Coffee Lingo – Dictionary of Coffee and Espresso Terms for the Beginner

A lot goes in making a great cup of coffee, and brewing great coffee is part science part art. Barista is a trade in its own right. Preparing the stuff that runs us through the day is complex and coffee industry needs a special vocabulary to communicate simple and complex things about it. The barista lingo is a collection of coffee words that refer to preparation, ordering, and describing coffee. 

When you order a coffee drink you need to be able to tell the barista exactly what you want, otherwise they might prepare you the wrong drink. This page will help you learn the coffee lingo and talk like a native! Better than that, this page contains barista terms and definitions that your barista might not even know.

This page not only contains the most used barista terms and definitions, but also has more advanced coffee terms, that will teach you how to appreciate coffee more.

“What would you like?” These words strike terror in the heart of many people who want to appear chic when ordering a latte.

Soon, you’ll be able to step right up and rattle off your order like the most seasoned espresso snob. So here is everything you wanted to know about ordering a specialty coffee but were afraid to ask.

This coffee dictionary, is comprised of three separate dictionaries of coffee and espresso terms:

Coffee Brewing Methods

AeroPress

The AeroPress is a manual device for brewing coffee. The AeroPress method consists of steeping coffee for 30-60 seconds and then forced through a filter by pushing a plunger through a plastic tube.

Cold Brew Coffee

Cold brew coffee is a preparation method that uses cold water for extracting soluble solids and caffeine from the coffee grounds. This results in a more sweeter cup, with less acidity.

French Press

A coffee pot with a plunger made of fine mesh. Translation: the pot that brews an extra-strong coffee. (here is a French press brewing guide)

Filter Basket

A “filter basket” is a metallic, basket shaped filter, that holds the coffee grounds for extracting espresso. The basket is inserted into the portafilter, and has tiny holes that allow extracted coffee to pass through and to retain the grounds.

Iced Coffee

Iced coffee is any type of coffee that was frozen or has ice cube added. It is a cold coffee beverage. We can use drip coffee, or cold brew for preparing an iced coffee. 

Portafilter

The cupped handle on an espresso machine which holds the finely ground coffee during the brewing process. A portafilter (or group handle) attaches to the grouphead of semi-automatic and piston-driven espresso machines, and carries a tamped puck of coffee grounds within its basket. It is usually made of brass for better heat retention, but often is made of aluminium to save costs. The portafilter is equipped with a filter-basket – a single, double, or a triple basket.

Turkish Coffee

Turkish coffee Is a coffee brewing method in which finely ground coffee is infused in hot water. The finer grind of the grains used in Turkish coffee gives it a stronger flavor. Turkish coffee is many times incorrectly compared to espresso because of its similar body.

Arabica

Coffea arabica is a species of flowering plant in the coffee family Rubiaceae. It was the first species of coffee to have been cultivated, and is currently the dominant cultivar in the world. Arabica coffee has generally a smoother taste, compared with the other major coffee cultivar the Robusta. 

Robusta

Coffea robusta, or robusta coffee is a species of flowering plant in the family Rubiaceae. Scientifically identified as Coffea canephora, it represents 43% of global coffee production. It is generally believed that robusta has a harsher taste than arabica, though quality robusta coffees taste great.

Cultivar

A coffee varietal, (variety), is naturally occurring genetic variation within a species. On the other hand, a cultivar is created by humans by breeding varietals to achieve desirable traits such as flavor, caffeine content, resistance to pests. Examples of intentional hybrids are Catimor, Catuai, Pacamara, Maracaturra.

Coffee Cherry

coffee cherry is the fruit of the coffee tree. The cherry is  growing in clusters along the plant’s short stems. A cherry contains two pits with a flat side on the inside, and a round side on the outside. The two pits are typically called coffee beans. 

Peaberry

Typically, each coffee berry has two beans. In rare instances, a cherry can develop with just one bean. They are referred to as peaberries and are often sold separately as specialty coffee and they are prized for their flavor.

Soft Bean

Describes coffee grown at relatively low altitudes (under 4,000 ft). Beans grown at lower altitudes mature more quickly and produce a lighter, more porous bean.

Varietal

The word used to describe a coffee plant subspecies. A coffee varietal can be grown in different geographical areas. Most often a varietal is tied to a geographical location, but not necessarily. Since coffee generally grows in the geographical area between the tropics, varietals can be imported and grown anywhere in this area. Some famous varietals include: Caturra, Yirgacheffe, Harar, Sidamo, Catuai, Bourbon, Gesha, Kona, and the most famous one, Typica. To explain the geographical vs variety idea better, Java variety can be traced back in Ethiopia, and it was brought in Indonesia in 1928. Java is now a variety on its own.

General Coffee Shop Words

This section introduces you some general words used in a coffee shop. Words related to drink size, (the (in)famous Starbucks cup sizes), coffee add-ons, flavorings, etc…

Barista

Behind the coffee shop counter is a really nice person who knows the recipe for perfect espresso and can deliver exactly what you want. They are called the barista, a word that comes from Italian. Don’t be afraid to ask for your special coffee when you get the hang of this. (Here is a nice online magazine dedicated to the people behind that counter.)

Tall

A 12 fluid ounce coffee drink. This tall is a small. Apparently, this choice of a word for cup size is an attempt to language manipulate you.

Grande

A 16 fluid ounce coffee beverage. When you need an extra boost. Grande means large in Italian. But it also means great, strong, so another language manipulation attempt.

Venti

This is a bit confusing, because venti is 20 ounces for hot drinks and 24 ounces for cold drinks. But the word itself is another double meaning word in Italian that means winds and twenty.

Trenta

Trenta means thirty in Italian but at Starbucks that’s a 31 ounces drink. No double meanings here, but I got a good synonym for it – bucket.

Extra

When you want extra caffeine in the morning you can add extra shot(s) of espresso to a brewed coffee. Order it “With an extra shot of espresso.”

With Room

Short for “I’d like to add cream to my coffee, so please leave me some room in my cup.”

Whip

Short for “whipped cream.” Want to save a few calories in your Mocha? Order it “no whip.”

Vanilla, Hazelnut, Caramel, Almond

Add this to your order if you’d like a shot of flavor syrup added to your beverage.

Tip Jar

That little glass jar you use to thank your barista for making you such a wonderful drink. And YES, you should tip your barista, if you like their service. Their salaries are very low, and the industry assumes customers tip their employees.

Tone

The appearance or color of coffee. Usually in three tones – light, medium and dark.

Conclusion

We hope that our coffee dictionary helped you learn the coffee lingo, and you will look like a real coffee snob next time you order a drink at Starbucks, or you enter a coffee discussion at the office.

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