Coffee Tasting Glossary

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.