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Green Coffee Glossary

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A

Accession

A single, unique sample, as when making selections for a gene bank or breeding program

Advice of Shipment

This section of a contract requires the seller to advise the buyer as soon as possible of the date of embarkation of the shipment and other relevant shipping line information.

Afloat

An informal term indicating coffee is on an ocean vessel heading towards its destination.

Anaerobic Fermentation

A type of coffee processing that usually refers to a sealed tank fermentation for depulped parchment. After depulping, the coffee is fermented either in clean water or the water used to depulp it, in an airtight tank to prevent new oxygen introduction, with a one-way valve for off-gassing. Technically speaking, all fermentation is by nature anaerobic. In coffee, fermentation occurs alongside aerobic maceration, thus the term anaerobic fermentation is usually applied to the sealed-tank style of processing which can limit the microbial population and activity.

B

Backcrossing

Creating a new generation of trees by breeding a hybrid with one of its parent plants. This is often done to reinforce a particular genetic trait like disease resistance or seed size. In a typical backcrossing scenario, Parent Plant A will have a characteristic that the breeder wants to introduce to the makeup of Parent Plant B. An F1 hybrid of the parents will be created, and that hybrid will then be backcrossed in with Parent B. The next offspring will be selected for the gene marker from Parent A, then backcrossed again, repeating the process, occasionally self-pollinating the generations, until the seedlings are a stable, uniform cultivar that expresses mostly Parent B’s characteristics, but with the new Parent A gene included.

Berry Borer Beetle/Broca

An insect that invades the cherry to lay eggs. The berry borer beetle has an immunity to the caffeine that acts as a deterrent to many insects. Its points of entry and exit can in turn expose the bean to other damage. The berry borer beetle may kill the seed embryo and introduce off flavors to the cup. In appearance, insect damage from the borer beetle is characterized by at least one, but often many, small holes in the bean itself.

Bill of Lading

Often abbreviated BL, B/L, or BOL, this is a document provided to green coffee buyers demonstrating the exact contents of their order as it is shipped. This important document is necessary for clearing customs and its receipt by the buyer is often the trigger for a transfer of funds.

Black (Full or Partial)

A primary defect affecting green coffee which partially or fully blacken the seed. Causes may include frost damage or fungus damage, severe overripening, moisture damage, fermentation errors, and other factors, and can have a significant negative impact on cup quality.

British Grading System

Using letters A, B, C, and T to grade coffee based on size and quality is a hallmark of origins that were once colonized by the British Empire such as India, Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia, and Papua New Guinea.

Brix Scale

A method of measuring the sugar content of a solution, often employed in winemaking. Can be (sometimes controversially) used in coffee to determine cherry ripeness or degree of fermentation. Usually measured with a specific refractometer.

Broken/Cut/Chipped

A secondary defect that may occur during post-harvest processing, increasing in frequency and severity with improperly calibrated equipment. Chipping, cutting, and/or breaking can happen both at the depulper (where the affected area will often become slightly discolored during fermentation) or at the dry mill during parchment hulling.

C

Carbonic Maceration

Similar to anaerobic fermentation, this is processing method involving a sealed tank fermentation step. However, carbonic maceration usually refers to whole cherry fermentation, instead of depulped parchment. Coffee cherries are often added to a large tank filled with clean water. The tank is sealed with a one-way valve for off-gassing of released carbon dioxide, and the environment allows no new oxygen in. The fermented coffee must be depupled after this step before drying.

CFR – “Cost and Freight” / CIF – “Cost, Insurance, and Freight”

These Incoterms for shipping indicate transfer of risk and ownership once the coffee is on the ocean vessel, similar to FOB. However, in these cases the seller – not the buyer – is responsible for contracting and paying for the oversea transit. In the case of CIF, the seller must also provide minimum insurance coverage. In both cases, the location will be listed as the destination port (e.g., CFR New York).

Cherry Flotation

The pre-processing step responsible for cleaning the whole cherry before depulping, fermenting, and/or drying. Also functions to separate floaters – lower quality, low density fruits – from the sinkers, which are of higher density and quality. Sometimes referred to as “Triple Washed” or “Burundi Process.”

