November to February marks the harvest season for coffee in India. And every year we see a surge in the usage of terms like varietals, different processes, fruit fermentations, and more jargon, but what does all this really mean to you?
We bring to you - 21 Terms To Know This Harvest Month. We know you love coffee, and yes we know that coffee can sometimes not make sense. Words like mucilage or chicory are widespread, but what do they actually mean and where are they used? We are here to answer it all. To deliver you from all the fancy mumbo jumbo and clear things out so that you know what to expect from that new Shade Grown Single Estate Black Honey 100% Arabica Sln 7 (AAA).
Coffee varietals are many and they all may sound very complicated but are actually quite simple to understand. Coffee grown in different parts of the world have different unique attributes which separate them from each other. They may differ in the taste profile and the body of the coffee. Other attributes like acidity, bitterness and aftertaste may also differ in varietals.
These changes are the result of genetic mutations which occur due to changes in soil, climatic conditions, altitude, Rainfall etc. Some examples of coffee varietals are - Typica, Bourbon, Caturra etc. If you want to know more about coffee Varietals Bourbon and Typica, check out our article on Arabica here.
Arabica coffee due to around 98% genetic similarity in its natural variants is highly susceptible to coffee rust which is a fungal disease that can reduce quality, yield and can even destroy entire crops in some cases.
To combat this the Central Coffee Research Institute of India has introduced 13 varietals or selections (Namely SLN1 to SLN13) of Arabica coffee since 1936 for plantations in India.
This has been done by inter-varietal hybridization techniques to produce more resilient varietals that can withstand harsher conditions, diseases, etc. while maintaining a distinguished taste profile and body.
Washed process refers to processing coffee using water. And thus also called wet processing, it uses a de-pulper to remove the pulp from the coffee cherries which are collected. The cherries are then put in a large water container where they are washed again to remove any remaining mucilage or pulp left from the previous de-pulping. The beans are then left to be dried in the sun.
Coffee made using the washed process has a cleaner flavour profile thanks to the process which removes all attributes which may alter the pure flavour of the beans. The flavour notes are more easily distinguishable in the washed process and the body of a washed brewed coffee is lighter in comparison. Washed Process is preferred when it comes to specialty coffees. If you would like to try a great cup of washed coffee, check out our single origin, Newton.
Natural processing also called the Dry Process. It originated in ancient Ethiopia and is the oldest known method of processing coffee. It involves collecting the ripe cherries from the coffee plant and directly placing them under the sun, usually on raised patios or flatbeds.
The cherries are then left to ferment for a period ranging from 3 - 6 weeks. This process saves water as there is no need to wash the beans again and again hence it is considered to be more environment friendly. Coffee made using this process retains flavours from the pulp of the beans. This accentuates the fruity sweetness and acidity of the coffee, sometimes by a great degree due to increased fermentation in the sugars of the cherry.
Natural processed coffee is an age-old method which requires simple methods, relying on just sunlight, and manual collection and requires no continuous water supply or a de-pulper. If you would like to taste Natural Processed coffee, check out Nikola, our single-origin highest quality Arabica offering, processed using the Dry Processing method.
The Honey Process may sound like something out of the bee movie but no, this process does not use actual honey. This method is a hybrid between washed and dry processing. It was developed by regions with water shortages like Africa and South America.
The Honey Process uses a de-pulper just like the wet process but does not use a running water supply for washing the remaining mucilage off the coffee beans. Instead, the beans are dried with the sticky mucilage stuck to the beans (The Mucilage here is referred to as Honey). These beans have varying amounts of sweetness depending on the mucilage stuck to the beans. These are then sun-dried and raked from time to time to avoid the formation of mould. This gives these coffees the chance to develop a rich sweetness along with a pleasant acidity.
The Honey process is further branched into the resting time given to them and the amount of mucilage left on them. Ranging from white honey which has minimal mucilage covering it to the rare black honey which has around 80% mucilage left on it.
Honey processing is not as popularly used among farmers as it is tedious but it creates some really distinguished and flavourful coffees. These have the clean flavour of washed coffee and the sweetness of dry-processed coffee. The darker honeys i.e. Black, Red and Gold though take a lot of work, deliver a distinguishable espresso flavour where you could almost taste a drop of honey in your cup.
