Coffee Nomenclature

Discuss flavors, brew temperatures, blending, and cupping notes.
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Postby Almico » Sep 12, 2018, 10:53 am

So if we buy wine based on varietals: Chardonnay, Pinot, Cabernet, Merlot, etc. and not necessarily the country where the grapes are grown and the wine is produced, how come we basically ignore coffee varietals and mostly market coffee based on terroir?

Single origin means little if it's not a single varietal too. Varietal has more to do with a coffee character than the county where it grows.

In other words, a Geisha grown in Guatemala is more like a Geisha grown in Ethiopia that a Bourbon grown in Guatemala. Just like a merlot in CA is more like a merlot in France than a Pinot in CA.

Some producers are blending varietals at the farm level to achieve their signature coffee, where others are making an effort to segregate the varietals, selling not only single origin, but single varietals.

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Postby Prescott CR » Sep 12, 2018, 12:10 pm


Do you really want to go down this road though? I mean- 'coffee' can mean everything from the plant to the drink. 'Roasting' exists as an option on many ovens but isn't what I do to coffee in my 'Roasters.'

The fruit of a coffee shrub (tree? Bush?) aren't really cherries, but we call them cherries 'cause we're visual people and that's what they look like.

The beans aren't beans, I believe they are best described as pits.

And for god's sake- green coffee, not 'greens,' why does that bother me so much?

Also, varietal isn't the right term either IIRC from the big book of coffee I bought. Since I paid money for the book it MUST be right :)

The plant is the plant, but the ground is the ground it's planted in and makes a diffrernce. My understanding is someone planted Gesha in west Africa and it never took off. Was it the soil? Processing? Storage? Lack of experience? I don't know.

Over at the Decent diaspora we had a discussion on what is a better way to describe 'pre-infusion' because 'pre-infusion' is actually 'infusion' the way we use it now.

Most espresso machine have pumps that PUSH 9bar, but that doens't = the PUCK experiencing 9bar, but we say that all the time.

I'm sure there's more. There are more? There is more? Crap, now I everything I type seems wrong.

Ir-regardless it begs the question.... (that's for the word police).

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Postby Almico » Sep 12, 2018, 2:38 pm

I believe Arabica and Robusta are "species" and Bourbon and Typica would be varieties of the Arabica species. I know with wine they call Zinfandel a "variety" of wine grape.

But it's not so much a semantics thing. If someone wants a Zinfandel wine, it needs to be made from a zinfandel grape. Just buying a Colombia coffee tells one very little about what to expect from that coffee. Whereas buying a yellow bourbon will have distinct characteristics regardless of where it is grown.

From a roasters point of view, I need to know the density of the coffee. Weighing it in graduated cylinder is lame. Moisture content comes into play as does bean size. Not a very exacting method.

Questions arise such as which has more effect on density, species or terroir? Sure, species and varieties will mutate over time, but are producers are keeping track of that? Some are.

Specialty coffee is in it's infancy compared to spirits and wine, but you have to start somewhere.

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Postby Prescott CR » Sep 12, 2018, 5:28 pm

Almico- what you are saying makes sense. I can see what you're getting at.

I'm more for keeping an open mind. Hell, I'll try a robusta if someone tells me it is a good cup.

(no one has done that yet)

If you like I can dig up the coffee family tree in the big book and send it to you in a message. Sounds like you would enjoy it.

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Postby Jake_G » Sep 12, 2018, 11:48 pm

Don't forget Cultivar :D

I get 90% of my coffee from a family friend with a small roastery. He travels to individual farms and selects the specific varietals (naturally occurring sub-species for that terroir) or cultivars (transplanted sub-species that would not normally grow there) that he finds especially nice and brings them back to roast.

He then markets them with names such as "Finca Esperanza, Columbia, Pink Bourbon" or "Fazenda Pico Agudo, Brazil, Yellow Catuai".