Cherry Hull/Husk

Pieces of dried parchment or cherry skin can be left on the coffee bean or included loose with the packed beans due to poorly calibrated hulling/depulping equipment and insufficient sorting. May increase the risk of a fire during roasting.

Cherry Pod

A hulling error, which leaves the full husk of the dried coffee skin and parchment on the seed.

Coffee Bean (Endosperm)

The seed of the coffee fruit. Two seeds are found inside most coffee cherries, and this is what we roast.

Commitment to Buy

A farmer or exporter may request a signed commitment to purchase from the buyer well in advance, with varying degrees of legal binding. This can enable the supplier to secure credit up-front for the costs of processing and overland shipments, for example. Coffee growing and processing is often seen as a risky investment by bankers, thus financing options can be limited for farmers without a committed buyer.

Container

The usual, standard shipping box for international trade moved by truck, train, and steamship line. In the US, commonly used 20-foot full container loads averages between 275-325 bags at around 40,000 lbs., (though numbers may vary slightly depending on the organization or persons “stuffing” (loading) the container).

Credit

Financing options, allowing for receipt of goods before payment. Credit terms typically cover two things: the amount to be paid and the timeframe for payment. A common example might be “Net 30” where the buyer has to resolve the unpaid balance (the “net” sum) within 30 days. Credit may be extended by an importer to a roaster for their purchase, or by a bank to a coffee producer in advance of their harvest or delivery of produce, for example.

Cultivar

A variety of coffee that has been deliberately cultivated by selective breeding. These will not usually produce true to type offspring; rather, they are often hybrids or selected mutations and must be propagated with human intervention.

D

Delivered

A shipping term where the seller relinquishes risk and ownership at the port terminal or another specified location (“at place”). The buyer must then arrange for any fees not covered at the docks, plus overland shipment and insurance.

Demucilage

Partial or complete removal of the coffee’s mucilage down to the parchment. Fermentation is used to demucilage coffee. Alternatively, coffee’s mucilage may be removed with specialized equipment capable of removing more of the coffee fruit compared to a traditional depulper.

Demucilaginator

Machinery that can depulp and demucilage coffee cherries, allowing producers to dry the coffees, bypassing the fermentation stage of wet processing (though there is likely still some fermentation in the early drying stages). This technique uses lower amounts of water and less manual labor.

Density

A measurement of the amount of coffee that can fit in a given 3-dimensional space, mathematically expressed as mass divided by volume.

Depulping

The removal of fruit layers from the parchment coffee. There are a wide variety of machines able to depulp coffee, from manual to mechanical and eco-friendly.

Displacement Density

A way to measure density, by the amount of liquid displaced by the coffee. The coffee’s dry mass is divided by the volume change observed in the water into which it is placed.

Drought Damage

Under drought conditions, green coffee beans can become withered/wrinkled and/or have a lower density, and can negatively affect sensory quality.

Dry Mill

The location responsible for hulling parchment, sorting for defects, density, and screen size, and bagging for export

E

Eco-Pulper

A depulping machine, which can process large volumes of coffee cherries using less than a tenth of the water than is consumed in standard washing practices.

European Prep (EP)

Central American coffees may use the term EP to indicate screen size (15-18), in addition to SHB or SHG to refer to the highest grade of coffee based solely on elevation.

Excelso

A physical coffee grading term used in Colombia. Excelso coffee beans are smaller than Supremo coffee beans. Unlike Supremo, Excelso screen sizes may vary slightly depending on their destination. For the US market, they include sizes 14-16.

EXW – “Ex Works” or sometimes “Ex Warehouse”

A common shipping term that indicates the buyer takes responsibility for overland transport from a specified location. EXW does not include fees for palletization, loading, or other warehouse-related fees. Many domestic coffee sales from a third-party warehouse will transfer ownership this way. For example, a roaster will buy spot coffee from an importer EXW from an independent warehouse, and then must pay the additional cost of trucking it to their facility. In casual conversation, a trader might say “Ex Oakland” or “Ex Continental”; this indicates that the coffee is coming from a warehouse in Oakland or Continental Terminals in New Jersey, respectively.

