5@5 - Up your coffee vocabulary
October 20th, 2011
05:00 PM ET
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5@5 is a daily, food-related list from chefs, writers, political pundits, musicians, actors, and all manner of opinionated people from around the globe.

Do you speak coffee?

As our country becomes more mud-obsessed and cafés continue to perk up their brewed offerings, it's easy to feel sluggish toward ordering your morning caffeine drip - especially if you aren't steeped in the coffee culture.

Don't get verklempt - it's just coffee talk. And Sean Henry, the owner and barista of Houndstooth Coffee in Austin, Texas, is here to spill the beans on the brew vernacular.

Beyond the Dark and Into the Light - Words to Up Your Coffee Vocabulary: Sean Henry

1. Varietal
"Like any fruit, coffee shrubs have many different types. From low-yield to high yield, indigenous to hybrids, drought-tolerant to just plain finicky, varietals make a difference.

Types to look out for include Catuai, Caturra, Maragogype, SL-28 and SL-34, Ethiopian Heirloom and Bourbon. Check the label next time you pick up a bag."

2. Brightness
"A euphemism for perceived acidity. No, not like battery acid. Acid in coffee is a good thing. It is that sparkling feeling that brings coffee to life across your palate.

Like a preference for a specific varietal of apple, you may prefer the brightness of one coffee over another. As a general rule, washed coffees have a greater brightness than natural or pulp-natural coffees, but roast and brew method can also affect our perceptions of brightness."

3. Manual Brew
"Seems simple enough, but what does that really mean? First, it means a commitment to quality. It takes longer and uses more labor in a coffee shop or at home - but it is totally worth it!

There are two main categories for manual brewing. The first is immersion: the coffee is 'immersed' in the water throughout the brewing process - for example, using a press pot or siphon. Immersion brewing yields a full-bodied coffee with thick juicy mouthfeel.

The other main category is pour-over. In this method, the water is 'poured over' the coffee using a specific technique. For example, Chemex, v60 and Kalitta. Pour-over yields a leaner coffee with varying degrees of viscosity."

4. Cupping
"The specific method for coffee evaluation. Using a spoon in which a very small amount of brewed coffee resides, 'cuppers' slurp the coffee off the spoon to fully aspirate their palates and ascertain as much as possible about the specific coffee.

The louder the slurp, the more experienced the cupper. This is where you get the 'notes': hints of ginger or all spice or chocolate mousse or round voluptuous body with tangerine finish. It’s all in the 'cup.'"

5. Barista
"Probably your first image is a hipster who’s every bit as snooty as he is tattooed. But very quickly, the role is becoming more and more professional.

Modern baristas are true coffee professionals who marry a chef and a sommelier to become an ambassador for the joy of coffee. From technique to etiquette to palate training, a barista is a title to be earned. A true barista will cultivate a coffee experience unlike any you’ve come across. Before you know it, you’ll be tasting the 'notes' and slurping like a pro."

Is there someone you'd like to see in the hot seat? Let us know in the comments below and if we agree, we'll do our best to chase 'em down.

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Filed under: 5@5 • Coffee • Sip • Think

soundoff (21 Responses)
  1. greg

    Ambassador for the joy of coffee?

    Ambassadors are supposed to prevent wars too, and many are losing the cultural war to a public sense of perceived snobbery. And yet when we think of "wine snob", we think of the consumer - not the purveyor. That battleground is being miserably lost.

    October 22, 2011 at 8:49 pm |
  2. notsomuch

    I'm not a coffee fan but I have to have my jolt so I make myself a cup of instant cappuchino (can't ever spell that right I know ) and add just a touch of hot chocolate. It's good and it does the job and I've converted lots of my friends. :)

    October 21, 2011 at 6:58 pm |
  3. Mark

    Whatever happened to simply enjoying a hot cup of good coffee, eating a danish, and reading the Times? The same goes for simply enjoying a beer, a liquor drink, a glass of wine, or even water. You snobs of all ilks can call your effected rituals and criticism your enjoyment but to me you make work out of pleasure.

    October 21, 2011 at 4:09 pm |
    • Rodney Dangerfield

      What noise does a hairlip dog make?

