Welcome to my second monster post that covers a lot of the basics of coffee. I figured the way to best learn how to speak about coffee would be in this order:
- The factors being assessed in coffee
- The method experts use to test these factors in coffee
- The terms you would need for ordering coffee in a standard coffee shop
- The broader terms that are as exhaustive as I could manage
I chose this order because putting a glossary of terms at the beginning would interrupt the flow, and knowing how to taste and discuss the flavors in coffee seemed as important as how to order them. In either case, feel free to use the table of contents to peruse at your leisure! I hope you find it useful!
Table of Contents
A note on tasting
Cupping is how most experts will taste two or more different coffees. By learning this method, you will be able to train your tongue to taste the differences.
It’s simple to do, honest. Your home should have everything you need to do a proper cupping, only needing two or more blends of coffee. For some more slanted, extreme examples, you could compare a freshly ground coffee to a pod coffee.
That’s the main purpose of learning how to “cup”, which is a rather pretentious-sounding way of tasting coffee. It’s really simple, and the point is to educate yourself with enough samples that you can pick out the differences as you go along.
That’s it. Just using multiple samples to be able to pick apart the differences along with several factors.
Which factors should you consider? Glad you asked…
Using the Prufrock Tasting Guide
Here is a chart for assessing coffees.
It is not the only one, but it is one I will be covering today for the sake of ease and because they all work for the same purpose: breaking down the various dimensions to focus on.
In this chart, it has what appear to be overlapping factors: namely flavor, sweetness, and acidity.
Flavor is closer to a flavor profile, talking about the hints and notes that our language clumsily tries to label. This is for things like “apricot” or “strawberry jam” or “caramel”, which are more like a metaphorical headbutt than a more precise and delicate first kiss.
They’re clumsy, but they’re merely meant as general signposts.
As you can see pictured above, the scale measures the quantity (intensity) and quality of the factor being assessed. Quantity (Intensity) is to do with how obvious the perception is, while quality is about how good or bad you find it.
We’ll discuss them further in the context of each factor below.
While it’s not explicitly a direct cause of flavor, namely because it doesn’t actually interact with your tongue, it is still important.
Taste is a multisensory, multidimensional sense. If you doubt this, try smelling a dirty sock while eating your favorite food. Not very appealing, is it?
Likewise with coffee, the smell matters quite a bit and will shape your experience of the beverage.
Aromas can be subtle as a family coupe or as overstated as a muffler-less street rocket. This is the quantity. Whether you enjoyed it or detested it is the quality. It is possible to be a high quantity, hateful flavor, or a low quantity, delightful one.
Don’t worry if you can’t come across a specific label for the scent. English is not well-equipped to talk about scents or flavors – other than through clumsy direct comparisons.
An exercise to help enhance your enjoyment of smell, alone, is doable when you’re hungry.
When fasting, I’ve trained myself to enjoy the scent of food without requiring the consumption of the food being smelled. Likewise, the smell doesn’t need to be a call to action; it can simply be a pleasure in itself.
Go to a grocery store right when it’s opening, and you’ll be treated to the scent of freshly baked bread. Just wonderful.
It is in this sort of approach you can take to smelling the coffee, though you will still be able to taste it either way. The purpose is to allow yourself to fully immerse yourself in each sense before moving on.
Acids taste sour.
Do you like citrus or sour candies? If yes, then you are likely a fan of acids. As the show Salt Fat Acid Heat indicates, you’ll know a dish is lacking acidity if it’s missing some zing. But too much isn’t good, either. No one likes drinking straight lemon juice. Probably.
Coffee professionals and Professional Coffee Tasters (yes, this is a job, apparently) really enjoy acid. The average drinker, however, may not be the biggest fan of the idea of “sour coffee”. This may lead to a disconnect between professional opinions and yours.
There’s nothing wrong with disagreeing with experts in the domain of taste. Science and other such experts should probably be regarded, but experts in taste also have personal preferences that may not agree with most people. In this domain, you can gleefully disagree and scoff at those who bow down from professional opinions. Just make sure you educate yourself somewhat before you do so.
Acidity adds a freshness, a crispness, which some believe can be felt most around the edges of your tongue. It is, of course, detected all over your tongue (tongue mapping has long been debunked), but perhaps it is more felt there, as some suggest.
To rate the quantity of the acid, you may have to consider the overt sourness of the drink. Is it hard to detect or hard to miss (quantity)? Does it leave you with a dry mouth (low quality)? Does it have a good crispness (high quality)?
Which one appeals to you more? There is no universal right or wrong, which is why I dislike the snobbery around “good” or “bad” wines or other premium products. Liking a more common, cheaper product doesn’t mean you have inferior tastes. More affordable, perhaps.
Taste is taste – everyone can come to enjoy each product, but maybe not the exact same dimensions.
Note: Bitter-Sour Confusion
Many people feel weird labeling a coffee as “sour”, so they will mistakenly say that it’s bitter.
People have sent back espressos because they are “too bitter” which sounds silly because coffee is, frankly, a bitter beverage. There’s no denying that, despite professionals thinking it’s a mark of failure.
No joke: people think that if a coffee’s defining flavor is “bitter” then it’s a failure on the part of the roaster, the brewer, or both. To me, it’s like giving a failing grade for candy being sweet.
Some believe that if you’re feeling the bitterness around the edges of your tongue (again alluding to tongue mapping, but perhaps somewhat more legitimately) or it causes you to salivate a bit more, then it may be acidity and sourness – not bitterness.
Worth keeping in mind when doing a tasting of any sort.
Generally, talk of “sweetness” makes people think of table sugar or overt, smacked-upside-the-head sweetness. This is only one form, as there are certainly others.
From my personal experience, I’ve done low-carb diets for prolonged periods, and this makes you more perceptive of subtler sweetness. Same goes for past “flavor famines”, removing all spices and eating only boiled chicken and broccoli. This is one extreme way to reset your tastebuds, but it works.
At those times, I was able to taste the “sweetness” in lemon juice, as there is actually some fructose contained in limited amounts.
Likewise, coffee has no simple sugars.
For an experiment, take a freshly brewed coffee. Taste it. Then add a teaspoon of sugar. You will immediately taste a sweetness that is vastly different in nature than what the coffee originally had, changing the flavor profile substantially.
Because of the focus on sugar sweetness, people will taste coffee and say it is universally not a sweet beverage. This is not strictly true.
Sweetness for a coffee is more variable, often relying on the other factors to fully express itself. Sourness can pull it out, the aroma and body can also affect the experience of this kind of “sweet”.
Again, English has a bad vocabulary for flavors, but you will get a feel for it by going back and forth between black coffees, focusing on each dimension.
Which one is “sweeter”? There should be one that is comparatively sweet.
It will feel more complex, more whole, more satisfying.
Remember: It will be sweet in the domain of coffee, not in the domain of candy.
Once again, quantity is how obvious it is, and quality is whether it’s pleasing or not.