It would be refreshing to have such transparency and consistency across the board so you know what your getting. While I enjoy trying lots of different things, it's nice knowing when I pick up a pound from Okon, I'm getting a Colombian Pink Bourbon from the Esperanza Estate, or a Brazilian Yellow Catuai from the Pico Agudo Farm. Knowing the farm is like knowing the vineyard where your wines grapes were grown, but generally the vineyard and the vintner are one in the same. Not all that typical that the farmers are known as world class roasters...

I see this as being the best identifier of what you're getting. Second to this would be as you point out simply knowing the varietal and location. It's like the difference between visiting a farmer's market where you select your produce from each farmer versus a nice supermarket where you can select different varieties of tomatoes from Canada or Mexico. What we normally have with coffee is somehow knowing it's Canadian or Mexican tomatoes without knowing whether they are Heirloom, Roma, or cherry tomatoes...

I wonder how the details get lost. Surely the farmers know what they're growing, right? I suppose I could see a broker gathering up various Colombian Bourbons and mixing them to have enough volume for a large commercial customer, but how do the Bourbons get mixed with the Catuai and the Typica? It may just be an issue of demand. Hell, some folks might just assume that Juan Valdez goes around with Conchita picking all the fresh coffee grounds in Columbia to make those delicious cans of 100% Colombian coffee. If the customer doesn't care, I suppose whatever is available right now reigns king and the country of origin is all that gets noticed or even recorded.

Anyway, I agree that it would be nice to settle on a nomenclature that gave better info, but until customers demand it, I suspect only the very high-end stuff will retain its pedigree, because who wants to know the bloodline of a mutt?


- Jake

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Postby Almico » Sep 13, 2018, 10:00 am

The tomato analogy is a good one. A plum tomato is a plum tomato, whether it is grown in NJ or Mexico. NJ climate might suit them better, but in either case a plum tomato is much different than a beefsteak tomato.

A yellow bourbon is a yellow bourbon. I have one from Burundi now and another from Central America. Yes, the processing is different, but if roasted similarly, they have similar cup characteristics.

I recently spoke with a producer/exported from Honduras. He has his own farm were he grows a parainema variety, but he works with others farms in exporting their coffee as well.

He was very honest and said at first he planted coffee like carrots. He just grew the plants that were the hardiest and produced the highest yield, regardless of quality. But once he was introduced to specialty coffee, and the processes required to ensure it, he and the producers he represents began a vigorous program to upgrade the farms and segregate varietals.

So I guess you run the gamut with coffee producers, importers and roasters. Some take this coffee thing very seriously in order to push the quality ever higher, others do not.


Postby BildoMcBaggins » Sep 13, 2018, 10:39 am

Almico wrote:So I guess you run the gamut with coffee producers, importers and roasters. Some take this coffee thing very seriously in order to push the quality ever higher, others do not.

I think what you said about sums it up.

Like coffee there are tons of wine being sold in the "2 Buck Chuck" segment. Same with beer vs craft beer. With wine and beer drinkers the ones that care seek out the information like varietal or hop as well as how and where it was made. Wine being the most established, craft beer next, and coffee third. "Craft" coffee isn't new to people on this forum but is in its infancy compared to these other two beverages. As it becomes more mainstream, like craft beer has the last decade, information such as varietal and location will become more relevant because it will be needed as a differentiator for roasters to sell to their consumers. For now coffee is still in transition from 2 buck chuck to fine wine but will only get better and more transparent as it moves through the transition.

Prescott CR

Postby Prescott CR » Sep 13, 2018, 3:35 pm

I worry about coffee racism.. some of the mutts out there make a good cup :) Blends too.


Postby allwooba » Sep 13, 2018, 4:09 pm

For anyone looking to improve the vernacular, I vote for ditching "specialty" coffee. It screams of snob, and tells you nothing. How about "good" coffee?

I'm also onboard with taking the "pre" out of pre-infusion. Infusion before infusion? I don't think so.

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Postby SiempreTuParceroMike » replying to allwooba » Sep 13, 2018, 5:02 pm

I second the change from" "specialty" to "good." Anything to make me seem like less of a snob to my family and friends. :P
eager and self-proclaimed newbie