      Mark, mark, mark!

      October 21, 2011 at 4:11 pm |
  4. Leaf on the Wind

    I love coffee. I sip it slowly and savor each taste. I try different varietals but keep coming back to Starbuck's House Blend.

    Off topic: that guy's beard is the ugliest, most disgusting-looking bush I've ever seen on a man's face. Why would a nice looking man do that to himself? I wouldn't want him preparing coffee for me. Who knows what's living in that jungle?

    October 21, 2011 at 12:29 pm |
    • leaves on the wind

      Agreed, but he could be covering a scar.

      October 21, 2011 at 12:32 pm |
    • Kellie

      the differing intensity between your 2 thoughts cracked me up! first you are all Zen about coffee, the WTF with the beard! i agree

      October 21, 2011 at 3:38 pm |
  5. Jeff

    What does this story have to do with the Amish guy in the picture?

    October 21, 2011 at 12:17 pm |
  6. JT

    Why is it a crime to like instant coffee and tap water? A pack of stevia, a splash of coffeemate, a few ice cubes and I'm good to go.

    I consider myself sort of a beer snob. I like to try a new brew every time I go to the store and for the most part there isn't a style I don't like (well, maybe pils or kolsh). I still buy cheap beer for mass consumption but I don't savor it like a good microbrew.

    But when it comes to coffee I'm the exact opposite. I don't dislike expensive tasting coffee, but I'd prefer non-descript ice coffee. Maybe it's because opening a microbrew bottle and a can of bud light takes the same amount of effort, not so with coffee.

    October 21, 2011 at 12:00 pm |
    • JT

      and I would add some of my all-time favorite beers are coffee flavored :) Been drinking a lot of Southern Tier's Imperial Mokah lately, and as far as mainstream goes Kona's Pipeline porter was awesome (haven't seen it around much lately)

      October 21, 2011 at 12:02 pm |
      • college dude

        Black Label all the way baby!

        October 21, 2011 at 12:34 pm |
    • Leo

      I won't drink cheap beer even if it's free. It tastes nasty. Likewise, coffee is barely worth drinking if it doesn't taste good. Now, unlike cheap beer, I'll drink mediocre coffee if it's cold out and I'm tired and it's all I have available. My years in the Army did that to me. However, sometimes, it's totally worth the effort to get a higher-quality beverage.

      If it's not worth it to your taste buds, then don't sweat it. But for some of us, it's worth the effort.

      Simple as that.

      October 24, 2011 at 1:32 pm |
  7. Beefburger

    Before you get big heads, Starbucks (and all other chains) employees, 99.9% of you are not TRUE baristas. You are know-nothing corporate coffee drones.

    October 21, 2011 at 8:38 am |
    • Starbucks barista beotch

      I'll have you know that we go through extensive training and are educated on all of our coffee blends.

      October 21, 2011 at 9:02 am |
    • Stephanie

      For people who work at Starbucks, it's a JOB, not a career in which you'd expect them to be professionally trained. Think before you belittle someone for holding a job.

      October 21, 2011 at 9:07 am |
    • D

      I work with a former Starbucks employee. As someone who reads up on things that interest me, I know a bit about coffee. My coworker's knowledge of coffee from working at Starbucks is leaps and bounds beyond mine.

      I consider Starbucks to be overpriced with a not so great base coffee, but they make sure their staff is well-versed on what they're selling.

      October 25, 2011 at 11:36 am |
  8. alewatcher

    I roast my own coffee beans, saves money and I always have fresh coffee. Love the Ethiopian dry process coffees, incredible fruit aromas and flavors.

    October 21, 2011 at 8:34 am |
    • Jeff

      ethiopian harrar longberry is one of my favorites.

      October 21, 2011 at 9:27 am |
  9. hipster

    cool, now i know that it's tattoos and not judgmental and self-aggrandizing coffee columns that make a snoot

    October 20, 2011 at 10:39 pm |
    • Dirty dawgs

      Come on, you know hipsters are awful. Williamsburg should be carpet bombed.

      October 21, 2011 at 8:34 am |
  10. fob

    mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm, coffeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee.

    October 20, 2011 at 6:34 pm |
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