This is also known as texture, umami, or mouthfeel – it deals with the way it feels in your mouth. If you want a more direct experience of what this “umami” feels like, get your hands on some MSG and then do a blind taste test between two glasses of water – one with MSG and one without.
The one with MSG will have an abundance of umami. That is the main appeal to MSG – it gives a more weighty, pleasant feeling on the tongue. It’s closest word we use might be “viscosity”, the thickness of the liquid, but that doesn’t quite fit because body is perceived on the tongue, not in the fluid’s flow rate.
For some reason, this factor isn’t embraced by modern coffee enthusiasts as it was during coffee’s second wave.
Another easy comparison is drinking skim milk and whole milk. Focus on the texture.
Applied to coffee, is it thin and watery, almost like tea? Or does it feel whole? Weighty? Or, as some pros say, chewy?
Again, that’s the intensity. You can get a really strong, grainy mouthfeel, which is negative. Robusta coffees are known to have a weightier body, but not necessarily in a way that people like. Again, taste is individual. Personally, I’m into it.
Important note around paper filters: paper filters will remove some of the body from the equation. When doing your tasting experiment, I encourage using a filterless method, such as the cupping method or a french press.
Terms to note: light, delicate, rich, full, heavy, weighty, round, chewy
When it comes to a formal tasting of any kind, finish is the part where you evaluate how you feel upon swallowing.
One of my relatives has a serious stomach issue that doesn’t allow them to consume anything but liquids, but they will chew some foods for the sake of texture cravings – yet they can never swallow.
That is a life without “finish”, and living that way would certainly highlight the importance of finish on your experience of food and drink.
Back on point, how do you feel after swallowing the coffee?
Is it a harsh, unpleasant finish? Good, satisfying? Do flavors develop and build over time? Is it pleasant or displeasing?
Some coffees will vanish like a wraith at dawn, while others will hang over you like a depression. It’s a wide variety of possibilities and can enhance or detract from an otherwise good brew.
This will take more time to discern, as you’ll have to consistently go back and forth to compare how they differ.
When it comes to tasting, you have until they are cold, which is roughly 30 minutes, to work this out. Take your time. No need to rush, as it will take time and attentiveness to sharpen the tools in your gustatory toolkit.
Taste, wait, taste. Let it unfold, examine it.
This is more a flavor profile, and will result in people saying things similar to how wine snobs talk about wine. It’s often meaningless and undecipherable for the average person. But here’s how you may develop your taste to fix it slightly.
Since when has a wine or coffee ever tasted like literal plums? It’s ridiculous, but it’s what we’re left with when it comes to English, specifically, and most modern languages in general. In truth, they don’t taste exactly like those things, but there is an undertone that might remind you of these other flavors.
There are, as some have pointed out, a few tools that you can use for a flavor profile.
You can use flavor wheels to come up with something “precise”. This is an option, but one thing I dislike about the coffee industry is the obsession of coming down with something that is “precise” but lacks real meaning. Pretentiousness, basically.
What’s the point of telling people how much plum you can taste in this without the audience understanding?
It’s also important to note that coffee is a moving target. The batch, the method, the brew time, the water – everything noted in Coffee 101 – will all affect the flavor, and it will not be the same from batch to batch, or even cup to cup.
According to James Hoffman, there are four basic flavor profiles:
Fresh fruit (berries, stone fruits, apples, pears), cooked fruit (pies, jams, baked goods), tropical/fermented fruits (mango, pineapple, tamarind, lychee), Maillard/Caramelization (toffee, caramel, maple syrups).
How does this translate to flavor and descriptors?
If it’s medium-high acid, you may reach for fresh fruits, like citrus, green apples, plum, and so on.
If low acid, maybe more cooked fruits would work. Heating fruit tends to break down the acids and emphasize the sugars.
Longer fermented or naturally processed coffees may provide more fermented and tropical fruit flavors. This often creates a love/hate relationship among both consumers and professionals.
The last category is likely due to the caramelization of the sugars (not simple sugars) within the coffee, which might make it correlate more with medium to dark roasts. Is it more like a maple syrup, a toffee, a caramel? Up to you to say.
Note: this is where people really like to feel like a pro, competing with one another to pull out the most accurate flavor they can pin down and feeling great about it. It’s not a competition. Perhaps you pull out something different than your tasting partners; this doesn’t make you better. Hell, who could even say which is more correct? It’s all taste; just see it as a fun game.
How to improve your coffee tasting ability
The only real way that you can improve your taste is by repeated exposure to the substance you’re tasting, and having different samples to compare and contrast.
For the first part, you’re probably exposed enough to coffee to know what coffee is supposed to taste like. No issues there.
But for the comparisons, it’s best if you get two different beans, roughly the same freshness, and ground at the same time to the same level of coarseness. It’s best if you can hold as many factors constant as possible, but no need to be finicky about it.
First, let’s go over the main method of brewing to easily compare blends. The most popular method in the industry is “cupping” (not to be confused with the traditional Chinese medicine practice).
The real benefit of the cupping method is that it requires almost no skill.
That’s the point: you don’t want any skill affecting the outcome. If you did, you’d have to perform the exact same for every one of your samples, and that’s just unlikely – there’d be some variance between attempts.
As James Hoffman points out: if you use a pour-over, you can change your technique to make it sweeter or sourer. (This section is basically his 15 min video on the topic whittled down, btw).
No, what we want is straight java minus the skill. Thus, cupping.
How to Cup
Cupping is used for various purposes in the industry, but that’s not important for now. What is important is the things you’ll need:
- Coffee Grinder (that doesn’t retain coffee; it all passes completely through)
- Cold, soft water (city water from the tap, or filtered water both work)
- Food scale (you can make do without, but it helps)
- Two spoons, large
- 5 or 6 small cups, roughly 250mL
- Coffee – Medium-fine grind (min 2-3 samples, ideally 4-5; at least 20g each)
- Optional: Two bowls; one full of clean water, one for waste.
You start by putting the medium-fine grind coffee in the cup. What’s important is ratio, which Hoffman suggests 60g per liter of water (as opposed to 75g/L for most immersion brews) because you want it slightly weaker to help pick apart the subtleties better. For that amount, scaled down, you can do 12g/200mL or 20g/330mL. Let’s focus on the smaller cup.
- Place cup on food scale and hit tare. It should read 0g with the cup on it.
- Add 12g of coffee into each empty cup (±0.1g)
- Add 200mL of hot water
- Wait 4 minutes
- Use a spoon to gently stir the “crust” on top, causing any ground beans to sink. Experts will smell intently like two dogs meeting in the park. Don’t worry about it if this is your first time.
- Use two clean spoons to “scrape” off the foam and debris from the top of the liquid, leaving a clear cup of coffee.
- Wait another 5-10 minutes for them to be cool enough to drink. You don’t want to burn your tongue in the process of a tasting, or it’ll all be wasted.
- Use your large spoon to spoon up a portion of the coffee. This is primarily to get the coffee and nothing else, avoiding handling a hot mug of coffee.
- Slurp the coffee. Further explanation below.