F

F1

A first filial generation hybrid, a direct descendant of its two distinct parents. The F1 generation will appear uniform, but F1 plants are not stable for reproductive purposes. Breeding two identical F1s together will result in a sizable minority of the second generation offspring (F2) that display a mix of traits from recessive genes, or revert to expressions of the original parents. The more genetic variation in the parent plants, the less stable the F2 offspring will be. Creating a stable offspring usually requires selecting and breeding down to the fourth or fifth (F4 or F5) generations. For many coffees, F5 plants are usually considered relatively stable.

FAS – “Free Alongside Ship”

An incoterm indicating that the seller relinquishes risk at the dock rather than on the ship (FOB).

Fermentation

A metabolic process that produces chemical changes in organic substances through the actions of enzymes. In coffee, it refers to leaving the harvested beans (whether washed or in cherry) to rest and allow microorganisms, usually yeast and bacteria, to macerate the coffee fruit, which has a significant impact on final flavor profile. In washed coffees, this fermentation is used to demucilage parchment before drying.

Floater

A low density, secondary defect, sometimes an immature seed, which can negatively affect cup quality. Floaters may be sorted by cherry flotation and/or by channel during washed coffees processing.

FOB – “Free on Board”

An incoterm, one of the most common for international buyers, indicating that the seller must deliver the coffee onto the ship at the port in the country of embarkation. Any overland transportation costs from mills or warehouses to the port of origin must be paid for by the seller. The buyer agrees to book and pay for oversea shipping, insurance, and any drayage/transportation, customs, and overland freight costs incurred on arrival to the port of destination.

Foreign Matter

Things which are not coffee, such as stones, sticks, or mechanical parts found in coffee samples. Foreign matter may accrue during harvesting and processing and is considered a primary defect.

FOT – “Free on Truck”

A common incoterm indicating that the buyer, not the seller, is required to organize and pay for overland transport to the destination. The transfer of risk occurs when the coffee is loaded onto a truck from a given warehouse. FOT may be used at both origin (where the buyer must arrange to get the coffee to the dock and account for any loading and drayage fees at the port as well as overseas shipment) or domestically. Royal usually sells FOT to roasters, which means our cost includes the fees for loading the truck and palletization, among other fees, as opposed to EXW where those fees would not be included.

Free Settled / Bulk Density

A way to measure density. In this case, a coffee’s volume is measured by filling an empty container. The coffee’s mass is divided by the volume it fills.

Frost Damage

Pre-processing damage to coffee caused by frost, which can result in a damaged cherry and blackened seed.

Full Container Loads (FCL)

Indicates that the shipping container is filled but does not indicate a specific bag count or weight.

Fungus Damage

A primary defect caused by the growth of fungus on the seed. It may occur as the wet coffee dries, particularly if it is not turned frequently to promote even drying and good airflow. It is possible to spot some fungus visually, while some microbially damaged coffee remains latent until roasting, like the potato taste defect. If an infection is particularly bad, brownish spores may appear on the surface of the seeds. Black lights can also be used to spot some fungus damage, but may also return positives for other types of anomalies.

H

Hand Picking

The traditional practice of harvesting coffee cherries using manual labor. Attentive workers may pick only ripe cherries, which can improve the sensory quality of the final product (though this is time consuming and labor intensive compared to mechanical picking). Pickers may also strip pick the cherries, pulling them all (ripe and unripe) at once from the branch.

Heirloom

Broadly used to refer to any variety that has not crossed with another. More strictly, plant breeders and gardeners use “heirloom” to refer to non-commercial fruits and vegetables. In the 1940s and 50s, commercial breeds became increasingly important in global agriculture. Thus, an heirloom plant is often a private, home-garden reaction against this type of farming. In coffee, it is often (and somewhat controversially) applied to Ethiopian forest varieties, and more broadly to global legacy varieties like Typica and Bourbon.

