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The Ultimate Guide to Coffee Terminology

Galena Roasters is a small-batch specialty roasting company located in Galena, Illinois. Since 2018, Galena Roasters has been dedicated to bringing its beloved town exceptional coffee through an exceptional experience.


  • Coffee Terminology 101

  • Cold Brew vs. Iced Coffee

  • A Beginners Guide to Speciality Coffee

  • What Should I Order at a Speciality Coffee Shop?

  • Light vs. Medium vs. Dark Roast

  • Acidity: A Key Player to the Perfect Cup

  • The Cupping Process

  • Coffee's Many Faces: Processing Methods

  • Exploring Experimental Processing Methods

Coffee Terminology 101

Coffee has a language all its own, a lexicon that might seem intimidating at times. But don’t worry! Whether you're a seasoned coffee connoisseur or just entering into the caffeinated universe, understanding these terms will help you order with confidence and provide you with a deeper appreciation for the art of coffee.

Let's start with the star of the show: espresso. A shot of espresso is the foundation of many coffee drinks. It's brewed by forcing hot water through finely-ground coffee under pressure, resulting in a concentrated and robust flavor. Espresso comes in various sizes: singles, doubles, triples, and even quads. A single shot is known as a "single," a double shot as a "doppio," a triple as a "triple," and a quadruple as a "quad."

To achieve the perfect espresso, coffee beans are often roasted specifically for this purpose. The grind size and extraction time are important factors that need to be dialed in on the grinder and espresso machine to avoid under-extraction (sour taste) or over-extraction (bitter taste).

Latte: A classic favorite, a latte is made by combining espresso with steamed milk and a small amount of milk foam. It's a creamy and mild option that's great for those new to espresso.

Cappuccino: This drink is all about balance. It features equal parts espresso, steamed milk, and milk foam. Crafting a proper cappuccino showcases the barista's skill in achieving the ideal milk foam consistency.

Macchiato: A "macchiato" means "stained" in Italian. It's an espresso "stained" with just a dollop of milk foam, resulting in a strong coffee flavor with a touch of creaminess.

Cortado: In a cortado, espresso and steamed milk are combined in equal proportions, with a light layer of milk foam. It strikes a balance between the strength of espresso and the smoothness of milk.

Flat White: This is espresso and steamed milk combined but without the milk foam. It's a silky and indulgent choice for those who love the essence of coffee with a hint of creaminess.

Mocha: A mocha combines espresso, steamed milk, and chocolate sauce. The result is a rich, slightly sweet beverage.

Cold Foam: Cold foam is a popular topping made by frothing milk and creating a velvety foam layer. Unlike whipped cream, it subtly blends into the coffee, enhancing both texture and flavor.

Cold Brew: This is not your average iced coffee. Cold brew involves steeping coarse coffee grounds in cold water for an extended period, usually 12 to 24 hours. The result is a smooth, less acidic, and highly caffeinated brew.

Nitro Cold Brew: Taking cold brew to the next level, nitro cold brew is infused with nitrogen, giving it a creamy texture and a visually captivating cascading effect when poured.

Cold Brew v. Iced Coffee (and which one we prefer)

When it comes to enjoying your java over ice, you've likely encountered the classic debate: cold brew or iced coffee. Let's walk through the chemistry behind each method and explore why cold brew often steals the spotlight for coffee aficionados seeking a smoother, more flavorful experience.

Iced Coffee: A Quick Chill

Iced coffee is created by brewing coffee using hot water and then rapidly cooling it down before pouring it over ice. The process closely mirrors that of regular hot brewing, with the key difference lying in the temperature adjustment post-brewing. To ensure a well-made iced coffee, it's vital to cool it quickly to lock in the flavors.

As coffee cools, its chemistry evolves. Compounds within the coffee beans interact, morph, and form new flavors. Swift cooling is imperative to halt these changes at their peak, preventing unwanted flavor degradation.

