32 Coffee Terms You Need to Memorize

Are you looking to master standard coffee terms and lingo? Perfect because you’ll love this.

If you’ve ever ventured into a coffee shop, you may have noticed that the days of ordering a black or white coffee have long gone. Take a glance at a menu, and you’ll come across all kinds of phrases, technical terms, and names. So what does all this coffee-related jargon mean?

If you’re a coffee fan or looking to make sense of those chalkboards in trendy coffee shops or food labels at the supermarket, here’s a handy glossary of coffee terms to help you get by.

32 Common Coffee Terms

Types of Coffee

It’s always good to have an idea of what you’re ordering when looking at a menu. Here are some popular types of coffee:

Americano: a strong coffee made from espresso diluted with a splash or two of hot water. A popular choice for kickstarting the day.

Cappuccino: one of the most popular orders, a cappuccino is made by combining a single or double shot of espresso with a substantial layer of frothy hot milk. It’s common to have your coffee adorned with chocolate sprinkles and even a stenciled pattern today.

Crema is not a type of coffee in itself; crema is used to describe the distinctive fine layer of foam on the top of an espresso. The carbon dioxide creates this layer of foam in oils driven out of the coffee beans during the extraction process. The crema is the sweetest part of the drink, and it is instrumental to the enjoyment of any espresso. Purists will argue that without crema, you haven’t got an espresso at all.

Cortado: a Spanish coffee, a cortado is very similar to a macchiato. The name comes from the theory that the milk cuts the espresso. This coffee is made by adding a spot of milk to espresso, but unlike the macchiato, foamed milk is not used.

Espresso: a rich, dark, strong coffee, which can be served alone or with milk to create different options, including a macchiato, cappuccino, or latte. A traditional espresso is a single shot, which is served in a demitasse. Espresso is a popular choice for the morning, as it provides a hint of caffeine. Espresso is made by combining finely ground coffee beans with hot water.

Flat white: this is a foamy, milky creation, which is particularly popular in the USA. The flat white is similar to a cappuccino but contains more milk.

Frappe/frappuccino: made famous by high street coffee chains, this frozen drink is a hit in the summer when temperatures soar. Baristas make frappes using ice blended with coffee and milk.

Latte: the indulgent latte is one of the most popular coffee bar orders. This indulgence is made using hot milk and a shot of espresso. A latte is a creamy, decadent coffee ideal for those looking for something sweeter than an espresso or a macchiato. A latte contains around ⅔ milk, and it is usually served in a tall glass. A barista may add chocolate powder for aesthetic impact. It’s widespread nowadays to order flavored lattes. Popular options include caramel, coconut, vanilla, and hazelnut.

Macchiato: a macchiato is a strong coffee, often considered the middle ground between a cappuccino and an espresso. Made by adding a dash of hot milk to a shot of espresso, the name is derived from the Italian word meaning spotted, marked, or stained. You may also come across a macchiato listed as a cafe or espresso macchiato.

Macchiato latte: a macchiato latte is a milky version of the traditional macchiato, which became popular in the USA. Rather than the milk marking the espresso, the espresso stains the milk in this case.

Mocha: Mocha is a great drink, which combines coffee with chocolate and hot milk. It originates from the port of Mocha, where Portuguese traders came up with the novel idea of adding chocolate to their coffee.

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The process of making perfect cups of coffee

It may seem simple to make a cup of coffee, but a lot of work goes into achieving the perfect outcome. If you’re interested in the processes involved in making coffee, here are some terms to familiarize yourself with:

Barista: a barista is a person charged with making your coffee. Baristas often undertake training to craft perfect coffee cups and ensure they understand everything there is to know about the processes involved and the different types of coffee on offer. Modern baristas also tend to be artistic, and they use patterns and their creative flair to enhance the aesthetic appeal of the finished article.

Chemex is the classic, egg-timer-shaped glass vessel used to filter and make coffee (see how to make coffee without a coffee maker).

The Chemex coffeemaker was invented in the 1940s by Peter Schlumbohm.

Cupping: cupping is a tasting method, that coffee professionals employ. The technique involves blending coarsely-ground coffee beans with water in small, shallow bowls. Tasters then use flat spoons to sip the coffee.

Demitasse: a demitasse (meaning half cup in French) is a small cup often used to serve espresso.

Drip coffee: drip coffee is made by exposing beans to hot water without excessive pressure. This exposure can be done using a percolator (or a Moka pot), a filter, a press pot, or a coffee maker. It is also possible to produce cold drip coffee by submerging ground beans in cold water for approximately 12 hours. The Drip coffee method can create refreshing iced coffee drinks, an excellent alternative to classic choices during the hot summer months.

Extraction: extraction is the process of taking flavor from ground coffee beans. It’s essential to get this just correct, as under-extraction and over-extraction can affect the taste. For example, Under-extracting tends to make coffee taste sour, while over-extracting creates a bitter flavor. The key lies in finding the right balance.

