Beef Up Your Vocabulary With These Coffee Terms
It’s always beneficial to have some coffee terms in your vocabulary so you can 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 roast coffee beans you have just opened tastes, but when the conversion gets serious can you really 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 understand this coffee blog as you navigate around.
I totally understand, and that’s why I have compiled below a huge list of common words for coffee lovers which will help you to 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 with this list, you should be speaking the coffee lingo in no time.
Coffee Terms Glossary
Below is a coffee terminology list which 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 typical 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.
Acidity: A terms 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.”
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” is coffee that has been stored for over a year (often for 7 years) before roasting, aging coffee generally reduces acidity and increases body.
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 used to describe the smell and scent of coffee.
Balance: In cupping terms, when a coffee has no single characteristic that stands out above the others.
Baked: Coffee that possesses an underdeveloped flavor which is often the result of insufficient roasting at low temperatures.
Berry: An aroma and flavor reminiscent of blueberries or blackberries. Most of the best coffee 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."
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.
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 coffees.
Coffee Snob: People who only drink specialty coffee and frown on those who don’t.
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 which is a result of 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 own 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.
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.
Doser: The device found on specialized espresso grinders that dispenses specific doses of ground coffee.
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 mill.
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 actually change significantly between the initial sip and the finish.
Fragrance: In cupping this describes the smell of freshly ground (but not yet brewed) coffee.
Green Coffee: Simply unroasted coffee beans.
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 through.
Hard: A trade term used to describe low-quality coffee, as opposed to mild coffee.
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.
Mouthfeel: This is used to describe how the coffee feels in the mouth, it could be described as maybe bubbly, oily, or silky.
New Crop: Green coffee delivered for roasting soon after harvesting and processing is complete.
Old Arabicas: Varieties of Arabica that were developed relatively early in the history of coffee. Some experts maintain that these produce a superior-quality cup compared to more modern varieties 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.”
Peaberry: A coffee bean that hasn’t separated into two parts. It looks a bit like a football and is known to have an intensified version of the flavor profile compared to the rest of its crop.
Pull: Espresso shots are “pulled.” It’s a term from the old days when espresso machines were hand lever operated.
Quakers: Defective coffee beans that just won’t roast properly.
Richness: A full, satisfying flavor, body or acidity.
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.
Tamp: To press and compress the coffee into the filter basket of an espresso machine, so it’s evenly extracted.
Taint: A chemical change in the coffee bean brought about by any number of internal or external changes, which results in a change in the coffee’s flavor.
Thin: Related to under brewing, resulting in a coffee lacking in any acidity also referred to as lifeless.
Third Wave: The breed of coffee roasters and baristas who deal exclusively in specialty beans and who are totally devoted to getting the most out of them by whatever means, including varying roasts (particularly lighter roasts) and filter brewing.
Turpeny: Tasting just like turpentine smells.
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.
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