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Common Coffee Terms Explained

Do you know your Arabica from your Robusta, your light from your dark roast, and your cappuccino from your latte? 

Coffee has evolved so far beyond your basic black cup of joe, finished with a splash of milk and a hearty serving of sugar. 

Names, techniques, blends — it can all be a bit fussy, complicated, and even overwhelming.

If you’re trying to recreate those coffee shop vibes at home, it can be helpful to have a deeper understanding of what’s going into your cup. 

Learn how to be your own barista or just how to navigate the weird and wonderful world of coffee with this complete A-Z glossary of common coffee terms.

Image of a coffee cup sitting on a pile of books

A

Affogato: Ice cream (traditionally vanilla) “drowned” with a shot of espresso.

Acidity: The pleasant tartness of a fine coffee, often referred to as brightness or liveliness that carries the high notes of flavour in a coffee.

Aeropress: A device for brewing coffee. Coffee is steeped for approx. 10–50 seconds and then forced through a filter by pressing the plunger through the tube.

Arabica: The earliest cultivated species of the coffee tree, accounting for 70% of the world’s coffee and is dramatically superior in cup quality to other coffee species.

Aroma: The smell that is released from freshly ground coffee and from freshly brewed coffee.

Americano: An espresso that is cut with very hot water to fill an American-sized cup

B

Batch Roaster: A machine that roasts a defined quantity or batch of coffee at a time.

Barista: An Italian term for a trained espresso bar operator. 

Bean Delivered: your favourite coffee subscription service, delivering freshly roasted coffee from Irish roasters to your door each month.

Blends: A mixture of two or more single-origin coffees. 

Bloom: An initial stage of coffee brewing where a small amount of water is poured onto the grounds to allow them to fully saturate. 

Body: The perceived thickness, richness, or viscosity of brewed coffee.

C

Café au lait: Coffee drink combining one-third drip-brewed coffee with two-thirds hot, frothed milk.

Cappuccino: An espresso drink created with one serving of espresso topped with steamed milk and froth.

Chemex: The classic hourglass-shaped filter coffee brewer. Chemex filters are denser than other paper filters, and many believe that this creates a sweeter, well-balanced cup of coffee.

Clever Dripper: A filter cone with a stopper allows coffee to steep before dripping to extract more flavour.

Cold Brew: Cold brew coffees are made by steeping coffee beans from anywhere between 6-36 hours.

Cortado: A Spanish term for an espresso topped with a small amount of flat steamed milk.

Crema: The thick caramel-coloured emulsified oils that sit on top of an espresso.

Cupping: A tasting method used by coffee professionals where coarsely ground coffee is steeped with hot water and then tasted using flat spoons.

D

Dalgona: This new star of the coffee world became an internet sensation during lockdown. It’s made by whipping up instant coffee, sugar and hot water into a creamy froth and adding it to either hot or cold milk. 

Dark Roast: When coffee beans are roasted until they exude oils. The style has fallen out of favour among many artisanal roasters who think it overwhelms certain flavours.

Drip Coffee: Coffee made with a filter, a press pot, a percolator or a countertop coffee maker. Flavour is extracted by contact with water, not under pressure.

Drip Method: Coffee brewed in larger batches that can be poured and served quickly. Most coffee shops brew new batches every couple of hours to keep things fresh.

E

Espresso: A brewing method in which hot water is forced under pressure through a compressed bed of finely ground coffee; typically less than 2 ounces of the espresso is produced.

Extraction: Using water that is “just off the boil” (90-100°C) to draw flavour from coffee grounds. Coffee can be under-extracted and taste weak or over-extracted and taste bitter.

Image of a man reading a book and drinking a cup of coffee

F

Fair Trade: A private program that certifies that farmers or coffee growers are paid a minimum price for coffee.

Filter Coffee: Drip coffee made with a ceramic, glass or plastic cone lined with a paper filter. 

Flat White: An espresso topped with flat, steamed milk.

French Press: Coffee made by steeping grounds with hot water in a vessel with a plunger and metal filter that pushes the grounds to the bottom.

G

Green Coffee: A term used for unroasted coffee beans.

