Characteristics and Roasts

    Acerbic

    A taste fault in the coffee brew giving an acrid and sour sensation on the tongue. The result of long-chained organic compounds due to excessive heat during the holding process after brewing.

    Acid

    A normal characteristic of arabica coffees, particularly of high-growth varieties. Some strains are sought for this particular taste (Kenya), which is influenced by the degree of roasting and does not seem to be objectively expressed by pH measurement. Experts recognize three types of acidity: 1) natural desirable: acid, 2) natural undesirable: sour, and 3) undesirable: process acidity (sometimes sought as a substitute for natural acidity but generally has a biting, puckery flavor.

    Acidity

    A tart, tangy taste experienced mainly on the tip and side of the tongue. Acidity is the liveliness in coffee. In everyday conversation, "acidity" may sound unappealing, but in coffee terms it's actually a highly desirable quality. Not to be confused with the ph level, "palate acidity" is the brightness of flavor -- without it, coffee tastes flat and dull. All good coffees have some acidity, but to varying degree. In general, the darker the coffee is roasted the less acidity it will have.

    Acidy

    A primary coffee taste sensation created as acids in the coffee combine with the sugars to increase the overall sweetness of the coffee. Found most often in washed arabica coffees grown at elevations about 4,000 feet. A term used to describe a coffee in which this desirable cup characteristic occurs. Particularly desirable in Brazils and found in most Milds. Colombians have both acid and body. An acidy flavor is sharp and pleasing to the taste as opposed to sour, sourish, or fermented. It denotes a taste that has sharpness, snap, and life, compared to a sweet, heavy, mellow flavor. Old crops are never acidy.

    Acrid

    A secondary coffee taste sensation characterized by a predominantly piercing sour sensation on the posterior sides of the tongue. Caused by higher-than-normal percentage of sour acids and a high concentration of salts. Typified by an unwashed Rio coffee from Brazil.

    Aftertaste

    The result of vapors from the coffee beverage that linger on the palate after the liquid had been ingested or expectorated.

    American Roast

    Coffee roasted to a medium brown color.

    Aroma

    The fragrance that is released from brewed coffee. It will tell you how fresh your coffee is, as well as some of its traits.

    Aromatic

    Designates a coffee that fully manifests the aroma characteristic of its nature and origin.

    Astringent

    A secondary coffee taste sensation characterized by a predominantly searing, salty sensation on the anterior sides of the tongue. Caused by acids increasing the saltiness. Typified by an unwashed Indonesian robusta coffee. Acids can cause astringency. In regard to coffee, astringency is identified with undesirable acidity.

    Baggy

    An off-taste often observed in cups from weakly roasted coffees that have been stored for a long time in unsuitable conditions.

    Baked

    A taste and odor taint that gives the coffee brew a flat bouquet and insipid taste. The result of the roasting process proceeding with too little heat over too long a period. Generally unpleasant characteristic of having an over-baked taste in an over-heated coffee. Ranks in the following order of intensity: cooked, baked or burnt.

    Balanced

    Tasting term applied to coffees for which no single characteristic overwhelms others.

    Basic Tastes

    Sweet, sour, salt, and bitter. Characterized respectively by sucrose, tartaric acid, sodium chloride, and quinine.

    Beany

    Specific aroma of an insufficiently roasted coffee that has not been able to develop its full aroma.

    Bitter

    One of the four basic tastes, it is detected on the back of the tongue. A sharp biting taste, usually affected by the roasting and brewing procedures. A certain degree of bitterness adds to the fullness of coffee's flavor; also, it is a prominent aspect of very dark-roasted coffee. It is unpleasant in high degree, especially if due to over-extraction.

    Bland

    Lacking coffee flavor and characteristics. A primary coffee taste sensation created as the sugars in the coffee combine with the salts to reduce the overall saltiness of the coffee. Found most often in washed arabica coffees grown at elevations below 2,000 feet, such as a Guatemalan. Bland coffees range from soft to neutral.

    Body

    The viscosity or "thickness" of a coffee. Body can be described as "mouth feel" - quite literally, how a coffee feels in your mouth. It can range from full to light to thin. Light roasts have less and dark roasts have more.

