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The Vocabulary of a Barista


Acidity – The sharp lively quality characteristic of high-grown coffee, tasted mainly at the tip of the tongue. The brisk, snappy  quality that makes coffee refreshing. It is NOT the same as bitter or sour and  has nothing to do with pH factors. Coffees are low in acidity, between 5 and 6 on the pH scale.

Americano – A shot or two of espresso that has been poured into a cup, which is then filled with hot water.

Aroma – The fragrance of brewed coffee. The smell of coffee grounds is referred to as the Bouquet.

Barista – A person who makes coffee drinks as a profession.

Bitter – The taste perceived at the back of the tongue. Dark Roasts are intentionally bitter. Over-extraction (too little coffee at too fine a grind) can cause a bad bitterness.

Bland – The pale flavour often found in low grown robusta coffees. Also caused by under-extraction (too little coffee or too course a grind).

Blend – A mixture of two or more individual varietals of coffee.

Body – The tactile impression of the weight of the coffee in the mouth. May range from thin to medium to full to buttery to syrupy.

Briny – The salty sensation caused by excessive heat after brewing (truck-stop coffee).

Caffè Mocha – This can be prepared a variety of ways. Basically this is a chocolate Caffè latte. Often prepared with whipped cream on top.

Cappuccino – A shot or two of espresso poured into a cup which is then filled with half steamed milk and half foam milk so that it is one third coffee, one third milk and one third milk foam.

Cupping – While tasting wine is called “tasting”, tasting coffee is called “cupping”.

Demitasse – A small cup used for serving espresso. It is a French term meaning ‘half cup’.

Doppio – A double shot of espresso. Also see solo.

Caffeine – The drug contained in coffee. A bitter white alkaloid derived from coffee (or tea) and used in medicine for a mild stimulant or to treat certain kinds of headache. Found in very small quantities in the coffee beans. Soluble in water and alcohol.

Crema – The caramel coloured foam that appears on top of a shot of espresso during the brewing period. It should remain for at least one minute. If your Crema is gone then you waited too long…or you received a bad shot! The crema makes a ‘cap’ which helps retain the aromatics and flavors of the espresso within the cup – the presence of crema indicates an acceptable brew… Crema is due to colloids and lipids forced out into an emulsion under the pressure of an espresso machine.

Earthy – The spicy “of the earth taste” of Indonesian coffees.

Espresso – A brewing method that extracts the heart of the bean. It was invented in Italy at the turn of the century. A pump-driven machine forces hot water through fine grounds at around nine atmospheres of pressure. It should take between 18 to 23 seconds to extract a good shot. This will produce from 3/4 to one ounce of great liquid. This produces a sweet, thick and rich, smooth shot of espresso.

Espresso Lungo – A shot that is pulled long for a bit of extra espresso. While many believe this maximizes the Caffèine, in most shops this merely produces a bitter cup. (Sometimes because of overextraction.)

Espresso Macchiato – Espresso with a minimal amount (or “mark”) of steamed milk on top.

Espresso Ristretto – Literally “restricted” espresso. A shorter draw. The goal being a thicker and more flavourful espresso.

Exotic – Unusual aromatic and flavor notes, such as berry or floral.

Flavour – The total impression of Aroma, Acidity and Body.

French Press – A device for making coffee in which ground coffee is steeped in water. The grounds are then removed from the coffee by means of a filter plunger which presses the grounds to the bottom of the pot. Also referred to as plunger pot, or cafetiere.

Froth or Foam – Milk which has been made thick and foamy by aerating it with hot steam.

Hard Bean – Coffee grown at relatively high altitudes, 4,000 to 4,500 feet. Coffee grown above 4,500 feet is referred to as strictly hard bean. This terminology says that beans grown at higher altitudes mature more slowly and are harder and denser than other beans and are thus more desirable.

Latte – Prepared by pouring milk into the espresso.

Peaberry – Normally, each coffee cherry contains two beans. Occasionally, a cherry will form with only one bean. These are called  peaberries and are frequently separated and sold as its own distinct varietal. New Guinea is one of the more popular ones.

Portafilter – The cupped handle on an espresso machine which holds the finely ground coffee during the brewing process.

Solo – A single shot of espresso. Also see doppio.

Soft Bean – Describes coffee grown at relatively low altitudes (under 4,000 ft). Beans grown at lower altitudes mature more quickly and produce a lighter, more porous bean.

Spicy – The flavour of particular spices.

Sweet – Smooth and palatable coffee that is free from defects and harsh flavors.

Tone – The appearance or colour of coffee. Usually in three tones – light, medium and dark.

Varietal – The term used for the coffee that comes from a geographical region. A Sumatra, Kenya, Costa Rica or a Java are varietals. As in wine, soil, climate and cultivation methods affect the taste of your coffee. The term varietal is actually a misnomer, since Arabica coffee plants are basically of the same species, unlike wine grapes, which come from different species of grape vines.

Winy – A flavor reminiscent of fine red wine. Kenya AA coffee is one of the most notables.

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