How to Talk About Coffee like a Connoisseur

Coffee 101 – Part 2

Like tastes in perfume or wine, coffee preference is personal. One person's elixir of life could be another person's overroasted swamp water. Knowing the coffee-specific vocabulary that baristas use to describe drinks can help you find coffees you love without getting hung up in matters of opinion.


Aroma refers to the smell of coffee after brewing. It is essential to appreciating the overall flavour because your tongue only distinguishes between a few tastes, whereas your nose can distinguish between a wide variety of smells.

A note of caution: Many fast-food chains advertise their coffee as being made from “100% Arabica”. But this doesn’t make them high quality – it just means that there is none of the other coffee bean species, Robusta, blended in. The coffee can still be of varying quality.


Acidity refers to the pleasant tang or lively tart sensation you feel at the sides of your mouth when you drink the coffee. Unlike the scientific term, acidity in coffee doesn’t refer to pH levels and is a positive term. If the acidity is too intense or unpleasant, however, a coffee is considered sour.


Body refers to the perceived weight or feel of the coffee on your tongue. This is what people mean when they describe a coffee’s taste as “heavy” or “light”.


Flavour refers to the combination of aromas and tastes in a coffee.


Finish refers to the lingering flavour and feel after a coffee is swallowed. Other terms you might see include:

  • Clean (free of “off” flavours)
  • Sweet (free of sour or astringent flavours)
  • Balanced (all the elements create a cohesive flavour).

Next time you take a sip of your coffee, take a moment to see if you can find its distinctive characteristics. Don’t worry if it all smells and tastes the same at first; it takes practice to notice all the different aspects that go into making your favourite drink.

Want more information on finding great coffees? Read Part 1 of our Coffee Series.

With information provided by JJ Bean Coffee Roasters, one of the few companies in Canada to have a certified coffee Q-Grader on staff.