The world of coffee is fascinating, but most of us stop exploring it before we get to the farm-level. And that’s a shame, because coffee growing and processing impacts our daily brew more than anything else - it’s worth learning about!
The sad thing is, it’s a lot harder to find answers to questions on these topics. They’re more distant (literally) than the acts of brewing or roasting. We have coffee shops down the street, but farms are thousands of miles away.
But don’t you worry - this glossary over coffee growing and processing terms will give you a basic foundation on the language we use to talk about coffee at origin.
And with these terms in your belt, you’ll be well-equipped to read more niche articles, talk on a deeper level with coffee professionals, and enjoy your daily brew with more satisfaction.
The Coffee Plant
Coffee Cherry - A common term for the fruit of the coffea plant that bears the coffee seeds (beans) within. Round, red, and cherry-like.
Arabica - The species of the coffea plant that bears the best flavors and features higher acidity and sugars. Not extremely durable when it comes to disease or rapid weather changes.
Robusta (Canephora) - The tougher species of the coffea plant that can handle disease and climate change, but features a big, bold bitterness and up to twice as much caffeine as arabica.
Variety/Cultivar - The subspecies of coffee plants that result from natural mutations, natural hybrids, and intentional hybrid cultivation. Selected and cultivated based on the farm’s flavor goals and environmental needs. Think of how there are many types of apples, even though they all belong to the same species.
Geisha - A particularly beloved variety hailing from Gesha, Ethiopia that has an exotic acidity, rich sweetness, and wild floral aroma. Most modern Geisha coffees are grown in Central America.
Peaberry - A coffee cherry mutation that causes one of the seeds to fail to grow, resulting in a single coffee bean with a rounder shape and sometimes higher quality flavor.
Silverskin - The final thin skin that covers coffee beans that are fully processed. Usually flakes off the beans during and after roasting as chaff.
Lot - A sectioned portion of a coffee farm’s land. Can be divided by types of shade trees, coffee varieties, watering patterns, processing methods, or really any other means of differentiation. Often a lot specifically refers to a section comprised of 37,000 pounds of coffee.
Microlot - A smaller sectioned portion of coffee farm’s land. Often the site of farming technique experimentation and development of newer varieties. Generally associated with coffees that have been grown at a particularly high level of quality.
Organic - An approach to coffee growing where the farmers utilize little or no artificial agro-chemicals and sticks to natural fertilizers and pesticides. An official regulated certification exists, but many uncertified farms still grow coffee organically.
Shade Trees - Trees found on coffee farms that shield the delicate arabica coffee plants from intense sunlight that can harm the leaves and cherries. Beloved as a way of transforming farmland back into natural forest.
High-Grown - Refers to coffee that’s grown at high altitudes (3,000+ feet). These coffees generally have higher acid and sugar levels, leading to superior coffee flavor.
Co-Op - A local organization created by regional coffee farmers that creates and maintains a centralized processing station and gives a selling platform to rural growers.
Picking - The process of harvesting ripe coffee cherries from coffee plants. In specialty coffee, cherries are always hand-picked by trained laborers. In commodity coffee, machines that don’t differentiate between ripe and unripe cherries are often used.
Coffee Leaf Rust - A fungus disease that targets coffee plants and causes them to drop all their leaves, disrupting their ability to grow cherries. This disease (La Roya in Spanish) has caused major devastation of farms in regions with low genetic diversity in Central and South America.
Coffee Berry Borer - An African pest beetle that burrows into coffee cherries and lays eggs. This causes the cherries to rot very early and results in major flavor defects, causing economic devastation to afflicted farms.
Fly Crop - Refers to coffee that was picked during a secondary, shorter harvest outside of the standard harvest period.
Wet Mill - A facility where coffee is processed and dried using a variety of methods before being sent to the dry mill.
Dry Mill - A facility where coffee is hulled (if necessary), sorted, graded, and prepared for shipping and export.
Washed Process - A common processing method where the fermentation, along with the removal of the coffee cherry skin and mucilage, is facilitated in large vats of water before the beans are dried. Typically results in a crisp acidity, clear and refined flavors, and a high level of quality control.
Natural Process - The original processing method where the cherries are laid on sunlit patios for weeks to ferment and dry. Sometimes difficult to control and unpredictable.
Honey Process - A newer processing method that begins like the washed process, but leaves varying amounts of sticky mucilage on the bean instead of washing it off in vats of water.
Fermentation - A stage of processing where bacteria and enzymes break down parts of the unroasted coffee beans. Can be manipulated to produce fruity and winey flavors.
Pulping - The process of removing the outermost skin of the coffee cherry, often with heavy machinery.
Drying - The final stage of coffee bean processing where the beans are dried to 10-12% moisture content either with sunlit patios, raised beds, or mechanical dryers.
Mucilage - The sticky “meat” of the coffee cherry.
As you can see, there’s a lot that goes on with coffee farming and processing. Biology, chemistry, logistics, economics - and the list goes on.
And that also explains why there’s such a diversity of coffee flavor and quality - because there’s a lot that can go wrong. And lower-grade coffee has led to a lot of wrong impressions and common misconceptions.
If you’ve ever thought that, for the most part, coffee just tastes like coffee, I’d like to prove you wrong (no offense).
We source beans that have been meticulously farmed, scientifically processed, and carefully shipped to the USA. We then roast those beans and send them to you on the same day - which means you get the coffee when it’s as fresh as possible.
And fresh coffee is the best coffee. Period.Every tried coffee with flavor notes of strawberry, sweet honey, or a pine forest? Well, this is your chance. Check it out!