Qualities and defects of coffee: glossary of terms

Coffee is one of the most popular beverages worldwide; its complexity and diversity of flavors and aromas make it truly fascinating. However, to fully appreciate coffee’s qualities, it is necessary to understand a set of terms to describe its different characteristics.

In this article, you will find a complete and easy-to-follow guide that describes the qualities of coffee in alphabetical order. This tool will allow you to understand better the terms used in coffee cupping and tasting.

Positive and negative characteristics of coffee

Acidic – Astringent and tannic coffee contain abundant acids and salts that cause a pungent sensation on the back and side of the tongue. If the acidity is too intense, the sensation of harshness and acidity can be unpleasant, indicating a defect in the quality of the coffee.

Acidity – Acidity in coffee is produced by the presence of natural organic acids in coffee beans giving the beverage a bright and refreshing taste that is felt on the tongue and palate. Some of the acids found in coffee include citric acid, malic acid, and tartaric acid.

Alkaline – A taste that is felt in the mouth, giving a slightly soapy or alkaline sensation that causes dryness at the base of the tongue.

Balanced – A balanced coffee is distinguished by having a harmonious combination of flavors and aromas, in which no one flavor stands out above the others. This type of coffee is characterized by presenting a moderate acidity, a medium body, and a smooth and pleasant flavor, with a clean and pleasant finish on the palate.

Bitter – Refers to an intense and pronounced taste that is perceived in the mouth. This sensation can be positive or negative depending on each individual’s personal taste. Not all coffees are equally bitter due to certain chemical compounds in the beans. For example, Robusta coffee tends to be more bitter than Arabica coffee due to its higher content of caffeine and chlorogenic acids.

Body – Refers to the sensation of weight, density, and viscosity that the coffee has in the mouth. The body of the coffee is influenced by factors such as the quality of the beans, the roasting method, and the way in which the coffee is prepared.

Bouquet – Refers to the combination of aromas that emanate from freshly ground or brewed coffee. These aromas can be sweet, fruity, floral, spicy, roasted, or smoky and originate from the chemical compounds present in the coffee beans.

Brisk – Refers to a strong sour taste but remains pleasant.

Burnt rubber – Burnt rubber flavor is definitely a coffee defect, mainly due to incorrect roasting. It is a flavor characteristic that some coffee drinkers can appreciate, although it may not be desired in all cases.

Caramelized – During the roasting process, the heat causes the coffee beans’ natural sugars to caramelize, producing a variety of sweet flavors and aromas. These flavors can range from light caramel notes to a stronger, darker flavor similar to toffee or roasted nut, depending on the degree of roasting and the type of coffee used.

Charred – Described as a slight burnt touch, the charred taste can linger as an aftertaste after drinking coffee. Although some can appreciate it, this flavor is not to the liking of all coffee lovers.

Chocolaty – This quality is appreciated by many coffee drinkers, especially those who enjoy the taste of dark chocolate or cocoa. Coffee varieties with a natural chocolate or hazelnut aroma are considered a positive quality.

Creamy – The creaminess in some coffees refers to a characteristic in the texture that is described as a soft and velvety sensation in the mouth, which is often associated with coffees that have a body with a denser consistency.

Curing – Following an adequate curing process to obtain high-quality coffee is fundamental. If coffee beans are subjected to incorrect curing processes, there can be problems in the quality of the coffee, such as a loosening of fats, deterioration, and poor roasting performance.

Earthy – Refers to a flavor and aroma characteristic that evokes earth, soil moisture, and the earthy notes of herbs. This flavor can be found in some coffees grown in soils rich in minerals and nutrients, especially those grown in forested or mountainous areas.

Fermented – This negative characteristic is due to errors in post-harvest procedures. During the sun drying of the fruits, if they are not constantly moved, there can be the appearance of unpleasant flavors or defects in the coffee.

Floral – A coffee with floral notes can have a distinctive and pleasant aroma that resembles a bouquet of fresh flowers. These floral notes can be subtle or intense, depending on the coffee variety, the cultivation process, and the preparation method.

Fresh – Fresh coffee is distinguished by having a bitter and acidic note that provides a sensation of freshness on the palate. This characteristic can result from a lighter roasting process, which makes the coffee’s natural flavors and aromas more perceptible.

Fruity – Refers to the taste and aroma of fresh or ripe fruits perceived in raw, roasted, and brewed coffee. This flavor and aroma are due to certain chemical compounds in the beans, such as esters and aldehydes, which are produced during the fermentation and drying of the coffee.

Green – Green flavor in coffee may be due to insufficient roasting, meaning that the sugar compounds have not had time to develop fully, which can result in a grassy flavor.

Hard – A hard coffee is characterized by having a balance of flavors in the first sip but with a sour, acidic, and bitter aftertaste.

Harsh – This flavor is often described as having a burning or irritating sensation in the throat. It can result from over-extraction of the coffee, where too many bitter and acidic compounds are extracted from the ground coffee.

