hallmark of specialty coffee.
BouqueT Usually a reference to
an overall aroma impression of brewed coffee. The total aromatic profile of the initial fragrance of the dry ground coffee plus the aroma of the brewed coffee and the nose impression when drinking. See aftertaste and finish.
AciDiTy A pleasing piquant or tangy quality characteristic of highgrown coffees. Acidity is a perceived taste quality—it is not a measure of pH, nor does it have anything to do with stomach irritation. Acidity may be high, medium, low or lacking altogether. High acidity gives a fresh, clean quality to brewed coffee. Low acidity coffees are often described as dull or flat. AciDy A pleasant and sweet
liveliness in the brew. Acidy toward sweet is called nippy, while acidy toward sour is termed piquant.
chocolATy A positive taste or aroma
reminiscent of unsweetened chocolate and/or vanilla. An aftertaste common in Yemen Mochas and Ethiopian Harrars. A common dark roast characteristic.
FAunA Wet dog, animal-like smell. See Hidy. FermenTeD A sour or acrid vinegar taste or smell. Obvious and unpleasant. The most common processing error following harvesting. Fine cuP An ambiguous term best
defined by the user. A coffee with apparently acceptable taste qualities. Commonly used as a grade descriptor from certain origins. Also “Good clean cup,” “Fair average cup.”
BAkeD A taste and odor
description given to coffee roasted too slowly at too low a temperature. Caused by under-development of the bean during roasting due to insufficient rate of heat input. Results in an insipid taste and a flat bouquet. See underdeveloped.
creAmy A measure of body somewhat less than buttery. creosoTy A taste sensation related to pungent. A bitter, burnt vegetal taste found in the aftertaste of some dark-roasted coffees. Similar to tarry.
BrAckish A salty or alkaline
taste fault found in the coffee or in the water used in the brewing. Also occurs when excessive heat is applied after brewing. Distastefully bitter and salty.
cinnAmon An underlying spice
accent sometimes detected in the aroma or a flavor nuance in light roasts. Also a term describing a light roast.
BAlAnceD Denoting a pleasing
combination of two or more primary taste sensations. Containing all the basic characteristics to the right extent and aesthetically pleasing. See round.
DeeP Implying depth and intensity. See complexity. DelicATe Pleasing to taste or smell.
A sensation that is mild, subtle and sometimes fleeting. See mellow. Some cuppers use the term gentle.
Bricky The smell of clay bricks or
ciTrusy A scent or flavor note of
citrus prominent in some East African coffees.
Briny A saline taste fault
associated with brewed coffee held on heat too long. See salty and brackish.
AcriD A taste sensation related
to soury. An irritating and piercing taste associated with harsh, bitter and pungent sensations. Typified by some Rio coffees from Brazil. Sometimes found in over-roasted coffees.
cleAn Opposite of dirty. The term
“clean cup” refers to a coffee free of taints or faults. Does not necessarily imply clarity of flavor impression.
Dull Lack of character. Opposite of round. May be flat or notably unimpressive. Indicates coffee that has lost its original or usual zest and character. Gives the impression of roundness but at the same time lacks character.
Finish The lingering taste on the tongue. An aftertaste that can be
Berryish A scent or flavor
reminiscent of blackberry, boysenberry, etc.
Brisk/BrighT Qualitative terms
continued on page 38
BiTing Very pronounced or
intense. Generally associated with acidity, sourness or bitterness.
BurnT A bitter, smoky or tarry
flavor characteristic common in dark-roasted coffees. Can be accompanied by fishy, rubbery, ashy or charred.
AFTerTAsTe Your mind’s second
opinion and lingering memory. The nose and taste sensation after swallowing. See nose and finish.
AlkAline A secondary taste
sensation related to pungent. It can be a displeasing bitterness in darkroast coffees.
AromA The odor of the prepared
coffee beverage. It may be lacking, faint, delicate, moderate, strong or fragrant (also called aromatic). It may be pleasing or not, and it is not always a good indication of taste. Prominent scents are nutty, herbal, berry-like and citrus-like.
