The world of coffee is full of unique terms and phrases that can be intimidating for those less familiar with different coffee types and styles. Reading a cafe menu can feel like transcribing a foreign language for some, and many coffee terms are actually referenced in Italian.
In this helpful guide, we will break down some of the most common coffee terms in the world, and by the end, you will have all the information you need to confidently stroll into your local cafe and place an order.
Drip coffee is the most popular and traditional style of coffee worldwide, and it is available just about everywhere that serves coffee and espresso drinks. It is made by pouring hot water over pre ground coffee beans, and extraction happens as hot water passes through the grounds.
This is the style of coffee you will receive when simply ordering a “cup of coffee” at a restaurant. It is recommended for new coffee drinkers to start with drip coffee, as it is mild in caffeine compared to espresso, and widely available for developing a coffee palate and tasting preferences.
In many parts of the world, instant coffee is more readily available and popular than drip coffee. It is made by simply adding coffee “crystals” to hot water, where the crystals dissolve to make coffee. It is a very efficient and simple coffee-making method, though not generally regarded as a high-quality option.
Instant coffee is a great option for camping and traveling, as all it requires is a cup and hot water. Some people even prefer the taste of instant coffee to traditionally brewed coffee, and it is both affordable and efficient in kitchen space, as no equipment is required.
Espresso is a traditional Italian style of coffee that is very concentrated and served in many different ways. Due to the higher concentration of caffeine and strong flavors, espresso is served in a very small cup, which contains as much or more caffeine as a full mug of drip coffee.
Espresso is the base for dozens of different traditional Italian coffee beverages, including the latte, cappuccino, and macchiato. These are all made by adding different ratios of hot and frothed milk or creamers to espresso “shots,” and there are a wide variety of different versions of these drinks.
Reading a Coffee Label
For those new to the world of coffee, reading and understanding a coffee label can feel extremely overwhelming. We have broken down some of the most popular terms and phrases featured on bags of coffee beans to help you choose the best option for your needs.
Arabica is the most sought-after coffee bean in the world, as it contains very high levels of essential oils and carries much more flavor than any other coffee bean. 100 percent Arabica coffee is generally thought of as the best option in terms of flavor and quality.
The Robusta bean is the second most popular coffee bean in the world, and it is primarily used in high-caffeine coffee blends and for “cafecito” shots that are mixed with sugar. Robusta is not thought of as very high quality on its own, though it is significantly higher in caffeine compared to the Arabica bean.
Many people all around the world have been making the switch to organic produce, and coffee should be no exception. USDA Organic certified coffee beans are guaranteed to be grown without the use of synthetic pesticides or fertilizers, leading to a more natural, delicious, and overall healthier product.
The Fair Trade designation was created in response to the unsafe and inhumane working conditions that workers in the coffee industry were subjected to for decades. “Fair Trade” indicates that workers are paid a local minimum wage with safe working conditions.
Fair Trade Certified
The term “Fair Trade Certified” indicates that coffee was grown by a small-scale coffee producer who was paid a fair price for their efforts. This is a tougher designation to receive compared to “fair trade,” and it is one of the most trusted programs in the coffee industry today.
Rainforest Alliance Certified
The term “Rainforest Alliance Certified” on the label indicates that the coffee within has been grown and farmed while using sustainable environmental practices. It is important to note, however, that there is no requirement for organic farming under this labeling system, and the best coffees on the market today are also USDA Organic and Fair Trade Certified.
Cream and Sugar
Half and Half
Half and Half is a dairy creamer that is made by combining equal parts whole milk and heavy cream. It is the most popular style of coffee creamer in the United States and is what you will receive when ordering “coffee with cream” at the majority of restaurants and cafes.
Many people believe that half and half strikes the perfect balance between texture and flavor, though others prefer their coffee with a “thicker” or “thinner” cream. A thicker style of coffee is achieved by using heavy cream, while a thinner version can be made using whole, “two percent,” or skim milk.
There has been a major rise in popularity when it comes to non-dairy milk and creamers over the past ten years, as many people are choosing to avoid dairy for one reason or another. Options like Soy, Almond, Coconut, and Oat Milk are now available at coffee shops all over the world, and each of them brings something different to the table in terms of flavor and texture.
One of the most simple ways to construct a creamy and sweet cup of coffee each morning is by using premixed creamers. There are both dairy and non-dairy coffee creamer options available for purchase, and there are different flavors and styles of each.
Some of the most popular flavored creamers on the market every year are seasonally themed, with some of the top sellers being “pumpkin spice” in the fall and holiday flavors like peppermint and gingerbread in the winter months.
Sugar and Raw Sugar
Processed white sugar is the original style of sweetener used for coffee, as well as many other traditional recipes in the United States. It is what you will relieve when ordering a “coffee with sugar” and it is generally presented in small disposable packets to help achieve the desired sweetness level.
Most coffee enthusiasts enjoy their coffee with “one or two sugars” which indicates that they use either one or two packets of coffee in their sugar. Raw sugar has become very popular in recent years, as it is unprocessed and contains a more “pure” flavor in the opinion of many.
Honey and Agave
Honey and Agave are two of the most popular liquid sweeteners for coffee in the world, and each of them sweetens coffee while also leaving behind a distinct aftertaste. Many coffee lovers have strong opinions regarding one or the other, and both are usually available at high-end coffee shops and cafes.
