Coffee lingo

Acidity

Taste those high, thin notes, the dryness the coffee leaves at the back of your palate and under the edges of your tongue? This pleasant tartness, snap, or twist is what coffee people call acidity. It should be distinguished from sour, which in coffee terminology means an unpleasant sharpness.  Aged coffees, and some old crop, low-grown coffees, have little acidity and taste almost sweet. Many retailers avoid describing a coffee as acidy for fear consumers will confuse a positive acidy brightness with an unpleasant sourness. Instead you will find a variety of creative euphemisms: bright, dry, sharp, vibrant, etc. An acidy coffee is somewhat analogous to a dry wine. In some coffees the acidy taste actually becomes distinctively winey; the winey aftertaste should be very clear in the Yemen Mocha.

Arabica

“Coffee Arabica” is the species name assigned to the coffee tree by European botanist Linnaeus while categorizing the flora of the Arabian peninsula. Arabica are the bean of choice in “gourmet” or “specialty coffees”. Arabica coffee produces the rich flavor and body found in a good cup of coffee. Robusta beans lack this flavor and body.

Aroma

The sensation of the gases released from brewed coffee, ranging from fruity to herby, as they are inhaled through the nose. Strictly speaking, aroma can’t be separated from acidity and flavor. Acidy coffees smell acidy, and richly flavored coffees smell richly flavored. Nevertheless, certain high, fleeting notes are reflected most clearly in the nose of a coffee, as some tasters say. There is frequently a subtle floral note to some coffee that is experienced most clearly in the aroma, particularly at the moment the crust is broken in the traditional tasting ritual. The best Colombian and Kona coffees are particularly noted for their floral aroma.

Aromatic

The total aromatic profile created by the sensations of gases and vapors on the olfactory membranes as a result of the volatile organic compounds present in the fragrance, aroma, nose, and aftertaste of coffee. Also can designate a coffee that fully manifests the aroma characteristic of its nature and origin.

Balanced

This is a difficult term. When tasting coffees for defects, professional tasters use the term to describe a coffee that does not localize at any one point on the palate; in other words, it is not imbalanced in the direction of some one (often undesirable) taste characteristic. As a term of general evaluation, balance appears to mean that no one quality overwhelms all others, but there is enough complexity in the coffee to arouse interest. A well-balanced coffee contains all the basic characteristics to the right extent.

Bitter

A basic taste characterized by solution of quinine, caffeine, and certain other alkaloids. Perceived primarily at the back of the tongue. Canephora are more bitter than arabica coffees. A desirable characteristic at a certain level.

Body

The physical properties of the beverage resulting in the tactile sensations perceived in the mouth during and after ingestion. Used to describe the mouthfeel of a drink, corresponding to a certain consistency. Body or mouth feel is the sense of heaviness, richness, and thickness at the back of the tongue when you swish the coffee around your mouth. The coffee is not actually heavy; it just tastes that way. If you can’t distinguish body, try pouring milk into each coffee. Note how the flavor of a heavy-bodied coffee carries through the milk, whereas the flavor of the lighter dies away. If you drink coffee with milk, you should buy a heavy-bodied coffee. If you drink black coffee, you may prefer a lighter-bodied variety. The brew method also affects body with paper filters generally giving a lighter-body and French Press on the heavy-bodied end.

Caramel

An aromatic sensation created by a moderately volatile set of sugar carbonyl compounds found in coffee’s nose that produce sensations reminiscent of either candy or syrup.

Chocolaty

An aromatic sensation created by a moderately volatile set of pyrazine compounds found in coffee’s aftertaste that produce sensations reminiscent of unsweetened chocolate of vanilla.

Clean

Without off-flavor.

Complexity

Complexity describes flavor that shifts among pleasurable possibilities; a harmonious multiplicity of sensation. 

Creamy

Moderately high level of oily material suspended in the coffee beverage. The result of pronounced amounts of fats present in the beans.

Dark Roasted Coffee

Roasting term meaning dark brown beans with a shiny surface; equivalent to espresso or French roast.

Delicate

A secondary coffee taste sensation characterized by fragile sweet-subtle sensation just past the tip of the tongue. Caused by the lowest possible combination of sugars and salts that still produce a sweet cast to the taste, a combination easily broken up by other taste sensations. 

Earthy

An odor taint in the coffee beans that produces an mineral-like taste sensation. Results when fats in the coffee beans absorb organic materials from the ground in the drying process during harvesting.

Fair Trade Certified 

Trans Fair USA is an independent non-profit organization which monitors and certifies Fair Trade products in the United States. Fair Trade raises incomes and living standards for small coffee farmers overseas while helping to protect the environment. Fair Trade doesn’t provide aid or charity, but instead promotes self-reliance and equality for farmers who are disadvantaged under present trading conditions.

Flavor

Flavor is the most ambiguous term of all. Acidity has something to do with flavor, but so do body and aroma. Some coffees simply have a fuller, richer flavor than others, whereas other coffees have an acidy tang, for instance, that tends to dominate everything else.

Floral

An aromatic sensation created by a highly volatile set of aldehydes and esters that produce sweet fragrance sensations reminiscent of a flower.

French Roast 

When applied to roasting coffee, means that the bean is roasted high enough to bring the natural oil of the coffee to the surface. Gives a roasted flavor to the cup. Does NOT mean the beans came from France. 

Fruity

An aromatic sensation created by a highly volatile set of aldehydes and esters found in coffee’s aroma. Either a sweet sensation reminiscent of citrus fruit or a dry sensation reminiscent of berry fruit.

Full

An intensity description of bouquet indicating gases and vapors are present at a moderately pronounced strength.

Grady

A background flavor of dirtiness but not qualifying as dirty. Mostly used in the United States.