- Use the Prufrock Coffee Tasting Guide to note the flavors for each.
- Continue steps #8 and #9 as the coffees approach room temperature. The flavor will change and be easier to note as they cool.
It should be noted that you do not want to have the bags hanging around, affecting your expectations. The label, the logo, the bag, or just ideas about the roasts can affect your experience. Instead, keep the cups in a specified order to make sure you know which is which.
Personally, I placed the bags in the same order, then had someone mix them up and record the new order. Afterward, I correlated and had a bit of a surprise in my rankings.
Slurping helps to aerate the liquid that you’re ingesting, allowing it to more thoroughly interact with your tongue, mouth, palate – and your sense of smell. It is thought to allow for a more three-dimensional experience, despite how unappealing it is to witness. Give it a shot and notice how your experience of the tasting can change.
It’s not popular, but if you’re going to be comparing only 2 or 3 different kinds of beans, then you could choose to make multiple small french presses or Moka pots of coffee. I’m not recommending this, but putting the option out there because they’re similarly low-skill. Just have to make sure the grind levels are the same, and the water is the same (amount and quality).
Merely measure the coffee and water, then brew with these methods at the same time. I don’t know why you’d do this, but you do you.
My First Attempt at Cupping
This is the first time I’ve ever done a structured tasting with coffee, and using the cupping method made it quite easy. Though, there was some confusion about how to taste, exactly. Here’s my experience as a first-timer trying to figure out the elements as I went (with help from my mom, #covidlife):
Aroma: Easy to figure out and label as strong/weak, positive/negative. Easier than the rest by far.
Acidity: Harder to detect, but you could kind of pick it up as you went along. Mostly signified by a dry mouth (i.e., too much, negative), or reminding me of fresh fruit (positive).
Sweetness: Still not super clear, as one of the coffees used was a dark roast, which might have thrown my taste off. It did really exaggerate the sweetness of the others, which were all medium roast. Note: Maybe try all coffees of the same roast.
Body: Also easy to detect, though it was hard to tell if it was positive or negative. I leaned toward liking thicker coffees, so I automatically ranked thin as bad. Might as well be one factor (removing quality).
Finish: Also fairly subtle, since you’re not consuming much coffee with each spoonful. Some lingered, like the dark roast (Starbucks), while others vanished entirely. This one was easy for both quantity and quality ranking.
Flavor: By far, the most difficult. I found myself guessing; it seems like you just have to be reminded of something to make the comparison. I ended up with green apple (Kicking Horse, 3 Sisters); Burnt toffee (Starbucks French Roast); Missing/Weak (Bean Head, Medium Dark); Caramel (Kicking Horse, Decaf).
What surprised me the most was that the decaf was the most favorable! Had I known which was which beforehand, I would’ve been biased against it. The entire time, I thought the thinnest, least flavorful one must have been the decaf, but it turned out to be the beanhead.
What wasn’t surprising was that Starbucks was the least liked, although maybe this was because it was a very dark roast.
Coffee Ordering Lingo
In order to accurately talk about coffee, you need to understand the common vocabulary.
This section is dedicated to simply ordering coffee, as that’s the most practical side of it. The next section will discuss broader terms necessary for “talking the talk” with coffee enthusiasts and might also appeal to those who are merely curious about terms.
A shot of espresso (1oz) in hot water.
A cup of drip coffee with 2 shots of espresso (2oz) added.
Often found wrapped in single-serve plastic beside the register in cafés, it is an almond biscuit, dry, crunchy, sweet bread that is served in small slices, and intended to be dipped in coffee. Originally invented in Italy, it was traditionally dipped in Von Santo, a red wine. Also known as cantucci.
Caffè Breve [BREV-ey]
Originally a cappuccino made with half-and-half instead of milk. Very uncommon to find on a menu.
Café au lait / Café Con Leche
Drip coffee (1 part) mixed with steamed/heated milk (2 parts). “Con Leche” will often come with sugar already added.
Basically, a café au lait, but equal parts coffee and steamed milk.
Café noisette [nwah-zet]
Espresso mixed with a tiny bit of milk, creating a hazelnut-like color, which is what “noisette” translates to from French. There is no hazelnut flavoring.
Short for Cappuccino (e.g., Ice Cap).
A shot of espresso at the bottom, and the rest of the cup filled with equal parts microfoam and frothed milk (dry foam). See: microfoam (bottom section).
[Dop-E-oh] Italian for a double, which may be around 2oz of espresso. It is considered the standard espresso size for many coffee houses.
In Canada, a double double at any coffee shop (where they add your milk and sugar for you) will result in a drip coffee with two cream and two sugar. Not to be confused with a “double”. You can also order a triple-triple or a quad-quad, but those are far less common.
The dense, high-caffeine coffee beverage that is usually 1oz per shot. Typically served as a double (2oz), also known as a doppio. See: doppio.
Espresso Con Panna
An espresso shot topped with whipped cream.
Uncommon. A shot of espresso with a dash of lemon juice added.
Generally, it’s a shot of espresso (likely a double shot) with the rest of the cup filled with flat milk. It may or may not be topped with milk froth, like a latte. It may or may not be slightly smaller than a latte. The name comes from Australia, where coffee with milk is white coffee, and black coffee has none. So “flat” meaning no bubbles, and “white” meaning with milk. See: this post.
A latte with flavored syrup (sugar or sugar-free) added to it. Common flavors are vanilla and hazelnut.
A cup of drip coffee with 3 shots of espresso (6oz).
Half and Half
It could be half milk and half heavy cream, as many assume. In Canada, you can sometimes order a “half and half” and get a cup of half drip coffee, half hot chocolate.
Typically a medium roast and intermediate flavor.
Espresso at the bottom, the rest filled with steamed milk and topped with froth.
[Lun-go] A long shot of espresso using the same amount of beans, but more water. Proponents say the flavor is different from that of an Americano, though they may seem similar. Typically only about 2oz.
A single or double shot served with a dollop of milk froth or microfoam on top.
Also called a “long macchiato”, it is primarily made of steamed milk and topped with a shot of espresso. Caramel macchiato is in this vein, with caramel being added as well.
Mocha (Caffè Mocha / Mocha latte)
A latte made with chocolate in some form. It may be chocolate syrup added, or it may have been made with chocolate milk. Often sweet and topped with whip cream.
A shot of espresso added to drip coffee.
In Canada, ordering a “regular” will get you a cup of drip coffee with one cream, one sugar. Results may vary if you actually have a regular order at a coffee shop.
[re-stret-oh] A small, denser form of coffee. Typically, they make the coffee more finely ground and less water, thus having all the strength of an espresso in less liquid.
Steamer / Babyccino
A glass of steamed milk, it is often made like a latte without espresso. Often flavored with syrups, and intended for children. Sometimes called a babyccino, pronounced like “cappuccino”.
Also known as Armenian Coffee and Greek Coffee, it originated in the region now known as Turkey. The drink is a strong, small cup of coffee that is made by boiling a very fine coffee powder for several minutes. Sugar is often added, and it is often served alongside a sweet pastry and water. See: this post.
