21 Coffee Terms to be a Coffee Sophisticate

Tasting Terms

As wholesale coffee retailers, our team has tasted a LOT of coffee. Not only do we taste it, but as a coffee supplier, we have to find ways to describe the taste of our blends and products to our customers. How do we do this? By developing our vocabulary, just like our English teacher always told us. Coffee, like many fields, has an array of jargon that can be intimidating at first but useful once mastered.

The terms below will help you sound like you know what you are talking about when a barista asks if you are enjoying their coffee, but they carry over into the food world as a whole. Feel free to break them out when tasting wine or cooking at home. Paying close attention to the attributes of flavor will make you a more conscientious taster, help you find quality food products, and take your cooking to the next level.

  • Acidity: The “zip” in your cup or the slightly tart or sour flavor present in the brew. When you take a sip, you should feel the acidity along your tongue as it causes your mouth to water.
  • Balance: The interaction of different flavors within a cup. A “balanced” cup of coffee should not be overwhelmingly sweet, sour, bitter, or burnt but involve a pleasing mixture of different flavors. This is especially important when adding flavors or spices to coffee. Sometimes less is more!
  • Body: The “mouthfeel” of the coffee as it relates to its viscosity. A “light-bodied” coffee is light with low viscosity, while a “full-bodied” coffee is thicker and more viscous. Body can be a result of the growing conditions of the coffee beans or the method of preparation.
  • Complexity: The more flavors you perceive interacting with each other, the more complex your cup is.
  • Aroma: The part of taste connected to odor. Aromatic compounds are short-lived, tasting strongest when the coffee is fresh and diminishing as the coffee beans sit, especially after grinding. Aromas are described with words like “fruity,” “citrusy,” “floral,” or “herbal.” Tasters will often compare them to other smells, such as leather, tobacco, vanilla, etc. We describe our Black Paw French Roast by comparing it to burnt sugar, dark chocolate, and spice.
  • Terroir: This is a French wine term meaning “land” or “earth.” It is used to refer to flavors derived from the environmental conditions surrounding the place the coffee was grown. Terroir is what separates Ethiopian beans from Brazilian beans. Even if two growers produce the same variety of coffee bean, regional conditions will affect the final flavor.

Types of Coffee You Can Order

  • Espresso: Finely ground beans extracted via high pressure and heat, which results in a concentrated brew. A “shot” is one ounce of espresso.
  • Café au lait: Literally “coffee with milk.” The drink is two-thirds frothed milk, one-third plain coffee.
  • Cappuccino: Espresso finished with steamed milk and milk froth on top. The name originally referred to the Capuchin friars, who wear distinctive brown robes. The color of the drink is similarly brown.
  • Cold Brew: Coffee made by steeping the ground beans in cold water for 10-12 hours. It is generally less acidic than hot coffee and often more highly caffeinated. Check out our cold brew coffee bags here.
  • Cortado: Two shots of espresso with steamed milk on top.
  • Doppio: Two shots of espresso
  • Drip Coffee: This is the standard method of preparation for most Americans. Coffee is placed in hot water and allowed to steep through it.
  • Flat white: A shot of espresso with steamed, micro-foamed milk on top. Very similar to a cortado, though the texture of the milk is slightly different.
  • Latte: A shot of espresso topped with two ounces of steamed milk, followed by a layer of milk foam.
  • Shot: One ounce of espresso. It can be added to a drink or simply enjoyed on its own.
  • Instant Coffee: Instant coffee is most often a dehydrated mix that is prepared by simply adding water. While certainly convenient, dehydrated coffee is often lacking the robust flavor that freshly brewed coffee offers. Hugo offers a different solution with our single-serving brew bags. Freshly ground coffee is placed in biodegradable tea bags, then brewed fresh in a single serving of hot water. This tea bag style coffee combines the convenience of instant coffee with the taste of a properly brewed cup.

Coffee Beans

  • Arabica: Arabica beans are the most popular type of coffee beans consumed in North America. Despite their name, most Arabica beans are grown in Brazil. Arabica beans lend themselves to a slightly sweet flavor, with slightly higher acidity. They are somewhat more difficult to grow than robusta varieties, making them more expensive and frequently considered the “specialty” bean.
  • Robusta: Robusta beans are slightly less popular in America than the Arabica but are commonly consumed throughout Europe and Africa. The name is fitting, as the variety is much more hardy in the field, and the bean provides a stronger, more robust flavor than the Arabica. Because of their relative ease of cultivation, they are frequently cheaper, and many common brands use wholly or primarily Robusta beans in the coffee blends. Robusta beans are also significantly higher in caffeine.
  • Light Roast: Beans are exposed to less heat in these roasts, leading to light brown color with no oil on the surface of the bean. A “cinnamon” roast is an extremely light roast. Generally, the lighter the roast, the more acidic the coffee.
  • Medium Roast: Beans are roasted to a medium brown color but not quite roasted long enough for oils to rise to the surface of the bean. Medium roasts are the most popular roast in the United States. “Breakfast Blend” coffees are medium roasts. Try our Roll Over Breakfast Blend for a perfect example.
  • Dark Roast: The beans take on a dark color; the surface of the bean has fully cracked and allowed flavorful oil to cover the surface of the bean. These roasts are generally bitter but less acidic. “French” and “Italian” roasts are examples of a dark roast.

Now that you know enough to be dangerous in the coffee world, check out our delicious coffee from our small-batch roasters—and support animal rescue efforts in the process.