How to speak coffee: the essential glossary

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Gradual changes over the past decade mean coffee is not just classed as a beverage anymore, it’s a lifestyle. The fact that New Zealand has more roasters per capita than anywhere else in the world shows just how seriously we take our coffee. And if you’re about to launch into crafting and serving your own cup of Joe, you need to know what you’re talking about.  We’ve compiled the essential coffee glossary - from green bean to yield - to get you up to speed.

Beans and Roasting

  • Green bean: The coffee seed after it’s processed and dried but before roasting. When roasting companies source coffee, this is the form it’s in.
  • Single origin: Refers to coffee grown within a single known geographic location. This might mean a single farm, or a specific collection of beans from a single country. Single-origins tend to have a unique flavour profile, which coffee shops can use to add value or differentiate from competitors.
  • Arabica: One of the two main types of coffee beans. Arabica beans tend to have a sweeter, milder taste, with hints of fruit, berries and sugar balanced with acidity.
  • Robusta: The other of the two main types of coffee beans. Robusta has a deeper, punchier taste and contains double the caffeine of Arabica beans.
  • Blend: A mixture of two or more single-origin coffees. Roasters will use blending techniques to achieve certain characteristics in flavour, ease of brewing, aging, and aroma.

Equipment

  • Knockbox: A canister for storing disused ground coffee. It gets its name from the signature sound of ‘knocking’ coffee pucks out of the group handle between shots.
  • Portafilter/group handle: A handle with a filterbasket inserted into one end which baristas hold when putting on shots or knocking out spend pucks. They usually have one or two ‘spouts’ coming off the bottom to direct shots into cups.
  • Filterbasket: a metal, cylindrical shaped container with a perforated base in which ground coffee is dispensed and tamped while attached to a group handle. Filterbaskets vary in size depending on the type of coffee being used and the desired flavour. They are usually between 18-21 grams, which refers to the ideal weight of ground coffee required for a perfect shot.
  • Grinder: A machine used for grinding roasted coffee beans. They vary greatly in shape and size but are typically identified as having a clear, conical hopper on top, into which the beans are fed and stored. They usually accommodate up to 1kg of coffee beans at a time.
  • Dialing in: refers to adjusting the coffee grinder to achieve the perfect shot (correct coffee dose, coarseness of the grind, coffee-to-water ratio, length of pour, etc). There are many variables that affect achieving the perfect shot time and time again, such as coffee age, coffee blend, ambient temperature, humidity, etc. Good baristas will dial in their grinder multiple times every day, but it’s usually done at the start of trade. 
  • Doser: The chamber affixed to the front of a grinder where ground coffee is collected. It contains vanes that regulate the volume of coffee directly into the group handle. Good baristas won’t use the dosing feature (or will use a grinder that doesn’t have a doser at all) as it requires more ground coffee than can be used in one shot to work correctly, leaving undesirable coffee going to waste.
  • Hopper: The container of top of the grinder that holds roasted coffee beans waiting to be ground.
  • Boiler: The metal (often brass) container in an espresso machine that holds and heats water to either brewing or steaming temperature, depending on the design of the machine. High-end coffee machines contain multiple separate boilers that can be set to different temperatures to suit different blends of coffee (eg. single origin or house blend).
  • Group head: The outlet on the coffee machine into which a group handle is inserted. Coffee machines are typically classed as one-group, two-group or three-group machines.
  • Steam wand: The arm on an espresso machine that is used to heat and froth milk. Pressurised steam is released from the boiler through the nozzle on the end of the steam wand and into the milk. The barista then uses a special swirling technique to introduce air and froth the milk. A skilled barista can produce sweet, beautifully textured microfoam using a variety of different milks.
  • Tamper: A weighted tool, usually aluminium or steel, used to compress ground coffee into a puck in the filterbasket.

Brewing and tasting

  • Aroma: One of the most powerful and alluring parts of coffee is the characteristic smell.
  • Crema: A caramel coloured foam that forms at the top of freshly made espresso coffee. It is created when carbon dioxide contained in emulsified oils are forced out of the bean by the high-pressure water during extraction. This is the sweetest, most flavourful part of a coffee and a key element of an espresso’s anatomy.
  • Body: This is the liquid portion and mouthfeel, or texture-like weight of the drink on the palate eg. a strong coffee would be considered full-bodied.
  • Heart: This refers to the complex flavour of the coffee, its ‘essence’.
  • Dose: The amount of ground coffee required to produce an espresso shot.
  • Puck: Named after its resemblance to an ice-hockey puck, a coffee puck is the compressed disc of coffee you knock out of the group handle after producing a shot. Analysing a puck can tell you a lot about the quality of your coffee shot. Find a puck troubleshooting guide here.
  • Latte art: A skill in its own right. It refers to the art produced on top of milky coffees, usually lattes, flat whites and cappuccinos. Common designs include leaves, hearts, and rosettas. Did you know New Zealand has its own latte art championships?! See some of it here.
  • Extraction: The time taken from when water begins to flow through the coffee puck until the flow of water stops. The magic number you’re aiming for is 28 seconds.
  • Yield: Refers to the weight of the espresso in the cup. Yield, at its very core, is a compromise. More yield means you’ve pushed more water through the coffee, extracting more flavour; but more water means more dilution, which makes the espresso weaker. Lower yield means you’ve pushed less water through the coffee, extracting less flavour; but because you’ve added less water to the equation, the espresso isn’t diluted as much and ends up stronger.
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