A coffee beverage that has had the caffeine removed from the beans during processing. In America, that means it contains 3% or less of the original caffeine; in the EU, it means it has less than 0.1%. For more on how decaf is made, see this post.
Adding two espresso shots instead of just one in espresso beverages.
A cappuccino with no steamed milk, only milk froth. People seem to disagree as to how dry the foam is. But others believe that milk froth (dry foam) is a sign of a low-quality cappuccino. Personal preference.
A coffee that uses equal parts normal coffee and decaf coffee in its preparation.
Serving the beverage over ice. It typically is not blended, but rather has distinct ice cubes in it. If it is sweetened, you would have to tell them at the bar because they will add simple syrup to allow it to mix properly. Crystal sugar will just settle at the bottom, uselessly.
4 shots of espresso (4oz).
Using rice milk instead of 2%.
One shot of espresso, 1oz. Many drinks will automatically come with a double.
Using skim milk instead of 2%, as is regular in North America.
Another version of “single”, using only one shot of espresso.
Using soy milk instead of 2%.
If any syrup is used, they will use one with artificial sweeteners.
Three shots of espresso (3oz).
Generally, for cappuccinos, it means that the beverage will only have liquid or microfoam milk in use – no dry foam. Some may call this a flat white, myself included. For my own ranting on wet cappuccinos vs flat whites, see this post.
Fancy speak for “to go”.
The caramel-colored foam that is produced on the top of a quality (or even standard) espresso shot. The shot is considered stale once the foam disperses.
A small 2-4oz ceramic cup, which is what espressos are normally served in.
Referring to espressos, one shot is typically 1fl oz.
General Coffee Lingo
Now that we have basic ordering out of the way, here’s a much more exhaustive list that covers all the general terms any coffee enthusiast probably needs. Last count it was roughly 150 terms, but I’ve padded it as I’ve come across new ones.
Here’s a breakdown of the most common (and some very uncommon) terms you’ll come across in the world of coffee:
This is the crispness, the mild tartness. If you don’t have enough, it’ll taste flat. The right amount will make it satisfying. Too much will dry out your mouth and taste sour.
My favorite brewer, hands down. Minimal equipment, minimal filters, durable, easy to take with you, and allows two brewing methods for options. It sits on top of a cup and allows you to force the water through at your own pace.
Italian for “drowned”, it’s a dessert dish consisting of a shot of espresso poured over ice cream or gelato, usually vanilla.
A roast specially designed to complement desserts. They are typically darker roasts, due to their low acidity. Remember: acid = sour, and that’s a bad combination with a sweet dessert.
The process of allowing unprocessed coffee beans (usually unroasted; see: Green Coffee) to age, intentionally or incidentally, for a period of time. Originally incidental because of the time it took to transport by ship. It was noted that the flavors change with time, which may have also been related to the sea air. It’s believed to reduce acidity and increase body.
Also called a “fluid bed roaster”, it uses fast-moving streams of heated air to roast the beans. There are many different types, but they all use hot air convectively to roast the beans (like convection oven) and help keep them moving throughout the process to avoid an uneven roast. Most commercially roasted coffee is either air or drum roasted.
American Roast (City Roast)
A common roast in the US, it is a medium-ish roast, depending on where you get it from. There’s some disagreement whether it’s medium-light or medium-dark, so let’s just say “medium”. Mild sweetness, full aroma, full body. It’s the roast style that’s traditionally preferred in the continental US.
Originally started in WWII when Americans were in Europe. Americans use drip coffee brewers, while Europeans use espresso for their beverages. Thus, they met halfway and used a shot of espresso diluted in hot water. The Americano was born to suit the Americans whom the drink is named after.
One of the two most prominent bean types there are, arabica is generally more palatable, harder to grow, and more expensive. It is the main coffee you’ll be drinking from most locations. As well, coffea arabica was the first variety cultivated and makes up 70% of global coffee consumption. The vast majority of the leftover 30% is robusta coffee. See: this post.
The smell given off by the coffee and one factor coffee is judged by. There is dry aroma, which is the unbrewed coffee, ground or whole bean; then there’s the brewed aroma. If you want to be fancy, you can take note of both, which may eventually give you a good idea of how the brewed wills mell when you’re shopping the dry in the store.
Coffee beans produced by a roaster using high-quality equipment, high-quality materials, and a high degree of skill. They almost exclusively use arabica beans. Shorthand for “high-quality beans”.
This is a description you’d give to a cup of coffee that doesn’t have any particular attribute that overwhelms the rest, yet is sufficiently complex to still be interesting. Basically, a desirable trait for most coffees. Well-rounded flavor and complexity without knocking over the spinning top.
Italian for bartender, it’s the person who makes and mixes drinks from behind the bar. Now, it’s been used so broadly and popularized that it essentially means “the person who makes coffee in a café”.
A kind of roaster that roasts a set amount per batch, as opposed to a continuous roaster, which produces coffee at a fixed rate. In a batch roaster, the beans are fully removed before starting a new batch.
As the name implies, it’s a probe that is inserted into a bean to measure the internal temperature of the bean during roasting.
Like with many roasting projects, the roast degree can be defined by the internal temperature. Modern roasters also monitor the surface temperature to consistently recreate a roast through surface temp monitoring and time profiles.
Americano with 2 shots added. See: Red Eye; Green Eye.
The shame of all would-be coffee enthusiasts, it’s a small, cheap machine which uses a rapidly spinning blade to break apart the beans. It is the lowest form of grinding, using brute force to smash the contents apart, resulting in potentially burnt (from friction), inconsistently ground beans. Upgrade at first opportunity for better quality coffee.
The blend of the coffee is what varieties of beans are mixed in. Are they all arabica, or is some of it robusta? Are they all from the same batch, same origin? The blend is this combination and is mixed to bring out flavors and qualities that might otherwise be lacking. A common example is mixing in a portion of robusta beans for espresso blends because it creates a better crema.
The release of gas from the beans when water has been added. The fresher the beans, the more gas will be released. If there’s no bloom, they are likely stale because all the gas has already escaped. Regardless, you want to give it roughly 15-30 seconds to allow some gas to let off before pouring the rest of your hot water into the brewing method.
Also known as mouthfeel, or umami, it’s the fullness or weight you feel in your mouth as you drink it. Does it feel full or thin? To be able to better identify what this means, compare homogenized milk and skim, or tap water and tap water with MSG added.
Boiling (Brewing Method)
Not a technical classification, but it should be. There are 4 distinct, but similar, ways of brewing coffee. Boiling is when the coffee is immersed in a rolling-boil for a time, which is why I’m setting it part from immersion brewing. It’s not common, but it is used in at least three methods. Boiling would include: cowboy coffee, Turkish Coffee (aka Armenian and Greek coffee), and Jebena coffee (Ethiopian/Eritrean). See: immersion; percolation; pressure, this post for home brewing.
Discovered on the Isle of Bourbon (Now Réunion Island), it is an heirloom botanical variety (meaning that it’s really old). It’s known for its very low yields, but is prized for the quality of the yields it does manage to produce.