    Bouquet

    The overall aromatic profile of the fragrance, aroma, nose and aftertaste.

    Brackish

    A taste fault giving the coffee brew a salty and alkaline sensation. The result of salts and alkaline inorganic material left after evaporation of water from the brew due to excessive heat after brewing.

    Bready

    Bready taste manifests in coffees that have not been roasted long enough or at a high enough temperature to bring out the flavor oils.

    Bright

    Tangy acidity is often described as bright.

    Briny

    The salty sensation caused by excessive heat after brewing. You’ll recognize it as the familiar smell of “truck stop” coffee.

    Buttery

    Describes a full - bodied coffee with an oily and rich mouth feel. Most often a characteristic of high coffee-to-water ratio brews.

    Caramelized

    Corresponds to the taste acquired by roasted beans that have been dipped in sugar, dextrin syrup, or molasses before roasting. Also perceived in spray-dried instant coffees.

    Caramelly

    A sweet note reminiscent of candy or syrup produced by caramelizing sugar without burning it.

    Carbony

    An aromatic roasted or burnt taste, found in very dark-roasted coffees.

    Caustic

    A detrimental coffee taste sensation characterized by burning, sour sensation on the posterior sides of the tongue. Caused by alkaloids increasing the sourness of the acids in combination with a high percentage of salts.

    Celebes

    Rich flavor, light body, low acid. Also referred to as Sulawesi.

    Chocolaty

    A flavor reminiscent of unsweetened chocolate or cocoa powder.

    Cinnamon Roast

    Given its name due to its color. Beans light roasted are very mild and sweet with pronounced nut-like flavor and high acidity.

    Coarse

    A coffee that is rough on the tongue.

    Complex

    A taste or aroma with many aspects (as opposed to simple).

    Cooked

    A typical taste of an instant coffee treated at too high a temperature.

    Creosol

    A supplemental coffee taste sensation characterized by a predominantly scratching sensation at the back of the tongue. Caused by the high percentage of phenolic compounds created by a dark roast.

    Cup Character

    A means of describing a cup of coffee that includes the coffee's aroma, fragrance, acidity, body, sweetness, after taste and freshness.

    Dark Roast

    Surface is dark brown and lightly coated with oil; burnt notes become noticeable, acidity low.

    Delicate

    A secondary coffee taste sensation characterized by fragile sweet-subtle sensation just past the tip of the tongue. Caused by the lowest possible combination of sugars and salts that still produce a sweet cast to the taste, a combination easily broken up by other taste sensations. Typified by a washed New Guinea arabica coffee.

    Dirty

    Literally a dirty flavor, not earthy or musty.

    Dry

    A coffee with a parching or drying finish. It can also be called astringent.

    Dull

    A coffee is dull if it gives an impression of roundness but at the same time lacks character. Dull comes close to the meaning of flat.

    Earthiness

    Depending on the context, it can be a taste defect or a desirable flavor with an aromatic fresh soil or wet earth characteristic.

    Earthy

    An odor taint in the coffee beans that produces a dirt-like taste sensation. Results when fats in the coffee beans absorb organic materials from the ground in the drying process during harvesting. Also referred to as dirty and ground. The undesirable odor and taste of freshly turned soil is found in low-graded batches. Due to poor preparation conditions and botanical origins of the green coffee. Reminiscent of potato flavor also found in instant coffees.

    Exotic

    Refers to a coffee with unusual aromatic and flavor notes, such as floral, berry, and sweet spice-like qualities. Coffees from East Africa and Indonesia often have such characteristics.

    Fermented

    A taste fault in the coffee beans producing a highly displeasing sour sensation on the tongue. The result of enzyme activity in the green coffee beans changing the sugars to acids in the drying process during harvesting.

    Finish

    The sensory experience of coffee just as it is swallowed.

    Flat

    A lifeless coffee lacking in any acidity.

    Flavored Coffees

    Coffees that in their roasted, whole-bean form have been mixed with flavoring agents. Floral Reminiscent of flowers.

    Flavour

    Is the combination of aroma, acidity, and body. It can be balanced, or dominated by one quality. Flavor can also be used to describe the other notes that are found in coffee such as chocolate, fruit, or flowers.