Cold Brew: A Purposeful Creation

On the other end of the spectrum is cold brew, a method that takes time to reach perfection (but is so worth it, in our opinion). It starts with a specific coffee roast profile designed exclusively for cold brew. The coffee grounds are steeped in cold water over an extended period, usually 12 to 24 hours. This gentle extraction process results in a concentrated coffee base that offers a smoother, less acidic flavor profile.

Interestingly, the idea that cold brew is less acidic than its hot-brewed counterpart is a common misconception. While cold brew may seem less acidic, it's due to the distinct chemical reactions that occur during hot brewing, not the actual acidity of the coffee itself. Hot brewing releases certain acids that can break down into compounds that might lend bitterness. In cold brew, this chemistry is subdued, leading to a milder, less bitter taste.

Cold Brew Takes the Crown

Many coffee enthusiasts and experts lean towards cold brew for its unique qualities. Unlike iced coffee, cold brew is intentionally designed to maximize flavor. African coffee beans, often favored for their elevated acidity, are a popular choice for cold brew. This acidity not only adds complexity to the taste but also enhances the perception of sweetness on the palate. While coffee beans don't naturally contain much sugar, the interplay between acidity and existing sugars can create a sensation of sweetness, adding depth to the cold brew experience.

In fact, some coffee shops are so devoted to cold brew that they don't even offer iced coffee on their menus. Cold brew's smoothness, natural sweetness, and deliberate preparation have elevated it from a mere beverage to an elevated coffee experience that captivates the taste buds in every sip.

So, whether you're a fan of the rapid cool-down of iced coffee or the deliberate craftsmanship of cold brew, understanding the science and care that go into each method makes that refreshing sip all the more enjoyable.

An Introduction to Speciality Coffee

If you ask us, coffee is way more than just a morning pick-me-up; it's an art form. The term "specialty coffee" might pique your interest, and rightfully so. Let's take a deep dive into this world where beans are scored like fine wines, and each step of the process is meticulously executed to bring you a cup of coffee that's nothing short of extraordinary. (Hint: this is what we do at Galena…but you already knew that.)

At the heart of specialty coffee lies a detailed scoring process akin to that of evaluating wines. To earn the title of specialty coffee, a bean must score 80 or above on a specialized scale. Before even reaching the roaster, these beans are reviewed to ensure a limited number of green faults, which allows their potential to come through.

But it's not just the numbers that matter. This process begins at the coffee farms, where every step influences the final brew's quality. Growers carefully tend to their coffee plants, picking only the ripest cherries during meticulous, hand-picked selections. Often, multiple rounds of picking take place during the harvest to ensure optimal flavor development.

The cherries must be handled with care to avoid moisture, which could compromise the coffee's flavor profile. State-of-the-art fermentation tanks and high-quality water ensure the beans' potential is fully realized. After processing, the coffee rests for about 30 days at its origin. This enhances the flavors, marking a practice that seems simple yet vital to the final cup's excellence.

Brewing specialty coffee is an art of its own. Precision is key. Brewers are adjusted for specific brew times, extraction levels, and lengths. The goal? To extract the best flavors locked within each bean.

Specialty coffee isn't just about the product; it's about the people behind it. Farmers, often in regions where coffee is a lifeline, deserve to share in the benefits of their hard work. Specialty coffee is a commitment to paying a premium price to these dedicated growers. It's a cycle of sustainability that ensures not only the continuation of exceptional coffee but also supports the livelihoods of those who nurture it.

What Should I Order at a Speciality Coffee Shop?

If you're eager to truly explore the nuances of coffee, consider going beyond your typical order and into the realm of lighter medium roast brews. These coffees carry a wealth of information, offering a cup that speaks to its bean’s origin, processing, and flavor profiles.

A latte with an extra shot and no syrups is a sip worth considering. This order isn't just a caffeinated pick-me-up; it's a testament to the barista's skill and dedication to their craft. The craftsmanship required to execute this order to perfection is a mark of quality, showcasing the barista's expertise and precision.