Intense – This coffee has a strong, creamy body and an intense and pleasant fragrance. When tasting it, complex and persistent notes are perceived that remains on the palate for a prolonged period, making it a satisfying and memorable tasting experience.

Light – A coffee with low caffeine content; a light coffee without body.

Malty – This term describes a specific flavor and aroma in coffee reminiscent of malt and roasted cereals, indicating the presence of sweet and roasted notes in the beverage.

Mature – Complex and delicate notes characterize a mature coffee, including fruity and floral flavors, a pleasant aroma, and moderate acidity. This type of coffee is generally described as a smooth and balanced beverage on the palate, which does not overwhelm with extreme notes of flavor or acidity.

Mold – Mold develops in wet coffee beans or those that have been exposed to humidity for a prolonged period of time. Moldy coffee beans can have an unpleasant taste and aroma and, in some cases, can be hazardous to health due to mycotoxins.

Natural- This is coffee in which the beans are dried in the tree’s fruit before peeling. This process can give rise to particular flavors and aromas in the coffee, such as fruity or sweet notes, depending on where it is grown and processed.

Neutral – refers to a beverage with no distinctive characteristics in terms of flavor and aroma. That is to say, a coffee with no outstanding notes in sweetness, acidity, bitterness, body, or aroma. It is possible that this type of coffee has been over-roasted or the beans used have not been of high quality.

Old – Refers to coffee beans that have lost their freshness due to prolonged storage time. An old coffee can have a flat, stale, or unpleasant taste due to oxidation and loss of aromatic compounds.

Viscous – Refers to a thick and viscous texture felt in the mouth after a sip. This type of coffee can have a very dense body and an oily sensation, which can be pleasant for some people and unpleasant for others. Viscous coffee is often associated with high-quality beans grown at high altitudes and roasted with care to bring out their unique characteristics.

Quakers – Refers to flavor notes reminiscent of peanuts. Quakers are coffee beans that have not reached full maturity and do not have the flavor and quality of fully mature coffee beans.

Rancid – Refers to an unpleasant flavor that can appear in coffee beans due to prolonged or incorrect storage. The rancid taste resembles that of rancid fats or oils and can be difficult to detect in raw coffee beans but becomes more evident after roasting.

Round – A balanced and harmonious coffee.

Spicy – Refers to a flavor note reminiscent of spices such as cinnamon, cloves, or pepper. It can be a desired characteristic in some coffees, especially those intended to be consumed as espresso.

Straw – This negative note is produced when coffee beans spend too much time exposed after harvesting before being processed, which causes changes in their organoleptic characteristics. This sometimes translates into a dry and vegetal flavor, with herbaceous nuances that evoke straw.

Sweet – Sweetness in coffee is a sensation of sweetness in the mouth, which can be subtle or pronounced. This flavor can be influenced by the variety of coffee beans, the climate and altitude in which they are grown, the roasting process, and how the coffee is prepared.

Tannic – Refers to a characteristic that is perceived in the beverage, in which tannins, astringent substances found in some foods and beverages, can be felt. A tannic coffee usually has a bitter and dry taste in the mouth and can leave a sensation of dryness and roughness on the palate.

Vanilla – Vanilla is a characteristic flavor and aroma in some coffees, especially those with sweet and smooth notes. The aroma of vanilla is perceptible to smell and taste.

Watery – Watery coffee is characterized by being not very aromatic, lacking in body, and presenting a poor and clear crema that fades quickly. This type of coffee is usually the result of a too-rapid extraction (under-extracted) from coffee beans ground too coarsely or poorly compacted.

Weak – Refers to a flavor characteristic that indicates that the coffee has little body or density but does not necessarily mean that the coffee has a bad flavor or aroma. It may be preferred by those seeking a milder or less intense coffee.

Wine-like – This flavor is obtained from coffee beans processed with water-driven de-stemming machines, which allow them to absorb the aromas and flavors of the wine. Although this characteristic is not usually on the list of the most outstanding, it can be highly appreciated by some coffee lovers.

Woody – This term refers to the woody notes in the beverage, which tend to be more pronounced in dark roasted coffees.


From now on, every sip of coffee will become a completely different experience for you, as you can describe each sensation, aroma, and flavor accurately thanks to this glossary.

Exploring this wide variety of terms will allow you better to understand this delicious beverage’s complexities and nuances. It will allow you to enjoy it in all its richness and diversity.

Written by Pablo Barrantes Nevado
I am Pablo Barrantes, a coffee lover. I decided to start this website to solve all the doubts that arise every day when preparing our favorite drink: coffee. I am an industrial engineer by profession, but I have worked in coffee shops for many years, where I have learned all the secrets about coffee machines and coffee. My passion for coffee has led me to investigate and study beyond the obvious, and thanks to this, I can offer solutions and give news about coffee and coffee makers. I hope you enjoy reading as much as I research, document and write here.

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