Green Coffee Glossary for New Coffee People, An Abridged List
Sometimes an initiation right, sometimes a simple learning curve, sometimes outright hazing, learning the lingo in any given context is more or less a necessity for efficiency sake and avoiding misunderstandings. Every activity has it’s lingo, language that is specific if not unique to all of its nouning and verbing through the day. The coffee industry is certainly not the worst offender in this regard, but the coffee lingo list can get long if you let it. Below, we attempt to apply the Einsteinian principle of keeping it “as simple as possible, but not simpler.” You need only read the underlined bits to get the idea.
Accessorials: Extra services associated with delivering your coffee to you. Coffee is put on a truck. The truck drives from the warehouse to you and the coffee is delivered. Easy, right? But wait! What if the delivery requires a liftgate or is to a residential address or requires inside delivery or has limited access so a smaller truck is required? Accessorials are the extra effort trucking companies view as above and beyond standard service and they charge you extra for them.
Afloat: Coffee that is not at hand and it isn't on land, neither here nor there, but on the ocean somewhere. Thank you Dr. Suess.
Altitude: How far above sea level coffee grows. Altitude is significant to coffee growing because environmental factors generally associated with higher altitudes affect fruit development and ultimately the taste of coffee, often in the realm of sugar and acidity. High altitudes tend to result in more distinctive flavor profiles; however, in the same way that high altitude doesn’t guarantee good coffee, low altitude doesn’t necessarily mean bad coffee, just different coffee.
Blender: Coffees that are likely to be used as a blend component. Blender often refers to the “bass player” in your band (blend), the foundation on which more distinct blend components are built. A blender is often itself a blend of single-origin green coffee created to deliver a comparatively neutral and consistent flavor profile. Because blends are often the best-selling coffees for established roasters, blenders are purchased in relatively high volumes and tend to be value coffees.
Bill of Lading (acronym alert! BOL): Document issued to the trucker by the warehouse detailing the contents of your shipment. The BOL also serves as your shipping receipt upon delivery and should be used as your inventory check-list. Always make sure everything listed on the BOL matches what was actually delivered before the trucker leaves. Write down discrepancies and/or damage on the BOL itself before signing.
Carry Costs: The costs associated with storing coffee a roaster owns and we do not. Under certain circumstances a coffee roaster might own but not take delivery of a coffee. In those cases, the costs associated with storing the coffee at the third-party warehouses used by Olam are the responsibility of the roaster and the roaster is invoiced accordingly. This is true whether the roaster owns the coffee outright or through contractural obligation to pay for the coffee upon release.
Certification: Third-party verification and documentation that certain standards have been achieved. These standards most often relate to a wide range of conditions around social and environmental sustainability. The key point is that someone ostensibly outside the economic exchange of goods has verified and documented that the stated conditions exist and standards have been met. Common certifications for coffee are Organic, Fair Trade Organic, and Rain Forrest Alliance.
C-Market: The global exchange and price discovery marketplace where coffee is traded daily as a commodity. 54 years ago a new coffee trading contract that used the futures market for Central American Arabica coffees (thus the “C” in C-Market) to establish floor prices began to replace the “U-Contract” (Universal Contract). This contract and the exchange system in which it operates is not only a price discovery mechanism but also serves a stabilization function and seeks to standardize trading practices. Sometimes referred to simply as “the market.” One can be forgiven for thinking the “C” actually stands for “complicated.”
Cupping: The formal process of tasting coffee for the purpose of evaluation and description. Known as “cup testing” once upon a time, formal cupping involves slurping coffee from a bullion spoon and then scoring various attributes of the coffee using industry standards. Cupping can be used to evaluate green coffee quality, for quality assurance in a roasting operations, to explore flavor components in blend development, or discover optimal roast development.
Delivery Order (acronym alert! DO): A document issued to the warehouse by Olam directing the warehouse to release coffee to the buyer/new owner of the coffee. Whether you’re picking up the coffee yourself, hiring a carrier to pick it up, or asking Olam to assist with shipping, the warehouse needs permission to let the coffee go so it can be turned over one way or another to you, the new owner.