For those who are trying to avoid, or are unable to consume sugar for health reasons, there are a number of different artificial sweeteners that are used for coffee drinks. Some of the most popular are Splenda and Sweet and Low, and they can usually be identified by their distinctly colored packets.
Coffee Making Equipment
There are thousands of different models to choose from when it comes to coffee makers today, and many people do not understand the differences between them. We have highlighted five of the most popular styles of coffee makers to help cut through all the clutter and confusion.
Drip Coffee Makers
Electric drip coffee makers are the most popular style of home coffee machines in the world. They use electric heating elements to heat water and pump it over the top of coffee beans, and the brewed coffee is collected in a reservoir usually made out of glass or metal.
Espresso makers use a “portafilter” which has a basket-like area on one side to hold espresso beans and a handle on the other to twist them into place on the machine. Espresso beans are “tamped” down to compress them, and pressurized hot water is pumped through the grounds.
Single Serve Machines
Single-serve coffee and espresso machines have become very popular over the past two decades, with brands like Nespresso and Keurig leading the way. Both of these systems use disposable coffee pods, which are mess free and very convenient to use.
The French Press
The French Press is a traditional style of coffee maker that has seen a major resurgence in terms of popularity over the past decade. It features a cylindrically shaped body where hot water and coffee beans are added, and a mesh plunger to press and separate the coffee beans at the bottom.
Pour Over Coffee Makers
The Pour Over is another “low tech” and traditional coffee-making option that has seen a resurgence in popularity recently. There are many different popular brands to choose from, and many people consider this method to produce the best-tasting coffee possible at home.
Espresso is a very strong and concentrated style of coffee that hails from Italy and is used to make a wide variety of different drinks. We have highlighted ten of the most popular espresso-based drinks in the world to help you get a better understanding of coffee shop menus.
A shot of concentrated coffee that is made by forcing hot water through finely-ground espresso beans under high pressure. The texture is much thicker compared to coffee, and a high amount of oils and flavor are retracted from the espresso beans while brewing.
A double shot of espresso, made with twice the amount of coffee and water as a regular espresso. Double espresso drinks are not for the faint of heart, as they offer some of the highest amounts of caffeine of any coffee beverage.
The Ristretto is a short shot of espresso made with a bit less water and a finer grind of coffee compared to the traditional style. It results in a more concentrated and intense flavor and is available in most places that serve espresso.
The Americano is made by simply adding a shot of espresso to hot water, which dilutes the espresso for a larger drink better suited for slow sipping. Many fans of traditional drip coffee enjoy Americanos, as they are similar in texture, caffeine content, and flavor.
The Latte is made by combining espresso and steamed milk, and it is often topped with a thin layer of foamed milk. Lattes contain a much higher amount of steamed milk compared to other drinks like cappuccinos and are often made with non-dairy options like oat or almond milk.
A coffee drink made with equal parts of espresso, steamed milk, and foamed milk. It is often finished with cocoa powder and is one of the most balanced and popular espresso-based drinks in the entire world.
The flat white is made with espresso and steamed milk, and is similar to a latte, but with a higher ratio of coffee to milk. It is important to specify whether a single or double shot of espresso is used, as this has a major effect on the caffeine content and taste.
The macchiato is simply a shot of espresso with a dollop of foamed milk placed on top. Some people prefer to mix the foam into the espresso as they drink their macchiato, while others always leave the two separated while enjoying their drink.
The Cortado is another simple and traditional drink made with espresso and a small amount of steamed milk. It is most similar to the macchiato but has a higher ratio of milk compared to espresso.
While every drink featured above can be made with a variety of different flavor combinations, the Mocha is the most traditional and popular flavored drink in the world. It is essentially a latte that is made with the addition of either chocolate syrup or chocolate powder, and it is sometimes topped with whipped cream.
Coffee Tasting Terminology
There are a wide variety of different tasting profiles and flavors when it comes to coffee, and everything from the region where it was grown to the amount of roast put on the beans impacts the overall flavor.
When it comes to developing a palate for tasting coffee, there are four main factors that are helpful in describing and identifying its overall taste
Body primarily refers to the texture of coffee, and is also sometimes referred to as the coffee’s “weight.” Coffee that is lighter in body will be less viscous than a heavier option, and the body of coffee can range from as light as water to nearly as thick as milk depending on how it is made.
Acidity is one of the most important tasting factors when it comes to coffee, and it is essentially a measure of how bitter the coffee feels on the palate. Some people prefer very tart and acidic coffee with flavors like red fruit, while others prefer low acidity options that are more “nutty” or “earthy.”
While all coffee is made using hot water and some versions of coffee beans, there are a surprising amount of different flavors that can end up in your cup. Some tasting notes are reminiscent of berries or flowers, while others taste more like chocolate or baking spices.
The term finish refers to both the flavor that is left in the palate after swallowing a sip of coffee, as well as how long that flavor lingers. More mild coffee usually has a short and moderate finish, while strong options have a big and bold finish that does not leave the palate for many seconds.
Final Thoughts on Coffee Terminology
While the world of coffee may seem a bit intimidating and overwhelming at first for some, it is much easier to navigate and understand with a basic understanding of the most important terms and phrases.
Feel free to leave a comment below if you feel that there are any other coffee-related terms that new coffee enthusiasts should be aware of, and be sure to include any phrases that had you a bit confused at first!