Education: Tasting Glossary
Coffee professionals use a lot of colorful language to describe coffee sometimes. Here's a short list of some of the most commonly used terms for coffee so you can join in the fun too!
Acidity: Acidity, used as a coffee term, refers to bright, tangy, fruity, or wine-like flavor characteristics found in many high grown Arabica coffees. Coffee with high acidity is described as acidy, which has nothing to do with amount of acid, or pH. Coffee actually has a relatively neutral pH of between 5 and 6. When green coffee is stored for more than a year it will have a perceptible loss of flavor and acidity. Also, acidity is reduced as coffee is roasted darker.
Aroma: Coffee aroma is the fragrance of brewed coffee and is closely related to coffee flavor. Without our sense of smell, flavor would be limited to the tongue senses of sweet, sour, salty, and bitter. Many nuances of a coffee are reflected in the smell, or “the nose”. Subtle floral notes, for example, are experienced most clearly in the aroma, particularly at the moment when the crust is broken during the traditional cupping process. Typical coffee aromas include floral, winey, chocolatey, spicy, tobaccoy, earthy, and fruity. Coffee aroma is also experienced after drinking the coffee when vapors drift upward into the nasal passage. This “retro nasal” aroma is responsible for much of a coffees aftertaste. A coffee’s aroma is highest shortly after roasting and then declines rapidly. Coffee freshness, including aroma, can be maintained for months if placed in proper storage immediately after roasting.
Bright: Coffees with a pleasant, almost tangy, flavor. Bright coffees may also be described as having a wine like acidity.
Carbony: The flavor and aroma characteristic of burnt food, or burnt wood. Carbony flavors and aromas are often used as an indication of roast degree when cupping darker roasted coffees. Also called “burnt” or “smoky”.
Chocolatey: The taste or aroma of chocolate. Coffees rarely have a very strong chocolatey flavor or aroma, but some Central American and Yemeni coffees have a distinct chocolatey aroma and a slightly bitter-sweet chocolatey taste.
Clean: Flavorful, but without any pungent or unusual flavors.
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 coffees 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 to include the aroma of cereal, malt, and toast. “Cereal”, “Malty”, and “Toast-like” describe grain-like aromas and flavors of roasted grain (including roasted corn, barley, or wheat), malt extract, freshly baked bread, or toast.
Mellow: Balanced and mild, without strong tastes or aftertaste. Medium roasted, low grown (less than 4000 feet) Arabicas, for example, generally have a mellow flavor.
Nose: The aroma and taste characteristic of a coffee sensed by the nose, especially when exhaling coffee vapors after swallowing.
Spicy: The aroma of sweet spices such as cloves, cinnamon, and allspice. The term “spicy” when describing coffee does not include the aroma of savory 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 sour or over-fermented flavor.
Woody: A taste characteristic of old coffee. Woody coffee has a smell of dry wood, an oak barrel, dead wood, or cardboard. This defect results when beans are improperly stored for an extended period of time. Coffees stored at low altitudes in high temperatures and humidity (as in many ports of shipment) tend to deteriorate quickly and become woody. All coffees can become woody if stored long enough.