Coffee Glossary

Coffee Speak for the Coffee Enthusiast

If you have a term you would like to add to our list, please email me:  Mary Thomas 

Acidity: Have you ever referred to a cup of coffee as "strong"? Most people describe acidic or a smoky flavored coffee that way. Coffee acidity describes a pleasantly sharp, "snappy" and lively quality that is considered a positive attribute. Relative terms used to describe acidity are mellow, soft, flat, dead, delicate, bland, and rough.
Aroma: The fragrance inhaled by sniffing coffee can be described as ranging from sweetly floral (jasmine) to sweetly spicy (orange).
Baked:   A taste description given to under-roasted coffee, or coffee roasted too slowly at too low a temperature, so that the flavor is underdeveloped. See Green. A harsh unpleasant taste detected on the back of the tongue. Found in over extracted brews as well as in over-roasted coffees and those with various taste defects.
Body: The "mouth-feel" in terms of weight and texture. These terms are best described as syrupy, harsh, lifeless, thin, heavy, medium, muddy, and of course, full.
Blend: Mixing two or more varieties of roasted coffee or different roasts (light or dark) to produce a balanced, pleasing taste. Many shops feature a "house" blend.
Burr mill: The preferred tool for grinding coffee. A grinder's burrs are two corrugated steel cylindrical plates with cutting edges. Adjustable, they slice or shave the beans to a consistent grind.
Burnt:  A bitter, burnt flavor characteristic of dark-roasted coffees.
Buttery:  Said of an oily body or texture in the mouth. Denotes full flavor and rich texture.
Caffeine: The drug found in coffee. Caffeine is a bitter white alkaloid, used in medicine chiefly as a mild stimulant and to treat certain types of headaches.
Café au lait: French style coffee made by simultaneously pouring coffee and boiled milk into a cup.
Cinnamon:  Underlying spice accent sometimes detected in the aroma of fine coffee, a flavor nuance. (Also, a term describing a very light roast).
Clean:  Opposite of dirty. Characteristic of all fine coffees. Does not necessarily imply clarity of flavor impression. Associated with washed coffees.
Cocoa:  Characteristic sweetish smell of completely stale roasted coffee. See Stale.
Commodity:  Why is coffee valuable?  How coffee trading works.
Crema: The tan foam formed on the surface of the espresso during the brewing process. The crema makes a "cap" which helps retain the aroma and flavors of the espresso within the cup. The presence of crema indicates an acceptable brew.
Dirty:  An undesirable unclean smell and taste, slight to pronounced. Dirty implies a defect, such as sourness, earthiness, or mustiness. See Natural Coffee and Wild.
Espresso: A method of quickly extracting the heart of coffee flavor, under pressure, from specially roasted, finely ground Arabica beans. 1-1/2 ounces of Espresso is known as a "shot" and serves as the basis of many delicious coffee drinks.
Earthy:  A highly undesirable dirt odor and flavor taint picked up by coffee when dried on the ground; also called groundy. See Musty.
Filter pack:   Coffee grounds that are packaged inside a filter for the perfectly brewed pot of coffee.  This packaging often looks like a round disc or it could be square as seen in the airline industry.
Flat:   A dull, lifeless quality due to lack of acidity.
Flavor: The combination of the aroma and the taste that the coffee impresses in the mouth. Terms relating to flavor are nutty, caramel, earthy, spicy, fruity, smoky, musty, rich, grassy, chocolatey, neutral, sweet, and winey.
Fresh:  Opposite of stale. Applies to roasted coffees.
French or Italian roast: A style of roasting coffee beans that leaves them very dark brown.
Froth/foam: The term given to milk which has been made thick and foamy by aerating it with hot steam.
Fruity:  A flavor taint said to come from overripe fruit pulp.
Grassy:  A flavor taint from use of swamp water for washing, or from improper drying. Also used as a synonym for green and past-croppish.
Green:  (a)A flavor taint found in coffee harvested before fully ripe. (b)Characteristic taste of under-roasted coffee; pasty.
Hard:  Opposite of sweet or mild; harsh. Description of Brazils between soft and Rio-y. Harsh crude raw taste; used to describe certain Brazils and robustas.
Hidy:  Smell of hides or leather from improper storage.
ICS:   Also known as Internet Coffee Service.  This term was first introduced by in 1998 for selling coffee on the internet as a Service to Offices and Break rooms around the world.
Instant coffee:  Coffee that is produced to be water soluble.

