Glossary of Coffee Terms

This is an alphabetical listing of special coffee-related words and phrases, including types of coffee and also words that can be used to better describe the flavors of coffee. It is a good place to start if you are new to coffee or developing your own "coffee vocabulary". It will also help you to make an educated choice when choosing which variety of coffee to try. (Or, forget choosing--buy a Super Sampler Basket or a Large Sampler Box and try one of each!)

A note on flavor: Flavors and aromas are as varied in coffee as they are in wine. Naturally, coffee tastes and smells like coffee. But other flavors and scents --such as chocolate, fruit, or flowers-- are what make coffee drinking such an enjoyable experience. The next time you have a cup of coffee, take a deep whiff before your first sip. Use your nose to give your mouth a preview, to enhance the flavors on your palate.

  • Acidity:
    Acidity is the liveliness in coffee. In everyday conversation, "acidity" may sound unappealing, but in coffee terms it's actually a highly desirable quality. Not to be confused with the ph level, "palate acidity" is the brightness of flavor -- without it, coffee tastes flat and dull. All good coffees have some acidity, but to varying degree. Acidity in our coffees ranges from low (smooth) to high (lively or bright).
  • Arabica:
    Beans from a coffee plant of the Arabica variety. They tend to have a lighter, more acidic flavor, often with lemony or licorice notes. They are harder to grow and therefore slightly more expensive. In America, most gourmet coffees are Arabica; the other varieties of bean are severely underrepresented. If you are used to drinking 100% Arabica coffee, you might like one of our Arabicas, Creations #3 or #5. Or, try something a little bit new by trying #2, which is part Arabica and part Robusta.
  • Bitter:
    One of the four basic tastes, it is detected on the back of the tongue. A certain degree of bitterness adds to the fullness of coffee's flavor; also, it is a prominent aspect of very dark-roasted coffee. It is unpleasant in high degree, especially if due to over-extraction.
  • Body:
    Body can be described as "mouthfeel" -quite literally, how a coffee feels in your mouth. It's an impression of a coffee's weight on your tongue. The best way to determine the degree of body in a coffee is to take a small sip and let it rest a moment on you tongue. Is it medium? Full? Very full? "Body" in our coffees varies from medium to very full.
  • Buon Me Thuot Highlands:
    The Buon Me Thuot Highland area is named for its capitol city Buon Me Thuot. It posesses fertile red soil, a subtropical climate, and spectacular water features. Here is a nice article on the Highlands area.
  • Buttery:
    Full-bodied with a smooth and rich mouthfeel.
  • C ph sua d or Cafe sua da:
    In essence, what people call Vietnamese coffee. It is a brewing and drinking style, characterized by single-cup brewing at a customer's table or home using a small metal drip brewer. Generally the sweetener and creamer are provided by sweetened condensed milk.
  • Catimor:
    Beans from a coffee plant of the Catimor variety. Catimor beans are bitter and sharply flavored. They are used to "punch up" the flavor of the multi-variety blended coffees such as Creation #4 Premium Culi and the House Blend. Fans of strong coffee will like the extra kick a Catimor bean provides. This is a rare and exotic bean that we have not found anywhere else.
  • Caramel:
    A sweet note reminiscent of candy or syrup produced by caramelizing sugar without burning it.
  • Chari:
    Beans from a coffee plant of the Chari variety. Chari beans are difficult to grow and, as far as we know, Trung Nguyen is the only company cultivating them. They have a bright and fruity flavor.
  • Chocolaty:
    A flavor reminiscent of unsweetened chocolate or cocoa powder.
  • Clean:
    A coffee with a clear and refined texture in the mouth; opposite of dry.
  • Culi:
    Culi is the Vietnamese word for a phenomenon that we usually call Peaberry in America. Normally, inside each coffee cherry there are two beans, but in about 5% of the crop there is only one. Because the plant puts more energy into the single bean, it develops a stronger and more intense flavor. This single bean is called Culi, and they are highly prized for their intensity of flavor. Trung Nguyen has three varieties of Culi: the Culi Robusta, Culi Arabica, and Premium Culi.
