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Coffee Terms: Beef Up Your Vocabulary

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It’s always beneficial to have some coffee terms in your vocabulary to properly articulate your opinions to other coffee lovers just like yourself.

Sure, you might be able to get by briefly describing how that new batch of coffee beans you have just opened tastes, but when the conversion gets serious, can you keep up with the coffee terms your coffee peeps are blurting out.

With so much coffee terminology out there, it can often be a challenge to fully understand what your local barista or coffee roaster is talking about, or you might even find it hard to comprehend this coffee blog as you navigate around.

I understand, and that’s why I have compiled below a massive list of common words for coffee lovers that will help you keep up with your coffee brewing buddies, the roaster, or that tattooed, bearded barista in your local coffee house.

Coffee speak is almost a language of its own, so not knowing these terms is nothing to be ashamed of, but you should be speaking the coffee lingo in no time with this list.

Coffee Terms Glossary

​Below is a coffee terminology list that includes commonly used coffee jargon that will help you keep up with the conversation when it turns to coffee. You may be familiar with some or none of these terms in this coffee language dictionary.

Many of these will come up in coffee talk, while others you might hear when buying beans from your local roaster.

This isn’t a complete glossary by any means, and it will be updated, so make sure to keep checking back to see if there are any new coffee-related words.

A

Acidity

A term often used in coffee cupping to describe the high notes of coffee with words like “bright,” “clean,” or “dry” or unpleasant qualities described as “sour.”

Affogato

An affogato is an espresso shot that is poured over the top of a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Aftertaste

The sensation of coffee vapors released after swallowing. Characteristics can range from “carbony” to “spicy,” “chocolaty,” through to “turpeny.”

Aged Coffee

Sometimes referred to as “vintage coffee,” it is coffee that has been stored for over a year (often for seven years) before roasting; aging coffee generally reduces acidity and increases body.

Americano

A shot of espresso that is topped off with water. In Italy, this is known as a Caffe Lungo.

Arabica

This is one of the two major commercially significant species of coffee and the most popular type drank by coffee lovers.

Aroma

The term is used to describe the smell and scent of coffee.

AeroPress

An AeroPress is a device that is used to manually brew a perfect cup of coffee. Coffee is steeped in hot water before a plunger is depressed through a filtered tube. This method of brewing coffee is popular amongst hikers and campers.

B

Baked

Coffee that possesses an underdeveloped flavor is often the result of insufficient roasting at low temperatures.

Balance

In cupping terms, when the coffee has no single characteristic that stands out above the others.

Barista

A skilled coffee-making professional, the term is Italian in origin.

Berry

The aroma and flavor are reminiscent of blueberries or blackberries. Most of the best coffee beans from the Arabian Peninsula and East Africa typically have these characteristics.

Bitter

Usually caused by over-roasting, this taste sensation is perceived by the back of the tongue and is characterized by solutions of caffeine, quinine, and other alkaloids.

Bland

Perceived by the sides of the tongue ranging in taste from “soft” to “neutral.”

Blend

A combination of coffees from different origin countries blended to achieve a taste that no single-origin coffee can offer.

Bloom

When hot water is added to fresh ground coffee, the release of gases increases in what is termed as a “bloom.”

Body

How the coffee feels in your mouth, associated with mouthfeel and texture from “watery” to “oily” to “grainy.”

Boiler

A boiler is typically the heating component of espresso machines. It is used to heat water to a specific temperature before it finally makes its way into the machine. If your espresso machine has two boilers, one is used to make the steam and the other is used for the espresso. One may also use a single boiler to make both.

Bouquet

The total aromatic profile of the coffee, resulting from compounds in the “aroma,” “fragrance,” and “aftertaste.”

Break

In coffee cupping, the moment when the crust of grounds is broken to release the aroma.

Bright

Sometimes used for coffee with good, pleasant tangy acidity, perceived at the front of the mouth, denotes high quality and a high altitude coffee farm.

