rtEvery good subculture comes with its own special vernacular, something that only true enthusiasts know and respond to. Not unlike Trekkies, sneakerheads, or Great British Baking Show fans (“It’s underproved.”). Coffee culture is no different.
Like any group of like-minded enthusiasts, coffee culture comes with a language all its own, one that is the epitome of cool and unites coffee fans across the globe. But if you’re new to coffee or perhaps a fringe enthusiast who’s been dabbling for a little while but never fully jumped in, the lingo of the caffeinated can be a little confusing, am I right?
Between all the fancy high tech equipment, special processes, and made up words specific to coffee conglomerates, not necessarily coffee culture (ahem, Starbucks), it can be just a pinch overwhelming. We get it.
Enter our handy coffee glossary, a run down of traditional and usable coffee terms that we think all coffee enthusiasts should know. With a brief definition of each term, you’ll be sounding like a pro in no time. So ditch the frappuccino (not a real coffee term, by the way), grab yourself a legit Americano, and settle in for a deep dive into the world of coffee.
The term “acidity” is one of the four primary categories used by professional coffee tasters to distinguish between different coffees. It refers to the tartness of a coffee and determines a coffee cup’s quality. Alternatively, acidity can also refer to a coffee’s chemical pH - in other words, how acidic the coffee itself actually is.
Bright is often used to describe tangy acidity and is associated with the sharpness and bright quality possessed by Central American coffees. Acidity is mainly tasted on the tip of the tongue.
Aroma is the term used to describe the fragrance produced by a freshly brewed hot pot of coffee and is one of the 4 primary categories used in coffee tasting. It’s also the thing that gets the groggiest of us out of bed on Monday morning.
This term typically refers to a coffee’s weight impression in the mouth. You can see body listed on various coffee blends. If a coffee has a stronger, heavier weight to it when you taste it, it would likely be considered full-bodied. A coffee bean’s body might range from thin to medium to syrupy.
A salty sensation which results from excessive heat after brewing (see also crappy coffee). Most often used to describe coffee of the gas station and truck stop varietals. If a “fresh” pot of coffee sits on the heat for a long period of time, it will result in a briny coffee taste.
The flavor of a coffee refers to the overall impression it has when its aroma, acidity and body come together. It is often used to describe how an individual enjoys a cup of coffee or the combination of the sensual elements of coffee drinking.
Bitterness is the taste that you perceive at the back of the tongue and is usually found with darker roasts. You can have both good and bad bitterness. Good bitterness is the result of a darker roast. Bad bitterness results from over-roasting being ground too fine.
Bland usually refers to a coffee’s pale flavor which is common in low grown robusta coffees. It can also be a result of under-roasting or not grinding your coffee enough. Bland coffee is not flavorful, so is there really any point to drinking it? We don’t think so.
Earth refers to the spicy earth taste common to Indonesian coffees. The taste slightly resembles the smooth, fresh damp earth that the beans were grown in. It might sound gross, but true coffee enthusiasts can recognize this flavor and appreciate its nod to the beans’ origins.
Exotic is a word commonly used as a descriptor when cupping coffee. It denotes the lush, slightly sweet aroma and flavor of more floral or fruity coffees. Sounds a lot better than tasting like dirt, but we promise they both have their place in their coffee world.
As you’ve probably deduced, winy describes the flavor of coffee which is reminiscent of a fine red wine. Kenya is known to produce winy coffee. Now before you wine enthusiasts start buying Kenyan coffee in bulk, the wine undertones are subtle and not immediately discernible by most coffee drinkers. But the more coffee varieties you taste, the better you’ll get at discerning different flavors.
Tone is the term used to describe the appearance of coffee, or its color. Pouring your coffee into a clear coffee mug can help you determine its tone and observe a difference in lighter-toned coffee versus darker-toned coffee.
A cappuccino is a mix of espresso and equal parts foamed and steamed milk. It’s a traditional drink that you can order at just about any coffee shop, but it can also be made at home with an espresso machine and the appropriate coffee beans. Just make sure you serve it in a large mug and reserve some time to savor it. Like everything Italian, it’s best enjoyed at a leisurely pace.
An American drip coffee with an Italian twist, the cafe Americano is made from equal amounts of espresso and boiling water and is distinguished by a strong flavor. It is the drink of choice for coffee aficionados who love robust and strong coffee flavors. If you want something that’ll put a little extra pep in your step, this is the drink for you.
A café au lait is made with equal parts brewed coffee and steamed milk. It’s the French version of the cafe latte (it literally translates to coffee with milk). Must be enjoyed with a beignet, French Bulldog name Pépé, and traditional black beret.
Like a cappuccino, this milk-based espresso drink replaces milk with half and half, which we think makes it twice as good. The half and half gives the cafe breve a rich and creamy texture, making it fluffier compared to lattes.