K-cup®:  A common slang term used for the plastic cup that fits the Keurig® single cup coffee brewers.
Kosher:  When the word "pareve" appears next to the kosher symbol, this indicates that the product can be eaten with either meat- or dairy-based foods. If the letter 'D' appears next to the symbol, that indicates that the item contains dairy products.
Latte: Coffee with steamed milk, usually in a 1 to 3 ratio. It can contain a flavored syrup and be topped with a layer of froth.
Light:  Used to qualify aroma, acidity, or body. A light coffee would be delicate in flavor.
Mellow:  Full, well-balanced, satisfying coffee; implies low or medium acidity. See Winey.
Micro-ground:  Grinding the coffee bean to such a small and delicate state that the coffee becomes partly water soluble and provides extra flavor.  There are residual coffee grounds that will be left at the bottom of your cup from these very, very fine grounds.
Musty:  A smell and taste taint caused by mildew; similar to earthy.
Natural Coffee:  Aroma and flavor characteristics of coffees processed by the dry method. They are often blander than washed coffees and may lack clarity of flavor and pointed acidity. Some may have intense, complex flavors and full, thick body. See Wild.
Neutral:  A characterless, flavorless coffee, inoffensive to insipid; without virtue (safe for economical blending) but without defect. A desirable character in robusta and otherwise undistinguished Brazils.
Nutty:  (a)Said of coffees that lack coffee flavor, also peanutty. (b)A specific flavor nuance, suggesting almonds, and so on.
OCS:   Also known as Office Coffee Service.  First termed in 1968 by the founder of Mr. Coffee and the first inter office coffee brewer with delivered coffee on a schedule.
Past-Croppish:  Not to be confused with stale. Said of coffees that have deteriorated in the green state before roasting.  Has the taste as if from a past crop. 
Pod:   A single serve coffee that is made up of a round paper filter and pre-portion packed with ground coffee.  There are different size pods for different coffee pod brewers.  Espresso pods being the smallest and most compact in size.
Rancid:  Extremely sour and very unpleasant. Indicates depth and complexity of flavor and full, buttery body; overused.
Rio-y:  A harsh, heavy medicinal or iodine flavor typical of the poorest grades of Brazils but encountered in other coffees as well. Said to be caused by allowing berries to dry on the tree.
Roasts: Varietals or blends roasted to a specific color, such as Full City Roast, Continental Roast, and French Roast.
Rubbery:  Burnt-rubber odor characteristic of robusta.
Single Cup:  A common term used for the delivery method of coffee into a single drinking cup format. Single Cup is also used as a common reference for K-cups, Keurig® Coffee cups and any plastic cup that works in a Keurig® style coffee brewer.
Sour:  Low-acid coffees are described as soft, mellow, sweet. Not to be confused with acidity. A distinctly sour, rank, or rancid taste is a defect often due to improper processing.
Spicy:  Said of fine aroma or flavor suggestive of spices.
Stale:  Roasted coffee that has faded in quality after excessive exposure to air. Aroma of stale coffee changes from flat to rancid and finally to cocoa like; the flavor of stale coffee changes from bitter to rancid and tastes cardboardy. Not to be confused with past-croppish.
Strong:  Term used to indicate intensity of either defects or virtues (as in "a strong, sour taste" or "a strong, fine aroma"). A strong-flavored coffee is therefore not necessarily a fine-flavored coffee.
Sweet:  Said of a smooth, palatable coffee, free from taints or harshness. Also soft.
Thin: Said of coffees with watery body and lack of flavor, typical of low-grown coffee.
Varietals: A single bean type from a country, region or estate, such as Guatemala Antigua, Costa Rica Tarrazu and Colombian Supremo.
Wild:  Coffees with extreme flavor characteristics, or odd, racy, tangy nuances in aroma and taste. Usually applied to natural coffees. These characteristics may be intriguing or undesirable. See Dirty.
Winey:  Sometimes used to indicate thick body and mellow quality, but also used to denote a sappy, vinous acidity. Characteristic of certain fine coffees.
Woody:  A flavor taint caused by overlengthy storage in warm wood sheds; also characteristic scent and taste of old, past-croppish coffees.

If you are looking for even more FAQ's on coffee, check out this list by Scott Rothstein at his site: The Coffee FAQ.