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Everything you didn’t know about coffee

We drink it everyday, but what do you really know about it? Here’s a list of coffee terms to help you appear in the know.

Written by
jin soo lee
Specialty Coffee

1. Specialty Coffee

Yup, it’s a coffee that’s special, or more specifically, one that has gone through all the professionally approved steps. To be considered a specialty coffee, the entire lifecycle of the bean, starting from the farmer to the roaster, the barista and finally the consumer, has to meet the highest standards. Research on specialty coffees has existed for a long time, but it was only in 1982 that its standards were solidified with the foundation of the Special Coffee Association of America (SCAA). Standards include regulations about the roasting process, the ratio of coffee to water, the water for brewing and more. It’s only considered specialty coffee if it passes these standards with a score higher than 80.

2. Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA)

A group founded by coffee professionals to regulate and
discuss the quality standards involving the specialty coffee trade. The SCAA sets standards for specialty coffee and holds events such as the World Barista Championship and SCAA Exposition.


3. Single Origin vs. Blending

Many cafés have started to differentiate their Americanos as either single origin or blended. A single origin uses beans from one farm, while blended uses beans from several farms.

4. Cup of Excellence (COE)

Often referred to as the Oscar of the coffee world, the Cup of Excellence (COE) is a competition that began in Brazil in 1999 to revitalize the economies and to encourage the production of high-quality beans. The competition reaches out directly to coffee plantations without a middleman. Beans are smelled, tasted and judged under the highest level of scrutiny and cups are cupped five to six times. Only after all these tests and being given a score of over 85 points will a coffee be considered COE.


5. Cupper

A coffee taster. To be a professorial cupper, or Q-Grader, you must get a license from the SCAA. A cupper must check the quality of the raw coffee beans and be able to identify the hundreds of different tastes coffee can have.

Q&A: A professional’s take on coffee

At what temperature is coffee the best?

At what temperature is coffee the best?

The best temperature for coffee is different for every culture. Koreans are used to hot foods because of the Korean tang (soup) culture, and they find coffee between 55-60°C to be the best. In Europe, the temperature is lower at around 45-50°C. But actually, the tongue can taste the most when the liquid is closer to our body temperature, at 38-40°C. If it’s too hot, you’re not tasting the coffee, you’re just feeling a sense of pain from the heat. It’s also different for every person, so ask the barista for your favorite temperature. —Kim Sa-hong (Barista at Coffee Temple)

What are the factors of good coffee?

The most important factor is the scent. The scent has to be good. If a coffee loses its scent, all that’s left is
bitterness and a bit of a sour taste. It’s the same as a flat coke. Just like you need the carbon to know you’re
drinking soda, you need the coffee scent to realize its taste. —Kim Sa-hong

Balance and texture. The variety of flavors have to come together to form a harmonious one. Also, I think that after drinking it, the coffee should leave a clean and fresh feeling, not a stale one. —Yang Jin-ho (El Café CEO)


Many more cafés are offering specialty coffees.

I think the true meaning of specialty coffee is realized only when it finally reaches the consumer and makes them feel special. The quality of coffee can’t be determined simply by the raw bean. Everything from the
bean to the roasting to the quality control has to be meticulously taken care of for the customer to truly get a “special” coffee. Of course in the end, the customer has the last word. There is another aspect of specialty
coffee. It’s the fact that you can track the coffee’s history and access its sustainability, which are two important values of specialty coffees. To ensure a high-quality coffee industry, the first and foremost aspect to keep in mind is that the farmers’ lives must be sustainable. Excellent coffee beans don’t just come from the right environment but ultimately from the people. Specialty coffee makes sure these people get the proper education they need as well motivation and a sense of fulfillment in their work, which will only bring better coffee to consumers. It’s unfortunate that this aspect of specialty coffee is sometimes overlooked in Korea. —Yang Jin-ho

Drip coffee has been trending for a while. Which is better, espresso or drip coffee? Is it a matter of personal preference?

It’s like meat. You can choose to either grill or microwave or boil meat. It’s a matter of choosing how to make it, not whether one way is better than the other. The choice is purely based on personal choices. —Kim Sa-hong


Is there a difference between drip coffee and espresso?

There definitely is a difference in taste. Drip coffee is brewed with water and then filtered, making it hotter with a cleaner taste. The aroma is also stronger. But because espressos are made with the pump under high pressure in a short amount of time, the solubility and fatsolubility come out together with a mixture of water and oil. The result is a heavier taste and more intense smell. But if you dilute the espresso with water, you can get a different texture than drip coffee. There are just two different brewing methods and it’s important to keep in mind it’s hard to say one is better. —Kim Sa-hong

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