Bulletproof Coffee

Bulletproof coffee is a mixture of brewed coffee with unsalted butter and coconut oil. Bulletproof coffee is popular with those on the ketogenic diet because it allows you to stay in ketosis and can boost metabolism, among other health benefits.

Burr Grinder

A burr grinder is a machine that uses revolving surfaces to grind coffee beans. There are two “burrs” that the beans get ground in between. This ensures a higher quality grind than a traditional blade grinder offers.

Burnt

A bitter, acrid flavor sometimes found in overly dark-roasted coffee.

Buttery

Coffee whose full flavor and oily mouthfeel bring to mind the richness of butter. This smooth, rich flavor and texture are often found in Indonesian Sumatra coffees.

C

Cafe au lait

Cafe au lait is done by brewing coffee and then adding it with hot milk. Adding cold milk or other whiteners to decaf coffee doesn’t count as the same thing.

Cafetiere

A cafetiere is a coffee maker that uses immersion to extract more flavor. Grounds are put at the bottom, with a filter on top. Then, you pour hot water over them. After seeping for a few minutes, slowly push the plunger down to ensure that all of the brew is extracted from the ground coffee.

Caffeine

Caffeine is a naturally occurring stimulant compound that provides an energizing effect.

Cappuccino

Cappuccino coffee is made from equal parts of espresso, steamed milk, and milk foam. It consists of 1/3 (2 oz) steamed milk on the bottom of the cup, 1/3 (2 oz) espresso over the milk, and 1/3 (2 oz) milk foam on the top. This tasty drink might be served with a drizzle of chocolate or other toppings, and it comes in a 6-ounce coffee cup.

Capsule

Coffee capsules are plastic containers that you put in a single brew coffee machine. These allow you to easily make a fresh cup of coffee with one insertion of the capsule. Coffee is brewed by puncturing a sheet of aluminum foil and filling the grounds with boiling water. The machine uses pressure from a pump to force the hot water through. Capsules have grown more than just coffee, you can now find them with hot chocolate and regular teas.

Coffee Snob

People who only drink specialty coffee and frown on those who don’t.

Cold Brew

Cold brew coffee is made by letting coffee grounds soak in room-temperature or cold water for a given amount of time. One of the most popular types of coffee during the summer months.

Chaff

The paper-like substance that detaches and floats off the coffee beans during roasting.

Classic

A coffee with flavor that is typical of its origin.

Clean

In cupping, a coffee free of flavor defects.

Complexity

A brew that has shifting layers of flavor, giving an impression of depth.

Crack (first and second)

The sound made when coffee beans release gases during the roasting process.

Crema

The crema is the tan-colored top layer of espresso resulting from gas trapped in bubbles of oil. It’s a vital part of espresso flavor and texture.

Cup of Excellence

Although you may start referring to your brews this way, technically, it refers to the competition that determines the best coffee bean grown in a particular nation. It’s a not-for-profit program that directly benefits farmers from member countries, and the winners of Cup of Excellence draw significantly higher prices at auction.

Cupping

The cupping method is used to judge the quality and characteristics of coffee beans. Coffee is coarsely ground, then exactingly steeped, scraped, sniffed, and slurped – a bit like wine tasting.

D

Dark Roast

Dark roast coffee is a dark brown color and the beans have a greasy appearance. They’re heavy-bodied and have a lower acidity with deep flavors.

Decaffeinated

Coffee beans with at least 97% of their caffeine content have been removed

Defect

Either a specific problem with the green coffee or a flavor problem identified during the cupping process.

Density

Before export, beans are sorted according to density, with the denser beans generally considered higher quality. This is partly because denser beans roast more evenly.

Degassing

The natural process by which freshly roasted coffee releases carbon dioxide, which temporarily prevents it from going stale.

Doppio

The doppio is a variant of espresso which contains two shots of coffee rather than the usual one, with a small helping of hot water.

Doser

The device is found on specialized espresso grinders that dispense specific doses of ground coffee.

Drip Coffee

A type of coffee where the flavor comes from beans coming in contact with water under no pressure. Water drips down over the grounds in a filter then into a pot.

