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445. Alpha. Bravo. Coffee?

I have a lot of travel in the coming months, and have been spending more time than usual dealing with the alphanumeric reservation codes that airlines use.  As I recently Alpha-Bravo-Charlied my way through a conversation with airline staff, a random thought occurred to me: what would a coffee version of the phonetic alphabet look like?

Some of the letters are hard to find terms for.  I am still searching for a coffee term starting with X.  Suggestions welcome.

But the more serious challenge, I think, lies in finding words that are sufficiently universal to be the source of clarity and not confusion.  This is partly phonetic.  But it is also partly cultural.  The terms that are chosen to represent each letter in the alphabet must be so well known that they trigger a clarifying kind of recognition.

For example, in what is officially known as the “international radiotelephony spelling alphabet,” the letter N is represented by November.  It is a clarifying reference because even if we can’t distinguish the N from an M, we recognize November as a coherent construct, but not “Movember.”

Some of the terms–Arabica, for example–are truly universal for everyone in coffee whose languages are descended from Latin.  And if I use SL-28 to represent S over a scratchy connection, the S might sound like an F, but no one who is literate in the language of specialty coffee is going to mistake my reference for “FL-28.”

Others terms are more provincial.  Zoka is a well-regarded roaster based in Seattle, but hardly as widely recognized as Arabica or SL-28.

Below is a first draft.  I suspect it reflects my vantage point as someone who has spent most of his time in coffee at origin.  I would welcome suggestions for improvement.

And I am open to the idea that the few minutes I have devoted to this exercise represent utterly wasted time I will never get back.


  • Arabica
  • Bourbon
  • Cherry
  • Degu (Obscure heirloom variety from Ethiopia?  A placeholder, I think.  Drying bed, perhaps?)
  • Ethiopia (What could be more universally known in coffee culture than the birthplace of the species?)
  • FOB
  • Gesha
  • Harrar
  • IHCAFE 90 (Is this hybrid from the Honduran coffee institute known outside Central America?)
  • Java
  • Klatch
  • Laurina
  • Maragogype
  • Natural
  • Overripe
  • Pulp natural
  • Quality
  • Rust
  • SL-28
  • Typica
  • Underripe
  • Verve
  • Washed
  • X.  Help!  Maybe eXtraction?  Or the dreaded “eXpresso”?
  • Yirgacheffe
  • Zoka



  • Michael Sheridan says:

    Author’s note. I noticed minutes after publishing this post that this has been done before. Only way better. Not the first time I thought I had an original idea only to discover that someone way smarter and way more creative had beaten me to it. I thought I came up with the idea of Buddhist economics while I was reading about Buddhism in Asia back in 2002. I was pretty excited, until I found out that E.F. Schumacher had coined the term “Buddhist Economics” while traveling in Asia in 1955. And written an article titled “Buddhist Economics.” Published in the Journal of Buddhist Economics. So it appears this WAS a waste of time. I am going to get back to work before my bosses notice I was gone.

  • John says:

    If X can be for Extraction, then it can also be for Chemex. Just say “Chem” really really quietly.

  • Norman says:


    Here are my improvements… (?)

    D – Drugar

    F – Finca (or Fazenda)

    I – Icatú

    K – Kenya (or Kent) (or Kopi)

    O – Origin

    P – Pacamara

    R – Robusta !

    S – Sumatra

    U – Ukers

    V – Variety

    X – Xyleborus Coffeivorus

    Z – Zege

    • Michael Sheridan says:


      Thanks for posting these.

      I don’t get the D, U, X or Z references.

      I like F, and it resonates in my neighborhood, but is it too provincial? I love the Kopi reference, though, and that’s pretty localized.

      I, P and S are solid.

      For me the big winners here are Kopi, Origin Robusta and Variety!

      Thanks for weighing in.


      • Norman says:

        D – Drugar
        Dry processed Uganda

        U – Ukers
        Honouring William H. Ukers, who wrote the significant 800 page book ” All About Coffee” almost 100 years ago (1922)

        X – Xyleborus Coffeivorus
        The infamous Coffee Berry Borer. Or indeed Xpresso, since it’s “E” is already given to the motherland.

        Z – Zege
        Despite not being one of the classified growing regions of Ethiopia, Zege has produced coffee for as long as can be remembered, with the crop occurring naturally and indigenously in the forest. The Zege peninsula is about 3.5 x 5 km – there are approximately 9,500 inhabitants, of which about 3,000 live in the rural area of ‘Afaf’. There are seven monasteries on Zege. Originally, there was lots of coffee around the lake, Tana, but due to the felling of recent decades, this historic production has almost disappeared. The only exception is the Zege peninsula where this washed coffee is cultivated 1,850 metres above m.s.l., the harvest time is in February and March. Info from Has Bean Coffee, further reading there!

        (For the X I got a little help from “A-Z Coffee” booklet from Lars Huse)

  • Peter Pitts says:

    Just an end result type of thought about coffee.

    X could equate to XEROTHERMIC possess,such as Roasting,Drying, just say Roast!

  • KK says:


    I blame you for distracting me during my meetings last Friday! I think I have a few suggestions – seems like many are origin names.

    A – Arabica – can’t improve on that
    B – Brazil
    C – Colombia/Caturra/Cup
    D – Defect (I think this was yours)
    E – Ethiopia (yours)
    F – Fragrance/First Crack / Fairtrade
    G – Green/Grind/Guatemala
    H – Harvest/Hybrid
    I – Intelligentsia
    J – Jute/Jamaica Blue Mountain/Java/Joe
    K – Kona/Keurig/K-cup/Kenya
    L – Lempira/Lot
    M – Milling
    N – Nespresso
    O – Organic/Origin
    P – Parchment/Peaberry
    Q – Quality/Quaker
    R – Robusta/Roast
    T – Traceability
    U – Utz Certified
    V – V60/ Vietnam
    W – Wet mill
    X – eXtraction or eXtra shot?
    Y – Yield/ Yellow Caturra
    Z – ???

    Thanks – this was fun.

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