    Flavour Defects

    Unpleasant flavor characteristics caused by problems during picking, processing, drying, sorting, storage, or transportation. Harshness and sourness are two of the most widely used negative epithets. Harshly flavored coffees are unpleasantly bitter, sharp, or irritating. Terms like grassy, hidey, barnyard fermented, musty, and Rioy (medicinal) describe even more dramatically undesirable flavor characteristics.

    Frac Pack

    Coffee packed in small soft foil bags which typically make only one 10 cup pot. Fracs (short for fractional) are the most common package type within the food service industry. Some are also sold in the grocery channel. Typically shelf life is only 3 to 4 months so it is common that product tastes stale when purchased.

    Fragrance

    As a specialized term in cupping, or sensory evaluation of coffee, fragrance describes the scent of dry coffee immediately after it has been ground, but before it is brewed.

    French Roast

    Dark roasted coffee that tastes bittersweet. The bean is roasted high enough to bring the natural oil of the coffee to the surface.

    Fresh

    Opposite of stale. Applies to roasted coffees. It usually applies to recently manufactured coffees and teas and those which have not been on the shelf so long as to become stale.

    Fruity

    Indicates a sweet, aromatic flavor like citrus or berries,

    Full

    A prefix to good characteristics such as acidity, body, or range of flavors, to indicate a strong character.

    Full-City Roast

    Term for coffee brought to degrees of roast somewhat darker that the traditional American norm, but lighter that the classic dark roast.

    Grassy

    A odor taint giving the coffee beans a distinct herbal character similar to freshly mown alfalfa combined with the astringency of green grass. Created by the prominence of nitrogen compounds in the green beans while the cherries are maturing. Typical taste of unripe beans and of certain freshly harvested coffee batches, corresponding to the beginning of the harvest.

    Harsh

    Unpleasant taste. similar to bitter, charred or earthy. Characteristic often found in Robusta coffee.

    Hawaiian Kona

    A single-origin coffee from the Kona coast of the Island of Hawaii. It displays classic balance, with medium body, good acidity, and rich, complex aroma and flavor.

    Heavy Roast

    Coffee beans roasted to a very dark brown, with a shiny surface; equivalent to Italian Roast.

    Herbal

    An aroma reminiscent of grass, dried herbs or grains, or fresh foliage.

    Hidey

    An odor taint that gives the coffee beans a tallowy and leather-like odor. Result of a breakdown of fats in the coffee beans, due to an excessive amount of heat applied in the drying process during harvesting, usually when dried with a mechanical dryer.

    High Roast

    A term for coffee brought to degrees of roast somewhat darker than the traditional American norm, but lighter than the classic dark roast such as espresso, French, or Italian.

    Insipid

    A taste taint giving the coffee brew a lifeless character, due to a loss of organic material in the coffee bean. Result of oxygen and moisture penetrating the bean fiber after roasting.

    Intensity

    A qualitative measure of the number and relative strengths of the gases and vapors present in the bouquet of the coffee.

    Italian Roast

    A roast of coffee similar to espresso. Usually dark brown in color and rich and bittersweet in flavor, but may range in color to almost black, and in flavor to nearly burned.

    Kenya AA

    Rich and sweet with a hint of black currant. “AA” refers to grade and size of the beans.

    Light Roast

    A coffee brought to a degree of roast of coffee lighter that the traditional American norm. Can be weak and thin.

    Limu

    The market name for a respected floral and fruity, wet-processed coffee from south-central Ethiopia.

    Lively

    A coffee with high palate acidity.

    Medicinal

    A detrimental coffee taste sensation characterized by a penetrating sour sensation on the posterior sides of the tongue. Caused by alkaloids increasing the sourness of the acids without any taste modulation of sweetness.

    Medium Roast

    Coffee beans roasted to the American norm.

    Mild

    A rounded and balanced coffee that is smooth and mellow. Can also be used to describe coffee with lower ph acidity.

    Moldy

    Coffee may acquire a moldy taste if kept in poor conditions. Moldiness also depends on conditions during the pulping and cleaning of green beans.

    Musty

    A pleasant "old" or "cellared" aroma sometimes found in aged coffees.

