I’ve attempted to make this as complete a list as possible. If there is a term or word that I’ve left out (besides the names of cups of coffee) please leave a comment and I’ll be sure to add it to the glossary.

You can also navigate the list by using the navigation letters below:



Acerbric – A word used to describe a taste fault in the brew. It results in a sour or acrid sensation on the tongue.

Acid – This is a normal characteristic of Arabica coffees. Experts normalize acidity with three types of classifications: 1. Naturable desirable: acid 2. Natural undesirable: acerbric 3. Undesirable: puckery characteristics.

Acidity – Coffee that is high acidity is referred to as acidy. This has nothing to do with actual pH values. Rather, it refers to how bright, tart, or fruity the flavor profile is. You may also see the words dry, sharp, or vibrant used in place of acidity.

Acrid – Taste noted by piercing sour sensations on the posterior sides of the tongue. It is caused by a higher concentration of sour acids and salts.

Aftertaste – Also referred to as the finish. It’s the taste of the coffee vapors that are released after swallowing.

Alkaline – Term used to describe the dry sensation towards the back of the tongue. Can often be referred to as bitter but not necessary used with a negative connotation. Most often seen in dark roasts.

Arabica – Most popular coffee bean produced. Noted for its rich flavor and body.

Aroma – Gases released from brewed coffee as they are inhaled through the nose. Aroma can’t be separated from flavor as acidy coffees smell acidy and richly flavored coffees smell richly flavored. High fleeting notes are experienced in the nose as well as subtle floral notes.

Astringent – Term used to describe a salty sensation on the anterior sides of the tongue. Acids can cause astringency and is classified as an undesirable.


Baggy – Refers to an off taste in weakly roasted coffee. Often a result of improper storage.

Baked – Tainted taste and odor that gives the coffee an insipid taste. It’s a result of roasting with too little heat over a long period of time.

Balanced – To generalize, a “balanced” coffee means that no single quality overpowers the other.

Basic Tastes – Sweet (sucrose), sour (tartaric acid), salt (sodium chloride), and bitter (quinine).

Bitter – This is a basic taste produced by the alkaloids (quinine, caffeine, and others) in the beans. It is perceived in the back of the tongue and is desirable to an extent.

Black Beans – Refers to dead coffee beans that drop from the trees before they’re harvested. They are used as a unit for counting imperfections in some coffee grading systems.

Bland – Coffee that lacks flavor characteristics.

Body – Body is the sense of the coffee that corresponds to a certain consistency. Terms like heavy, rich, and thick are often used to describe the perceived sensations in the mouth during and after ingestion.

Bouquet – The total aromatic profile released by gases and vapors to the nose.

Brackish – An undesirable salty taste sensation. A result of inorganic material left after evaporation from the brew due to excessive heat after the brewing process.

Bready – A taste that results from coffee that hasn’t been roasted long enough to bring out flavor oils.

Brew – Refers to the method of coffee preparation.

Bright – Defer to acidity.

Briny – Coffee that has been over-roasted.

Buttery – A higher level of suspended oily material in the coffee. A result of high coffee-to-water brew ratios and higher levels of fat in the beans.


Caramel – This is an aromatic sensation created by a set of sugar carboyl compounds found in coffee’s nose. They resemble sensations of candy or syrup.

Carbony – This is an aromatic sensation created by a set of heterocyclic compounds found coffee’s aftertaste. It produces tastes of creosote or a burnt substance.

Caustic – A bad taste sensation. Characterized as a burning or sour sensation on the posterior sides of the tongue. This is caused by the alkaloids increasing the sourness of the acids.

Chaff – These are small brown fragments from the innermost skin of the coffee fruit. Roasting will cause these bits to lift off the bean.

Chemical – A chemical flavor like formaldehyde.

Chicory – A complex sweet and bitter taste. It is characteristic of the root of the chicory plant.

Chocolaty – This is an aromatic created by a set of pyrazine compounds found in coffee’s aftertaste. They resemble sensations of unsweetened chocolate of vanilla.

Clean – Without off-flavor.

Common – Average quality.

Complexity – Describes flavor that shifts from multiple desirable sensations.

Cooked – Instant coffee treated at too high a temperature.