If the French and the Italians have their own coffee drinks, well then the Spanish need to have one too. The cafe con leche is made with 1.5 ounces of espresso combined with steamed milk that fills an 8 ounce cup, like it’s cappuccino and cafe au lait cousins. It is customarily prepared with a pinch of salt or sugar.
Cafe con panna is espresso topped with whipped cream. To which we say, “yes, please.” Even though its roots are Italian, it’s been copied over the years and goes by various names around the world, including cafe Vienne in the United States or cafe Viennois in the UK.
The fun-loving cousin to the cappuccino, the cafe corretto is prepared by combining espresso with a shot of brandy, cognac or liquor. Originating from Italy, it’s a great way to end a dinner party and is often served with dessert. We’ll take two, please.
Perhaps the greatest thing to come out of France, the café crême combines espresso with hot heavy cream in a large mug. It’s pretty much a milkshake, only it’s hot and contains coffee.
A.k.a iced espresso.
Cafe Latte is the traditional Italian drink made with espresso and steamed milk - so basically a coffee with milk, just fancier. Because it’s Italian.
The caffe macchiato is for those looking for something with less of a punch than a straight espresso but more flavorful than a cappuccino. It’s an espresso with just a dollop of foamed milk, which makes sense, given that macchiato is the Italian term for “marked”.
The latte macchiato is literally the exact opposite of the caffe macchiato. Whereas in the caffe macchiato, the espresso is “marked” with a dollop of steamed milk, in a latte macchiato, the steamed milk is “marked” with a splash of espresso.
Cafe Mocha is what you would get if your cup of coffee and hot chocolate had a baby. It’s coffee with chocolate syrup, milk, and whipped cream.
Cafe Romano is a regular espresso which is often served with a twist of lemon or lemon peels. It is created with a simple espresso combined with a zesty flavor. Might sound a little strange, but it is actually commonly enjoyed in Italian cafes.
This drink consists of a shot or 2 of espresso that’s poured in a glass that’s filled with hot water. It’s a simple drink that can easily be made at home and is the best alternative to regular drip coffees.
Black coffee, with a fancy French name.
Solo refers to a single shot of espresso equivalent to an ounce of fluid. Pouring a solo into a clear demitasse enables you to see what it is made up of. It consists of 3 main portions such as: the crema, the body and the heart. Crema is the top foamy layer, the body refers to the middle and the heart can be found in the bottom and is the bitter counterpart to crema’s sweetness.
This term refers to the process of taking green, unprocessed coffee beans and roasting them to turn them into what we generally refer to as coffee. Light roasts, as you might have guessed, are roasted for less time and produce flavors which retain more of the plant and earth undertones from the bean’s origins. Darker roasts have a stronger, more intense flavor that reflects more of the roast.
Like when you roast a marshmallow. If you like your mallows lightly toasted, the predominant flavor you get when you eat it is the marshmallow. If you like your mallows black, the predominant flavor is going to be more of that char or roast.
French Press is a device used to make coffee wherein ground coffee is steeped in water. Coffee grounds are then removed through a filter plunger that presses the grounds towards the bottom of a coffee pot. It can also refer to plunger pots and is an amazing way to brew your own coffee.
Demitasse is a small cup that is used to serve espresso. A French word, demitasse literally translates to half cup. They’re perfect for drinking espresso and a fantastic gift for coffee aficionados (wink, wink).
Batch roasters are machines that roast a number of coffee beans at a single time. It enhances a coffee bean’s flavor due to the smaller batches of coffee that can be roasted in a single time.
Barista is an Italian word used to refer to an individual who makes coffee drinks as a profession. The word barista is commonly recognized and was made popular by Starbucks.
Blend is a combination of more than 1 coffee varietal. It can add some depth and complexity to your favorite coffee brew. Coffee blends usually contain various types of coffee from a region.
Is the term used to describe how coffee tasters and connoisseurs discern a coffee’s quality, flavor, body and acidity. It is a skill that takes a lot of time to develop.
Crema refers to the caramel colored foam that is evident on top of espresso’s throughout the brewing process. Crema makes a cup that retains the aroma and flavors of an espresso. It often occurs in colloids and lipids which are forcefully extracted with the pressure of an espresso machine.
Hard Bean coffees are grown at high altitudes of 4,000 - 4,500 feet above sea level.
Mocha refers to a small, irregular coffee bean that has a unique and acidic property. Generally shipped from Mocha Yemen, and introduced by Marco Polo. Mocha coffee beans can be mixed with coffee beans that are shipped from Mocha Yemen and is not related with chocolatey drinks.
This is the term used for coffees that come from geographical regions. Here are some well-known coffee varietals: Sumatra, Costa Rica, Mexico and Java. Factors like the soil, climate and method of cultivation contribute to the distinguished taste of a varietal.