Even for regular coffee drinkers, the coffee world can feel mysterious. People use crazy words to describe coffee tastes, different types of coffee, and unique ways to prepare coffee. It’s overwhelming to make sense of it all, and not knowing the right lingo prevents you from ordering the right drink, finding the coffee best fit for you, or even getting started with coffee all together.
We scoured the coffee literature to pick out the most relevant coffee terms you need to know. Here, we demystify some coffee jargon!
What are the different ways to serve coffee?
Have you ever gone into a coffee shop and seen a seemingly endless menu of different types of coffee drinks? Here, we break down what they all mean and how they’re made:
Espressos are a concentrated form of coffee usually served in small, shot sized cups. Espressos are made by espresso machines that pressurize near boiling water and shoot it through ground, packed coffee beans. If you’re looking for an efficient source of caffeine to kick start your day or get you out of an afternoon slump, try an espresso!
Macchiatos are also often called caffe macchiato or espresso macchiato. They are a form of espressos with a small amount of foamed milk added. If you’re looking for an espresso but want the taste to be a bit more tempered, try a macchiato!
Cortados are also a form of espressos. To make a cortado, mix an espresso with steamed but not frothy warm milk. If you want to drink an espresso but don’t like its acidity, try a cortado!
Lattes are similar to cortados but have even more milk. While cortados generally have equal parts espresso and milk, lattes have much more milk. If you’re looking for an even more tempered and less acidic version of espressos, try a latte!
Flat whites are similar to lattes but have a bit less milk and a bit less microfoam. If you’re a fan of cortados but want something with a bit of microfoam, try a flat white!
By now, the numerous latte and macchiato variations probably have your head spinning! As the name suggests, latte macchiatos are very similar to lattes but they generally have a stronger, less balanced, less delicate espresso flavor. If you’re looking for a more palpable espresso taste in your drink, try a latte macchiato!
Cappuccinos are similar to lattes in content but layer the ingredients. Instead of having the milk fully mixed in with the espresso, cappuccinos layer the milk on top of the espresso. Cappuccino variations replace milk with cream or add additional flavorings like cinnamon to spice up the drink. If you’re looking to taste the milk and espresso separately or looking for sweeter variations of the traditional espresso drinks, try a cappuccino!
What are the different ways to roast coffee beans?
When you’re buying coffee beans, you’ve likely been asked to select between different options like dark, medium, and light. What do these actually mean and how can you decide what’s best for you? We break it down here:
As the name suggests, dark roast coffee is made from beans with a dark brown or even black color. Dark roast coffee has a more robust, full taste. By dark roasting coffee, all the original flavors are drawn out, leaving a very strong and smoky tang. Contrary to popular belief, dark roast coffee actually has slightly less caffeine than lighter roasts. Because they have been roasted for longer, the caffeine content is drawn out more, leaving a lower concentration of caffeine in your drink.
Medium roast coffee has a somewhat dark brown color. Medium roast, as you would expect, strikes the balance between acidity and body, preserving unique flavors while still having a decently strong taste.
Light roast coffee is made from coffee beans that are roasted only to around 350 F, the temperature at which beans pop. Light roast coffee has slightly more caffeine content than medium or dark roast, and it preserves much of the original flavor of the beans.
What are some other types of coffee beans?
Decaf coffee is made from coffee beans that have had at least 97% of their original caffeine content removed through solvents or carbon dioxide. If you enjoy the taste of coffee but aren’t able to drink much (perhaps it’s later in the day or perhaps the acidity of caffeine is too strong for your stomach or perhaps you’re pregnant), decaf coffee is a great option.
Specialty coffee is high end coffee that has been given an 80% or higher grade based on their entire supply chain from how they are grown to how and when they are harvested to how they are delivered to how they are processed. Specialty coffee usually commands a premium price. If you’re comfortable with the price point and value high quality production, try specialty coffee!
