Coffee ABC: An Alphabet of Terms About Our Favourite Drink

Coffee ABC: An alphabet of terms about our favourite drink

Coffee ABC: An alphabet of terms about our favourite drink

When you start learning how to read and write, you first learn the alphabet. As and Bs and Cs, simple words and sentences are used as an introduction to a huge world of paragraphs, texts, literature, books and encyclopedias. Same goes for pretty much anything in life – it all starts with something simple like an alphabet. So, let’s get to know coffee and coffee culture with an alphabet of terms about this awesome drink we owe pretty much our entire career to! Yep. Coffee, we salute you.

We at Your Coffee Break teamed up with Gimoka Coffee UK to create a fabulous list of coffee terms (check out the infograhic below that illustrates the key terms for each letter). Of course, there are much more coffee words out there, but we picked the most important and our favourite ones, for you.


Arabica – 70% of world’s coffee is arabica. It’s the earliest cultivated species and most widely grown. It is of superior quality compared to other main coffee species and all specialty and fancy coffees are arabica.
Americano – Espresso with added hot water
Aroma – The smell of freshly brewed, hot cup of coffee, one of the main categories professional tasters rate when evaluating coffee.
Acidity – This quality characteristic of coffee has nothing to do with pH factors. Coffee that has been grown on higher attitudes has this characteristic. It makes coffee refreshing.

Barista – Coffee bar operator, known these days as ‘that person who mishears your name at Starbucks’.
Blend – A mixture of at least two different coffees.
Batch Roaster – A machine that roasts a batch of coffee at a time.
Bitterness – One of the primary taste sensations and something most people notice first when trying coffee, due to caffeine that gives it that taste. When coffee is too bitter, it hasn’t been brewed properly.
Brewing – The process of preparing coffee for drinking. Coffee needs to be grinded and can be prepared in several ways – boiling, dripping, steeping, espresso way.

Caffè Latte – Espresso combined with three times as much hot milk, with a layer of froth on the top.
Caffeine – An alkaloid responsible for bitter taste of coffee and its stimulating effect.
Cappuccino – Similar to caffe latte, one serving of espresso topped with hot milk and froth. Can also be prepared with hot water instead of milk.
Cold brew – The process of leaving coffee grounds to rest in cold or room temperature water for an extended period.
Capsules – Plastic or aluminium package filled with ground coffee, designed for use with a specific coffee capsule machine that prepares enough coffee for a single portion.

Drip Method – A method of preparing coffee where hot water settles and drips slowly through a bed of ground coffee.
Dark Roast – A coffee roasted darker than traditional roast.
Decaffeination Processes – Removing excess caffeine from coffee. Coffee beans are decaffeinated while still green. There are three different processes used today: the traditional or European process, the water-only or Swiss-Water Process, and the CO./water or Sparkling Water Process. All are consistently successful in removing all but a trace (2% to 3%) of the resident caffeine.

Earthiness – An exotic taste of coffee that is cause by contact of wet coffee with earth while drying. Coffees from Indonesian regions have that taste. Some coffee tasters think of it as defect.
Espresso – Term that describes a way of roasting coffee and a method of preparing it, which is what most people know. When making espresso, hot water is forced under big pressure through a compressed layer of finely ground coffee. Espresso can be combined with milk and froth to create many different coffee drinks.

Fair Traded Coffee – Coffee that has been purchased from farmers at a “fair” price as defined by international agencies. The extra paid these farmers under fair trade arrangements is extremely modest, by the way.
Filter Method – Any brewing method in which water filters through a bed of ground coffee. Most of people know this method by a paper filter that separates grounds from coffee.
French Press –  Brewing method that separates spent grounds from brewed coffee by pressing them to the bottom with a mesh plunger.

Green Coffee – Un-roasted coffee beans, with higher level of chlorogenic acid compared to roasted coffee beans. The acid in green coffee is thought to have health benefits for heart disease, diabetes, weight loss, and others.
Good Cup Quality – A term used by coffee tasters, represents coffee with good, positive all-round characteristics.

Hard Bean – Term that describes coffees that have been grown at high altitudes. These beans mature slower and are hard. Coffee made from hard beans is more acidy and has more flavour.
Heavy Roast – A very dark roasted coffee, also known as French Roast and Spanish Roast. May range in colour from dark brown to nearly black.

Italian Roast – A darker roast of coffee, usually dark brown in colour and rich and bittersweet in flavour, but may range in colour to almost black and in flavour to nearly burned.
Intensity – A qualitative measure of the number and relative strengths of the gases present in the bouquet of the coffee.