E

Espresso

A short black, or 30ml (1 oz) shot of coffee, extracted at high pressure using an espresso machine.

Estate Coffee

Coffee that has either been grown on a single farm or grown on a collection of farms and processed at the same place.

Extraction

The part of the brewing process where the coffee flavor is extracted from ground coffee by dissolving them in water.

F

Filter

Coffee that has been brewed by coffee grounds being steeped in water and then passed through a filter to remove all the solid bits.

Finish

The taste and feel of coffee just before it’s swallowed. Some coffees can change significantly between the initial sip and the finish.

Flat White

An espresso-based coffee drink topped with steamed milk. A flat white has an average of 5-7 ounces of total volume, with less milk than you get in a latte and less foam than in a cappuccino.

Fragrance

In cupping, this describes the smell of freshly ground (but not yet brewed) coffee.

French Press

Sometimes called a coffee plunger or cafetiere, this is a simple brewing method that produces coffee that is less bitter and contains more caffeine and flavors than the ‘drip’ style. Coffee is brewed by maintaining grounds steeped in a cylinder under a filter, with hot water.

G

Gooseneck Kettle

A gooseneck or pour-over kettle has a long thin slender spout that allows for more precision when pouring hot water over the coffee grounds when making pour-over coffee.

Green Coffee

Simply unroasted coffee beans.

Grind

Grind refers to the size of the ground coffee beans. Different types of beans and brewing methods require different types of grinds for the coffee to taste best.

Group Head

This is the handle of an espresso machine, the bit that holds the ground coffee, and the conduit through which your espresso passes.

H

Hard

A trade term used to describe low-quality coffee, as opposed to mild coffee.

I

Iced Coffee

Iced coffee is brewed with hot water, cooled down, and added to ice. Iced coffee is not the same as cold brew coffee, which is made with cold water only, and generally tastes better and costs more than iced coffee.

Irish coffee

Irish coffee is coffee with a splash of whiskey added to it and cream placed on the top.

L

Latte

A latte is a type of coffee made with espresso and steamed milk and topped with foam. Sometimes referred to as the “big brother” of cappuccino, since lattes are usually served in 8 -10 oz cups.

Light Roast

Light roast coffee is light brown in color and there is no oil on the surface of the beans. These roasts have a mellow body and bright flavors.

Lungo

Lungo is a coffee beverage made with one shot of espresso and additional water to make a larger beverage. A lungo is not as strong as an espresso, but the taste is more bitter because the extra water passing through the grounds extracts components that are undissolved in an espresso.

M

Macchiato

A macchiato is a coffee drink made with espresso and a small dash of foam or steamed milk. In Italian macchiato means “stained” or “spotted” and the drink is typically served in 2-3 oz servings.

Mature Coffee

This is coffee that has been held in warehouses for at least two to three years.

Microfoam

This is the ideal textured milk consistency for cappuccinos, lattes, and other types of milky coffee (less soap bubble consistency and more like shaving cream).

Micro-lot Coffee

The most regulated of coffees. Micro-lot beans have all been grown in the same field, with minimal changes in altitude. All beans are picked on the same day.

Mild

As opposed to “hard” coffee, a term for high-quality Arabica coffee.

Milk Frother

A utensil used to make milk froth that is added to coffee. The frother aerates the milk which creates a thick, heavy foam. The tiny bubbles formed in the process make the texture of the milk lighter and increases its volume.

Mocha

A coffee drink made with espresso, chocolate syrup, and steamed milk that may be topped with cream.

Moka Pot

A Moka pot is an electric or stovetop coffee maker that brews coffee by pushing boiling water that has been pressurized by steam through coffee grounds.

Mouthfeel

This is used to describe how the coffee feels in the mouth; it could be described as maybe bubbly, oily, or silky.

N

New Crop

Green coffee delivered for roasting soon after harvesting and processing is complete.

O

Old Arabicas

Varieties of Arabica that were developed relatively early in the history of coffee. Some coffee experts maintain that these produce a superior-quality cup compared to more modern types of coffee.