How people describe the salty flavors that are brought out when coffee is left on a heating element too long after brewing. This is how you’d describe
most all truck stop coffee, alongside most convenience store coffee.
A grinder that is affordable for home use and is substantially better than a blade grinder. It consists of two coarse disks (burrs) that grind coffee between them, creating a more consistent coarseness. The disks can be adjusted for various levels of grind.
Café au lait
A coffee drink that uses heated, steamed milk and combined with percolated coffee (drip). The ratio is usually around ⅓ coffee to ⅔ hot milk. An option for people who are caffeine sensitive.
The same as a cappuccino, but instead of using steamed milk, it uses steamed half-and-half. Basically, a much higher fat version of a cappuccino.
From the Wikipedia article: “Caffeine is a central nervous system stimulant of the methylxanthine class. It is the world’s most widely consumed psychoactive substance. Unlike many other psychoactive substances, it is legal and unregulated in nearly all parts of the world.” Note: Caffeine’s half-life is 5-6 hours, which means that an afternoon cup could still lower your sleep quality. (Check out “Why We Sleep” by Matthew Walker).
A coffee beverage that consists of a shot of espresso at the bottom, and the rest of the cup filled with equal parts microfoam and frothed milk (dry foam). Some say the distinguishing part of a cappuccino is the temperature and quality of the microfoam. See: microfoam.
The remaining silverskin left clinging to the green beans after processing and before roasting. During roasting, they will dry up and flake off. Beans expand during the roasting process to nearly 3x their original size, further increasing the amount of silverskin that flakes off. See: silverskin.
Chemex (brewing equipment)
A method of brewing coffee that is shaped like an open-topped hourglass. Their filters tend to be thicker than most brewing methods, and some believe this results in a sweeter, well-balanced cup of coffee.
What the coffee bean is found in when plucked from the tree. The cherry is hulled and mostly discarded, but some areas use the discarded cherries for coffee cherry tea. Each cherry contains two coffee beans.
See American Roast.
A lightly roasted coffee that results in a cinnamon color (shocking) and a dry bean (not oily). It is often considered under roasted for the average drinker, resulting in a weak, grainy aroma and a sour taste.
Similar to “balanced”, it’s an adjective used to describe a coffee that has no obvious defects in its flavor. Not too bitter, sour, or otherwise unpleasant.
Clever Coffee Dripper
A coffee variant of the “Tea Master” from Teaopia, it has a chamber that allows you to place the steeping material (coffee, tea, whatever) in hot water, then filters through the bottom when you place it on a cup. For tea, the filter is a fine mesh; for the Clever Coffee Dripper, it’s a disposable paper filter.
A high-tech, expensive, single-cup coffee brewer that, according to their website, “that lets [you] craft a single cup of perfectly brewed coffee with exquisite balance, depth of flavor, and aroma.”
This is the same as futures in the stock market – locking in a price now for a purchase or sale later. They are used by roasters to ensure that they know their price and volume for the coming season, locking in a reasonable rate and supply.
Cold Drip Coffee
A method for making cold brew coffee. It requires equipment to slowly allow water to drip down, drop by drop, onto the beans over a period of a dozen or more hours. It can be controlled by the melting of ice, or a spigot that allows for a timed release of cool water. See: Cold-water method.
The umbrella term for cold brewing, it involves soaking the coffee grounds for 6-48 hours for complete extraction. Cold water takes longer to absorb solutes from the beans, and is said to create a less bitter beverage. This method typically is diluted to taste, as it makes a coffee concentrate.
Complex is a descriptor for coffees that have a pleasant layering of flavors, giving the impression of “depth” and “resonance”. If talking about “complexity”, you would be talking about its dimensions and above-mentioned flavors.
Roughly 4-7fl oz, it is made of equal parts espresso and steamed milk to reduce acidity. It’s not frothy or textured like Italian beverages, instead it uses flat, hot milk. Broadly speaking, “cortado” can be used to apply to many drinks that are espresso cut with milk. In some areas, a cortado will be interchangeable with macchiato. See: macchiato.
Thick, caramel-colored foam that comes on a good espresso shot. It is said to be an indication of a quality espresso shot, and also indicates how fresh the shot is. Espresso shots are said to go bad once the crema has dissipated (within the first few minutes). See: Espresso.
A plant variety that has been created for a particular end through selective breeding.
Cup of Excellence (C.O.E.)
A certification that is given to the best lot of coffee (a particular crop) from a specific region of a country. It is done by country, and the winning crop is sold at auction for a higher price.
A method (explained above) for tasting coffee that requires as little skill as possible. The goal is to isolate the flavors, independent of preparation, in a particular coffee. Used by professionals at various stages of the coffee world. Coffee grounds are placed in a cup, then steeped with hot water. The coffee is allowed to steep, then it is tasted in spoonfuls.
Current Crop (CC)
As opposed to old or past crop, it refers to the coffee that has been harvested from the previous harvest. A coffee harvested in Sept 2017 would be called a current crop until Sept 2018.
A piece of specialized equipment used during the roasting and preparation of beans. It separates particles from the exhaust. When used in combination with a thermal oxidizer, the exhaust during the roasting process should come out smoke- and debris-free.
Dark brown or near-black in color, dark roasts have a strong aroma, and are thought to be less acidic and fuller-bodied than lighter roasts. Some believe that dark roasts mask the flavor of the beans, replacing it with the flavor of the roast itself. No discernable difference in caffeine between dark and light roasts.
Coffee that has been treated to have far less caffeine. In the US, coffee can be called “decaf” if it has 97% caffeine removed; In the EU, it requires 99.9% of caffeine to be removed. See: this post for more on decaf.
The natural process of beans letting off carbon dioxide (CO2) after roasting. During the first few days, beans will release 3x their volume, protecting them from oxidation for that time.
Generally off the menu, it’s the smallest serving cup at Starbucks, which is 3oz. The name translates to “half”; it originates in France and is used primarily for espresso shots, which only reach up to 2oz.
The process where roasters buy directly from farmers, cutting out brokers. It’s said to give the farmers more power and income, while also increasing quality. Not clear how it increases quality.
A double-shot of espresso (roughly 2oz / 60mL).
A spring-loaded device on some coffee grinders that allows for coffee to be neatly measured out into a portafilter, allowing for minimal waste or mess. See: Portafilter.
Coffee made from the drip method.
Drip Method (Percolation)
Your standard home coffee maker. It drips hot water onto a pile of ground coffee, allowing it to percolate through the coffee and filter (mesh or metal), and into a collection basin that is typically on a heating element. Drip Method includes: home coffee machines, electric percolators, cold drip coffee.
A batch roaster that has a large, spinning drum, constantly tumbling the beans during the roasting process. It spins similarly to a clothes dryer, heating up the drum and allowing the air inside to be heated to the desired temperature. Some drums have perforations to allow hot air to enter, much like a clothes dryer. Commercially roasted beans tend to be either drum roasted or air roasted. See: batch roaster.