Fair trade coffee is a type of certified coffee that indicates that the coffee directly supports the farming families who grew the coffee beans through equitable prices, community development, and sustainability best practices. By drinking fair trade coffee, you’re supporting farmers and their families in gaining access to better education, healthcare, and financial empowerment.
What are the different ways to brew coffee?
Looking to make coffee at home but not sure where to start? We break down the different ways to make coffee here:
Brewed coffee is coffee made from pouring hot water into ground coffee beans. You can make brewed coffee using a French press (described below), a filter, or a percolator. Brewed coffee (made through pour over methods) is a cheap, quick, and easy way to make coffee with a strong flavor.
You can use French presses as a way to brew coffee. French presses are cheap and simple to use. In essence, French presses consist of a plunger that meets a strainer. To use a French press, measure out and pour in your coffee grounds, add hot water, put the lid on and start timing, slowly press the plunger down, and decant the coffee.
Aeropresses serve a similar purpose to the French press. They are a bit more expensive but still affordable. Like the French press, Aeropresses also create thick, flavorful coffee. Aeropresses are more portable and brew coffee faster but they make less coffee and are a bit more complex to use.
Cold brew coffee is made by steeping coarse ground coffee in room temperature water for 12 or more hours and subsequently filtering out the grounds to make sediment. Relative to coffee, cold brew has lower acidity and less bitterness. If you’re looking for something lighter and cooler, especially on a hotter day, try cold brew!
Nitro coffee, often called nitro cold brew, is a type of cold brew coffee with nitrogen gas added to create a smoother, creamier texture and taste.
Instant coffee is a powdered, crystal form of coffee that lets people very quickly prepare coffee by just adding hot water or milk to the powder. Its taste is meaningfully less good, but it is a decent solution for an incredibly busy morning.
What are the different types of coffee equipment?
Curious about the machinery that is used to make coffee from roasting to grinding and beyond? We break down some of the most common ones here:
Batch roasters roast a fixed amount (by weight) of roasted beans. In contrast, continuous roasters product roasted coffee at a fixed rate. For folks who roast their own coffee, small batch roasting is generally preferred to ensure all coffee is fresh, consistent, and high quality.
Grinders are used typically in coffee mills to grind coffee beans into coffee grounds. Blade grinders and burr grinders are two of the most common types of grinders. If you’re looking to grind coffee beans at home but don’t have a dedicated coffee grinder, you can use anything with a whirring blade, including a blender!
Espressos are made in pressurized environments. If you’re looking to make espressos at home, you can buy a piston espresso machine, which is higher end, or a more standard pump coffee machine.
Syphon pots, also known as vacuum coffee makers, brew coffee through a two chamber approach with vapor pressure and gravity. Syphon pot brewed coffee generally has a vibrant flavor and strong aroma distinct from a typical drip brewer. Syphon pots also remove coffee grounds more effectively, making a cleaner cup of coffee.
How do you describe coffee’s taste?
You’ve probably heard people describe coffee’s taste with the fanciest terms from aroma to bitter to earthy. What do any of these terms actually mean?
Aroma: put simply aroma is just the smell of coffee; it can be more herbal or more fruity or more smoky depending on the surrounding vapors and gases (which define any kind of smell).
Taste: depending on how it is prepared, coffee can taste more acidic (also referred to as “winy” given how acidic wine generally tastes), more bitter, more salty (also referred to as “briny”), spicier, or sweeter.
Body: coffee body is an umbrella term that covers the physical properties of coffee. For example, coffee can “feel” more heavy depending on how it settles on the tongue or it can taste more watery or more grainy.
Bright: nope, that’s not the shininess of coffee but rather how much tang or unique flavor stands out in a cup of coffee relative to the standard coffee taste.
Earthy: as the name suggests, earthy coffee tastes like the soil, but it’s not necessarily a bad descriptor - earthy coffee is usually less processed.
If you’re new to the coffee world, we hope this guide has been helpful for you in getting started. If you’re already a coffee drinker, we hope this guide brings you one big step forward to becoming a connoisseur!