BITTER: Similar to sour. Bitter-tasting coffees taste as they due usually because they have been cooked or brought to a high temperature after brew. Bitter coffees taste sour on the top front of the tongue.
ACIDIC/ACIDY: Describes a coffee that is felt particularly on the back sides of the tongue. A synonym is “biting”.
AROMATIC: Describes coffees that have a very noticeable scent. Because the sense of taste and the sense of smell are so closely related, the presence of a powerful, evocative aroma can really enhance the experience of a great coffee. Many exceptional coffees do not have a notable aromatic quality, while others, when brewed, pervade a room with the desire to drink coffee. Connoisseurs claim they can sometimes detect the odor of vegetation that grew near the coffee varietal(s) they are tasting.
BIG: Describes coffee with a full to heavy body.
BITING: Describes a coffee that is high in acid content.
BODY: Starts with a light “thin” mouthfeel and progresses to a full-bodied, “heavy” mouthfeel.
BURNT: Describes coffees, mostly dark roasts, that have a charred, often bitter taste.
CHOCOLATY: Describes a coffee with deep undertones, usually creamy and not ever bitter.
COMPLEX: A coffee that contains many taste characteristics. Cupping such a coffee is an experience for connoisseurs who like to distill different characteristics from one and the same brew.
CREAMY: Note: this does not mean that the coffee has cream in it. This is a characteristic of coffees, usually pressure brewed, whose acidity is cut by its own natural sugars. A visible characteristic of some creamy coffees is the actual crema that appears on the surface.
CREMA: Crema is a caramel or golden colored layer that forms on top of pressure-brewed coffee and espresso. The nature of a crema is complex and even contentious, but in general, it can be called an emulsion or a colloid. Both of these terms describe a substance that is really two things in one: dispersed gases in a liquid, in the case of crema. The gases get pressurized into the liquid during a high-pressure brew, and a thick, golden crema is the sign of a properly brewed espresso or crema coffee.
DEEP: Describes a flavorful coffee with a pleasant, rich aftertaste. SYN: complex.
DRY: As in wine, a dry coffee is one that is not sweet. Note, however, that this does not mean any coffee without sugar added to it. Sweetness is a property that some coffees have naturally, but the sweetness is relatively insipid and never overwhelming.
EVEN: Describes a smooth coffee that has no one flavor attribute that outdoes the others.
FRUITY: Not to be confused with “sweet”, this term describes coffee beans that have snappy, berry-like notes. The varietals that are most often rightly described this way are African.
FULL: Describes a coffee whose body is almost heavy, but not overwhelmingly so. Full-bodied coffees are satisfying and pleasant.
HEAVY: Describes a coffee whose body is dense or weighty in the mouth. Compare to a coffee whose body is “thin”.
MEDIUM: Describes the flavor of a coffee that is neither mild nor rich.
MILD: Describes a coffee with the least strong of flavors.
MOUTHFEEL: Describes how heavy or dense the coffee is on the tongue; a measure of body.
SNAPPY: A difficult characteristic to describe; these coffees have a distinct but not unpleasant “zing” that hits the back top or middle of the tongue. Tanzanian Peaberry is an example of such a coffee.
SMOOTH: Describes a coffee that is neither bitter nor sour. Yet its positive characteristics are not overwhelming either. Smooth coffees are generally not terribly complex.
SPICY: Describes coffees that appear to have the presence of spice in them.
RICH: Describes a coffee that has a full body and deep flavor traits.
ROASTY: Usually describes dark-roasted coffees with a strong flavor.
ROBUST: Describes a coffee that is “Big”, very full bodies. Not to be confused with “Robusta”.
SMOKY: Not to be confused with “burnt”, smoky is often a positive attribute of coffees that have a woody flavor.
SOUR: Same as bitter. A sour coffee sits unpleasantly on the top front portion of the tongue.
SWEET: Not literal. This characteristic describes unadulterated coffees that have a naturally sweet characteristic. However, given that fresh brewed coffees generally have zero calories, this term is rarely used correctly, and should be preceded by the the word “almost”.
TART: Describes a sharply bitter, stale-tasting coffee.
THIN: Describes a coffee whose body is lackluster and watery, but not necessarily whose flavor is weak.
WATERY: Describes a coffee that has a very weak body and little flavor. A watery coffee is often the way it is on account not of the coffee but of their being too much water in the brewing process.
WEAK: Describes a coffee that has a very faint flavor and often little body.