A Coffee Tasters Glossary

It always helps to know the language when you’re discussing a subject with others. Coffee flavor is as complex as that of any good wine, and coffee tasters have developed their own language to describe the flavors of different blends and varietals of coffee. Here’s a quick guide to the terminology used by professional coffee cuppers.

Acerbic

A sour, acrid flavor that often develops from overheating coffee, as when you leave it sitting on the heater for too long after brewing.

Acidity

Acidity is a quality tasted at the tip of the tongue. It is a sharp, lively quality that is often found in coffee grown at high altitudes. It is not the same as bitterness or sourness, but rather a sort of snap of flavor that makes your tastebuds sit up and take notice. Coffees are actually low in acidity. There are three types of acidity – desirable, sour and process acidity.

Aftertaste

The flavor that remains in your mouth after the coffee is swallowed. It is created by the vapors released by the coffee. It may range from chocolaty, spicy, turpeny, carbony and other descriptives.

Aroma

The fragrance of coffee after it is brewed. The aroma may have floral, herbal or fruity notes, as well as spicy notes.

Bitter

Bitterness is tasted at the back of the tongue. Some coffees, dark roasts in particular, are intentionally bitter, giving them a rich taste. Coffee can also be bitter because of over-extraction.

Bland

Flavorless, or very lightly flavored. It is a characteristic of robusta coffees grown at low altitudes. It can also be caused by using too little coffee or too coarse a grind.

Body

Body may be one of the most difficult qualities to describe. It refers to the weight and texture of the coffee in the mouth, and may be described as rich, smooth, buttery or some other variety of a tactile sensation. Also known as mouthfeel.

Bouquet

The smell of ground coffee before brewing.

Bright

A descriptive used with acidity to describe a tangy taste to the coffee.

Briny

Old, overheated coffee often has an off flavor that leaves a salty sensation in the mouth. This is referred to as briny.

Earthy

A flavor that is literally earthy, as opposed to dirty. It’s often found in Indonesian and Ethiopian coffees.

Exotic

A coffee with unusual flavor notes to it, such as berry or floral accents. This is completely distinct from “flavored coffees”, being a natural flavor for the particular coffee.

Flat

Flat is used to denote a flavor without any strong characteristics.

Flavor
The combination of Aroma, Acidity and Body.

Fragrance
The scent of coffee experienced by sniffing, ranges from floral to spicy.

Fruity
A flavor reminiscent of citrus or berry flavor.

Musty
A dirty flavor that often occurs because of poor storage.

Nutty

An aftertaste that is reminiscent of roasted nuts.

Neutral
Different from flat, it also denotes a coffee that is lacking in strong aromatic or flavor qualities, but in a positive way that makes it a good coffee for blends.

Spicy
Having or carrying the flavor of particular spices.

Stale

A flat, cardboard taste that is peculiar to coffee that has been exposed to the air for too long.

Sweet

Smooth, even flavored coffee with no harsh notes.

Taste

Coffee taste is described as being acid, mellow, wine, bland, sharp or sour

Tone

The color and appearance of the coffee. It may be light, dark, medium or be described in other ways.

Winy

A coffee that has an aftertaste reminiscent of a fine red wine