    Neutral

    A secondary coffee taste characterized by the absence of a predominant taste sensation on any part of the tongue but causing a distinct parching sensation on the sides of the tongue. Caused by a concentration of salts high enough to neutralize both acids and sugars but not enough to provoke a salty sensation. Typified by washed Uganda robusta coffee.

    Nose

    The sensation of the vapors released from brewed coffee as they are exhaled while swallowing. Ranges from caramelly to nutty to malty.

    Nutty

    Reminiscent of freshly roasted peanuts, almonds, hazelnuts, etc.

    Oily

    A term sometimes used to denote a coffee that has a roasted oily taste due to a high degree of roasting or an oily coffee having a greasy but not rancid taste.

    Papua New Guinea

    Rich and tangy coffee with medium body.

    Pungent

    Often describes strong, full flavor that can be very pleasant.

    Rich

    An indicator of a coffee with depth and complexity of flavor, full body, and an overall satisfying taste.

    Roasty

    A bittersweet smoky or carbony flavor created by dark-roasting coffee. It can sometimes be described as the taste of the roast, rather than an inherent flavor of the bean.

    Scorched

    An unpleasant bitter or acrid taste, created by brewing coffee with boiling water.

    Sharp

    A primary coffee taste sensation created as acids in the coffee combine with salts to increase the overall saltiness. Characteristic found most often in unwashed robusta coffee. Sharp coffee ranges from rough to astringent.

    Smoky

    A naturally occurring aroma of wood smoke, or a synonym for roasty.

    Smooth

    A coffee low in palate acidity.

    Sour

    A primary coffee taste sensation created as acids in the coffee combine with salts to increase overall saltiness. Characteristic found most often in unwashed robusta coffees. Soury ranges from hard to acrid.

    Spicy

    Aromatics reminiscent of various spices, detectable either when smelling or tasting coffee. Also, a slightly "hot" sensation in the finish. Sour Not to be confused with acidity. A distinctly sour, rank or rancid taste is a defect, often due to improper processing.

    Stale

    Coffee that has been exposed to oxygen and/or moisture for too long becomes flat and tastes of cardboard.

    Strong

    Coffee giving a pungent impression in the cup, rich in flavor. Developed by roasting or having a consistent mouth feel.

    Sweet

    One of the four basic tastes, detected at the tip of the tongue. A mild coffee with sweet fruity, caramelly, or chocolaty flavors.

    Syrupy

    Sweet, rich, and viscous mouth feel.

    Tainted

    A coffee with a slightly defective flavor.

    Tangy

    A darting sourness, almost fruit-like in nature, related to winey-ness.

    Tanzania

    Clean flavored coffee, brisk acidity.

    Tart

    A secondary coffee taste sensation characterized by a predominantly puckering, sour sensation along the sides of the tongue. Caused by higher-than-normal percentage of sour acids, almost giving the taste a puckering sensation.

    Thin

    A relatively low level of solid material suspended in the coffee beverage. A result of fine particles of bean fiber and insoluble proteins present in imperceptible amounts. Lacks body or substance and is insufficiently concentrated and roasted.

    Tone

    The appearance or color of coffee.

    Varietal Distinction

    A cupping term describing positive characteristics that distinguish a given coffee from coffee from other regions.

    Viennese Roast

    A term for coffee brought to a degree of roast slightly darker than the traditional American norm, but lighter than espresso, French, or Italian. It is less acidy and smoother than the typical American roast, but may display fewer of the distinctive taste characteristics of the original coffee. Viennese roast may also refer to a mixture of beans roasted to a dark brown and beans roasted to the traditional American medium brown.

    Weak

    Coffee that lacks body but is not flat.

    Wild

    A taste fault in the coffee beans characterized by extreme variation between sample cups. Usually marked by unpleasant sourness. Can also describe coffee with extreme flavor characteristics. It can be defect or a positive attribute and denotes odd, racy nuances of flavor and aroma.

    Winy

    Describes a taste reminiscent of wine, or a thick body and mellow quality. Found in acidic coffees.

    Woody

    A taste fault giving the coffee beans a distinct, unpleasant wood-like character. Result of an almost complete loss of organic material in the green beans during storage. Makes coffee unsuitable for commercial purposes. Reminiscent of the odor of dry wood.