A cappuccino with even less milk than in a standard one, and an increased amount of dry foam. Unless explicitly ordered this way, it would be considered a subpar cappuccino.
Dry (or Natural) Process
A process that removes the husk and cherry after it has been dried. Proponents say that this method allows the resulting beans to be fruity and complex. See: Complexity, Cherry.
A taste quality that is most commonly attributed to coffees from Sumatra and Sulawesi (both in Indonesia). The wet cherries/beans have often come in contact with soil while drying. It’s a flavor that is polarizing; some love it, but some consider it unacceptable for beans from any other region.
A small, dense shot of coffee that is produced by forcing steam through a finely ground puck of coffee, packed into a small compartment. Usually served in one to two ounces of liquid in total (1oz per shot).
A dark roast with the intent of increasing the body and reducing the acidity. May also contain some amount of robusta beans, not because they’re cutting corners, but because robusta creates a nicer crema. See: crema; robusta.
The process of pulling out elements from one substance to another. In this process, pulling out the desirable elements from the coffee bean into the hot water. Typically talked about as “over-extracted” or “under-extracted”, which indicate that the process either went too short or long. Too long, and it typically will be harsh, bitter. Too short, and it will typically be thin, sour.
Coffee that’s been purchased from farmers at a fair price, which is determined by international agencies.
Filter Method (Brewing method)
Any method of brewing that filters water through a bed of coffee and typically runs through a paper filter at the end of the process to remove gross matter. Other popular methods would be pressure/steam, boiling, and immersion. See: this post for home brewing methods.
The qualities expressed through swallowing a food or drink. How it feels as it is swallowed and the lingering flavors and textures left in your mouth.
A stage in roasting where the beans have expanded enough to crack. This indicates that they are now usable for serving coffee, but usually aren’t done enough for a pleasant flavor. First Crack occurs when the beans have reached an internal temperature of ~400ºF. There are three stages of coffee roasting progression: green, first crack, and second crack. See: Second Crack.
“Invented” in Australia, there are actually 3 different establishments arguing about being the originator. It is steamed milk with espresso, sometimes with foam. “Isn’t that a latte?” You may ask. Yes, generally, it is. I hate this beverage and the pretense around it. It’s an enjoyable beverage, but the fact that it’s a distinct category is ridiculous. Is a beer no longer considered beer if it’s served in a bowl? That’s my response to a quote from an Australian cafe owner, the ridiculousness of which I just can’t get over:
“The texture of the milk is very similar in both drinks: enough aeration to pour latte art, but not so much that it’s frothy. In terms of ratio, I served flat whites in 5 oz cups in my old shop and lattes in 8 oz cups. Both were made with double shots. I don’t think you can call a flat white a flat white if it’s larger than 6 oz – it’s a latte then.”
Tip: If there’s a price difference between lattes and flat whites, go for the cheaper and see if you can tell the difference. In a less coffee-centric establishment, include cappuccinos in the calculation. Buy the cheapest – they’re probably all more similar than snobs would like to acknowledge.
Flavor is what you have once you’ve accounted for the acidity, body, finish, and aroma. It is usually described using analogies to other flavors, though it is more like a sloppy signpost than GPS coordinates of taste.
Originally from french, it indicates that it’s a cold beverage, typically with blended ice in the mix. Apparently, it was invented by a Nescafe rep back in 1957. Frappe coffees are the most popular coffee drink in Greece and Cyprus to this day.
A trademarked beverage owned and created by Starbucks. A coffee or cream base that is often high in sugar and topped with whipped cream. Also sold in bottles as sugary coffee drinks.
A method of immersion brewing that has a large, tempered glass container that allows the ground beans and hot water to mingle. The lid has a plunger with a series of filters attached to separate the coffee from the water, pushing the coffee to the bottom. Tends to be stronger, as it allows the coffee to extract for longer.
One of the darkest roasts some believe is acceptable. The “dark french” is the darkest you can go before the beans burn, and is indicated well after the “second crack”. Typically almost black and shiny, they have a light body and a strong aroma. The flavor is more of the roast than of the region the bean was created, which is why the variety of coffee bean is rarely mentioned.
A Medium-dark roast, it is slightly oily and a darker brown. The varietal qualities diminish somewhat, while sweetness and body increase. Like with most darker roasts, acidity diminishes.
A latte that doesn’t actually contain coffee, but has reached global popularity between 2019 and 2020. Also called “golden milk” or “turmeric latte”, it is steamed milk, often coconut milk, with turmeric powder mixed in.
It means “large” or “great” in romance languages. On Planet Starbucks, it also means a “large” that holds 16oz.
Unroasted coffee beans, typically with the hull, silverskin, and cherry removed. It has been treated and dried – everything before the roasting process. Also used to refer to coffee that has not been roasted enough.
Drip Coffee with three shots of espresso (can be ordered at Starbucks). See: Black Eye; Red Eye.
Also known as the brew head or group head, it is where the portafilter is inserted into the espresso machine. The portafilter is where the grinds are packed into when making espresso. See: Portafilter.
A kind of bean that is harder, less porous, and slower to mature due to being grown at 4,000 to 4,500 feet above sea level. The higher altitude and lower temperatures are what make it harder. The consistency and taste make them highly sought after.
Generally regarded as superior in taste, this applies to arabica beans that were grown above 3,000 feet or higher.
The removal of the coffee bean’s skin, also known as parchment, which is the wrapping just outside the silverskin. It is removed just before being sorted.
Immersion (Brewing Method)
The process that immerses the coffee in the brewing liquid, almost universally water. The water is not boiling, it is just off the boil, typically around 200ºF. This would include: siphon makers, french presses, cold brew, and Aeropresses (inversion method), etc. See: this post for home brewing methods.
A roast that ranges from dark brown to nearly black. The lighter colored ones are described as “rich” and “bittersweet”, but the darker ones are often labeled as “nearly burnt”.
1-2 shots of espresso at the bottom, steamed milk for the bulk of it, and topped with about 1cm of microfoam. See: Flat White (the quote, specifically) or this post.
The process of pouring milk and foam into an espresso during the process of making a latte to create artwork in the surface of the resulting beverage.
Also called Liberian Coffee, or caffea liberica. A fairly rare, and thus expensive, coffee species that was imported into Indonesia when “coffee rust” ravaged the previously abundant coffea arabica trees grown there. The fruit is larger than arabica; it is the main coffee species cultivated in Malaysia and the Philippines.
Another word for “americano,” basically. The differentiation is that the long black has a “stronger aroma and taste” than Americano… and yet they’re both made by mixing a double espresso in hot water. The difference is that an Americano seems to be espresso then hot water; a long black is hot water then espresso. This is the “flat white” all over again. If you’re in a cafe and there’s a different price between an americano and a long black, buy the cheaper one. The best argument is that the espresso’s crema is dispersed when hot water is added second, and it will be more likely to stay intact if added second. Buyer beware.