Heavy

A moderately high level of solid material suspended in the coffee beverage. Result of fine particles of bean fiber and insoluble proteins present in pronounced amounts.

Intense

A strong aromatic quality of the gases and vapors present in the bouquet of the coffee.

Italian Roast

Term applied to coffee that has been roasted darker than French Roast. Much used by Italians, as well as in many of the coffee producing countries. Does NOT mean the bean came from Italy.

Jammy

Think strawberry jam (Or Blueberry, Raspberry etc.)

Light Roast

The level of roast some refer to as cinnamon or city. This roast level will produce a more acidic cup which is often confused with bitterness. This could better be described as sharp or dry and if roasted correctly described as bright. This roast level also highlights the fruity and floral qualities in the cup. 

Lemon Peel

A mild hint of lemon in the aromatic qualities.

Medium Roast

Coffee beans roasted to the American norm. This is usually the best compromise between the brighter floral notes and the richer caramelization associated with darker roasts, producing a complex, full bodied flavor.

Mellow

A primary coffee taste sensation created as salts in the coffee combine with sugars to increase the overall sweetness. Characteristic found most often in washed arabica coffees grown at elevations below 4,000 feet, such Kona coffee from Hawaii. Mellow ranges from mild to delicate.

Milk Chocolate

See “chocolaty”.

Mild

A secondary coffee taste sensation characterized by a predominantly sweet tingle just past the tip of the tongue. Caused by high concentrations of both sugars and salts. Typified by a washed Sumatran coffee.

Neutral

A secondary coffee taste characterized by the absence of a predominant taste sensation on any part of the tongue but causing a distinct parching sensation on the sides of the tongue. Caused by a concentration of salts high enough to neutralize both acids and sugars but not enough to provoke a salty sensation.

Nippy

A secondary coffee taste characterized by a predominantly sweet, nipping sensation at the tip of the tongue. Caused by a higher-than-normal percentage of acids being sour.

Nutty

An aromatic sensation created by a moderately volatile set of aldehydes and ketones that produce sensations reminiscent of roasted nuts. Characteristic of poor quality beans, that float, remain lighter in color and have a peanut flavor.

Organic

Organic is an important descriptive term in the contemporary coffee world. An organically-grown coffee must be certified by an international agency as having been grown without synthetic chemical fertilizers, pesticides, or herbicides. Somewhat lower yields and the considerable cost of the certification process account for the higher prices demanded for many organic coffees.

Piquant

A secondary coffee taste sensation characterized by a predominantly sweet, prickling sensation at the tip of the tongue. Caused by a higher-than-normal percentage of acids actually sweet to the taste instead of sour. Typified by a Kenya AA coffee.

Point

A coffee with good positive characteristics of flavor, body and acidity.

Pungent

Applies essentially to a full-bodied and slightly aggressive coffee.

Rich

Intensity description indicating gases and vapors are present at highly pronounced strengths.

Richness

Richness partly refers to body, partly to flavor; at times even to acidity. The term describes an interesting, satisfying fullness.

Robusta

High in caffeine and rather bitter. Generally less acid and less aromatic than arabica coffee. Often slightly woody.

Round

A balanced coffee whose basic organoleptic characteristics are just at the right level, with none particularly apparent, giving the impression of roundness.

Sharp

A primary coffee taste sensation created as acids in the coffee combine with salts to increase the overall saltiness. Characteristic found most often in unwashed robusta coffee. Sharp coffee ranges from rough to astringent.

Smooth

A primary coffee taste sensation created as acids in the coffee combine with salts to increase the overall saltiness. Characteristic found most often in unwashed robusta coffee. Sharp coffee ranges from rough to astringent.

Soft

A primary coffee taste sensation created as acids in the coffee combine with salts to increase the overall saltiness. Characteristic found most often in unwashed robusta coffee. Sharp coffee ranges from rough to astringent.

Soft-Sweet

A pleasant clean taste. Denotes a smooth cup free of any foreign flavors.

Spicy

An aromatic sensation created by a slightly volatile set of hydrocarbon compounds in coffee’s aftertaste that produces sensations reminiscent of either wood-spice (cinnamon) or wood-seed (Clove).

Strong

Coffee giving a pungent impression in the cup, rich in flavor. Developed by roasting or having a consistent mouthfeel.

Sweet

A basic taste characterized by solutions of sugars (sucrose and glucose), alcohols, glycols, and some amino acids. perceived primarily by the tip of the tongue. A trade term to describe coffee free from harshness of Rio flavor or any form of damage.

Swiss Water

The SWISS WATER Process is a 100% chemical free, patented decaffienation process used by premium roasters and demanded by discerning consumers around the world. Chemicals are used to decaffeinate most coffee. But the SWISS WATER® Process uses only water. It’s a patented process that results in great tasting coffee that is never subjected to chemicals.

Tangy

A secondary coffee taste sensation characterized by a predominantly darting, sour sensation along the sides of the tongue. Caused by a high-than-normal percentage of sugars, giving the taste almost a fruity sensation.

Thick

A relatively high level of solid material suspended in the coffee beverage. A result of fine particles of bean fiber and insoluble proteins present in substantial amounts. Most often characteristic of espresso-style coffee. Also referred to as body.

Thin

A relatively low level of solid material suspended in the coffee beverage. A result of fine particles of bean fiber and insoluble proteins present in imperceptible amounts. Lacks body or substance and is insufficiently concentrated and roasted.

Winey

A primary coffee taste sensation created as the sugars in the coffee combine with the acids to reduce the overall sourness. Characteristic found most often in unwashed arabica coffees grown at elevations above 4,000 feet. Winey coffees range from tangy to tart. Special and agreeable flavor acquired by certain mocha-type, freshly milled, or first crop coffees.