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

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

Not sure how to order a coffee drink? 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.

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 is our fun coffee dictionary, for a more serious one, and more comprehensive, check The Coffee Dictionary.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Coffee Tasting Words

Being able to name the flavors in coffee isn’t just another method for coffee professionals to display their knowledge. If you want to master coffee brewing, knowing how to taste coffee and having the proper vocabulary to express the flavors you distinguish is an important instrument. It doesn’t matter if you find the coffee appealing or unappealing, improving your ability to discern a coffee’s unique features will reveal more about about your coffee taste. As you progress you might also begin to observe when changes in your brewing method result in a better cup.

We said it before, espresso is not the best brewing method to explore coffee flavors, since the heavy body masks many of the more delicate notes in coffee. However, you will still be able to detect hints of the origins, varietal, and processing of your coffee beans. But let’s dive in and see what flavors can we get from a coffee.

Acidity

The sharp, lively flavor characteristic of high-altitude grown coffee. Acidity is tasted mainly at the tip of the tongue. The brisk, snappy  quality that makes coffee refreshing.

The acidity notes are perceived as citrus, or wine and it is not the same as the sourness of an under-extracted coffee. Flavor acidity is not in a relationship with coffee’s pH. Flavor acidity does not cause any more stomach than other coffees, contrary to a popular belief.

Aftertaste

In coffee, aftertaste is the taste left on your tongue and in the mouth after swallowing. Coffee flavors are perceived for a long time after swallowing, compared to other drinks. Among coffees, espresso has the longest aftertaste that can last up to 15 minutes, and even longer.

Interestingly, espresso is the fastest coffee beverage to drink, but with the longest aftertaste.

Aroma

The fragrance, or smell of freshly brewed coffee. This is different than bouquet. Fresh coffee beans produce a coffee with a stronger aroma than older, stale coffee.

Bitterness

Coffee bitterness is both a subjective measurement that evaluates the extra bitterness in the coffee. We say that we evaluate the extra bitterness because coffee is bitter non matter what.

The bitterness in coffee is given by caffeine, and phenolic compounds among which chlorogenic acid. Both caffeine and chlorogenic acid are compounds that we want in our coffee, it’s what makes it so great as a nootropic beverage. However, when we over extract coffee, we dissolve in our cup some other compounds that are bitter and do not benefit us in any way.

In other words, when we over extract coffee it will taste more bitter than it should. Our Espresso Extraction article talks about over extraction in more details.

Sometimes coffee tastes bitter because the coffee beans are of poor quality, or they were poorly processed.

Bland

The word “bland” in the coffee context, refers to the pale flavor often found in lower grade coffees. Under extraction can also cause a cup to taste bland.

Body

Body, is a partially subjective term that refers to the mouthfeel of the coffee. Body is coffee’s heaviness, tactile richness, or thickness when you swish the coffee around your mouth. Body is not about the taste, it is rathe a sensation we feel. But it can greatly influence our flavor perception.

We can distinguish three major body types: light, medium or full-bodied. A coffee’s body is largely created by the amount of suspended and dissolved particles in a coffee drink.

Although body is directly related to TDS, (total dissolved solids), TDS is only part of the coffee beans’ mouthfeel. Coffee oils, organic acids, sugars are extracted during the brewing process, so the brewing variables and brewing method also play a role in how much body a coffee has.

Coffee oils play an important role in coffee’s mouthfeel, so paper filtered coffees tend to have less body, whereas screen filtered coffees have more body, (espresso, French press, Moka pot, Turkish coffee).

To make things even more complicated, we can also be more specific about the body and describe it as: watery, thin, syrupy, heavy, or buttery.

Bouquet

The smell of coffee grounds. This is a unique characteristic that is determined by the variety of the coffee plant, the origin, (soil, altitude), harvesting, and processing. See also aroma and flavor.

Brightness

Brightness is another way to describe acidity. Brightness is an acidity that pops, and we can distinguish a few acidic flavors that brighten a cup: lemon, oranges, grapefruit, green apples, blackcurrant, red fruit.

Complex

A multi-flavored coffee or blend is complex. A multitude of flavors experienced when tasting a coffee. Often times the and flavors shift, offering a complex tasting experience. Complexity can be obtained by blending, but the best complexity comes from great single origin coffees that are both complex and balanced. Complexity is tricky, because it’s not always a good quality in a coffee. Many times blends muddy the flavors and the cup is flat, or bland.   

Earthy

An earthy aroma reminds of fresh earth, or wet soil, and it’s characteristic to Indonesian coffee beans. Kona coffees also have some earthiness. Earthiness is great flavor in coffee, even though it may seem to like a bad flavor to have in your drink. You will need to try it and you will understand why earthy flavor is so appreciated by specialty coffee people.

Rich

full-bodied coffee

Flat

Describes a coffee that lacks flavor and aroma. A coffee can be flat because of stale beans, poor quality beans, under extraction, or because it was brewed too weak.

Floral

A flavor reminding of the jasmine flower scent, or even the coffee plant flower itself. Ethiopian coffees are notorious for their floral notes.

Fruity

A coffee that has a fruity essence that reminds of berries or citrus.

