This list may seem a little daunting, but
remember that what you are looking for in a good cup of coffee is
essentially body, aroma and flavor. Choose a coffee that you like and
see what you can detect. Alternatively, try coffee where the taste is
not as it should be, and compare it with a good brew to try to see where
the differences lie.
Acidic : Very desirable coffee
quality, sharpness detected towards front of mouth; denotes quality and
altitudel can be fruity (citrusy, lemony, berry-like. etc) or a pure
tongue-tip numbing sensation (Costa Rica, Kenya, Mexico offer good
Aftertaste / Finish : Flavor /
mouthfeel remaining after coffee has left the mouth, sometimes
surprisingly different from actual coffee taste.
Aromatic : Coffee with intensive
pleasant fragrance (for example Hawaii, Colombia, Jamaica, Sumatra).
Ashy : Coffee with flavor / aroma
of cold fireplace ashes.
Astringent : Mouthfeel
characteristic that "draws" the tongue and tissues, often apparent as
Bitter : Basic flavor sensation
detected at the back of the mouth and soft-palate, often as after-taste,
sometimes desirable to a limited degree (as in dark-roast, espresso).
Not to be confused with acidity.
Blackcurrant : Flavor reminiscent
of blackcurrant or berries; some acidity but with stronger undertones
not found in citrusy, highly acidic coffees; not a negative term.
Body : Signifies the perception of
texture or weight of liquid in the mough; thin or light body can feel
watery ( a few high-grown arabicas); full-bodied means heavy liquor, as
in Sumatra, Java and most robustas.
Broth-like : Pleasant flavor in
some lighter East African coffees similar to clear soup, like bouillon,
often accompanies slightly citrusy flavor.
Caramel : Sweet flavor reminiscent
of caramelized sugar, or, slightly different: candy floss (cotton
Cerealy : Flavor like unsweetened
grain or oatmeal, sometimes found in under-roasted ronusta coffee, bland
and not particularly pleasant.
Cheesy : Rather pungent flavor /
aroma of slightly sour, curdled milk or cheese.
Chemical / Medicinal : Coffee with
unnatural off-flavors, real or reminiscent of tainting.
Chocolatey : Flavor reminiscent of
chocolate which can be found in various crops (some Australian, New
Guinean and Ethiopian, for example)
Citrus : Flavor reminiscent of
citrus fruits die to high acidity; very desirable, denotes quality and
Clean : Pure coffee flavor, no
twists or changes in the mouth, no different after-taste (Costa Rica
sometimes provides good examples).
Dirty : Coffee tasting as if the
beans have been rolled in dirt or soiled.
Dry : A certain type of acidity and
/ or mouthfeel, but not, as in wine, the opposite of sweet; often
accompanies light, or even delicate coffees, such as Mexican, Ethiopian
Dusty : Dry-earth taste and smell,
exactly like dust, though not the same as dirty or earthy.
Earthy : Aroma / flavor reminiscent
of damp black earth, organic, mushroomy, cellar-like (can be found, for
example, in some Javan or Sumatran coffees "gone wrong").
Floral : Coffee beans having a very
fresh, floral, heady aroma, like that of floral-scented perfume.
Fruity : Flavor / aroma often found
in good arabica coffees, reminiscent of a wide range of fruits: citrus,
berries, currants, etc, always accompanied by some degree of acidity;
this is usually positive, but can indicate overripeness or
Gamey : Unusual and interesting
flavor, often found in dry-processed East African coffees (such as
Ethiopian Djimmah), reminiscent of cheesy, but not sour or negative.
Grassy : Green and astringent aroma
with an accompanying taste like a new-mown lawn, sometimes found in
coffees from Malawi and Rwanda.
Green : Aroma / taste of unripe
fruit or plants, as when green stems or leaves are crushed or broken;
can denote under-roasting.
Hard : Flavor, not to be confused
with hard bean. In terms of flavor, hard signifies a brew lacking
sweetness and softness.
Harsh : Strong, unpleasant, sharp
or "edgy" flavor; also used to describe Rio-y, iodine-like flavor.
