Coffee Glossary | Coffee Words and Terminology | Grumpy Goat Coffee

Coffee Glossary

Coffee Words and Terminology

Other than starting with Grumpy Goat Coffee, you don’t need to be a coffee connoisseur to make great coffee at home. You’ll know what you like and dislike about any coffee you try, without a sense of taste sophisticated enough to know that one has a more “floral or winy” aroma or “clean” taste than another. However, it helps to know the taste terms used by connoisseurs so that you understand what to look for, especially when reading about Grumpy Goat’s bean profiles.

As you make better and better coffee and try various bean and roast types you will have a more sophisticated taste for it.


The Breakdown

Coffee tasters look for four things, and three of them are derivative of the fourth one. At the highest level is flavor. And what comes together to make up a coffee’s flavor are acidity, aroma, and body. Coffee tasters will generally pinpoint characteristics of the acidity, aroma, and body to describe the quality of the coffee bean. While the average person may not have the sophisticated sense of taste needed to be a professional coffee-taster, this profession has given the rest of us a way to describe coffee and especially what you should expect from a quality cup of coffee.

Acidity in describing coffee actually refers to the very ‘pop’ that makes coffee taste like coffee. It refers to the high notes of coffee, without which your coffee will taste flat. If you have ever had the coffee at many of the fast food chains or gas stations before they started bringing in professional roasters, you’ve had flat coffee. You will likely remember the lack of any peak it had, almost a feeling of slight coffee-flavored hot water. That is the opposite of an acidy coffee. This is a term that people often misuse, but it should be used to describe the accent that makes coffee taste like coffee…remember the high notes are associated with acidity.

Since the sense of smell is so closely tied to the sense of taste, aroma is the part of the flavor owing to what your sense of smell picks up. Without aroma, any taste has to be sweet, sour, salty, or bitter. The additional dimension of aroma adds an element of flavor described in words like floral or winy. When roasting, we are able to pick up on the various aromas of the coffee, which is a result of the caramelization of the sugars within the coffee bean as it goes through the various roasting stages.

The body of the coffee refers to its heaviness or texture. Another way of considering body is how the coffee feels in your mouth. When adding additional liquids to your coffee, consider the following; a syrup has too much body for coffee, whole milk has a closer feel , while skim milk or water has little to no body. Coffee is meant to have a medium to heavy body and any good coffee you buy will have at least medium body. While many people enjoy coffee with a weak body and it certainly does have other factors in its favor, will still feel in your mouth like it is not as thick as a coffee should be. A heavy-bodied coffee is often described as rich coffee.

Together, they describe a coffee’s flavor, but even still, there are no end of ways to describe how the factors come together to create a specific flavor experience. A coffee can certainly have strong acidity and aroma, and still be described with words like complex or balanced. While these two coffee terms are close, they are very different in meaning. Complex flavor means that there is a great variety of different coffee accents brought together into one cup. Whereas, balanced flavor means that the extremes of coffee accents are both represented in one cup. Many coffee taste-testers believe the way to differentiate between the two is that a complex flavor typically consists of several different definable flavors, whereas a balanced coffee might contain only two accented flavors that complement each other and therefore cover a wide range of flavors between them. If you are looking for another way to compare complex flavor versus balanced flavor, the complex flavor is more exciting while the balanced flavor is more relaxing, creating a sit back and enjoy type of experience.

Descriptive Flavor Terminology

Flavor is the homogenization of its acidity, aroma, and body. Here are some terms you’ll hear:

– This is the basic taste most associated with coffee. Bitterness is the reason that many add sugar to their coffee to offset. Coffee that is too bitter will be unpleasant and disagreeable.
– Sometimes described as a ‘burnt chocolate’ by those who are used to retail chocolate, this is an accent to coffee that comes out in the aftertaste like unsweetened chocolate.
Bright, sharp, snappy, dry
– These are derived more from acidity, and describe the peaks of what makes coffee taste like coffee.
– While it doesn’t sound as pleasant as it is, the sense of soil flavor in your coffee. A hint of earthy flavor is just how it sounds, although too much of it is obviously overpowering and leads to the coffee tasting “dirty”.
– This is derived from aroma, and describes a sweet or floral taste.
– Just like it sounds, although obviously for as fruity as a flavor could survive in a strong coffee.
– A smooth taste, usually if the coffee is low in acidity but obviously not so low that the coffee is flat.
– As the name suggests, a hint of nut in the cup.
– This is a relatively subjective word because there is a broad range of spices (more so than nuts or chocolate), but there is also a common enough use of this word to describe a coffee.
– A light tart in the flavor not artificially added by sugar.

More Terminology

Of course, there are a host of other coffee terms used when roasting, brewing, or describing coffee. If you’re looking to become a connoisseur or you simply want to impress your friends, try adding these to your vocabulary:

Aged Coffee:
– Coffee intentionally stored for up to several years in order to achieve a coffee with a strong body and heavily reduced acidity. Described to have an oddly musty but pleasant taste.
– When two or more coffee bean varieties are combined before or after roasting for a new balance and flavor.
– The process of making coffee through the combination of water and roasted coffee grounds
– The chemical found in coffee that stimulates the brain and nervous system, giving those who drink it an energized feeling.
Cold Drip Coffee:
– When you steep coffee grounds in cold water for approximately 12 hours, then strain it into a concentrate that is mixed with either milk or water.
Current Crop:
– Coffee harvested during the current crop year.
Dark Roast:
– Coffee beans that are roasted until they exude oils. This coffee varies in color from dark brown to black.
– Coffee with at least 97 percent of its caffeine removed.
Direct Trade:
– Coffee purchased directly from the the farms that produced it rather than purchasing through a broker.
Drip Coffee:
– Coffee made using a filter, press pot, percolator, or any tabletop coffee maker. This method extracts flavor through the water’s contact with the coffee.
– Concentrated coffee. Espresso is produced when hot water is forced through fine coffee grounds via pressure.
Fair Trade:
– A private program that guarantees items considered “Fair Trade” come from coffee growers or farmers who are paid at least the established minimum price for coffee.
Filter Coffee:
– The same process as drip coffee, but used with a ceramic, plastic, or glass cone lined with a paper filter.
French Press:
– Also known as a press pot, a French press produces coffee by steeping grounds with hot water through a metal filter that is plunged with the grounds to the bottom of the vessel. Coffee purchased directly from the the farms that produced it rather than purchasing through a broker.
Green Beans:
– Coffee beans that have yet to be roasted.
Light Roast:
– Light brown in color, light body, and no oily surface, light roasts are the most acidic of the roast types with a toasted grain flavor.
Medium Roast:
– Coffee that is typically a medium brown color once roasted. Has more body than a light roast and lacks the oily sheen and bitterness of a dark roast. Other names for it include American Roast and Breakfast Roast.
Pour-Over Coffee:
– Originating from Japan, this alternate method of drip coffee can take up to 3 minutes to brew. The process involves pouring a thin and steady stream of water slowly over a filter cone using a swan-neck kettle.
Roast Date:
– The date on which a batch of coffee beans was roasted.
Single Origin:
– A batch of coffee that comes from one specific region or farm.