Coffee Terms Defined

Be a Coffee Pro with these Coffee Terms:


Aroma is the fragrance of brewed coffee.  The smell of coffee grounds before being brewed is referred to as the Bouquet.  Think of the aroma of coffee as "the best part of waking up," however, it may not refer only to the brand that that phrase is associated with.  Whenever you enjoy a whiff of brewing coffee, you are enjoying its "aroma."


Bitterness is the taste perceived at the back of the tongue. Dark Roasts are intentionally bitter.  Over-extraction, or too little coffee at too fine a grind, can be a cause of bad bitterness.  Whether or not you like dark roasts, bitterness is a part of coffee cupping.  Studying the flavors of coffee includes bitterness, as well as many other qualities.


The word "bland" refers to the pale flavor often found in low grown robusta coffees.  Blandness can also be caused by under-extraction, meaning that there is too little coffee or too course a grind.  Bland coffee has little flavor and is not desirable for people who enjoy the complex flavors and aromas of fine coffee products.


The tactile impression of the weight of the coffee in the mouth is called its "body."  You can see body listed on many different coffee blends or coffee bags. The body of a coffee may range from thin to medium to full to buttery to syrupy.  Try many differently bodied coffees to discover which one is your favorite.


Tangy acidity is often described as bright, when describing the flavors of coffee.  This sharp, or bright quality is common in Central American coffees.  You can taste acidity mainly on the tip of your tongue, and bright flavor is refreshing and snappy.  Try to discern brightness when tasting new coffees.


The salty sensation caused by excessive heat after brewing is described as "briny." Truck-stop coffee will often have this unpleasant quality.  To avoid briny coffee, make sure not to let your fresh pot sit on the heat for a long time.  If you need another cup hours after you brewed your first pot, it is best to start fresh rather than drinking the now-briny brew.


The description, "earthy," refers to the spicy "of the earth taste" of Indonesian coffees.  Earthiness is a very nice quality in coffees, which is smooth, fresh, and even reminiscent of soil or damp earth.  While this may seem to be a bad description of flavor, once you recognize it you can appreciate how enjoyable an "earthy" taste really is.


When "cupping" coffee, one word that could be used as a descriptor is "exotic."  This generally refers to unusual aromatic and flavor notes, such as berry or floral.  Exotic flavors are those which you don't normally experience while drinking your normal cup of coffee, and are often undertones or subtle notes in the overall flavor.


The flavor of coffee is the total impression of Aroma , Acidity , and Body.  Flavor does not only describe taste, but it describes all parts of enjoying a cup of coffee.  When you practice cupping coffee, the flavor that you describe is the combination of all the sensual elements of coffee drinking.


When cupping coffee, "spicy" describes the flavor of particular spices.  When discerning the flavors of coffee, spiciness is similar to what you describe in other foods and drinks.  Spice flavors in coffee are just like spices in other foods.  Flavors of cinnamon, vanilla, chili, and many other spices can all be discerned in different coffees.


Stale coffee has been exposed to oxygen for too long. It becomes flat and has a cardboard taste.  Leaving your can or bag of coffee open or cracked to expose air can cause coffee to go stale.  To avoid this, use an airtight container to store your coffee, and even keep it in the refrigerator to keep it fresh.


When describing coffee, the term "sweet" means smooth and palatable coffee that is free from defects and harsh flavors.  Adding sugar to coffee is not the same as a coffee tasting sweet.  Sweetness depends on the actual flavors of the coffee bean and roasting technique, so when learning coffee cupping you will discover that sweetness is a much more subtle flavor than what you normally think of as sugary sweetness.


The appearance or color of coffee is described as its tone.   A description of the tone of coffee may look like; "this light toned coffee resembles the brown robes of the Franciscan Order."  Pouring your coffee into a clear glass mug will help you to determine its tone, and is a technique for coffee cupping.


Using the term "winy" when describing coffee means that the coffee has a flavor reminiscent of fine red wine. Kenya is one of the most notable regions to produce" winy" coffee.  This rich, complex flavor is something that you can learn to recognize when studying cupping.  The more coffees you taste, the more wine, sweet, and other flavors you will be able to discern. Aroma Aroma is the fragrance of brewed coffee.  The smell of coffee grounds before being brewed is referred to as the Bouquet.  Think of the aroma of coffee as "the best part of waking up," however, it may not refer only to the brand that that phrase is associated with.  Whenever you enjoy a whiff of brewing coffee, you are enjoying its "aroma."


Acidity describes the sharp lively quality characteristic of high-altitude grown coffee.  Acidity is tasted mainly at the tip of the tongue. It is the brisk, snappy quality that makes coffee refreshing. It is NOT the same as bitter or sour and has nothing to do with pH factors. Coffees are low in acidity, between 5 and 6 on the pH scale.


