Coffee Terms & Language
Updated: Apr 29
The following is a collection of terms and descriptions from all over the place, which I have found helpful in understanding differences in coffee beans, blends and flavours. The Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) take explaining what a cup of coffee tastes like very seriously and developed a whole "language" as part of a set of standards they developed for the specialty coffee market.
Disclaimer: As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases made through links on this page.
Should you want to pay for an in-depth reference of terms used in the coffee industry, I would recommend the book "The Coffee Dictionary: An A-Z of coffee, from growing & roasting to brewing & tasting" which is a detailed guide to the dizzying array of terms, from a three-time UK champion barista and coffee expert
Following are terms we have explored as we began enjoying coffee drinking and understanding about coffee beans, blending, roasting and extracting coffee.
See Brew Ratio below
Meters Above Sea Level
SHG / SHB
Strictly High Grown / Strictly Hard Beans.
Beans grown above 1200 MASL
Good Hard Beans.
Beans grown between 1,000~1,200 MASL
Medium Hard Beans.
Beans grown between 500~900 MASL
International Womens Coffee Aliance
Costa Rician chapter of IWCA - Women in Coffee Aliance of Costa Rica
The Specialty Coffee Association of America started by a group of coffee professionals in 1982
Perceived acidity of coffee results from protons being donated to receptors on the tongue.
Is measured on a pH scale of
0 for the Strongest Acid to 14 for the strongest Base/Alkali (least acidic)
Can be measured by the variation in the composition of organic acids such as citric, malic, lactic, tartaric, and large molecules called polyphenols, in particular chlorogenic acids (CGAs) and tannins which are the primary sources of astringency in brewed coffee.
(Sourness is an extreme form of acidity considered a coffee defect.)
aroma is the release of flavoursome compounds from coffee through the air a.k.a. the smell of coffee.
Fresh coffee therefore has much stronger aroma than older, stale coffee.
There over 1000 known aromatics in coffee with new ones are regularly discovered by advances in testing methods.
Aroma is one of the first senses experienced when preparing or consuming a coffee beverage, however, being mostly composed of ‘volatile compounds’ which easily evaporate when exposed to ambient air, aroma is perhaps the most variable component of coffee drinking.
As with most tastes, coffee aroma is responsible for many of the flavour attributes not directly detected by the tongue since that only detects sweet, salt, bitter, sour and umami
basket (for portafilter or group handle)
a metal filter designed to be used with ultra-fine coffee being extracted under high pressure
There are four primary types of coffee beans.
Arabica (Coffee arabica)
farmed at high elevations
accounts for 60 - 70% of coffee produced globally
has a sweeter, more delicate flavor
tends to be less acidic than Robusta
plants are fairly delicate and particularly prone to disease
Robusta (Coffee caniphora)
grown in any number of altitudes and climates
known for its strong and often harsh flavor profile
extremely high levels of caffeine
more resilient than the Arabica species
tends to be more acidic than arabica
Liberica (Coffee liberica)
original primary source was the Philippines
represents only a very small fraction of the world’s coffee production
aroma of fruit and flowers
flavor is a somewhat “woody” taste
Excelsa (Coffee liberica variant )
grown primarily in Southeast Asia
brewing coffee is the process of extracting soluble compounds from roasted and ground coffee beans. As coffee is brewed in hot water, hundreds of compounds are extracted.
These compounds are referred to as the coffee’s solubility.
There are two common brewing methods, immersion and infusion
brew ratio (BR)
The coffee brew ratio is the ratio of ground coffee (in ounces or grams) to water (in fluid ounces or milliliters) used to extract the brew.
Brew ratio for a drip-coffee brew might be 1:16 so for every gram of ground coffee, 16 grams of water (16ml by volume) would be filtered through the grinds. Brew ratios for most coffee brew extractions lie between 1:15 and 1:18, whereas the espresso extraction technique is so efficient, typical ratios are closer to 1:2.
The golden-brown top layer of a shot. Crema is comprised of tiny (micro) bubbles of CO2 gas suspended in the water from the pressurized hot water being forced through finely ground coffee. Natural oils and fats present in the coffee attach to the CO2 bubbles and rise to the top of the espresso shot as crema * Not all coffee can produce crema.
* Some people consider crema the sign of a 'good' shot while others find crema makes the brew taste too bitter.
dose (see also: yield and shot)
The weight of coffee (grams) used in a portafilter for extraction.