Honey Process

A coffee processing method in which coffee cherry skins are removed and then dried without removing the mucilage. Also called “pulped-natural” or “semi-washed.”

Hulling

Removing the parchment and/or dried cherry skin from the seed prior to sorting and export. Takes place at the Dry Mill.

Hybrid

Refers to a unique plant bred from two distinct genetic parents. Naturally occurring hybrids are not rare for coffee, since cross-pollination occurs readily with other nearby trees. Hybrids created in labs are commonly bred for disease resistance or improved yield, for example. Because hybrids contain unique genetic material contributed from two separate populations, they are said to have “hybrid vigor,” or increased genetic diversity. By selecting a particular accession for a unique genetic trait, a hybrid can be crafted to retain desirable characteristics of its parents and propagate new cultivars.

I

Immature

Immature / underripe beans are usually smaller in size compared to other beans and curl at the tips to a slight u-shape.

In-Cherry Fermentation

Fermentation of the whole fruit. While de facto in-cherry fermentation occurs during the natural process, it can also be employed in controlled environments, such as a sealed tank or covered raised bed.

Incoterms

International Commerce Terms. These are a set of terms defined by the International Chamber of Commerce; these are used broadly throughout commodity trading markets. They clarify who is responsible for ensuring the coffee (in our case) gets to a predefined location and who assumes the ownership and risk.

Insect Damage (Severe/Minor)

Insects, like the coffee berry borer, will burrow directly into the seed, leaving small visible holes. CQI recommends minor insect damage classified as up to three holes, while severe insect damage indicates there are more than three separate perforations in the bean.

Intraspecific

Refers to hybrids bred from parents of the same species. Mundo Novo is a spontaneous intraspecific hybrid of two traditional arabica varieties, for example.  

Interspecific/Introgressed

Hybrids that are a cross of different species. The Timor Hybrid is an interspecific hybrid of Coffea arabica and robusta (C. canephora). Interspecific hybrids can also be referred to as introgressed, meaning new genetic material was introduced.

J

Jute

A type of plant fiber used to make the bags used to hold and transport coffee and many other products. Synthetic and natural alternatives exist, but jute remains the most common option. Sizes vary but the most common for coffee are 60, 69, and 70 kilos.

L

Landrace

A wild variety, like those found in coffee forests across Ethiopia. Landraces are generally considered domesticated, but locally adapted, and distinct from any formal breeding or selection. Thus both a wild forest coffee and a traditional home garden in Ethiopia could be growing a landrace variety.

Less than Container Loads (LCL)

This imply indicates that the container is not filled. Coffee shipped this way will have an increased cost per pound, due to shipping charges both for space and by weight. Partial containers may also be more susceptible to damage during shipment because the contents are loose, rather than packed solid.

Liner

A bag for holding coffee placed inside the jute, intended to preserve the integrity of green coffee by preventing moisture damage and oxidation. Common brands include EcoTact, Grainpro, Vidaplast, and AZ bags.

M

Mechanical Harvesting

The act of picking coffee cherries using a machine. Mechanical harvesters function by straddling the trees, driving over them and oscillating at high speeds, causing coffee cherries to fall onto collection plates or the ground. Can only be accomplished on relatively flat terrain, most commonly in Brazil’s macro farming regions of Mogiana and Minas Gerais.

Moisture Content

The quantity of water contained in the coffee bean, commonly measured as percentage of mass.

Morphology

The study of the physical characteristics of plants, often for the purposes of identification. (See: Phenotypes)

Mucilage (Mesocarp) / Pulp

The flesh of the coffee cherry, directly beneath the skin. This layer surrounds the coffee seeds with a sticky, sugary substance.

Mutations

Genetic anomalies that change something significant about a plant’s nature.

N

NANS – No Approval No Sale

A contract term which indicates that a sample of the coffee must be approved by the buyer before the sale is finalized.

Natural

Also called “dry-process” or “fruit- or cherry-dried.” A coffee processing method of letting the coffee fruits dry with the skin and mucilage intact, which are removed later at a dry mill. Tends to produce the fruitiest tasting coffees.