Differential: The difference between the cost of any given green coffee and the C-Market floor price for green coffee. For example, if coffee is trading on the C-Market for $2.25 a pound and the Nicaraguan you’re looking at is $3.72, the differential is part of the $1.47 difference. Note, the differential will almost always remain constant regardless of what happens on the C-Market. If “the market” goes up to $2.50, the price of that Nicaraguan coffee will change to $3.97. Likewise, if the C-Market drops to $2.00, the price of the Nicaraguan will change to $3.47.
Estimated to Arrive (acronym alert! ETA): An educated guess, usually based on past performance under similar circumstance, of when a coffee shipment will arrive. That’s what an ETA is. What an ETA isn’t is a promise, guarantee, assurance, or agreement. An ETA is valuable as a planning tool only to the extent that it is used in concert with its companion, contingency planning, for when things do not go as guessed.
Fair Trade Organic (acronym alert! FTO): Coffee that is certified as Fair Trade means the coffee has been verifiably produced under Fair Trade standards, including minimum payment above commodity prices. The “O” in FTO means the green coffee is also certified organic. For more information visit Fair Trade Certified.
Forward: A contractual commitment to purchase coffee that has not yet arrived. Established coffee roasters with a substantial purchase history may be invited to contract for coffees “in the future,” meaning coffees that have not yet arrived on our shores. In this case, the roaster is agreeing to purchase the coffee at some point in the future for a price established when the contract is created; in effect, locking in a price and owning the coffee.
Free on Truck (acronym alert! FOT): When coffee is sold FOT it means ownership passes to the buyer as soon as the coffee is loaded onto a truck for delivery to the buyer. This important bit of transportation lingo means that once the seller fulfills their responsibility for putting the coffee on a truck, the buyer assumes responsibility for transportation costs and risks. Olam can help arrange shipping and assist with claims when needed but FOT means the coffee buyer owns and is responsible for the coffee as soon as it is placed on the truck.
GrainPro: Brand name for a commonly used hermetic polyethylene green coffee bag liner. Use of bag liners like GrainPro can help protect green coffee from mold, outside aromas and tastes, and resists some insect infestations during transportation and storage of green coffee.
New Crop: Green coffee from the most recent harvest available from any given origin. It’s the newest. And “available” includes theoretically if not logistically available. In other words, new crop doesn’t mean there might be something newer but currently unreachable or not yet nearby. Even if you had access to the transporter on the Starship Enterprise, you couldn’t get your hands on a newer processed green coffee from that origin.
Origin: Generic term for any country that grows coffee. A romantic word, somehow evocative beyond it’s simple definition as “the point or place where something begins, arises, or is derived.” In specialty coffee, origin conjures up images of mountainsides and mist, of canyons where bright red cherries peek out from under a jungle canopy.
Past Crop: Green coffee from a given origin for which coffee from a more recent harvest is available. Not new crop (see above). Also, “past crop” is not a synonym for “bad coffee.” It’s no use comparing older coffee to its younger self but think of past crop as “second act coffee.” The past crop label is bestowed initially because of the calendar rather than any dramatic shift in flavor profile.
Rainforest Alliance Certification (acronym alert! RFA): from the RFA website: “The seal means that the certified product or ingredient was produced using methods that support the three pillars of sustainability: social, economic, and environmental. Independent, third-party auditors—critical to the integrity of any certification program—evaluate farmers against requirements in all three areas before awarding or renewing certification. Our data-informed certification programs emphasize a commitment to continuous improvement, sustainability training, and clear benefits for farmers.”
Screen Size: Refers to the consistency in size of coffee beans as determined by sifting through screening holes. Although screen sizes can range from 10 to 22 (1 = 1/64th of an inch), coffee commonly falls between 15 (15/16th of an inch) and 18 (18/16th of an inch). Historically, the size of coffee beans was used as a visual assessment of quality. While this assumption is no longer as pervasive as it once was, consistency in size within a lot remains a priority for many roasters.
Spot: Green coffee that is currently being stored in a domestic warehouse and available for purchase right now. Historically, “spot” coffee meant coffee that was literally “on the spot” where brokers practiced “street trading” for actual coffee rather than trading contracts and/or coffee that had not yet arrived (see Forward). Today, spot similarly means coffee that is in a warehouse so you can buy it now and have it shipped to you.