Coffee Terms Glossary

When it comes to describing coffee, it is not uncommon to see quite an extended vocabulary put to use. We try to use specific coffee terms whenever possible, but the many intertwined aspects of coffee can be very complex. More descriptive terms are often necessary to accurately portray a distinguished cup of coffee.

When it comes to these extravagant and descriptive coffee terms, things can quickly become unclear, due to the fact that different people use different words in different ways. 

Just to make sure that we're on the same page and we don't mislead you, we've compiled all of the potentially unclear descriptive coffee terms that we use for your reference.

Also check out How We Profile Coffee for a description of each different aspect of coffee that we discuss!

Coffee Terms: When we say... We mean...

  • All A-Z
  • Roast
  • Body
  • Taste
  • Fragrance/Aroma
  • Sweetness
  • Acidity
  • Aftertaste
  • Certifications
  • Species

Coffee Terms: Certifications

Charitable Donations: This indicates that the particular company contributes in some way to a charitable organization. This may be as a specified percentage of their earnings, or on a per product basis. Some companies donate not only their money, but their time as well in developmental and conservatory projects.

Fair Trade: This certification indicates that the particular coffee beans have been purchased from a single or group of farms at a price that is deemed to be fair to the farmers. The price is determined by a group of different international fair trade networks in order to insure that it is in fact, fair. Fair trade helps to improve the quality of life of citizens of developing countries that produce coffee.

Organic: This certification indicates that the coffee has been grown without the use of artificial chemicals fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides. The certification process has a number of specific requirements, and it is a costly endeavor. Although it is absolutely a positive for a coffee to be certified organic, it should be noted that many smaller and independent farms may meet the organic standard but not have the means by which to finance the certification process. The lack of a certificate should not be held against these producers, so it is important to look at independent providers on a case to case basis.

Single Origin: The coffee beans come from a single known geographical origin. This can range in specificity from a large, but defined region to a single farm. The idea is that all of the beans are more or less the same, and the product will be a representation of the specific origin. Popularity and demand for single origin coffee has skyrocketed in recent years, which has led to the increased availability of a wide variety of high quality coffees!

SMBC Bird Friendly: The Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center Bird Friendly certification is provided by the Smithsonian Institution to producers that grow in conditions that provide a habitat for passing migratory birds. The criteria requires that the region in which coffee is grown be under a shady canopy, and that deforestation has not occurred. Many bird-friendly coffee producers also contribute a portion of their proceeds to the SMBC research center. 

Smithsonian Bird Friendly Coffee