O

Offer Sample

A representative or stocklot sample of coffee that is “offered” for a quantity available for purchase. This sample type is not associated with an existing contract. However, if the buyer likes it, it might be considered a pre-shipment approval for purchase.

P

Parchment (Endocarp)

The layer of cellulose beneath the mucilage that protects the coffee bean and resembles parchment paper when dried. Parchment may be hand-hulled for samples, but is removed commercially by machines at the dry mill.

Parchment Defect

A hulling error where some beans are found still fully or partially covered in parchment due to poorly calibrated dry mill equipment. It can negatively impact flavor and increase the risk of fire during roasting.

Peaberry

A coffee cherry which underwent a genetic mutation to produce only one seed instead of two. Peaberries are smaller and rounder than coffee beans that develop in pairs. About 5% of an average harvest might be peaberry beans.

Phenotypes

Observed characteristics in a plant, like appearance and growth patterns (see: Morphology)

Polyembryony

A coffee cherry which underwent a mutation to produce multiple embryos instead of the usual two independent embryos, usually resulting in triangular seeds. “False” polyembryony results in that shell secondary defect.

Post-Fermentation Soak

A secondary tank used to hold coffee parchment in clean water immediately after depulping, fermenting, and washing. Fermentation continues but at a much slower pace due to the reduced microbial load in the slurry. Sometimes called “double washed” or “Kenya process.”

Post-Harvest Processing

All the aspects of coffee preparation that occur after harvest. Post-harvest processing covers everything at the wet mill and dry mill, from depulping, fermentation, drying, hulling, sorting, and bagging for export

Potato Taste Defect

A taste defect resembling the flavor and aroma of raw potatoes, caused by the presence of pyrazines, likely the result of a bacterial infection of the coffee cherry. It is primarily detected after roasting, making it difficult to sort out during post-harvest processing. Most commonly found in Rwanda and Burundi, but also observed in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, Tanzania, Zambia, and Kenya.

Pre-processing Defect

Any damage to coffee that occurs while on the tree or immediately after picking. Main culprits may include insects, genetic flaws, disease, environmental factors, and human error.

Pre-Shipment Sample (PSS)

Typically offered as a “fulfillment option” for existing agreements, this is usually the point of no return for a buyer. The coffee in question may already be milled and ready for transporting, or the sample may have been specially prepared in advance of dry milling. In either case, an approval of a PSS is taken as an agreement to move forward with preparing and exporting the finished coffee to the buyer.

Primary Defect

A classification of green coffee defect according to the SCA and CQI. Coffee must show no primary defects in order to be classified as specialty grade green coffee. Primary defects are considered to have the greatest impact on cup quality, and include full black, full sour, foreign matter, dried cherry/pod, fungus damage, severe insect damage, and foreign matter.

Processing Defect

Defects that occur during preparation of coffee at the wet mill or dry mill. These are generally the most commonly encountered defects, which are usually the result of some combination of human and mechanical errors.

Q

Quaker

A coffee seed that does not properly brown during the Maillard stage of roasting, appearing much paler in comparison to its counterparts. Quakers are only identifiable once the coffee has been roasted, and are sometimes associated with immature coffee.

R

“Replace” (or “Repeat”)

A contract term allowing a new pre-shipment sample to be offered in place of a rejected sample.

Representative or Stocklot Sample

This sample type corresponds directly to a quantity of coffee in a specified location. Representative samples typically draw from multiple bags of the same stocklot to provide a holistic and accurate depiction of the coffee. However, standards vary from warehouse to warehouse.

S

SAS – Subject to Approval Sample

A contract term wherein fulfillment of that contract is dependent on the buyer’s approval of a pre-shipment sample.

Screen Size

Screen size traditionally has been measured by passing coffee through circular holes. These holes are typically measured in increments of 1/64 of an inch in diameter, so a coffee measuring screen size 16 means the coffee is 16/64” – or a quarter of an inch – across. Most screen size measurement fall between 12 and 20.