BiTTer A harsh, unpleasant taste detected on the back of the tongue. All coffees have a slight bitterness that is characteristic of the roasting process and is not always considered undesirable. Moderate bitterness can be balanced by sweetness. As a defect, it is usually associated with a green coffee defect, over-roasting or overextraction of the brewed coffee. Sometimes associated with overly acidic coffees. BlAnD A somewhat disappointing flavor resulting from an unfortunate balance of saltiness and sweetness. Bland toward sweet=soft. Bland toward salty=neutral. Common in low-grown coffees. BoDy The impression of viscosity
in the mouth. Mouthfeel of the coffee as related to the strength and chemistry of the brew. Some coffees have more or less oily constituents released into the brew. Body may be described as watery, thin, slight, light, medium, full or heavy. Extremely heavy-bodied coffees may be referred to as thick, buttery, chewy or creamy. Body cannot be
BuTTery A full and rich flavor
with an oily body or texture. Commonly used to describe espresso-style beverages. See Body.
cArAmelly The smell or taste of
sweet caramels without any trace of burntness.
cArAmelizeD Burnt-like flavor, as
in caramelized sugar. A desirable taste note if complemented with a strong coffee flavor. A loss in coffee flavor enhances the caramelized flavor.
Ashy Reminds one of a fireplace after the fire is out. Within certain limits, a positive characteristic in dark roasts. AsTringenT A pronounced
and irritatingly bitter and salty taste sensation characterized by puckering. Most often noted in aftertaste. As in the taste of alum or as noted in some over-steeped teas.
cArDBoArDy The taste or smell of
wet cardboard. See papery.
cArBony An excessive aftertaste
sensation present in some dark roasted coffees. See burnt.
cAusTic A taste sensation related
to harsh. A sour taste that increases as the brew cools.
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CUPP ING GlOs sARy ( c o n t i n u e d )
the same as the cup flavor or evolve into nuances. Usually, heavy-bodied coffees will have a longer finish. Rated by quality and persistence.
hArD Opposite of soft, sweet or mild. Description of Brazils between soft and rioy. Considered a secondary taste sensation to soury. Also bricky or edgy. hArsh Crude raw taste used to
describe certain Brazils and robustas. An obvious presence of bitter and astringent compounds. Can be caustic or medicinal.
May be accompanied by astringent or bitter tastes.
PAsT-croPPish Said of coffees
that have deteriorated in the green state before roasting and, thus, taste weakened or toned down. Particularly with less acidity and a heavy woody or papery flavor and little body. Aroma will also suffer in past-crop coffees. See strawy, wood and neutral.
FlAT A descriptor of a coffee’s
bouquet. Lacking intensity. A dull lifeless quality due to staling or age. Also, when referring to acidity it means without acidity or very slight acidity.
milD A taste sensation associated with mellow. A smooth and soft or sweet washed coffee. molDy/moulDy Fungus infected.
Ruined by dampness due to poor storage. Improperly dried coffee can become moldy in storage or during shipping in containers.
rioy A harsh medicinal or slightly iodized, phenolic or carbolic flavor typical to certain Brazils. Said to be a regional characteristic. Considered a taint by most roasters but appreciated by others as a blender. rounD Commonly used term for a
balanced and rich coffee.
is acrid. Pronounced soury is hard. See sharp.
of sweetness, saltiness and sourness resulting in six primary tastes: Acidy: Acids increase the sweetness of sugars. Piquant to nippy Mellow: Salts increase the sweetness of sugars. Mild to delicate Winey: Sugars reduce the sour taste of acids. Tangy to tart Bland: Sugars reduce the saltiness of salts. Soft to neutral Sharp: Acids increase the saltiness of salts. Rough to astringent Sour: Salts reduce the sourness of acids. Hard to acrid
vinegAry A sour off-taste related to
sPicy Said of aroma or flavor suggestive of spices. Sometimes associated with aromatic, piquant or pungent. Suggesting cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, etc. sTAle An unpleasant taste fault
found in old and deteriorated roasted coffee. Roasted coffee that has faded in quality after excessive storage or exposure to air. Aroma of stale coffee changes from flat to rancid and finally to cocoa-like, while the flavor of stale coffee changes from bitter to rancid and cardboardy.
wAsheD/weT Process Post-harvest
process of separating the seeds from the fruit before drying. Most important is the intermediate step of controlled fermentation between the pulping and the rinsing and drying phase. Poor processing can lead to defects that can render the coffee unusable. The most common taint is an overly strong fermented taste that cannot be removed or masked by blending. On the other hand, properly washed coffees typically exhibit sweetness, clarity and good acidity. See dry process and natural.
PAsTy The smell or taste of
elementary school white paste. Sometimes associated with baked.
rounDeD A quantitative descriptor
for a moderate bouquet.
FlAvor The total impression of
aroma, acidity and body. Usually described with specific major taste impressions. Rated from weak to strong, poor to exceptional.
hAy-like See strawy or grassy. heAvy Quantitative term for body or mouthfeel. herBAl Fragrance note similar to
garden herbs. See spicy.
musTy A smell associated with earthy. Slight mustiness is not always a taint especially in aged or monsooned coffees. As a taint it will have the smell of an overly musty cellar. See bricky.