Fermentation is a process which occurs in coffee when mucilage or the pulp of the cherry breaks down into simple sugars and alcohols. The process of fruit fermentation is fairly recent. In this process, during the natural process, farmers add fruits, mostly citrusy or sugarcane juice with the coffee to ferment. This is said to add unique flavour notes to the end result of the process with beans getting higher cupping scores due to their diverse and fruity nature.
Fermentation of beans happens in a highly controlled environment, with special care taken in the temperature department. Sometimes, too much fermentation end up in a mouldy, tangy coffee which does not give the desired result. Hence further research in the world of fruit fermentation is needed but till then, many farmers are open to experimenting.
Monsooning of coffee beans is not a new concept. About a century ago, coffee shipped from India was often monsooned. But what does it mean? Monsooning of coffee is a process which comes from the Western Coast of India where coffee is spread on the floor or in warehouses. These warehouses protect the beans from rain but the monsoonal winds from the Arabian Sea cause the beans to swell up and change in colour as they absorb moisture from the winds. These beans go through the process for a time frame of 12 to 16 weeks.
This process is said to completely dampen the coffee’s acidity. Monsooned coffee has a great body and pleasant earthy notes. The taste may be a reminisce of the past times of what coffee must have tasted like, long ago when it was imported from India to Europe. It is considered to be an acquired taste even in the coffee community.
Intercropping is a method that involves growing coffee with another plant such as rubber, coconut etc. The most popular choice for intercropping is bananas. Banana trees provide shade to highly temperature-sensitive coffee plants. Banana trees also result in higher carbon absorption from the overall crop.
The benefits do not only stop here, bananas have the ability to store water for water requirements during the dry seasons and hence they do not compete with the coffee plants. All this results in a better, fuller coffee yield while being not too heavy for the environment. There are a few economic benefits as well. During times when coffee yield is scarce, bananas can be sold to maintain better economic stability for the farmer and gives him multiple options. All these reasons make intercropping coffee with other plants a really good idea.
If you are a coffee drinker, you must have seen the terms AA grade or Supremo written on the packaging of different coffees. These terms are called grades. Grades are not set universally but many countries have different systems to grade coffee. These grades are measured using some set terms and conditions which evaluate the coffee before being exported or shipped around the world like altitude, region, variety, number of defects, bean density, processing method, etc just to name a few. The SCA or the Specialty Coffee Association has a set definition of these grades that measure the number of defects and the water activity of the green beans.
One of the most important factors in grading is screen size. Most people believe that bigger-size beans are of superior quality but it does not stand true with many exceptions. Screening of coffee beans is done so the beans have an even size and can be roasted evenly for a better taste. Many times commercially, coffee beans are blended and uniform bean size comes into the picture there as well. Below is a chart explaining different bean sizes and the terms used for each.
The term Shade Grown is exactly what it sounds like. Coffee grown under shade is called Shade Grown coffee. Naturally, coffee has always thrived under shade even in the wild. It is like what we might say, the natural way for coffee to grow. Now, why did I use the word natural? Coffee which is grown under the sun in open fields has lower nutrient levels due to the sun. On the other hand, Shade Grown coffee has much more nutrients due to decomposing leaves that fall from the trees around them. This means that coffee plants under the shade do not usually require chemical fertilizers for them to thrive.
Shade-grown coffee is also known to taste better. The shade creates a perfectly cooler climate for the coffee, and any crop which has a climatic advantage gives better results. The same goes for coffee, shade growing of coffee also means that even if temperatures rise because of climate change, coffee could be grown under trees because of lower temperatures.
We may use the term rust when our cars get old or for a rusty old nail that always sticks out from old houses. The term Leaf Rust represents the same concept of rust. Browning of leaves until the plant die is similar to how rust eats away metals if not taken care of. Coffee Rust is a fungal disease which plagues coffee plants. Because it is a fungal disease, it spreads through the air as its medium for easily passing on to the entire crop. Leaf rust results in lower yield, poorer quality and sometimes complete decimation of the coffee crops.
Arabica plants are more susceptible to coffee rust, this is because Robusta coffee plants are more resilient to diseases and pests. If you would like to know more read our article on how Coffee Rust affects Arabica coffee here.