Secondary Defect

A less severe classification of green coffee defect according to the SCA and CQI. Specialty coffee may show a varying number of secondary defects, depending on which defect, in order to be classified as specialty grade green coffee.

Selection

Systematic and intentional botanical choices, which are reproduced for distribution. In other words, the process by which a landrace and/or natural variation in a field or offspring in a breeding program are chosen for further breeding, cloning, or wider dissemination. Ex: Gesha was selected from a limited number of seeds from a wild population in Western Ethiopia.

Shells or “Elephant Ears”

A developmental anomaly caused by false polyembryony. The coffee bean develops into two separate halves, one tucked inside the other, which come apart easily and may roast unevenly.

Silver Skin (Perisperm)

 A thin, semi-translucent peel that wraps the coffee seed. Usually grey-green in color (though it may take on reddish hues if ripened or dried in the fruit). During the roasting process this silver skin dries and falls off, becoming chaff.

Skin (Exocarp)

The outer skin of coffee cherry that covers the fruit.

Sour (Full or Partial)

A defect that may be caused by too long a wait between picking and depulping, an overly long fermentation process, or storing the coffee beans while they have too high a moisture content. Full sour is a primary defect, while partial sour is a secondary defect.

Spot

Coffee that is located domestically, usually in a warehouse and available for purchase.

“Stinkers”

A sensory fermentation defect that emits an acetic or briny aroma and flavor due to dirty fermentation tanks or unstirred pockets in the slurry.

Strictly High Grown (SHG) / Strictly Hard Bean (SHB)

This refers to the highest grade of coffee based solely on elevation.

Strictly Soft (SS)

The highest sensory grade of coffee in Brazil unrelated to Strictly Hard Beans (SHB). Instead it refers to the absence of defective “hard” cups.

Supremo

A physical coffee grading term used in Colombia. Supremo coffee beans are larger than Excelso beans and are sized 17-18.

T

Triangular Seeds

A developmental anomaly where the coffee cherry produces an extra seed, or in extreme cases, multiple extra seeds, caused by polyembryony.

Type Sample

This is a non-representative sample, meaning it does not directly correspond to a specific lot of coffee for sale. It may be used as an introduction to a new relationship (i.e., “This is the type of coffee we often carry”) or as a substitute for many representative samples in a long-term, high-trust relationship (e.g., “Here’s the type sample for the 10 containers we will sell you this season”).

V

Variety

A taxonomic rank of plants below species. Varieties are minor, naturally occurring phenotype variations evident across a population. Most varieties are “true to type,” meaning that the seedlings grown from a variety will resemble the phenotype of the parent plant.

Varietal

An adjective meaning “having the characteristics of a variety.” Strictly speaking, varietal can be used to refer to the coffee drink made from a specific plant variety, but not to the plant itself. People can drink a varietal that has the characteristics of the variety that was planted and harvested.

W

Washed Coffee

A processing method in which the fruit is depulped with water and the remaining mucilage is removed using fermentation. The most widely used processing method in specialty coffee, but it uses a significant amount of water. Also known as “wet process” and “parchment-dried”.

Water Activity

A measurement of vapor pressure or “water energy,” primarily used to predict susceptibility to microbial infection. It may also help indicate the shelf-stability of a coffee, and to a lesser degree, the ability to predict the potential rate of changes related to browning reactions like caramelization and Maillard reactions.

Wet Hulled

A processing method that removes the parchment before the coffee cherry or parchment is completely dry. This technique is especially popular in Indonesia, where coffee is harvested and left to dry in cherry to 30-40% moisture. It’s then hulled to remove parchment, leaving the green bean exposed and to dried the rest of the way (usually down to 10-12% moisture). This is in contrast to most processing methods, where the parchment is left on the bean until just before shipping. Also known as giling basah, “seed dried,” and sometimes “semi-washed.”

Wet Mill

The location primarily responsible for washed coffee processing, fermentation, and drying both parchment and whole cherry. Also known as a beneficio, a factory, a washing station, a pulping unit, and many other names.

Withered/Wrinkled

These defects are often the result of drought damage, and cause the green been to look shriveled, like a raisin.