Spicy

Flavor notes of particular spices. When tasting a cup, spiciness flavors can be distinguished clearly as part of the flavor profile. Spice flavors in coffee can be cinnamon, chili, nutmeg, clove, vanilla, etc…

Note that spice notes in coffee occur naturally. The terroir, varietal, processing and roasting all play a role in the spiciness of a batch of coffee beans. This is different than adding spices to your coffee.

Sweetness

The smooth and palatable coffee, free from defects, and without any bitter, or sour flavors. Coffee sweetness doesn’t come from sugar, as we would be tempted to think. Although green coffee does contain sugar, (about 9% sucrose), most of it is caramelized during roasting. Coffee sweetness is the perception on the tongue of many other flavors that we can describe as sweet.

Sweetness in coffee can be described as smoothness, or lack of astringency, and harsh tasting extracts.

Light roasted coffees have a fruity, or floral sweetness, while dark roasts have a darker, deeper sweetness, or caramelized sweetness.

Skilled roasters can preserve more of the sugars in coffee even after roasting, however, this requires the right equipment, skills, and coffee varietal/origin. The brewing method and variables also play a huge role in extracting the sweetness from the beans.

Sourness

Sourness is a sign of under extraction. A sour coffee is different from an acidic coffee. An acidic coffee will have only a faint acidity, that balances perfectly the flavor profile of a cup. A sour coffee is predominantly acidic, without any other noticeable flavors. This is a clear sign of an under extraction.

Acids are dissolved firstly during extraction, because they are the most soluble compounds in coffee. Because of this, an insufficient extraction, (short brew time, inadequate brew temperature, etc…), will extract mostly the acids.

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.

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.

Winy

A flavor reminiscent of fine red wine. Kenya AA coffee is one of the most notables. One of my favorite coffees.

Not everybody takes their espresso black. There is an entire world of espresso drinks that are made with just espresso and milk. The difference is the amount of espresso added, and the amount of milk and the way we heat and texturize the milk.

Here are some of the words barista use to describe milk in the drinks.

Caramel Macchiato

CAR-MEL MA-KEE-AH-TOE: A shot of espresso topped with our hand-made whipped cream and caramel.

KA-FAY LA-TAY: A soothing beverage composed of three layers: a freshly drawn shot of espresso, milk steamed and poured to fill the cup and finally, a quarter-inch dollop of foamed milk to create a delicate first impression.

Caffé Mocha

KA-FAY MO-KAH: Liquid chocolate and a freshly pulled espresso shot blended with fresh steamed milk. Topped with a generous portion of our handmade whipped cream and a light grind of chocolate.

Skinny or Non-fat

All the milk, hold the fat. Order a skinny Latte if you want skim milk.

No Foam

Don’t like the way the frothed milk on your Latte tickles your nose? Order it “no foam,” and you’ll get only espresso and steamed milk.

Dry

More foam than milk. If you like your Cappuccino really light and airy, order it “dry.”

Extra Foam

Foam keeps your espresso drink hot, so if you’re taking it to go, you might want to order “extra foam.”

Steamer

Want the goodness of a latte but don’t like the taste of coffee? Order a steamer, steamed milk and natural flavors like Vanilla, Hazelnut, Caramel, Almond.

Espresso Words

Affogato

Affogato is a classic Italian dessert, though is considered by many a coffee drink. Affogato is made with a shot of espresso poured over a scoop of vanilla ice cream, or gelato. The Italian word affogato means drowned, and it alludes to the way that the ice cream is drowned in espresso.

Cortado

A cortado is an espresso based beverage that refers to a small espresso and milk combination in equal parts. Most commonly, it consists of a double shot espresso and 2 ounces of steamed or scalded milk.

Double Espresso

Two one fluid ounce servings of straight espresso. This is the standard for Grande, but if you want your tall Latte doubly strong, you’d better ask for the extra shot. “I want a tall double latte please”. (for more about espresso check Wikipedia)

Espresso

E-SPREZ’-SO: The building block of all specialty coffees. Concentrated coffee – “essence”, a special brewing method that uses pressure for extraction, unique among all coffee brewing methods. You can make espresso at home but you need an espresso machine and some training. Espresso is served on its own in a demitasse or even added to espresso drinks. More about what is espresso.

Espresso Shot

Each serving of espresso is composed of three color layers, a dark color with caramel-colored around and topped with the crema – an almost white color. When you have all three your looking at a great shot.

Cappuccino

KA-PA-CHEE-NO: Is an espresso-based beverage using steamed and foamed milk. Cappuccino can be ordered “dry” for an extra foamy cup or “wet” for a more milky drink.

Caffé Americano 

A coffee drink made with an espresso that has been topped off with hot water in order to tone down the sharpness of the espresso. The result is a cup of full-flavored coffee with the distinct taste of espresso.

Solo – Single espresso

A single shot of espresso. Solo is the Italian word for single, so if in doubt, just say single. A one fluid ounce serving of straight espresso, served alone or with steamed milk in an espresso beverage. The standard for most short and tall espresso drinks.

Pulling an Espresso Shot

Pulling an espresso shot means brewing an espresso shot. The expression pulling a shot comes from the beginnings of the espresso when the machines were lever operated, and the barista had to pull the lever to extract a shot.

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

BAR-EES-TA: Behind the coffee shop counter is a really nice person who knows the recipe for perfect espresso and can deliver exactly what you want. 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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