A natural process in which recently roasted coffee releases three times its volume as carbon dioxide gas, protecting coffee from the staling effect of oxygen for several days. A lot of these gases are released in the first few days after roasting. The problem is that the escaping gases can result in small bubbles when you brew your coffee. These air pockets can disrupt the contact between the coffee grounds and the water, leading to an uneven extraction of the flavour and aroma compounds in the dry coffee.
In other words, if you brew coffee that has just been roasted, it can negatively affect the flavour and profile of the coffee.
Mucilage is the inner part of the coffee pulp which is under the skin of the coffee cherry. The pulp is also known as the mesocarp. The mucilage of the coffee cherries is made up of sugars and hence when left on, leaves a sweet-tasting coffee as a result. In simple terms, it is the sticky substance which is left over from the coffee bean after the de-pulping process. It makes the coffee bean seem covered by a glistening liquid which seems like honey in consistency and hence in Honey Processing, even though it has no relation to honey, the sweet mucilage layer is the inspiration for the name.
The mucilage of coffee beans also helps in the process of fermentation as it's made of sugars and they break down in the process while ending up as simple sugars and alcohol.
To understand the terms Aerobic/Anaerobic fermentation, we must break down the words into Aerobic, Anaerobic and Fermentation. Fermentation is a natural process. It is a process which involves the breakdown of sugars and starches into simple sugars, acids and alcohols. Both fermentation methods, be it aerobic or anaerobic are just processing methods just like wet, dry or honey processing. Aerobic fermentation is a process in which the coffee is exposed to the elements or simply exposed to air. The microorganisms in the air or in water break down the mucilage, resulting in a very different flavour profile.
In Anaerobic fermentation, oxygen is removed from the fermentation process. This slows down the fermentation process. The temperature here is the key for the process as if the beans get over-fermented, they tend to go mouldy and sour. The oxygen can be removed using many methods but the most common is carbonic maceration where oxygen is removed from the container with the help of carbon dioxide. The container which has the coffee cherries can be either expensive vats or cheaper blue barrels, both have variances in the amount of control you have in the process. With more expensive tech, you can measure and control the temperature in a more precise way. The aim is to slow down the fermentation process for as long as possible for a cleaner taste, and accentuated flavour profile of the beans.
Geisha is an Arabica varietal which originates from the Gesha region of Ethiopia. The name Geisha has no connection to the Japanese term which means an entertainer with skills like dancing, singing and acting. The coffee was discovered in South West Ethiopia during the 1930s. The British colonial expedition team which found it carried it through many countries. It stood out due to its taste and its ability to be resistant towards coffee rust. It later appeared in 2004 at the Best Of Panama auction where it won and has a bid of $21 per pound with current prices being $1000+ per pound currently.
So what makes this coffee so special? Well, many factors make coffee special for example, the Kopi Luwak has to go through the digestive system of an animal called the Palm Civet to acquire its unique taste. Geisha is grown at higher elevations with low yield. Geisha coffee has an astonishingly floral and bright taste profile with a wide variety of notes like rose, citrussy, nutty, chocolatey etc. There are also undertones of mango, peach, lime etc. This makes it completely different from the usual and this is the reason it ranked a rating of 90 from the Specialty Coffee Association.
Specialty Coffee Association
As the name suggests, the SCA has had a big impact on the world of specialty coffee. It was formed in 2017 when the SCAA or the Specialty Coffee Association of America and the European Specialty Coffee Association merged to form an international body to ensure the quality of specialty-grade coffee around the world along with regulating ethical systems of trade, events like The World of Coffee and the Specialty Coffee Expo. SCA encourages baristas to showcase their talent through their events and also ensures networking opportunities with some of the biggest faces in the industry turning up at these.
The SCA also aims to create sustainable trade and production systems for coffee production around the world. It has around 30,000 members which is a lot when compared to 10,000 in 2017. SCA also takes pride in sharing coffee knowledge and makes it available to anyone who would like to step into the world of coffee. This is the reason why it also hosts the Annual Sensory Summit which is an event which is dedicated to sharing academic discoveries in the world of specialty coffee.
Chicory is a term you must have heard before on some coffee labels before. It is a flowery plant which comes from the Dandelion family. It is also called Cichorium Intybus scientifically. Chicory has sturdy roots which can be roasted, ground and brewed to give a similar taste as coffee. This is the reason why it may be mixed with coffee blends to lower the costs and decrease the caffeine concentration of the beverage. The taste of chicory is very similar to coffee as it can be described as earthy, nutty and woody.