Hidey : Aroma / taste like animal
hides, uncured leather, or, at best, new leather shoes.
Lemony : Flavor very like mild
lemon found in very acidic coffee, such as that from Kenya.
Light, mild : Light-bodied coffee,
pleasant low-to-medium acidity. Some Mexican, Honduran and Santo
Domingan coffees exhibit these characteristics.
Malty : Coffee flavor very like
malted barley, sometimes in combination with chocolatey, sometimes
Mellow : Soft, with pleasant
Metallic : Sharpness, acidity
slightly gone wrong, Some Nicaraguan coffee, for example, can be overly
Mocha, mokka : Arabica coffee
originally named for the old port of Yemen, now also associated with
Ethiopian Harrar coffee. Nothing to do with chocolate, although coffee
drinks with mocha imply chocolate with coffee.
Musty : Flavor of improper drying,
mildew, generally undesirable.
Neutral : Bland coffee, very low
acidity, not derogatory, as implies no off-tastes; good for blending
(often describes many ordinary Brazilian arabicas).
Nutty : Pleasant flavor reminiscent
of nuts, often peanuts (some Jamaican).
Papery : A taste / aroma exactly
like dry paper, slightly similar to dusty.
Rancid / rotton : The flavor of a
spoiled oily product, as in rancid nuts or rancid olive oil; fairly
disgusting; can cause involuntary gagging.
Rio-y : Iodine, inky flavor from
microbe-tainted beans. Prized for traditional brewing in Turkey, Greece
and Middle East.
Rounded : Cup balance with no
overpowering characteristic, well-balanced; can also mean pleasantly
smooth, without being sharp.
Rubber : Aroma / taste reminiscent
of tyres, garages, often detected in certain robustas, for example.
Sacky : Coffee tainted by improper
storage, flavor / aroma of hemp, possibly damp.
Salty : One of four basic tasting
categories, occurs occasionally in coffee; also can denote presence of
chicory in coffee blend.
Smoky : Aromatic flavor of
woodsmoke, very pleasant attribute sometimes found in certain coffees
such as some from Guatemala and also occasionally some Indonesian
Soft / Strictly soft : Coffee with
low acidity, mellow sweetness, pleasant roof-of-the-mouth easiness
(possibly similar to the feel of Italian red Lumbrusco wine); some
Brazilian Santos for example.
Sour : Undesirable " diry socks"
flavor of over-fermentation.
Spicy : Aroma / taste of spice,
perhaps sweetish or peppery, found in certain coffee, such as those from
Java, Zimbabwe, Guatemala; or the more erratic Yemen and Ethiopian
Stalky : This gives a flavor
reminiscent of dry vegetable matter or other plant material stalks.
Stinky : Rotten flavor indicating
possible contamination by " stinker" bean.
Sweet : Pleasant, mellow,
agreeable; sometimes used to describe soft coffees, but also can be
found in highly acidic coffees.
Thin : Term when coffee's body does
not equal acidity or flavor; out-of-balance, watery, wishy-washy in
Tobacco-y : Aroma / flavor
characteristic of unsmoked plug (chewing) tobacco.
Turpentine-y : Smell or taste
reminiscent of chemical, possibly phenolic-like substance.
Well-rounded, well-balanced : Cup
giving impression of good mix of flavor, acidity, body and perhaps
Wild : Term describing certain
Ethiopian/Yemeni coffees - suggesting unusual, inconsistent and
interesting; sometimes used with spicy; also exotic, tangy, complex.
Winey : Combination of slightly
fruity flavor, very smooth mouthfeel and texture reminiscent of wine.
Term should not be used indiscriminately to denote acidity; better
reserved for coffees with genuine feel (more than taste) of wine,
slightly rare but unmistakable (in some Kenyan as after-taste; found in
some Ethiopian Harrars, Yemeni and various others).
Woody : Flavor peculiar to either
dead (indicating old crop, coffee stored too long) or green wood flavor
found in certain coffees, like fresh saw-dust; neither very pleasant.
Yeasty / Toasty : Flavor
reminiscent of either yeasty (unbaked) bread, or bread lightly toasted.