PeAsy A disagreeable taste of cooked green peas. A microbiological taint similar to that causing oniony and potatoey taints. These taints are usually limited to certain origins. PeTroleum Smell or taste usually
originating from contamination. Often found in coffee stored in poorly manufactured bags.
rough An unpleasant taste
sensation related to sharp. An unflattering description of some natural robustas.
FlorAl A smell of flowers with a
pleasant sense of freshness.
nATurAl coFFee Natural-processed or dry-processed coffees. Naturalprocessed coffees are usually different from wet-processed coffees in that they may lack clarity of flavor and pointed acidity. Some may have a more intense complex flavor and fuller body. See washed coffee. negligiBle Something less than slight or delicate. Almost none. neuTrAl A fundamentally
characterless, inoffensive or insipid coffee without virtue yet without defects. Basically, a coffee safe for economical blending. A desirable character in robustas and in otherwise undistinguished Brazils. Boring.
ruBBery Burnt rubber odor characteristic of some robustas. Noted in some dark roasts.
FrAgrAnce Odor of the dry coffee
grinds prior to brewing (aroma describes the brewed coffee). See bouquet. Sweet scents can indicate acidity. Pungent scents can lead to sharp tastes. Intensity can be a measure of freshness. Ranges from sweetly floral to sweetly spicy.
sTrAwy A taste taint that gives a distinct hay-like and woody flavor. See past-crop and under-developed. sTrengTh Usually a term
quantifying brewed coffee. Strength is conveyed through concentration of soluble solids in suspension not the prominence of any one characteristic.
herBy Found in cup aroma
resembling the odor or flavor of herb. A cooked vegetable odor. Taints can range from oniony to cabbagy.
sAlTy One of the four basic taste
sensations, yet saltiness rarely comes to the forefront in coffee taste. When it does, it is just perceptible. See sharp.
Fresh Opposite of stale. A recent
roast. A distinctly pleasing scent.
hiDy Unpleasant odor reminiscent of wet leather or wet dog. Can also be described as fauna. Can be caused by excessive heat during the drying process usually associated with coffees dried in mechanical dryers.
PiquAnT Acidy. A pronounced and pleasant pungent acidity slightly tart or biting. Synonymous with tangy and pointed. PoinT/PoinTeD Fine acidity sharpness. A coffee with good flavor characteristics. PoTAToey A disagreeable and
unpleasant taste of raw potato. See peasy. Sometimes associated with earthy.
Terroir The personality and character in aroma and taste represented by a coffee’s origin. An overall flavor profile common to a particular growing region, district, altitude or processing style. Thick Exaggerated term to indicate an extremely heavy body. Thin Said of coffees that lack body or flavor. Typical of low-grown coffees. TiPPeD/TiPPy A roasting fault usually caused by starting the roasting process with an excessively high roaster drum temperature or simply roasting too fast for the type of coffee. Tipping is the charring of the ends of the coffee beans. Tippy is the recognition of a charred flavor to an otherwise good coffee. ToAsTy Aroma of fresh toast or fresh-baked bread. ToBAccoey An aroma scent reminiscent of a tobacco shop or aromatic pipe tobacco. TurPeny A medicinal aftertaste reminiscent of turpentine, resin or camphor-like substances.
wATery Relating to body, thin. Relating to strength, weak in flavor either due to the available soluble solids in the bean or to the ratio of grounds to water. winey A bittersweet fruity quality characteristic of a fine red wine. A sweet soury taste. Winey toward sweet is termed tangy, while winey toward sour is described as tart. Sometimes used to describe acidity. wooDy A flavor taint characteristic
of past-croppish coffees and those grown at lower altitude. A desirable scent or flavor when reminiscent of a fine wood such as cedar or sandalwood (similar to the oaky taste of a good Chardonnay).
sTrong A term indicating strength
derived from greater soluble solids in the extraction or intensity of any one characteristic of note. It is also used as an adjective to virtue or defect (as in “a strong sour taste” or “a strong fine aroma”).
scorcheD A roasting defect resulting
in an odor taint that gives the coffee brew a slight smoky-burnt aftertaste with an overall under-developed taste.
FruiTy Denotes the aromatic scents
of citrus or berry fruit in the cup aroma. Also, a flavor taint bordering on fermented. A sharp, piquant, pungent or vinegary taste associated with over fermentation. A strong overripe characteristic prevalent in coffees left too long in the cherry.
insiPiD A lifeless brew caused by staling and exposure prior to brewing. inTensiTy Measure of the total impression of bouquet.
shArP Intense flavor taint resulting
in salty and soury compounds. Sharp towards salty is termed rough. Sharp towards soury is astringent. When used in reference to acidity, it can be a complimentary term relating to tangy and nippy. A moderately strong perception of acidity.
sweeT One of the four basic tastes.
