Understanding the Coffee Jargon
The world of specialty coffee, especially when first venturing in, can be full of phrases and terminology that can overwhelm and confuse. To help shed some light we have put together a list of some of the more common and will do our best to tell you what they mean and why they are important!
Why is specialty coffee different from your normal bag that you buy from the supermarket? There are two main aspects that produce specialty coffee. The quality of the beans and the roasting of the beans.
Green coffee is graded out of 100. As a rule specialty coffee roasters will only buy green beans that are within the top 15-20% of that scale. Buying these beans not only means that they should be superior in flavour but there should be far fewer defects, such as insect damage, or foreign bodies such as stones.
The roasting of the beans is another feature that marks out coffee as specialty. The roaster should be able to roast each individual coffee to highlight its natural characteristics and make sure they come across in the cup.
How your coffee is processed tells you a little bit on how your now beautifully roasted coffee beans were harvested and processed to become specialty grade green beans ready for us to buy and roast. You will often see phrases such as washed, semi washed and natural popping up here. These can tell you how the cherry was removed from the seed and how (or if) they were washed and then dried. Another blog post will be coming soon to delve deeper into these processes!
Knowing where your coffee came from is important, not just for traceability, but for beginning to understand what coffees you enjoy and the differences between them. With the ability to buy your beans from all over the world, from Indonesia to Africa, South America and beyond it stands to reason that the coffees from those regions should be equally diverse. Once you know what origins are for you, you can start to geek out and explore the regions within those countries and discover the subtle changes that can come with different altitudes, soil conditions and weather.
First and Second Crack
You may hear coffee roasters talk about first and second crack but have no idea what effect this has on your coffee. In reality they are benchmarks within the roasting process, once the beans reach around 200oc they start to expand and release steam making a popping sound somewhat like popcorn, this is first crack. Once you go beyond first crack and above roughly 220oc then they expand and crack again, this is second crack. Within specialty coffee your beans will finish being roasted somewhere after first crack and before second. Beans that are extremely dark and oily have probably been been taken up to or beyond second crack and will generally taste bitter and burnt.
Peaberry coffee beans are often sought after by roasters and consumers as they are thought to be more intense in flavour than standard beans. They are visibly different, being much smaller and rounder. This occurs because there is a mutation within the cherry that causes the two seeds to merge. As they are a mutation occurring in individual cherries they must be hand sorted from the rest of the beans. As this is an increased labour cost peaberries often demand slightly higher prices.