H

Heavy Roast: also known as French Roast and Spanish Roast, is a term for coffee brought to degrees of roast considerably darker than the norm. 

Hard Bean: A term often used to describe coffees grown at relatively high altitudes. Hard bean coffees usually make a more acidy and more flavorful cup than do soft bean coffees.

I

Iced Coffee: A coffee with ice, typically served with a dash of milk, cream or sweetener

Instant: Instant coffee is coffee that’s had all the water removed, leaving behind just the soluble coffee flavour.

Italian Roast: Coffee is generally roasted dark brown in colour and is rich and bittersweet in flavour, but the colour may range to nearly black and the flavour to nearly burned.

Irish Coffee: coffee made with Irish whiskey, sugar, and a thick layer of cream on the top.

J

Java: commonly used as another word for coffee, it is also a specific type of arabica coffee bean, grown on the island of Java.

K

Keep Cup: a reusable coffee cup designed as a more sustainable solution to the traditional takeaway coffee cup.

Kalita Wave a chopped-cone shape dripper with wavy contours that helps with even extraction while brewing.

Image of a woman drinking coffee at her desk

L

Latte: A serving of espresso combined with nearly three times as much steamed milk topped with froth.

Latte Art: The pattern formed by rhythmically pouring steamed milk into an espresso drink. Decorative and demonstrative; only properly steamed milk will hold a form.

Lungo: when an espresso shot is pulled longer than normal.

M

Macchiato: An espresso topped with a dab of foamed steamed milk, about 2 to 3 ounces total.

Micro Lot: Coffee from a single farm or from a specified part of the coffee farm 

Mocha: is a chocolate-flavoured variant of a caffè latte.

Moka Pot: A traditionally aluminium forged coffee brewer that makes a form of pseudo espresso, and is used on the stove.

N

New Crop: Coffee delivered for roasting soon after harvesting and processing.

Nitro Coffee: a cold brew coffee charged with nitrogen to give it a rich, creamy head of foam, similar to draft beer.

O

Organic Coffee: Coffee that has been certified by a third-party agency as having been grown and processed without the use of pesticides, herbicides, or similar chemicals.

P

Pour Over Methods: Any way of brewing coffee in small batches, usually by the cup, using a cone such as the Clever dripper. 

Pulping: The process of removing the outermost skin of the coffee cherry or fruit.

Q

Q-Grading: Once processed into its dry green state, coffee may be analyzed by certified Q graders, professionals whose job it is to evaluate coffee and determine its market value.

Image of several coffee cups filled with coffee

R

Redeye: A cup of brewed coffee with espresso.

Ristretto: an espresso pulled short, containing less water, for a more concentrated drink.

Roast: green beans are heated to create complex flavours that are extracted during brewing.

Roast Date: most small-batch roasters print the roast date on bags of coffee. The rule of thumb is that coffee should be used within two weeks, and some coffee bars won’t sell beans more than a week after they have been roasted.

Robusta: is a species of coffee that has its origins in central and western sub-Saharan Africa.

S

Seasonal Coffee: Coffee beans ripen at different times of the year in different regions and are available from speciality coffee roasters and in coffeehouses for limited times.

Shot: A single serving of espresso, generally no more than 2 ounces. 

Single Origins: these are coffees from a particular geographic area. A single origin could refer to coffee beans from a region, state, or in some cases, a coffee cooperative or mill that represents several small villages. Single origins often have specific flavours like fruit or nuts.

T

Tamping: the act of compacting the coffee grounds within the filter basket, to remove the air, create an evenly dense coffee puck, and prepare the coffee for extraction.

Tone: the appearance or colour of coffee.

V

Viennese Roast: also known as a Full-City or Espresso Roast.

V60: cone-shaped drip brewer, named for the 60-degree angle of the cone’s profile.

Variety/Cultivar: a recognized type of coffee e.g. Arabica, Robusta or Gesha.

W

Wet-processed: This process removes the skin and pulp from the bean while the coffee fruit is still fresh. Most of the world’s coffees are processed in this manner.

Whole-Bean Coffee: Coffee that has been roasted but not yet ground.

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