Coffee Tasting and Cupping Terminology


When tasting coffee, it’s best to not only know what you taste, but how to describe it. You should know whether the coffee’s aroma, acidity, body and flavor are pleasant or not. Here are some terms you could learn from barista courses or coffee cupping sessions. These are the general criteria used by professional tasters.

Acidity: This is one of the first terms you would learn in any barista training. It may not sound appealing, but acidity is actually something you want in your coffee, to some extent. This is the dry sensation which the coffee creates at the rear of the palate and beneath your tongue edges. Acidity in coffee can be compared to the flavor of wines, in regard to how important it is. Without proper acidity, a coffee tastes flat, but that shouldn’t be mistaken for sour, with is a highly negative flavor trait.

Aroma: Aroma is often hard to differentiate from flavor. After all; without smell, the only tastes we would experience are bitter, salty, sour or sweet. A coffee’s aroma greatly contributes to our perceived taste. Brewed coffee can have subtle nuances that can only be discerned by our sense of smell.

Body: Body is what the coffee feels like while in the mouth. It’s the richness, thickness, heaviness and viscosity felt on your tongue. A great example to help you understand this is the difference between water and milk. The feeling of water on your tongue is far different than the feeling you get from milk. How we perceive body is related to the solids and oils that are extracted from brewing. In general, coffee fromIndonesia has more body than those from Central orSouth America. If you have trouble comparing the body between coffees, just use the milk test. Add milk to each coffee and those with more body will maintain more flavor after dilution.

Flavor: Flavor is how the coffee is perceived by your taste buds. Flavor includes body, acidity, aroma, as well as other components. It’s the homogenization and balance of all these that creates the overall flavor perception.

General Flavor Terminology

  • Richness: Fullness and body
  • Complexity: Perception of being multi-flavored
  • Balance: The presence of multiple taste characteristics, with none overpowering another.

Desired Characteristics

  • Caramel(ly): Syrupy or like candy
  • Chocolaty: A similar aftertaste to unsweetened vanilla or chocolate
  • Delicate: Subtle flavors are perceived by the tip of the tongue (New Guinea Arabica is a great example)
  • Earthy: Soily characteristics, like most Sumatran coffees
  • Fragrant: Aromatic characteristics, from spicy to floral
  • Fruity: Citrus or berry aromatic characteristics
  • Mellow: A smooth taste that lacks acidity
  • Nutty: A roasted nut aftertaste
  • Spicy: Aroma or flavor that reminds of spices
  • Sweet: Devoid of harshness
  • Wild: Common in Ethiopian blends, it means gamey flavor
  • Winy: An aftertaste that reminds of a vintage wine (typical in Yemeni and Kenyan coffees)

Undesirable Characteristics

  • Bitter: Usually caused by over-roasting, bitterness is perceived at the back of your tongue
  • Bland/Soft: Lacking flavor
  • Dead/Flat: Lack of aftertaste, aroma and acidity
  • Dirty/Earthy: A gritty mustiness that almost feels like you are eating dirt
  • Grassy: Flavor and aroma that remind of fresh cut grass
  • Harsh: Raspy, clawing and caustic characteristics
  • Muddy: Dull and thick
  • Musty: A moldy or stuffy smell (This isn’t always a bad thing with aged coffees)
  • Rough: A sensation that feels as though you are eating salt
  • Rubbery: Flavor or aroma which reminds of burnt rubber (found primarily in Robustas that are dry-processed)
  • Sour: A flavor reminiscent of fruit that hasn’t ripened yet
  • Thin: Typically lacking acidity due to under brewing
  • Watery: A lack of viscosity or body