Coarse – A rough sensation on the tongue. Also used to describe a larger grind of roasted coffee beans.

Creamy – Moderate levels of suspended oily material in the coffee. A result of pronounced levels of fat in the beans.


Dark – This is a roasting term referring to dark brown beans with a shiny surface. Roasted longer than light and medium roasts.

Decaffeination – Process of removing most of the caffeine from green coffee beans. Beans are decaffeinated through one of four methods: Swiss water process, CO2 process, or Direct and indirect solvents.

Delicate – A taste sensation characterized by sweet-subtle notes just past the tip of the tongue. These are a result of the lowest combination of sugars and salts that can be easily broken up by other taste sensations.

Depth – This is a highly subjective term that describes the power behind certain taste sensations. Usually described as an echoing power due to the way certain coffees open up and support their sensations.

Dirty – A literal dirty flavor. Not to be associated with earthy.

Dull – Similar to the term flat. In this case, the coffee offers an impression of roundness but lacks certain character.


Earthy – Described by an odor taint in coffee beans. It results in a dirt-like taste sensation. A product of when the fats in the beans absorb organic material from the ground in the drying process.


Fair Trade Certified – Trans Fair USA is an independent non-proift organization that monitors and certifies fair trade products in the US. Fair Trade raises incomes and living standards for small coffee farmers overseas. It also helps to protect the environment.

Fermented – This is a taste fault in coffee beans that produces a sour sensation on the tongue. During the drying process, an enzyme in the green coffee beans changes the sugars to acids.

Fine – Coffee that offers good, positive characteristics.

Finish – This is a term describing the aftertaste that lingers on the palate after the coffee is spit out or swallowed. It is in part a reflection of the body.

Flat – This is an odor taint in the coffee bean or brew. It means that a limited amount of gases and vapors are present. Aromatic compounds can leave the beans as part of the staling process.

Flavor – This is truly an ambiguous term. For instance, acidity, body, and aroma all have something to do with describing flavor. Some coffees are fuller and richer, others offer a more acidy tang that dominates the flavor profile.

Floral – This is an aromatic sensation reminiscent of flowers.

Foul – This is a strong unpleasant defective flavor.

French Roast – This means that the bean is roasted high enough to bring the natural oil of the coffee to the surface. French roast is a medium to dark roast.

Fruity – This is an aromatic sweet sensation reminiscent of citrus fruit, or a dry sensation reminiscent of berry fruit.

Full – This is an intensity description of bouquet that indicates gases have a strong presence.


Grassy – This is an odor taint to coffee beans that offers a distinct herbal character that’s similar to freshly mowed green grass. It is a result of nitrogen compounds in green beans while the cherries are maturing.


Hard – This is a coffee taste characterized by stinging or sour sensations on the sides of the tongue. Caused by a higher percentage of sour acids and a small percentage of sugars and salts.

Harsh – An acrid sensation that’s also bitter and disagreeable. Typically found in poor quality robusta coffee beans.

Heavy – A medium-high level of suspended solids in the brewed coffee.

Herby – An aromatic sensation that’s  reminiscent of onion or green vegetables.

Hidey – An odor taint that gives coffee beans a leather-like odor. It is a result of fats breaking down in the beans due to an excessive amount of heat in the drying process. Usually when dried by a mechanical dryer.


Insipid – A taste taint that gives a brew a lifeless character. It is a result of oxygen and moisture penetrating the bean fibers after roasting.

Intense – A qualitative metric for the number and relative strengths of gases and vapors present in the bouquet of the coffee.

Italian Roast – This is a term applied to coffee that has been roasted darker/longer than French Roast.


Light – A lower level of suspended solid material in the brewed coffee.


Medium Roast – These are coffee beans roasted to the American norm. It is also known as the light french roast.

Mellow – This is a coffee taste sensation created as the salts and sugars combine to increase the sweetness of the coffee.

Mild – A coffee taste sensation characterized by a tingle just past the tip of the tongue. Caused by a high concentration of sugar and salts.

Medicinal – This a detrimental taste sensation caused by alkaloids increasing the sourness of the acids without any taste modulation of sweetness.

Moldy – Coffee can acquire a moldy taste if stored improperly. It can also occur during the pulping and cleaning of the green beans.