Ratio of beans to water
Dark roasts decrease a coffee’s acidic content and perceived acidity
Not expresso ... but espresso
espresso is a form of infusion extraction, but among many differences from other forms of infusion, the most important is that espresso coffee is extracted under pressure.
Espresso is far more concentrated than regular drip coffee with a brew ratio of about 1:2 (as opposed to say 1:16 for drip-brewed coffee) thus the serving size of an espresso is typically much smaller than other brewing methods, usually just 20~40 ml.
A finer grind, along with the pressurized water, enables quick and efficient extraction, usually in just 20–30 seconds rather than 4~5 minutes (or longer) for immersion or other infusion brew methods
Roasted coffee beans are approximately 28% (by weight) water-soluble. So theoretically you can extract approximately 28% of the coffee bean’s mass in water. In reality this is more in the vicinity of between 18 and 22% and it varies between been coffee types.
* Dark-roasted beans are more soluble because they have been exposed to heat for longer and will also extract more quickly than light-roasted beans.
* Coffees grown at lower elevations also extract more quickly than those grown at higher elevation
Grounds too fine (try a coarser grind)
Extraction too fast (try a slower extraction rate)
Brew time too long (try a shorter brew time)
Watery - lacking notable coffee bean flavours
Grounds too coarse (try a finer grind)
Brew time too short (try a longer brew time)
Acids and salts are more soluble than sugars which is why under-extracted coffee often has a sour and/or salty flavour because the sugars didn't have enough time to properly dissolve.
This usually refers to a coffee-brewing utensil which often uses disposable paper as the filter medium. This traps the loosely collected coffee grinds after allowing water to pass through as extracted coffee liquid.
Coffee filters come in different forms such as 'pour-over' or 'drip' and rely upon gravity to move the water through the coffee grinds unlike an espresso "filter" (the basket) which relies on pressurised water being forced through tightly compressed coffee grinds.
'Filter coffee' tends to be less acidic in taste than espresso.
NOTE 1: Paper filters remove oily components called diterpenes, some organic compounds present in unfiltered coffee which offer anti-inflammatory properties.
NOTE 2: The basket in the group head is also a filter but made of metal, so an espresso has a more 'un-altered' extraction of the coffee compounds.
NOTE 3: There are both white and brown paper filters, brown are un-bleached, white have been beached to make them white!
Your perception of tastes while the coffee is in your mouth.
For example, a coffee might taste mildly of chocolate or caramel.
The flavour of the coffee is separate from its aroma although both are closely associated
The perfect espresso (10/10) is known in barista circles as 'the god shot' because they figure that it's a cup which would taste heavenly to even the most critical consumer.
Creation of a "god shot" is usually only achievable by well seasoned baristas in a commercial cafe setting. Limitations with home brewing equipment, freshness of ingredients and lack of the thousands of hours of on-the-job honed skills, will always make attaining a 'god shot' a far greater challenge for aspiring home baristas.
group head / handle (see also: portafilter)
Sometimes referred to as the brew group or brew head, commonly known simply as the group. This is where the portafilter is attached to extract espresso coffee.
Coffee grounds are fully submersed in water. The water then extracts the coffee over time.
Probably the most common immersion brewing method is the French press although there are many variations on this method.
Immersion brewing is the coffee industry’s standard quality evaluation technique known as "cupping".
Nearly all immersion brews require filtration. The French Press for example, uses a metal filter which presses all the coffee grinds to the bottom of the press leaving the 'filtered' coffee to be poured off the top of the press.
Infusion brewing involves water constantly flowing through a bed of ground coffee and filter. All drip brewing and some pour-over methods use infusion.
A "naked" portafilter is a portafilter that does not have a spout on the bottom below the basket. This allows inspection to see if there is an even flow of water occurring throughout the tamped coffee to ensure correct tamping is being achieved to avoid of water-flow "bypass" which causes irregular (over/under) extraction of coffee in different parts of the basket
Ref: For more detail
Coffees that are roasted separately and blended afterwards. Omni blends exhibit characteristics of both light AND dark coffees. They are great for a second cup or afternoon blend.
Percolators heat water forcing it up and onto a basket/strainer containing the coffee grinds.
The water filters down through the coffee grinds. This process cycles water through the grounds multiple times and can result in “over-extracted” coffee unless the percolation process is carefully monitored. Some people even time the process so as to get more repeatable flavour.
portafilter (see also: naked portafilter ! )
also known as a group handle attaches to the group head of semi-automatic and piston-driven espresso machines, and carries a tamped puck of coffee grounds within its basket.