Also the recognition of sweetness or the absence of bitterness in a coffee. Said of a smooth, palatable coffee, free of taints or harshness. See mild. Also used as a descriptor for acidity.
Pruny The fruit-like taste
reminiscent of prune found in some dark-roast coffees.
grAiny The taste sensation of
toasted grain. See cereal.
leAThery The aroma of a luggage
retail shop. The smell of fine leather.
niPPy A taste sensation perceived from a very clean high-acidity coffee. Bright, brisk or biting. See acidy. nose The combination of taste and
smell when swallowing coffee. The aroma component of aftertaste. Most commonly caramelly, nutty or malty.
PungenT A primary taste sensation related to the presence of bitter compounds. Usually from phenolic compounds that range in taste from creosoty to alkaline. Not to be confused with earthy.
smoky Reminds one of smoked food. Usually a positive descriptor, and more common in dark roasts. smooTh A quantitative descriptor for
moderately low-bodied coffee. Also referring to a full-bodied, lowacidity coffee. See mellow. Sometimes used to describe acidity.
sweeTly FlorAl Flowery scent
commonly found in some fresh grinds. See fragrance.
RObeRT bARkeR has worked in
sweeTly sPicy Spicy scent
commonly found in some fresh grinds. Reminiscent of aromatic spices, such as cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg etc. See fragrance.
grAssy A flavor taint indicating a
slight chlorophyll taste. Can be found in fresh green coffee insufficiently dried. An odor and taste taint giving the coffee a distinct herbal character similar to the odor of freshly mown alfalfa and the astringent taste of green grass. Said to be found in new crop coffees due to immature beans. More pronounced in under-roasted coffees.
mAlTy A toasted cereal grain aroma.
A smell or taste of malted grain or sourdough bread. See toasty.
rAnciD Having a rank odor or taste
as that of old oil. A sour and very unpleasant smell. See stale.
nuTTy Said of coffees that lack a bold coffee flavor or have a flavor that suggests a specific nut, such as fresh almonds, roasted nuts, etc.
soAPy An off-taste similar to earthy
TAngy A secondary taste sensation
related to Winey. A somewhat sour and fruity sensation.
unDer-DeveloPeD Coffee roasted
too slowly at too low a temperature. See baked.
the coffee industry for 25 years as a coffee producer, importer, trader, buyer and trainer. He is currently a contractor for Coffee Review and an occasional consultant. He can be reached at email@example.com. Many thanks to the SCAA, Ted Lingle, Michael Sivetz, Donald Schoenholt, Ernesto Illy and Kenneth Davids, who have all given much time and effort to educate us over the years.
meDicinAl Reminds one of a
pharmacy or hospital. Obviously a negative note. A harsh flavor or smell similar to disinfectant, chlorine, iodine or some phenol compounds.
oniony An off-taste reminiscent of
onion. See herby.
rAnk Offensively gross or coarse. Foul or rancid. A dirty unpleasant flavor due mainly to contamination or over-fermentation. A grading term used in Brazil. resonAnT Recurring. A long,
soFT Low acidity coffees that have a
light or very light acidity just short of bland. When associated with Brazils, a character that is mild and not harsh. A mild coffee with a dry aftertaste.
green A flavor tint usually
associated with under-ripe coffee beans. In roasted coffee it is usually associated with under-roasting or lack of development. Also grassy, pasty.
TArry A taste fault giving a burnt
character. See rubbery.
vAPiD Lacking character and
liveliness. Particularly lacking acidity, tang or briskness. Synonymous with insipid, dull, flat.
mellow A sweet coffee that is wellbalanced with low to medium acidity. Mellow toward sweet=mild. Mellow toward salty=delicate. meTAllic Said to be caused by
immature beans due to poor grading.
PAPery An off-taste suggesting the
taste of wet paper or cardboard. Most common in decaf coffees. An obvious taste contribution from paper filters.
sour One of the four basic tastes.
Sweet, sour, salty and bitter.
TArT A secondary taste sensation
related to Winey. A sour sensation between tangy and soury.
rich Mainly a descriptor for bouquet.
Also used to indicate depth and complexity of flavor, big pleasing aroma and full body. Overused.
soury A distinctly sour, rank or
rancid taste often due to improper processing. Not to be confused with acidy and acidity. Soury toward salty
grounDy Synonym for earthy.
TAsTe The total sensory impression
of the three combined basic tastes
velveTy Heavy in strength and body,
low in acidity.
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