A more Italian version of the Americano, it translates to “long”. Instead of adding the espresso shot to hot water, roughly twice as much hot water is run through the coffee. That is, they run the espresso shot for even longer, so all of the water has been pulled through the beans.
Sometimes called “espresso macchiato”, its name means “stained” or “spotted” in Italian. It’s named like this because it is a shot of espresso with a dollop of milk foam on top. Caffè macchiato directly translates to “marked coffee” or “stained coffee”. It is typically slightly larger than a standard espresso. An alternative is the latte macchiato, which is milk stained with an espresso; more steamed milk, shot of espresso, foam. It’s basically a tiny latte… some might even call it a flat white if we’re not careful. See: Flat White (the quote, specifically) or this post.
After beans have been removed from the cherry (defruited), they can be dried in either a drying machine, which typically has a rotating drum or cascading slides. The other popular drying method is spreading it out in the sun. See: patio drying.
A moderately brown color, not usually oily, and results in more body than a light roast, but also more acidity than a dark roast. This roast is very popular in the United States, though specialty coffees these days are typically dark roast.
A micro lot is a smaller section of a broader lot or farm, or a single lot, that is believed to have special character. They can also be selectively picked to have particular traits. One analogy is if you have a honey farmer who checks the quality of each hives’ honey and collects the ones that are similar in quality, setting them aside as a collection – a micro lot. The belief is that they’re superior to community lots, and micro lots tend to be more expensive.
A special kind of steamed milk with just enough aeration to create a large volume of tiny, stable bubbles which still act like a liquid, giving it a more substantial texture and feel. Almost universally described as “velvety”, it takes a fair bit of skill to consistently create, most commonly used in espresso-based drinks. Easiest to make with a quality steam wand and very cold milk.
Broadly speaking, mocha is used to describe nearly all coffee and chocolate flavor mixes. If you order a mocha, it will be a latte with chocolate syrup. Not to be confused with Mocha Java or a Moka pot.
The oldest recorded coffee blend, named after the port that received the shipments of coffee from the original producer – Ethiopia. The ships would leave Africa, cross the red sea, and land in what is now Yemen. This is the mocha half. The java half comes from the Island of Java in Indonesia that the Dutch were cultivating and exporting. They found that the beans from these regions complimented each other well, creating a balanced cup. But really, it’s an Ethiopian-Java blend, since Mocha is only loosely related to the story.
An inexpensive, home alternative to an espresso maker. It makes something that resembles espresso, but without all the expensive machinery. Typically a stove-top brewer, it can also be electric, using heat to convert water to steam and force the steam upward through a pressed coffee puck. This moves the water from the bottom and converts it to a dark coffee brew in the top chamber. Durable, compact, and convenient. Just a bit of a hassle to thoroughly clean. See: #2 in this post; Puck.
Coffee from India that’s been deliberately exposed to monsoon conditions in open warehouses in an attempt to increase body and reduce acidity. Typically single-origin and dry-processed.
Also called flannel drip, it’s called this because it uses flannel filters, which were invented in Japan. The filters must be washed by hand and kept chilled when not in use. Temperamental.
Recently harvested and processed coffee that should be at the height of its freshness. Unclear where the line is drawn between “new crop” and “current crop”. They may be interchangeable, or “new crop” may be limited to the first few months after harvest. See: Current Crop. (If you have a better answer, please tell me).
Like most things, it’s coffee that has been certified by a third party to show that it has not used any pesticides, herbicides, or other similar chemicals.
A layer of the coffee’s skin, inside the cherry, just outside of the silverskin. The silverskin hugs the bean itself. See: silverskin.
A low-tech form of drying, and an alternative to machine drying. It involves spreading the defruited, depulped beans on a patio in direct sunlight.
Expensive and rare, it is a result of a developmental process gone awry that causes two beans in a single coffee cherry to fuse and leave only a larger, single bean, aka the peaberry.
Percolation (Brew method)
To filter a liquid or gas through a porous surface or substance. In our case, to filter water through the coffee and a porous paper filter. As opposed to the immersion method or pressure method, the percolation method includes: pour-overs, electric percolators, drip coffee machines, Phins/Vietnamese coffee, Aeropress (standard method), etc. See: this post on home brewing methods.
An espresso machine that forces hot water through a compacted bed of coffee (see: puck) by using a piston operated manually by a lever. It’s pretty neat looking and probably fairly satisfying to manually operate the lever.
The part of the espresso machine where the coffee powder is packed into. It’s the last major component to be in contact with the hot water and is where you can see the espresso dripping out of.
As the name indicates, it’s a method of pouring the water over the coffee, typically to make a single cup. There are various devices that allow you to do this, but at its core, it’s a manual drip coffee maker. You pour the water directly onto the beans, which pass through a filter into the cup. See: this post.
Pressure (Brew Method)
A method of creating coffee by forcing pressurized, hot steam through packed coffee grounds. Technically not a common designation, but it seems to me that there are only 4 main ways to brew coffee. There’s a lot of talk about immersion brewers (see above), and the other 3 methods are pressurized steam, boiling, or percolation. The pressure method would include: Moka pots, espresso machines, and any other that forces steam through the coffee. See: this post for home brewing methods.
The round disk of coffee that is made after tamping the coffee into the portafilter.
The verb used for making espresso. It’s a holdover from when machines were manually operated, and you had to manually pull a lever. One pull could result in a single or a double shot. See: Piston Machine.
The process of removing the outermost layer of the coffee fruit.
The next step after the Piston Machine; instead of manually forcing the water through the coffee puck, the pump machine will use a mechanical pump to force it through the system. See: Piston Machine.
Pyro means “fire”, lysis means “separating”; it is a process of controlled decomposition. This is the process of applying high temperature to the coffee beans to allow them to progress in a desirable way. This process requires a high temperature to allow the sugars to properly caramelize; otherwise, they will roast too slowly and taste baked. After 400ºF, pyrolysis will become exothermic for the beans – the surrounding beans will give off enough heat to continue heating neighboring beans. This is why beans must be rapidly cooled once they have been roasted enough, or they’ll continue baking until they burn, potentially.
Defective beans that don’t roast properly and remain pale in color.
A strong cup of coffee that is a result of a shot of espresso added to a cup of percolated coffee.
A smaller, stronger form of espresso. Most definitions I came across don’t answer the question of “how” it makes it stronger; they use an even finer grind than usual so that it extracts the caffeine and coffee goodness faster, but still use the same amount of coffee as a normal shot. Thus, less water + finer grind = equal amount of caffeine in less liquid.
The degree that the coffee has been treated with heat. Unroasted is green, then the other grades of roasts are based on color. The darker the roast, generally, the more body and less acid. The darker the roast, the more the oil will escape, and the faster it may go bad. The darker the roast, the more you’ll be tasting the roast and less you’ll be tasting the beans’ unique properties. See: this post.
The date that the coffee was roasted. More useful than expiry dates, as you can get a better idea of how long the coffee has been expiring. Optimal time after roast date is around 10 days.
The person in charge of selection, roasting, and blending operations.
