Coffee Vocabulary: You Can’t Get the Coffee You Want if You Don’t Know How to Describe What You Like

. . . so, here’s some help.

Coffee Terminology

  • Acidity–Gives liveliness to coffee. ┬áPeople often think this is a bad quality to have in coffee, but it can be quite pleasing–think bright, vibrant, and lively. Lack of acidity may create a dull, flat coffee while too much acidity may be unpleasant also. One coffee varietal may be intense in acidity and another may be much less intense in acidity, yet both coffees will still be considered high quality coffee. . . many factors are involved. The Coffee Cuppers’ Manifesto (page 38 via Yapame) by Paul Katzeff gives as wonderful description.


  • Aroma–The smell of brewed coffee (wet coffee grounds) or coffee that is brewing. Fragrance is the smell of freshly ground (dry) coffee. The full flavor of coffee can not be experienced without the aroma. Lighter roasts have a flowery, fruity (think citrus or berry), or herby aroma. Medium roasts have a nutty (similar to nuts or malts), carmelly (similar to candy or syrup), or chocolaty (similar to vanilla or chocolate) aroma. Darker roasts have a spicy, carbony or resinous aroma. Refer to SCAA or Sweet Maria’s for a more detailed break down of coffee aromas.


  • Body–Also known as the mouthfeel of a coffee, the body is how the coffee feels in the mouth. Is is light or heavy? How thick is it? What is the texture?


  • Flavor–Is the combined taste and aroma of coffee. It is the overall sensation including the acidity, the body to the aftertaste.


  • Taste–The four primary tastes of the tongue are sour, sweet, salt, and bitter. The fifth taste is classified as umami or savory.
      • Sour is either soury (often compared to unripe fruit and ranges from hard to acrid) or winey (agreeably sharp, tart taste to a tangy taste).
      • Sweet is either acidy (piquant–pleasantly prickly or nippy–sweet and biting) or mellow (mild–gentle, sweet tingle or delicate–pleasing in its subtle sweetness and fragility).
      • Salt is either bland (soft–agreeable and easy tingle or neutral–not distinctive and often used in blends) or sharp (rough or astringent).
      • Bitter is either harsh or pungent.

Refer to SCAA (check out Cupping Specialty Coffee) or Sweet Maria’s (Check out Sweet Maria’s Coffee Library) for a more information.

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