Coffee Terminolgy

Got your coffee 'lingo' sorted?

Here's a few terms to assist your assessment of coffee:

Single Origin: Unblended coffee from a single country, growing region, or plantation. Sometimes referred to as straight coffee.  

Blended Coffee: A mixture of two or more single-origin coffees, blends combine the best qualities of one single origin with the different but complimentary qualities of other single origin coffees.  The result should be a unique signature taste that is greater than the individual components.

Arabica: The earliest cultivated species of coffee tree and still the most widely grown. Approximately 70% of the world’s coffee is Arabica which is dramatically superior in cup quality to the other principal commercial coffee species, Coffea canephora or Robusta. All fine, specialty, and fancy coffees come from Coffea arabica trees.

Robusta: Currently the only significant competitor among cultivated coffee species to Coffea arabica. Robusta produces about 30% of the world’s coffee. It is a lower-growing, higher-bearing tree that produces full-bodied but bland coffee of inferior cup quality and higher caffeine content.. It is used as a basis for blends of instant coffee, and for less expensive blends of preground commercial coffee.

Primary and Secondary Tastes: Professional coffee cuppers may describe flavours detected by the tongue (primary tastes), and flavours detected through the nose (secondary tastes). Primary tastes are salty, sweet, sour, and bitter. Taste buds are located on our tongues, and while many subtle tastes can be recognized, there are only four distinct tastes (salty, sweet, sour, and bitter). Each taste bud contains between 50 and 100 taste cells, and each taste cell has receptors. While receptors are capable of recognizing all tastes, some tend to recognize sour foods and are usually located around the sides of the tongue. Sweet and salty foods are usually tasted best near the end of the tongue. Bitter foods are usually tasted at the back of the tongue. The middle of the tongue usually has no taste buds. 

Cup Character: The way to describe a cup of coffee, including:

  1. Aroma: The sensation or smell released from brewed coffee

  2. Fragrance: A specialised term when cupping.  When completing a sensory evaluation of coffee, fragrance describes the scent of dry coffee immediately after it has been ground, but before it is brewed. The scent can range from floral to spicy.

  3. Acidity: An often misleading term, the acidity is a measure of the acid content of the liquid. In fine coffees, acidity results in a pleasant sharpness,  pointing out a coffee’s flavor and providing liveliness, sparkle or snap to the drink. It is tasted mainly on the tip of the tongue and may be assessed as lively, moderate, flat or dull. It should not be associated with a genuinely sour taste.
  4. Body: The viscosity or “thickness” of a coffee. The body of a coffee may be described as light, medium, full, thin, watery, syrupy, heavy, rich and/or creamy.
  5. Sweetness: A smooth and palatable coffee that is free from defects and harsh flavors.
  6. Aftertaste: The perception of brewed coffee vapors released after swallowing. The characteristics may range from carbony, chocolaty and spicy to turpeny.
  7. Freshness: Roasted whole bean coffee can remain fresh for up to 3 months if kept in a sealed airtight container;  a few weeks is kept in an airtight container at room temperature; for a few days exposed to air at room temperature; and if ground, several hours after which the flavour will quickly fade. 

Bouquet: The smell of coffee grounds.

Bright: Coffees with a pleasant, almost tangy, flavor. Bright coffees may also be described as having a wine like acidity.  

Caramelly: A flavour and aroma characteristic of candy or syrup in which sugars have oxidized and become caramelised. Coffee beans contain sugars which caramelise during roasting and, if not burned, may be detected as caramelly notes in the cup.

Chocolatey: The taste or aroma of chocolate. Coffees rarely have a very strong chocolatey flavour or aroma, but some Central American and Yemeni coffees have a distinct chocolatey aroma and a slightly bitter-sweet chocolatey taste.      

Citrus: The aroma and taste of ripe citrus fruit. Citrus notes are often found in coffee, which is not surprising considering the fact that coffee beans are the seeds of coffee cherries.


Clean: Flavourful, but without any pungent or unusual flavours.      

Complexity: The array of flavours and flavour shifts experienced when smelling and tasting a coffee. While not necessarily a positive attribute, complexity can sometimes be gained by blending one coffee with another or by blending a dark roast with a light roast. Some excellent single origin coffees are by themselves both complex and balanced, but agreeable complex flavours are most often achieved by blending two or more complimentary single origin coffees. 

Floral: The scent of flowers including honeysuckle, jasmine, dandelion and nettles. Mildly floral aromas are found in some coffees and are generally perceived along with fruity or herbal notes.     

Fruity: The aroma and taste of fruit. Many coffees have fruity notes, which is not surprising considering that coffee beans are seeds of a fruit (coffee cherries). A coffee's acidity, or wine-like brightness, is often related to fruit, or citrus. Professional cuppers are careful to not use the term "fruity" when describing the aroma of unripe, or over-ripe fruit. 

Malty: The aroma of malt. Often used together with 'cereal' and 'toast-like'. these 3 terms describe grain-like aromas and flavours of roasted grain,  malt extract, freshly baked bread, or toast. 

Mellow: Balanced and mild, without strong taste or aftertaste. For example, medium roasted, low grown (less than 1200 metres) Arabicas, generally have a mellow flavor. 

Neutral: Neutral coffees do not have a predominant taste sensation, but may still have a pungency felt by the tongue and are often used in blending. Coffees from Brazil and Colombia, for example, commonly have a neutral flavour. 

Nutty: The aroma and flavour characteristic of fresh nuts.  Coffees from South America commonly have a nutty flavor.

Smooth: A taste characteristic of balanced coffee without any pronounced tastes or aftertastes. Also called round, rounded or soft. 

Spicey: The aroma of sweet spices such as cloves, cinnamon, and allspice. The term "spicy" when describing coffee does not include the aroma of savoury spices such as pepper, oregano, and curry.    

Winey: The combined sensation of smell, taste ,and mouth feel experienced when drinking wine. A winey taste is generally perceived along with acidy and fruity notes. Often used incorrectly to describe a soury or over-fermented flavour.