Muddy – A large quantity of suspended particles in the coffee beverage.


Neutral – This is a coffee taste characterized by the absence of a predominant taste sensation. This is caused by a higher concentration of salts that neutralize the acids and sugars. The salt concentration still isn’t enough to offer a salty sensation either.

Nippy – A coffee taste that’s characterized by a sweet nipping sensation at the tip of the tongue. This is caused by a large portion of the acids being sour.

Nutty – This is an aromatic sensation that is characterized by poor quality beans. They offer a peanut flavor.


Oily – This term denotes coffee that has an oily taste due to a high degree of roasting.

Old – This is a roasted coffee that has been left for too long. As a result, the aroma and flavor are negatively impacted.

Organic – Organically grown coffee is required to be certified by an international agency. The coffee must be grown without synthetic chemical fertilizers, pesticides, or herbicides. Typically, organic coffee will cost more as a result of strict guidelines and lower yields.


Piquant – A taste characterized by a prickling sensation on the tip of the tongue. It is caused by a higher than average amount of acids that are sweet rather than sour.

Pungent – Term used to describe a full-bodied, aggressive coffee.

Papery – This is a taste taint that results from either coffee being packaged in paper bags or prepared with poor quality paper filters.

Point – A coffee with desirable characteristics of flavor and body.

Poor – A coffee with a common flavor.

Pulping – This is the first step after picking the coffee cherries with the wet method. It involves removing the outer skin. Machines rub away the pulp without crushing the beans themselves.

Pyrolysis – This describes the temperature (around 240C/465F) at which chemical changes cause the roasting coffee beans to emit their own heat. This increases the temperature of the roasting chamber.


Rich – This is an intensity descriptor that details the gases and vapors being highly pronounced.

Richness – This refers to body and flavor. It describes a desirable fullness in the brew.

Robusta – A type of coffee bean often found in instant coffee. It’s noted for being higher in caffeine and being bitter. It is also less aromatic and features less acid than Arabica.

Rancid – This is a taste fault in the coffee brew that offers a displeasing taste. It’s caused by the oxidation of the fats.

Roasty – Strength of the natural components of the bean that are modified by roasting.


Sharp – A coffee taste sensation that’s created as the acids combine with the salts to increase the saltiness of the brew.

Spicy – This is an aromatic sensation in coffee’s aftertaste that produces an aroma reminiscent of cinnamon or clove.

Strong – Coffee that offers a pungent impression in the cup.

Sweet – A basic taste comprised of a solution of sugars, glycols, alcohols, and amino acids.

Salt – A basic taste comprised of a solution of chlorides, iodides, sulfates, bromides, nitrates, and sulfates of potassium and lithium.

Scorched – This is an odor taint that gives the brew an aftertaste of phenol. This is a result of applying too much heat and charring the bean during the roasting process.

Sour – A basic taste comprised of a solution of tartaric acid, citric acid, or malic acid. It should not be confused with the natural acidity found in some coffee varieties.

Stale – This is a taste fault that is undesirable. It is a result of moisture and oxygen penetrating the bean. It occurs after the roasting process as CO2 is replaced with oxygen.


Tainted – Describes coffee that features a defective characteristic like flavor.

Tangy – A taste characterized by a sour sensation on the sides of the tongue. It is caused by a higher than average percentage of sugars, offering a near fruity taste.

Thick – A higher level of suspended solids in the coffee. Characteristic of espresso-style coffee.

Thin – A lower level of suspended solids in the coffee. The brew will lack body and usually isn’t concentrated.

Tart – A taste characterized by a puckering or sour sensation on the sides of the tongue. A result of having a large number of sour acids.

Twisty – Coffee with an unreliable set of characteristics. Meaning each cup will taste different.


Vapid – An odor taint in coffee. It occurs in the staling process after roasting and results in a loss of organic material that would normally be present in a gaseous state.


Winey – A taste sensation that is created as the sugars combine with the acids to reduce the sourness.

Watery – A relatively low level of suspended oily material in the coffee.

Weak – Can mean a variety of things ranging from low caffeine content, lack of body, and bitterness.

Woody – A taste fault that gives coffee an undesirable wood-like character. A result of the green beans losing organic material during storage.

Shaun Jennings
Written By
Shaun Jennings

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