Chicory is said to be used back in colonial America as an additive to coffee. It is said to be famously used in France during the 19th century when there was an acute shortage of coffee because of Napoleon’s continental blockade. The peculiar thing is that even after the blockade was lifted, people still continued to drink chicory because of its flavour. If strong blends of coffee give you jitters, then a mix of the chicory-coffee blend can help you dodge this.
If we want to understand Peaberry coffee beans, we have to look inside the coffee cherry which is collected from the coffee plants. Coffee cherries usually have two beans inside with their flat sides facing each other and the rounder sides facing outside to the skin of the cherry. Sometimes due to genetic mutation, the cherry only grows a single bean inside and fails to grow the second bean. In this case, the resulting bean grows larger and in a rounder shape as it does not have to compete with another bean for nutrition. Peaberry coffee beans are then separated using sieving methods or collected manually or separated using hi-tech equipment before the roasting process.
One important thing to note is that Peaberry beans cannot be roasted with normal beans. This is because due to their larger size, the beans absorb heat differently and hence the roast could be uneven. This is the reason why they are usually picked separately before the roasting process.
Peaberry beans are said to have a superior cup with better notes and body. This is because of their higher nutritional intake during the time they formed. Hence they are sometimes seen as super beans but there are many arguments against the fact whether Peaberry beans are better or not. One argument is that brands that specialize in selling peaberry seeds are usually growing their coffee in high-quality conditions. This makes the overall coffee grown, better tasting. More research is needed indeed to cement the fact but still, peaberry beans are here to stay.
There are many factors which are involved in the making of high-quality coffees. The climatic conditions, elevation, and processing are all important but another important factor is the way it is traded from the farm to the end consumer, us. Fair Trade is a guarantee which aims to certify that the farmer as well as the worker, got paid a good price that is higher than the base commodity price. Some people may confuse Fair Trade with Direct Trade but Direct Trade deals with how close the company makes the farmed commodity directly to the customer. Direct Trade is a term which can have a fluid meaning depending on the organization. But Fair Trade remains the same in meaning. The World Fair Trade Organization or the WFTO defines Fair Trade as -
"Fair Trade is a trading partnership, based on dialogue, transparency and respect, that seeks greater equity in international trade. It contributes to sustainable development by offering better trading conditions to and securing the rights of, marginalized producers and workers”
Fair Trade aims to create awareness and more opportunities for the people producing the coffee by creating a baseline in prices reducing the amount of exploitation in the industry. This gives the farmers, more freedom to worry less and focus more on producing higher-quality coffee. Fair Trade-certified businesses also need to indulge in making their processes more environmentally friendly with a low impact on the environment.
Hulling is a fairly simple concept and one which is used when processing different types of grains too. The hull is a small parchment layer left over the coffee bean after the procedure of depulping, washing, drying etc. This hull is removed before roasting or shipping. The Hull is removed using a Huller which uses friction to gently remove the hull. It is similar to a depulper but removes the papery layer which is over the beans.
We are witnessing the third wave of coffee nowadays and in this wave, the focus shifts from the origin of the coffee you drink. Microlot refers to coffee which is grown in a single, small region, identifiable to the point, in a specific time period under very specific conditions. This means that the coffee retains the notes of that specific region and every batch, under those conditions, creates the same results of quality. The term is quite popular in the world of Specialty Coffee but its definition is somewhat blurry. This is because Microlot can mean many things to different parts of the supply chain of coffee. But overall, it matters if you can trace your coffee’s origin to the exact lot which was grown under specific conditions. Microlot coffee may sound like a trend or a fad because of the uncertainty in its definition but any term in the industry, if defined correctly, gains popularity and awareness fast.
As we have discussed in the hulling segment of this article, parchment is a paper-like layer over the coffee bean. It is removed after the process of depulping, washing and drying when it takes a crusty form. It can act as a layer for protecting beans from humidity and other problems but is usually removed and dried before shipping as green beans.
And that concludes our glossary for terms you should understand this Harvest Season. We hope you got to learn some thing new. Do you think we missed something? Drop us a text and we would love to cover it on our Instagram or maybe revise our blog as well!
See you next month!