Filter coffee: filter coffee is made using a paper, plastic, or ceramic filter. This method of making coffee is often preferred by professionals and coffee purists, as it affords total control over the temperature of the water. In addition, filters remove sediment, creating a smooth cup of coffee.

French press: a French press is sometimes known as a press pot. Frequently used to produce limited-edition drinks in coffee bars, this method involves adding ground beans and hot water to a vessel that contains a plunger and a filter. The press pushes the ground coffee to the base.

french press

Green beans: Green beans, also known as green coffee, is a term used to describe unroasted beans.

Latte art: a relatively new development, latte art is about making the end product look as alluring and tempting as possible. It is crucial to get the density of the foamed milk just right to create the desired patterns and shapes. The name latte art can be slightly deceptive, as this skill is not solely demonstrated by those serving lattes. You can also find examples of art on cappuccinos and macchiatos.

Carrera Cafe Latte Art
Carrera Cafe Latte Art

Coffee roasting

Green beans must go through a series of processes to make them palatable. It takes a lot of hard work and effort to turn beans into great cups of steaming, comforting dark nectar.

Roasting: coffee roasting is the process of turning green beans into roasted coffee. The roasting process alters the chemical properties of the beans.

Light roast: light roasting does not produce oils. It is designed to make light, acidic flavors, and the beans are usually a cinnamon-like color.

Medium roast: this form of roasting produces a tiny quantity of oil, and the beans are usually similar in color to milk chocolate. Medium roast beans have more body and power than light roasts but are more delicate than dark roasts.

Dark roast: dark roasted beans produce substantial oil, creating bitter flavors with minimal acidity. The beans are usually very dark in color.

First crack: the first crack is a term used to describe the first stage of expansion when the coffee beans swell and make a sound similar to popcorn popping in the microwave.

Second crack: this term relates to the second stage of expansion when moisture is released, and the structure of the beans starts to alter. At this stage, much of the flavor is burnt off. The noise is similar to that made when you pour milk over a bowl of popped rice cereal.

Production, retail, and politics

According to the International Coffee Organization, more than 144 million bags of coffee are produced globally every year. The process of taking green beans and turning them into saleable coffee products requires input from several different sources, and there are many brands, chains, and stores that sell bags and jars of coffee and coffee ready to go. If you’re interested in the production and sale of coffee, here are some terms that may come in handy:

Fairtrade: when you’re browsing the coffee aisle in the supermarket or checking out a menu in a coffee bar, you may come across the words fair trade. Fairtrade products are bought from farmers who are involved in cooperative schemes. The aim is to ensure that farmers receive a reasonable price for the products they sell. The fair trade movement was established to try and aid farmers and producers in the developing world to benefit from more equitable trading conditions and better financial deals. If you’re conscious about supporting those who grow coffee beans, it’s always a good idea to look out for fair trade products. This is not a program that is restricted to coffee. You can buy all kinds of fair trade products, from chocolate and tea to cotton and sugar.

Direct trade: direct trade is a term that relates to an agreement between a farmer or producer and a coffee roaster. This arrangement cuts out brokers. Those in favor of direct trade argue that it gives farmers more power and control while enhancing the quality and making prices more competitive.

Micro-lot: a micro-lot is a single farm or a specific part of a farm or plantation famed for producing the best beans. It’s often helpful to consider the analogy of an apple orchard when trying to explain what a micro-lot is. For example, if you have an orchard, it may be famed for producing wonderful apples, but you might also find that there are areas of that orchard that offer up particularly sweet and juicy apples. The micro-lot, in this case, would be that area, and you would focus your attention on picking apples from the trees in that spot.

Organic: if you see a label that says ‘certified organic’, this means that the coffee has been produced using natural products and renewable, sustainable resources. With organic coffee, you can usually assume that at least 95% of the beans have been grown according to organic conditions. This means avoiding the use of synthetic chemicals and materials, including fertilizers and pesticides.

Bird-friendly: bird-friendly coffee is sometimes called shade-grown coffee. It is popular in Brazil, where there are often clashes between coffee plantation owners and those keen to preserve and protect the rainforests. Bird-friendly coffee is grown amongst plants, trees, and animals native to the area. The initiative is designed to harmonize the relationship and enable producers to continue growing coffee while conserving native species and preventing damage to forests.

Even if you’re a confessed coffee aficionado, you may not have come across every term in this extensive coffee-themed glossary. However, if there were gaps in your knowledge or didn’t know much about coffee, you wanted to learn more; hopefully, this guide to standard coffee terms will come in handy.

Whether you need to know the difference between a macchiato and a latte macchiato, or you’re interested in finding out more about labels you see on the bags of coffee you buy, this useful guide should provide you with a little extra insight.

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Nathan is the founder of The Darkest Roast (featured in the NY Times, Yahoo, and Tasting Table). He is a self-taught coffee expert and has tried 100s of coffees from around the world. Nathan's goal is to help you find the best coffee, so you only drink the best.