"pulling a shot" (see also: shot and dose)
Generally consists of the following steps:
Grind the beans
Dose the coffee
Settle the grounds
Clear the grounds
Tamp the grounds
Lock portafilter to the group head
Extract the coffee brew
see brew ratio above
see abbreviations above
shot (see also: dose and yield)
single / regular / normale / espresso
A traditionally brewed espresso shot was about 7 grams of finely ground coffee
extracted/pulled into a 1-ounce(oz)/28.34g drink [approx. a 30 ml shot]
With the more recent 'Third Wave' movement the normale shot is now usually considered to have a ratio of 1:2 ... or at-least be within the range of 1:1.5 to 1:2.5 ratio ... so Updosing to 12~14 grams coffee per 1oz/28g shot has become commonplace
[or more commonly 18~21 grams in a 1.5oz/42.5g pull]
double / doppio
A Italian-conventional double shot will be 14 gram of coffee
pulled into 2-oz [approx. 60 ml ] drink
There is no real standard for a "double" espresso as it varies widely in interpretation. A double can be virtually anything pulled with a double (14 gram) or triple (21 gram) basket in a size range of 14 to 115 grams of liquid espresso!
short / ristretto
A "Ristretto" a.k.a. "restricted" shot is usually considered to have a ratio of 1:1 or be within the 1.1 to 1:1.5 ratio
long / lungo
A "Lungo" a.k.a. "long" usually considered to have a ratio of 1:3 with anything in the 1:2.5 to 1:4+ ratio considered acceptable
Extracted coffee typically contains the following water-soluble compounds:
Caffeine - which has a bitter taste
Acids - which will give the coffee sour and/or sweet flavours, like citrus, berries, grapes or similar
Lipids and fats - which will alter the viscosity of the coffee
Note: Paper filters remove some of the oils and lipids from the coffee.
Sugars - give sweetness and increase viscosity
Carbohydrates - also increase viscosity as well as bitterness
Tamping squeezes the air from between the coffee grinds to create a bed of coffee with even density so there’s no ‘easy paths' for the water to pass through the grinds. This ensures the water flows through the entire mass of grinds as evenly as possible and avoids different parts of the coffee grinds being over- or under-extracted and in return provides the most even coffee extraction possible.
By tamping the grinds to ensure even extraction, the extraction quality and taste then depend more on the grind size than on the way the water can pass through the different areas of the grinds.
Describing coffee flavours is difficult because it's often hard to describe the multitude of distinct tastes and smells our senses can perceive. Gourmet Coffee Lovers have published on their site, a dedicated dictionary of coffee terms listing over 70 terms used to describe coffee taste
known as the 5th taste, it is word from Japanese which can be translated as "pleasant savory taste". It hits the back of your throat and leaves you craving more. It is "deliciousness"
Updosing increases the amount of coffee above the standard 7~9 grams per 1oz/28g [30 ml] shot by a factor of 1.8~2.0, to supply 12~14 grams per shot and is often extracted as 18~21g in a 1.5oz [44 ml] pull
The state of being thick, sticky, and semi-fluid in consistency.
A fluid with low viscosity flows easily
Volatile compounds are mainly created by chemical transformations during the roasting process and there are over 1,000 volatile compounds in coffee after roasting.
Only a small number of these contribute to the perceived aroma.
Some researchers suggest that there are only around 20–30 individual volatiles which give coffees their distinctions.
One scientific analysis*1 of twenty-five batches of Arabica and Robusta species sampled from 13 countries, provided measurements of 50 such compounds, while just 37 compounds are considered the primary contributors to coffee individuality
Volatile compounds in roasted coffee are mainly represented by aldehydes, ketones, alcohols, esters, pyrazines, furans, acids, nitrogen-containing compounds and volatile phenolic compounds
The most delicate and flavoursome volatile compounds are lost with even minimal exposure to the moisture in the air because moisture causes those aromatic compounds to oxidise and destroys the fine tastes.
*1 For full analysis details refer to the source:
Nicola Caporaso, Martin B. Whitworth, Chenhao Cui, Ian D. Fisk,
Variability of single bean coffee volatile compounds of Arabica and robusta roasted coffees analysed by SPME-GC-MS, Food Research International, Volume 108, 2018, Pages 628-640,
ISSN 0963-9969, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.foodres.2018.03.077.
yield (see also: dose and shot)
The weight of liquid espresso extracted (in grams of liquid).