For those who wish to explore beyond the traditional dairy selections, specialty coffee shops often offer many dairy alternatives. Oat milk has become a favorite due to its creamy texture and mild sweetness. In fact, specialty coffee shops frequently provide an assortment of alternatives such as almond, soy, and coconut milk. These options highlight the shop's commitment to catering to various dietary preferences and offer an opportunity to experiment with unique flavor profiles.

So, the next time you find yourself at a specialty coffee shop, remember that the menu isn't just a list of choices—it's an opportunity to explore the coffee world, from intricate brews to alternative milk options. Embrace the chance to step out of your comfort zone and savor the flavors and expertise that come with every cup.

Light vs. Medium vs. Dark Roast

Coffee, in its raw green form, holds immense potential. Yet, it's the roasting process that unlocks its aromatic complexities, creating a diverse range of flavors.

In the light roast, you're savoring the essence of the bean's birthplace. The inherent notes of citrus, sweet apple, and mellow acidity dance on your palate, offering a crisp and vibrant experience. As roasting progresses, moving into the medium roast territory, the flavors undergo a shift. Citrus tones make way for richer, chocolatey undertones, complemented by the emergence of milk chocolate and dried fruit notes. The medium roast is the bridge between the lively terroir and the deep, roasting-induced chemistry.

However, it's as we venture into the darker realms of roasting that a profound transformation occurs. Beyond a certain temperature threshold, often past the 460-degree mark, organic acids within the beans start to vanish, taking much of the terroir's unique fingerprint with them. In these roasts, often associated with names like French or Vienna roasts, the roasting chemistry comes to the forefront. The characteristics of the origin largely give way to the flavors introduced during the roasting process.

Dark roasts are known for their boldness and intensity. Here, the beans carry the deep richness of smoky, earthy, and even charred notes. While the origin's influence takes a backseat, the unmistakable aroma of the roaster's craft dominates the cup.

Whether you savor the brightness of a light roast, the balanced complexity of a medium roast, or the robustness of a dark roast, you're sipping on a narrative that's been carefully curated by the hands of both nature and artisan.

Acidity: A Key Player to the Perfect Cup

Coffee's acidity doesn't refer to the stomach-churning quality of, let’s say, a vinegar shot. Instead, it's a complex spectrum of flavors that elevates the coffee experience.

Three primary acids play the role of flavor maestros in coffee: citric, malic, and acetic. Citric acid, reminiscent of grapefruit and lemon, adds bright, zesty undertones. Malic acid brings in the fruitiness of apples and grapes, offering a sweet, crisp dimension. Surprisingly, acetic acid, the very essence of vinegar, contributes to coffee's rich flavor tapestry. Though one might initially wrinkle their nose at the thought, this acid, when combined with other elements, adds a pleasant depth to the brew.

While these three acids take center stage, there are other supporting players like chlorogenic and quinic acids. Chlorogenic acid contributes to coffee's distinct aromatic profile, and quinic acid can lead to bitterness if not handled carefully.

As the coffee cools, an intriguing transformation occurs. Quinic acid breaks down into compounds, one of which is quinic lactone. In poor roasting processes where heat transfer rates are unintentional, this can lead to stomach discomfort. However, a well-roasted coffee rarely causes these issues.

The Cupping Process

The stage is set with small trays, each holding a batch of whole coffee beans. This initial visual inspection allows participants to take in the characteristics and subtle differences among the beans. However, the true magic happens when the beans are ground and ready to be steeped.

A cupping bowl or glass, precise measurements, and a specific water-to-coffee ratio are the essential tools at this stage. The Specialty Coffee Association recommends ratios ranging from 16:1 to 20:1. The magic number for some is about 17.3:1, the result of meticulous experimentation. It's fascinating to learn that the grind and ratio were carefully determined through a scientific process that examined different variables to capture the beans' essence.