Old Crop

Also known as “past crop,” kept in warehouses for some time before roasting, but not as long as “mature” or “aged coffee.”

P

Peaberry

The peaberry is a coffee bean that hasn’t been separated into two parts. It looks a bit like a football and has an intensified version of the flavor profile compared to the rest of its crop.

Percolator

Percolators brew coffee by cycling boiling or near-boiling water through the coffee grounds multiple times until the desired strength of the coffee is achieved.

Piccolo Latte

A piccolo latte is a single shot of espresso (about 30 ml) that is then topped off with steamed milk and served in a demitasse glass that is 80 ml in volume. Often referred to as a “baby latt

Plunger Coffee

Plunger coffee is also referred to as French Press coffee or a cafetiere.

Pod Machine

A type of coffee machine that uses a pre-filled “pod” or “capsule” of coffee.

Puck

The used coffee grounds from a portafilter basket on an espresso machine.

Pull

Espresso shots are “pulled.” It’s a term from the old days when espresso machines were hand lever operated.

Q

Quakers

Defective coffee beans that won’t roast properly.

R

Richness

A full, satisfying flavor, body, or acidity.

Robusta

Robusta is a species of coffee from the Coffee Canephora plant in central and western Africa. It accounts for about 30% of the world’s total coffee plant production. Robusta coffee has a higher caffeine concentration and a harsher flavor than Arabica coffee making it perfect for instant coffee powder and granules.

S

Shot

A single shot of espresso, typically a 2 oz serving.

Silverskin

The thin inner skin on a coffee bean that turns into chaff during roasting.

Single Origin

A loose term for coffee in which all beans come from one “origin,” sometimes meaning a single farm and sometimes a broader region. Having a single origin makes it easier to generalize about the coffee’s flavor.

Smallholder Farms

Small farms, mostly in developing countries.

Specialty Coffee

Coffee that has been sourced with an extra focus on the quality of the bean, from crop to cup.

Steam Wand

Sometimes “nozzle,” “pipe,” or even “stylus.” It’s simply the pipe found on most espresso machines that you use to heat and froth milk.

T

Tamp

To press and compress the coffee into the filter basket of an espresso machine so it’s evenly extracted. An espresso tamper is typically used.

Taint

A chemical change in the coffee bean brought about by any number of internal or external changes, which results in a difference in the coffee’s flavor.

Thermoblock

The heating element in the espresso machines that is used to heat water. It takes water from the reservoir and heats it on demand for brewing or steaming milk. This usually works faster than a boiler.

Thin

Related to under brewing, resulting in a coffee lacking in any acidity also referred to as lifeless.

Third Wave

The breed of coffee roaster and barista who deal exclusively in specialty beans and are devoted to getting the most out of them by whatever means, including varying roasts (notably lighter roasts) and filter brewing.

Turpeny

Tasting just like turpentine smells.

V

Vienna Coffee

An espresso-based coffee drink with two shots of espresso is then infused with cream until the cup is full. The cream is used as a replacement for milk and sugar.

Vietnamese Coffee

Vietnamese iced coffee or cafe da is made with dark Vietnamese grown beans in a medium to coarse grind through a Vietnamese drip filter. After brewing the coffee is mixed with ice and condensed milk.

W

Watery

Caused by the wrong water-to-coffee ratio, which results in the low level of oils in the coffee. This is a mouthfeel.

Wild

Often associated with Ethiopian coffees, this is a gamey flavor.

Winey

Reminiscent of a well-matured red wine; characterized by a full-bodied, smooth coffee. Often found in Kenya and Yemeni coffees.

Woody

The smell and smell of older coffee.

Mark Morphew

Mark is the editor and writer of the popular coffee blog Bean Ground. He's been active in the catering and hospitality industry for many years. When he's not fiddling around with a new coffee gadget, you'll find him busy doing DIY projects around the home and taking his German Shepherd for a walk, who funnily enough is called Kona! You can discover more about Mark here.