Jamaica Blue Mountain™ – A famous and celebrated coffee from above 3,000 feet elevation in the Blue Mountain District of Jamaica. Generally a balanced, low-toned Caribbean coffee.

Kenya – One of the world’s best known coffee producers. Kenya coffees have deep, winy acidity, resonant cup presence, and complex fruit and berry tones. Of the world’s great coffees, Kenyan probably is the most consistent in quality and most widely available.

Light Roast – Coffee roasted to much lighter degree, grain-like in taste, with a sharp, almost sour acidity.

Macchiato – A cup of espresso stained with a small quantity of hot frothed milk, or a moderately tall glass of hot frothed milk stained with espresso.
Mature Coffee – Coffee that has been held in warehouses for two to three years. Mature coffee has been held longer than old crop coffee, but not as long as aged or vintage coffee.
Mocha – Single-origin coffee from Yemen; also a drink combining chocolate and coffee. It is the world’s oldest cultivated coffee, distinguished by its distinctively rich, winy acidity and intriguing nuance.

Natural Coffee – Term describing coffee processed by removing the husk or fruit after the coffee fruit has been dried, also known as dry-processed coffee.
Quality of natural coffee depends on how carefully the picking and drying has been performed.

Open-Pot Method – A method of preparing coffee using an open pot. Ground coffee is steeped and the grains are then left to settle or strained.
Organic Coffee – Coffee that has been grown and processes without any pesticides, herbicids or similar chemicals. It needs to have a special certificate given by third-party agency.

Pyrolysis – The chemical breakdown, during roasting, of fats and carbohydrates into the oils that provide the aroma and most of the flavour of coffee.
Parchment Coffee – Term that describes wet-processed coffee shipped with the dried parchment skin still on the bean. The parchment is removed before roasting.
Pulping – First step after picking in preparing coffee by the wet method. It consists of removing the outer skin. Machines rub away the pulp without crushing the beans.

Quakers – Defective coffee beans that fail to roast properly, remaining light-coloured.

Richness – A satisfying fullness in flavour, body, or acidity.
Regular Roast – Also known and referred to as American Roast, coffee roasted to medium brown colour.
Robusta – A type of coffee, high in caffeine and bitter. Generally less acid and less aromatic than arabica coffee. Often slightly woody. 

Soft Bean – Term used to describe coffees grown at low altitudes. Beans mature faster and are lighter. Coffees from soft beans are less acidy and less flavourful in general.
Sun Grown – Coffee grown under the light of sun, not using any kind of shade canopy. This is how Arabica coffee is traditionally grown.
Strong –  A term describing coffee that is rich in flavour. Developed by roasting or having a consistent mouthfeel.
Stewed  – Term describing the taste of coffee that has been cooled and then reheated, and lost its initial aroma.

Turkish Coffee – A method of preparing grounded, unfiltered coffee. Finely ground coffee beans are roasted and simmered in a pot with or without sugar, served in a cup where the grounds are allowed to settle.
Tipping – Charring the end of the coffee bean during the roasting process, by applying an intense heat too quickly.

Unclean – A term describing coffee that has an off-flavour, a flavour slightly similar to fermenting but without the pungent, rotting taste.

Vintage Coffee – Coffee held in warehouses for several years, sometimes deliberately, sometimes by accident. Such aging reduces acidity and increases body.
Varietal Coffee – A term describing an unblended coffee from a single country, region, and crop.
Vacuum-Filter Method – A method of preparing coffee where the brewing water is drawn through the ground coffee using partial vacuum.
Vietnam – World’s second largest coffee producer. They mostly grow Robusta type of coffee and most of the coffee is exported as green beans.

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

Yemen – A country producing the world’s oldest cultivated coffee, Yemen Mocca, a single-origin coffee from the southwestern tip of the Arabian peninsula, bordering the Red Sea.

Zimbabwe –  Zimbabwe coffee is ranked by some as second in quality in Africa, next to Kenya. It exhibits excellent cup presence and the vibrant, winy acidity characteristic of East Africa coffees.

Special thanks to Gimoka Coffee UK for partnering with us on this post! 

Charlotte Giver

Charlotte is the founder and editor-in-chief at Your Coffee Break magazine. She studied English Literature at Fairfield University in Connecticut whilst taking evening classes in journalism at MediaBistro in NYC. She then pursued a BA degree in Public Relations at Bournemouth University in the UK. With a background working in the PR industry in Los Angeles, Barcelona and London, Charlotte then moved on to launching Your Coffee Break from the YCB HQ in London’s Covent Garden and has been running the online magazine for the past 10 years. She is a mother, an avid reader, runner and puts a bit too much effort into perfecting her morning brew.