Considered the lesser of the two primary species of coffee, Coffea Robusta grows at lower altitudes, can handle harsher environments, and higher yields. It has roughly twice as much caffeine as coffea arabica, better crema, and tends to have an earthy, woody flavor. It is mostly produced in Vietnam and is the reason Vietnamese coffee tastes as it does. See: This post.
Coffee from different regions and species will mature at different periods of the summer, meaning that they will only be available for short periods of the year. It seems to particularly apply to specialty coffees.
An audible crack which signals that the coffee beans are entering the final phase of roasting. Roasting beyond this point tends to result in burnt coffee. The darkest palatable coffee is said to be the Dark French roast, which occurs at the height of the Second Crack. Waiting for the second crack to die away entirely will result in either burnt beans or a fire.
Considered more environmentally friendly, shade grown coffee is also considered “bird friendly”, as it is grown under the canopy of trees native to the region. This allows birds to nest in the trees and helps with pest control because the birds eat insects, resulting in less need for pesticides. A relatively new trend in the industry.
A single pull of espresso, typically between 1-2 ounces. Coffee shots can be similar to alcohol shots: there are two accepted volumes for them. (For alcohol, a shot is anywhere between 1-1.5 US fl oz). Strictly speaking, a single is 1oz, a double is 2oz. See: pull; espresso.
One of Starbucks’ cup sizes, roughly 8oz. There is still a smaller, off-menu size: the Demi. The short was not very popular for unknown reasons, since home cups typically hold 6-8oz of coffee. See: Demi.
The innermost layer of skin that is on the bean. It clings to the bean directly and is removed either during polishing or flaking off during roasting (called “chaff”). It can be used for various purposes, one of which is bags.
Coffee from a single country, region, or plantation. It’s unblended, and sometimes called “straight coffee”.
Also known as a “vacuum pot”, it consists of two chambers (upper and lower) and a heat source below the bottom. Between the chambers is a tight seal, and as the water heats up, the pressure builds and forces the water up a tube into the upper chamber where coffee grounds are placed. The water stays up there until the heat is turned off and the water cools, passing through a filter that retains the coffee in the top chamber. It’s pretty neat, but it seems like a hassle.
Could also be called “grading”, it’s the process of sorting the beans by size, density, and general defects. Sorting by size helps to ensure an even roast, while density is believed to help with flavor.
A cold brewing device that’s made of multiple tubes and valves that allow cold water to drip slowly onto coffee, lasting around 12 hours.
Representing roughly 10% of all coffee, it is distinguished by the quality of the raw materials. Of this 10%, only 1-2% is considered “the best”.
Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA)
An influential association of growers, importers, wholesalers, specialty coffee roasters, and retailers.
The prices for coffee to be delivered immediately, as opposed to Coffee Futures which are a contract for how much it will be in the future. Spot prices tend to be lower than future prices. See: Coffee Future.
A small, metal tube connected to most espresso machines, roughly 5cm in length. It is used to shoot hot steam into milk to heat or froth it.
Strictly Hard Bean (SHB)
Also known as “strictly high grown” (SHG). The highest grade of Central American coffee based on growing altitude (2500ft or higher). Due to the height, they grow slower and denser than beans at lower altitudes. They are generally more desirable and expensive. See: Hard Bean.
Strictly Soft Bean (SSB)
Like Strictly Hard Beans, they are discerned by altitude. These beans are 4000ft or below, they mature more quickly, and are less dense than SHBs. Their flavor is considered more “rounded”.
When talking about the strength of coffee, it can be confusing because there are two interpretations. First is to be defined by the number of absorbed solutes in the coffee – the higher, the stronger. The second would be the amount of caffeine in the coffee.
The Starbucks’ smallest on-menu coffee option, holding 12oz. It was originally considered to be their large, but eventually, due to the unpopularity of the short (and maybe marketing savvy), they dropped the short and kept the tall as the smallest option.
To pack down the coffee into a coffee puck.
The small, round press that fits perfectly into the portafilter for an espresso machine. Used to tamp down the coffee.
A word borrowed from wine and other luxury foods, terroir is the collection of effects that are provided by the entire natural environment in which the coffee is produced, including the soil, topography, and climate. A book that explores the effects of this is “Real food/Fake food” by Larry Olmsted. Good read.
Low body; water-like consistency.
First introduced in May 2011, Starbucks’ 31oz beverage’s name means “thirty” in Italian. I’ve never personally seen it offered, but apparently it’s off-menu in certain locations, mainly in the US.
A high-tech, fairly modern coffee-making device that brews a single cup. It’s obscenely expensive, so only for affluent coffee enthusiasts with a few thousand dollars to spare. Neat, but there are better alternatives.
A botanical variety of arabica, it is considered to be one of the most culturally and genetically important arabica varietals in the world, with particularly high-quality crops from Central America. Very susceptible to coffee rust, and good with the cold.
Coffee made from a single type of coffee cultivar. The term can also apply to coffees from a specific country or region. It seems to be used similarly to single-origin. Technically, varietal is a botanical term, while single-origin is a geographic term, but you can see the overlap. See: cultivar, single-origin.
A tasting term to describe the aspects distinguishing one coffee from the others being tasted, particularly from other regions. Its intent is to identify the taste of the location that it was raised, related to terroir. See: terroir.
A 20oz cup (24oz for iced drinks) and the largest on-menu size you can order at Starbucks.
Also known as Full City or Espresso Roast; Slightly oily, and darker than the American roast. It’s closer to a dark roast, but may still be considered a medium roast.
The opposite of “strong”, it can mean there wasn’t enough coffee used, so too little absorbed solutes. Or, again, it could just mean that there isn’t much caffeine in it. It’s unclear if a coffee can be full bodied yet weak, but worth investigating.
If you’re ordering a cappuccino, and you say you want it wet, that means they will include more milk in the drink, bringing it closer to a latte. Depending who makes it, and your definition of a flat white, a wet cappuccino could land you with a flat white. See: Flat Whites, or this post.
Wet-Processed / Washed Coffee
A process that removes the skin and pulp from the freshly harvested coffee fruit. Most coffees are processed this way.
A lot of this is people grasping at some way to describe what our language can’t do well. It’s like describing color to a person who is colorblind. Sure orange is kind of like red, but how? We can’t say.
In the end, if you feel a sort of flavor that is similar, and it pops into your head, don’t question it and go for it. We can’t expect the flavor to be exactly what they say because they’re tapping a single note and hoping it will resonate with the others trying the cup. A lot of it is just for show, so be respectful and have fun with it. It’s acceptable (in my opinion) to internally laugh when people take it too seriously, but laughing openly at others’ expense isn’t cool. Let’s try to make the community open and welcoming for newcomers and old-hands alike.
As always, don’t be intimidated, just do your best and realize that the professionals, themselves, may have a more refined palates than you, but their descriptions are laughably lacking in accuracy. This is English’s fault, not their personal shortcomings. Since that’s the case, don’t let them make you feel bad, and don’t take it too seriously.
It’s just coffee, after all.