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Coffee Cupping Glossary

ACIDIC/ ACIDY Describes a coffee that is felt particularly on the back sides of the tongue. A synonym is "biting."
AROMATIC Describes coffees that have a very noticeable scent. Because the sense of taste and the sense of smell are so closely related, the presence of a powerful, evocative aroma can really enhance the experience of a great coffee. Many exceptional coffees do not have a notable aromatic quality, while others, when brewed, permeate a room and impart the desire to drink coffee. Connoisseurs claim they can sometimes detect the odor of vegetation that grew near the coffee varietal(s) they are tasting.
BIG Describes coffee with a full to heavy body.
BITING Describes a coffee that is high in acid content.
BITTER Similar to sour. Bitter-tasting coffees taste as they do usually because they have been cooked or brought to a high temperature after brew. Bitter coffees taste sour on the top front of the tongue.
BODY Starts with a light "thin" mouthfeel and progresses to a full-bodied, "heavy" mouthfeel.
BURNT Describes coffees, mostly dark roasts, that have a charred, often bitter taste.
CHOCOLATY Describes a coffee with deep undertones, usually creamy and not ever bitter.
COMPLEX A coffee that contains many taste characteristics. Cupping such a coffee is an experience for connoisseurs who like to distill different characteristics from one and the same brew.
CREAMY Note: this does not mean that the coffee has cream in it. This is a characteristic of coffees, usually pressure brewed, whose acidity is cut by its own natural sugars. A visible characteristic of some creamy coffees is the actual crema that appears on the surface.
CREMA Crema is a caramel or golden colored layer that forms on top of pressure-brewed coffee and espresso. The nature of a crema is complex and even contentious, but in general, it can be called an emulsion or a colloid. Both of these terms describe a substance that is really two things in one: dispersed gases in a liquid, in the case of crema. The gases get pressurized into the liquid during a high-pressure brew, and a thick, golden crema is the sign of a properly brewed espresso or crema coffee.
DEEP Describes a flavorful coffee with a pleasant, rich aftertaste. SYN: complex.
DRY As in wine, a dry coffee is one that is not sweet. Note, however, that this does not mean any coffee without sugar added to it. Sweetness is a property that some coffees have naturally, but the sweetness is relatively insipid and never overwhelming.
EVEN Describes a smooth coffee that has no one flavor attribute that outdoes the others.
FRUITY Not to be confused with "sweet", this term describes coffee beans that have snappy, berry-like notes. The varietals that are most often rightly described this way are African.
FULL Describes a coffee whose body is almost heavy, but not overwhelmingly so. Full-bodied coffees are satisfying and pleasant.
HEAVY Describes a coffee whose body is dense or weighty in the mouth. Compare to a coffee whose body is "thin."
MEDIUM Describes the flavor of a coffee that is neither mild nor rich.
MILD Describes a coffee with the least strong of flavors.
MOUTHFEEL Describes how heavy or dense the coffee is on the tongue; a measure of body.
SNAPPY A difficult characteristic to describe; these coffees have a distinct but not unpleasant "zing" that hits the back top or middle of the tongue. Tanzanian Peaberry is an example of such a coffee.
SMOOTH Describes a coffee that is neither bitter nor sour. Yet its positive characteristics are not overwhelming either. Smooth coffees are generally not terribly complex.
SPICY Describes coffees that seem to have the presence of spice in them.
RICH Describes a coffee that has a full body and deep flavor traits.
ROASTY Usually describes dark-roasted coffees with a strong flavor.
ROBUST Describes a coffee that is "Big," very full bodied. Not to be confused with "Robusta."
SMOKY Not to be confused with "burnt", smoky is often a positive attribute of coffees that have a woody flavor.
SOUR Same as bitter. A sour coffee sits unpleasantly on the top front portion of the tongue.
SWEET Not literal. This characteristic describes unadulterated coffees that have a naturally sweet characteristic. However, given that fresh brewed coffees generally have zero calories, this term is rarely used correctly, and should be preceded by the word "almost."
TART Describes a sharply bitter, stale-tasting coffee.
THIN Describes a coffee whose body is lackluster and watery, but not necessarily whose flavor is weak.
WATERY Describes a coffee that has a very weak body and little flavor. A watery coffee is often the way it is on account not of the coffee but of there being too much water in the brewing process.
WEAK Describes a coffee that has a very faint flavor and often little body.