While bag is a commonplace word, when it is used in reference to coffee it specifically means a burlap sack filed with coffee. In various countries a "bag" is a different weight. For example, in Brazil a bag is 132 pounds. In Colombia it is 154 pounds. In Hawaii it is 100 pounds. While bags vary in weight, 132 pounds is the most common.


A barista is a person who makes coffee drinks as a profession.  Starbucks has made recognition of the word "barista" much more profuse, because of the popularity and recognition of their brand.  Barista is an Italian word, which not only refers to Starbucks employees, but ANY person who makes coffee as their profession.


"Blend" refers to a mixture of two or more individual varietals of coffee.  A blend can add some depth and complexity to your morning brew.  Often, coffee blends are comprised of different types of coffee from one region.  Blends can also make certain expensive types of coffee more affordable, by blending them with less expensive varietals.


You may be familiar with wine "tasting," in which wine drinkers and connoisseurs observe the qualities of wine.  When you are discerning the different flavors, body, acidity and other qualities of coffee, it is called "cupping."  This is a skill that takes time to learn and develop, but anyone who enjoys coffee can learn cupping with practice.


Caffeine is the drug contained in coffee which helps to wake you up and keep you alert. Caffeine is a bitter white alkaloid derived from coffee (or tea) and used in medicine for a mild stimulant or to treat certain kinds of headache.  It is what gives you a jolt of energy in the morning, but decaffeinated coffees are also widely available for those who dislike the effects of caffeine or want a cup of coffee in the evening before bed.


The caramel colored foam that appears on top of a shot of espresso during the brewing period is called its crema.  It soon dissipates after brewing.  If your Crema is gone then you waited too long. . . or you received a bad shot! The crema makes a 'cap' which helps retain the aromatics and flavors of the espresso within the cup - the presence of crema indicates an acceptable brew.  Crema occurs due to colloids and lipids forced out into an emulsion under the pressure of a espresso machine.

French Roast:

French roast refers to dark roasted coffee beans. A French roast has a bittersweet taste, but not like burnt charcoal.  A French roast generally has a smoky-sweet flavor that is light bodied but quite intense.  A French roast can also be described as a double roast, and usually the inherent flavors of the coffee bean are unrecognizable.

Froth or Foam:

The terms froth and foam refer to milk which has been made thick and foamy by aerating it with hot steam.  When you hear that loud, hissing sound in coffee shops and restaurants, it is the sound of baristas making froth or foam by infusing milk with very hot, pressurized air.  Froth, or foam, is a light and tasty element of lattes, mochas, and many other popular coffee drinks.

Hard Bean:

Hard bean coffee is grown at relatively high altitudes, from 4,000 to 4,500 feet above sea level.  Coffee grown above 4,500 feet is referred to as strictly hard bean. This terminology says that beans grown at higher altitudes mature more slowly and are harder and denser than other beans and are thus more desirable.

History of Coffee:          

Coffee's history goes back to at least the fifteenth century and spans the globe.  It is believed that Ethiopia is the place where the consumption of coffee originated, and then spread to Yemen and Egypt.  Coffee beans are believed to have been first roasted and brewed in Arabia, then spread to the Middle East, Northern Africa, and finally Europe.  Coffee is a major world commodity and its history is long and rich.


A "mocha" is a small, irregular coffee bean which has a unique, acidic character.  The mocha bean is generally shipped from Mocha Yemen, and was introduced to Europe and thus the rest of the world by Marco Polo. The Mocha coffee bean is sometimes mixed with coffee shipped from Mocha Yemen.  The Mocha coffee bean has no correlation with the chocolaty drink - so the two should not be confused.

Monsooned Coffee:      

Monsooned coffee has been deliberately exposed to monsoon winds in open warehouse to increase body and reduce acidity.  One common example of monsooned coffee is Javanese coffee.  By exposing coffee to warm, moist air during the rainy season, the flavor is strengthened while acidity is lost.  This type of coffee can be quite expensive, and is very delicious.


Normally, each coffee cherry contains two beans.  Occasionally, a cherry will form with only one bean.  These single coffee beans are called peaberries and are frequently separated and sold as their own distinct and special varietal.  New Guinea is one of the more popular regions where peaberry coffee originates.

Soft Bean:

The term soft bean describes coffee grown at relatively low altitudes (under 4,000 ft). Beans grown at lower altitudes mature more quickly and produce a lighter, more porous bean.  Some examples of soft bean coffee (or Typica beans) include Jamaican Blue Mountain, Kona, and some Colombian and Indonesian varietals.


The term used for the coffee that comes from a geographical region is "varietal."  Sumatra, Kenya, Costa Rica or a Java are all coffee varietals. As in wine, the soil, climate and cultivation methods affect the taste of your coffee.  The term varietal is actually a misnomer, since Arabica coffee plants are basically of the same species, unlike wine grapes which come from different species of grape vines.