  • Dry:
    A coffee with a parching or drying finish. It can also be called astringent.
  • Earthy:
    An aromatic fresh soil or wet earth characteristic.
  • Espresso:
    Espresso coffee is made by forcing boiling water through tightly-packed coffee using steam pressure. The high heat and pressure produces an extremely strong coffee with a wide flavor range, but also brings out all the bitterness in the beans. Beans designed for expresso are generally selected for their low acidity and mildness (hence their use in candy). Because of its strong flavor, espresso can be mixed with milk or cocoa to make mixed drinks such as Lattes without overwhelming the coffee's flavor.
  • Flat:
    A lifeless coffee lacking in any acidity.
  • Freshness:
    All our coffee is sold fresh, and will stay fresh until the date on the package. Many of the flavors in coffee are volatile and will degrade upon exposure to oxygen; they become bitter and lose complexity with time. After opening a bag of coffee, always squeeze out the extra air, fold down the top of the bag, and secure it with tape or a clip. Ground coffee will keep for a week or two, depending on how much air it is exposed to, and whole bean coffee will keep about twice as long.
  • Full:
    A prefix to good characteristics such as acidity, body, or range of flavors, to indicate a strong character.
  • Herbal:
    An aroma reminiscent of grass, dried herbs or grains, or fresh foliage.
  • Mild:
    A rounded and balanced coffee, sometimes with acidity and/or sweetness, and without pungent or dry flavors.
  • Nutty:
    Reminiscent of freshly roasted almonds, hazelnuts, etc.
  • Pungent:
    A strong and penetrating effect on the palate.
  • Rich:
    An indicator of a coffee with depth and complexity of flavor, full body, and an overall satisfying taste.
  • Roasted:
    A bittersweet smoky or carbony flavor created by dark-roasting coffee. It can sometimes be described as the taste of the roast, rather than an inherent flavor of the bean.
  • Robusta:
    Beans from a coffee plant of the Robusta variety. Robusta plants are prolific and hardy, and will produce coffee even in terrible circumstances. As a result, the poor plants have been forced to produce cheap, inferior coffee in sub-optimal environments, giving them a bad name. However, just because Robusta will survive in a bad place doesn't mean they will THRIVE there. Trung Nguyen pampers their Robusta and allows them everything they need, from natural drying to rich soil, to produce a sweet, deep, dark flavor that some people swear is like dark chocolate. Trung Nguyen Robusta is also surprisingly inexpensive for a gourmet coffee, and their Creation #1 Culi Robusta is a delightful place to start your Vietnamese coffee journey.
  • Scorched:
    An unpleasant bitter or acrid taste, created by brewing coffee with boiling water.
  • Smokey:
    A naturally occurring aroma of wood smoke, or a synonym for roasty.
  • Soft:
    A well-rounded flavor lacking any harshness or acidity; mellow.
  • Sour:
    Sometimes refers to the fermentation flavor that can occur in poorly dried coffees, or general sour taste (sometimes prized in wilder varieties).
  • Sweet:
    One of the four basic tastes, detected at the tip of the tongue. A mild coffee with sweet fruity, caramelly, or chocolaty flavors.
  • Spicy:
    An aroma suggesting spices such as cinnamon or allspice; also, a slightly "hot" sensation in the finish.
  • Tobacco:
    Can be a positive, aromatic and sweet flavor note ("pipe tobacco") but can also be referred to in a negative sense if the coffee has many strong oils and a woody, tobacco-like smell or taste.
  • Whole Bean (versus Ground):
    Whole bean coffee consists of the beans in their natural state, after roasting. They must be ground before they can be brewed. The whole beans will keep fresh for longer after opening the bag, so if you do not drink your coffee very quickly, you might try whole bean. Otherwise, ground coffee is good for its added convenience.
  • Wild:
    A coffee with varying flavors from cup to cup, or odd, gamey, tangy nuances.
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