Coffee Terms

The world of coffee can be a confusing and intimidating place, especially if you don’t know the lingo. Here are some basic coffee terms and lingo you can use to communicate with your barista without embarrassment. The types of drinks, how to order and a glossary of terms commonly used when tasting and describing coffee.

Types of Coffee Drinks

Americano: A shot or two of espresso that has been poured into an American-sized cup filled with very hot water.

Caffè Amaretto: Latte with almond syrup.

Café au Lait: A French-style beverage made with drip coffee and boiled milk.

Café Con Leche: 11/2 ounce espresso with enough steamed milk to fill an 8-ounce cup.

Caffè Freddo: Chilled espresso served in a glass, often with ice.

Caffè Latte: A shot of espresso, with a healthy covering of hot steamed milk and up to a quarter inch of foamed milk on top.

Café Mocha: Chocolate syrup on the bottom of the cup, topped with espresso and steamed milk. Basically, this is a chocolate caffe latte. Often prepared with whipped cream on top

Cappuccino: A beverage made with a shot of espresso and equal parts steamed and foamed milk. The steamed milk is mixed with the espresso, but the foamed milk is sitting on top. Overall ratio is 1/3 espresso, 1/3 steamed milk, 1/3 foamed milk. Cappuccino’s name was derived from the Italian order of Catholic Capuchin monks, whose hooded robes resemble the drink’s cap of foam in shape and color.

Coffee Granita: Frozen, shaved ice made from milk, sugar and espresso.

Doppio: A double shot of espresso.

Double Dry Short: A double shot of espresso in a short cup with no foam.

Drip: A regular coffee — your basic cup of “Joe.”

Espresso: A one-ounce shot of intense, rich black coffee. A pump-driven machine forces hot water through fine grounds at around nine atmospheres of pressure. Used as a base for a variety of popular drinks, such as cappuccinos and lattes. Invented in Italy at the turn of the 20th century. Comes from the Latin word “Expresere,” which means “to press out.”

Espresso Breve: Espresso with half and half.

Espresso con Panna: A shot of coffee topped with whipped cream

Espresso Macchiato: Espresso with just a dab of steamed or foamed milk on top. Also called caffè macchiato.

Harmless: A double shot of espresso and non-fat milk.

Mochaccino: A cappuccino with chocolate.

Quad: An espresso drink with four shots of coffee.

Solo: A single shot of espresso.

Terms for Describing Coffee

Acidity: A measure of the acid content of the liquid; in fine coffees, acidity results in a pleasant sharpness. Acidity points out a coffee’s flavor and provides liveliness, sparkle or snap to the drink. It is tasted mainly on the tip of the tongue. The acidity of a coffee may be assessed as lively, moderate, flat or dull. Not to be associated with the genuinely sour taste.

Aftertaste: The perception of brewed coffee vapors released after swallowing. Characteristics can range from carbony, chocolaty and spicy to turpeny.

Aroma: The sensation or smell released from brewed coffee. The smell of coffee grounds is referred to as the Bouquet.

Balance: Tasting term applied to coffees for which no single characteristic overwhelms others.

Bitter: The taste perceived at the back of the tongue. Dark Roasts are intentionally bitter. Over-extraction can cause bitterness.

Bland: Lacking coffee flavor and characteristics. The pale flavor often found in low-grown Robusta coffees. Also caused by under-extraction.

Body: The viscosity or “thickness” of a coffee. Examples of body include light, medium, full, thin, watery, syrupy, heavy, rich and creamy.

Briny: The salty sensation caused by excessive heat after brewing. Buttery: A rich and oily flavor.

Caramelly: An aromatic sensation created by the sugar compounds that produce tastes reminiscent of candy or syrup.

Chocolaty: An aromatic perception in a brew’s aftertaste, reminiscent of unsweetened chocolate or vanilla.

Clean: A coffee cupping term describing a coffee sample that is free from flavor defects.

Complexity: A tasting term describing coffees whose taste sensations shift and layer pleasurably, and give the impression of depth and resonance.

Cup Character: A means of describing a cup of coffee that includes the coffee’s aroma, fragrance, acidity, body, sweetness, aftertaste and freshness.

Cupping: The technique used by cuppers to evaluate the flavor profile of a coffee. To understand the minor differences between coffee growing regions, it is important to cup coffees from around the world side-by-side. Cupping is also used to evaluate a coffee for defects or to create coffee blends.

Delicate: Related to mellow; characterized by a fragile, subtle flavor; perceived by the tip of the tongue.

Earthiness: An unclean smell or taste that can be specific, such as sour or musty, or a more generalized taint that reminds one of eating dirt. Depending on who is doing the tasting, it can be a taste defect or a desirable exotic taste characterized by how intense the earthy taste is.

Exotic: Unusual aromatic, such as berry or floral.

Finish: The sensory experience of coffee just as it is swallowed.

Flat: Used when describing bouquet to denote a lack of strong perceptions in fragrance, aroma and aftertaste; also called dead.

Flavor: In cupping, or sensory evaluation of coffee, flavor is what distinguishes the sensory experience of coffee once its acidity, body and aroma have been described.

Fragrance: As a specialized term in cupping, or sensory evaluation of coffee, fragrance describes the scent of dry coffee immediately after it has been ground, but before it is brewed. Can be described as ranging from floral to spicy.

Fruity: An aromatic sensation reminiscent of citrus fruits or berries.

Grassy: Used to describe an odor and taste in some coffees that is reminiscent of a freshly mown lawn, with accompanying astringency like that of green grass.

Mild: A trade term for high-quality Arabica coffees, often contrasted with hard or inferior coffees.

Mellow: Full, well-balanced coffee, implying low or medium acidity.

Nutty: An aromatic sensation that is released as a brew is swallowed; reminiscent of roasted nuts.

Richness: A satisfying fullness in flavor, body and acidity.

Spicy: Aromatics reminiscent of various spices, detectable either when smelling or tasting coffee.

Stale: Coffee that has been exposed to oxygen for too long becomes flat and tastes of cardboard.

Sweet: A smooth and palatable coffee that is free from defects and harsh flavors.

Tone: The appearance or color of coffee.

Winy: A flavor reminiscent of fine red wine.