Coffee Terminology

When it comes to buying and being knowledgeable about coffee, there is a surplus of information that can be confusing. In 2016, Consumer Reports, Inc. updated their Coffee Buying Guide to make it easier for consumers to understand coffee terminology. This guide discussed the different types of roasts, notes, features and growing region flavours.


Light: Light brown beans and have a sourer taste

Medium: Medium brown beans, not oily on the surface, bright acidity and aromatics such as floral, fruity, vegetable, berry, etc.

Dark: Richer in colour, slightly oily on the surface, caramelization aromatics such as nutty, bread or baked goods, chocolate, faded acidity, and a little bittersweet aftertaste

Darker: Shiny black beans with an oily surface, good acidity and sometimes charred


Astringent: Dry, puckering feel of unripe fruit or over-brewed tea

Balanced: Ideal blends of sour and bitter; not dull or flatCoffee beans being roasted

Body: Feeling of fullness and weight in the mouth

Cereal/Grainy: Like cooked wheat cereal

Cooked: Burnt taste

Earthy: Flavours similar to potato skins or root vegetables

Green: Bright, clean and light with pleasing acidity

Nutty: Fresh, toasted, nuts

Papery: Like damp cardboard

Sharp: See Green

Woody: Like damp popsicle sticks, cedar or pine


These features are usually labeled on the package and/or in coffee shops.

AA: Second-largest beans on a Kenyan grading scale and usually sold at a higher price than any other grade.

C.A.F.E (Coffee and Farmer Equity): A term used by Starbucks; which are guidelines developed with Conservation International to assist farmers to grow coffee that is better for the people and planet

Decaffeinated: Caffeine is removed from green coffee beans by steaming, scrapping off the outer layers, then returned to normal moisture levels, then roasted. Sometimes decaffeinated coffee can taste flat or dull.

Fair Trade Certified: Part of a non-profit, international program that advocates sustainable production and fair prices for small farmers, safe working conditions, limits the use of harmful pesticides, and supports credit plans and training for farm workers.

Flavoured: With hazelnut, vanilla, Irish cream, and much more by adding flavouring agents.

Organic: Grown without synthetic fertilizers and pesticides.

Rainforest Alliance Certified: A non-profit group determines that chemicals use is limited, water and soil were conserved, and workers were treated fairly.

Did You Know? Growing Regions Impacts Taste!

Colombian coffee has moderate floral aromatics, slight fruity character, green sharp notes and an earthy base.

Kona coffee is almost the same as Colombian, but in addition has further winey and spicy character notes.

Kenyan coffee may include fruit (berry or citrus), green/sharp notes, earthy base notes, and positive acidity/brightness.

Sumatran coffee is fruit, vegetable, green/sharp, and earthy notes like woods like cedar or pine.