As the cupping commences, participants embark on a sensory experience. The process begins with a "dry nose," where the coffee's aroma is savored even before water comes into play. In formal settings, participants don't touch the cups, merely savoring the scent lingering in the air. A hushed atmosphere prevails, fostering a pure sensory experience unaltered by external influence.

Water is then added, allowing the coffee to steep and form a crust on the surface. This crust serves as a reservoir of aromas, teasing the participants' senses until it's time for the "break." Around the four-minute mark, the crust is delicately disrupted, releasing a burst of concentrated aromas. It's a moment of intense olfactory pleasure that sets the stage for the tasting to come.

Around the eight-minute mark, the crust is gently skimmed, preparing the coffee for the next phase. By the 13-minute point, the coffee is at an optimal temperature for tasting. The first tasting round is quick, allowing participants to experience the evolving chemistry of the coffee as it cools. It's an initial dive into the complex flavors, where acidity, sweetness, body, and aroma weave a symphony on the palate.

Throughout the cupping experience, participants take notes, assign scores, and explore the coffee's multifaceted personality. But it doesn't end there. The calibration process, a collaborative discussion, unfolds at the session's conclusion. Here, individual perceptions are shared and discussed, enhancing the overall understanding of the coffee's profile. This shared perspective refines palates and aligns perceptions, ensuring a cohesive evaluation process.

Coffee's Many Faces: Processing Methods

Washed Process

Starting with freshly picked coffee cherries, the process involves swiftly breaking their skins, followed by a stay in fermentation tanks for approximately 30 to 36 hours. During this time, yeast takes center stage, gently breaking down the pectin and flesh, leaving behind the coveted parchment coffee. This protective layer is retained throughout the drying phase, preserving the beans' integrity. Once the beans reach a moisture content of 11 to 13%, the parchment is meticulously removed, and the beans are ready for their final transformation. Washed coffees tend to boast clean profiles with a pronounced clarity.

Natural Process

These cherries are laid out on dry beds, where they undergo a unique fermentation process within their skins. To prevent over-fermentation, the cherries are raked and turned multiple times daily, ensuring a balanced and consistent outcome. As the cherries dry, they absorb flavors and aromas from their surroundings, creating a brew that's rich in fruity notes and complexities. Once the moisture content reaches the desired level, the cherries' dried skin is gently removed, unveiling the essence of the beans. This process results in coffees that are vibrant, fruity, and filled with the aromatic embrace of their surroundings.

Honey Process

During this process, the cherries' skins are carefully removed before the beans are spread out on drying beds. Depending on the percentage of flesh retained, the honey process is classified into variations like yellow, red, and black honey. This method infuses the beans with a touch of sweetness and fruitiness, resulting in flavors that are a harmonious blend of fermentation and natural sugars. Notably, the honey process often leads to a visually captivating array of colors on the beans, offering a dynamic experience from start to finish.

Wet-Hulled Process

Originating in Indonesia, the wet-hulled process is a testament to the region's high humidity levels and historical coffee traditions. In this method, coffee cherries are dried partially, retaining a moisture content of about 30 to 35%. The parchment is then removed, expediting the drying process. This unique technique imparts distinct flavors to the coffee, often characterized by earthy and musty undertones, reminiscent of the forest floor. The wet-hulled process showcases the connection between tradition and experience, resulting in coffees that carry a touch of Indonesia's natural essence.

Exploring Experimental Coffee Processing Methods

In the realm of coffee processing, innovation knows no bounds. Among the latest frontiers in coffee craftsmanship are experimental methods like anaerobic fermentation and carbonic maceration, which are swiftly gaining traction. These cutting-edge approaches challenge traditional norms, inviting coffee enthusiasts to embark on a taste adventure like never before.

These experimental methods illuminate the immense potential within the world of coffee. They not only encourage us to push the boundaries of flavor, aroma, and texture but also remind us that the art of coffee continues to evolve with each new discovery. As we embrace these unconventional techniques, we're reminded that coffee's journey of exploration is far from over.

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