Cupping Glossary


High acid coffees have a sharp, pleasing, piquante quality that gives them snap, verve, and liveliness in the cup. Acidity may be high, medium, light, low, or lacking altogether in coffees, in which case the coffee tastes flat and dull. Acidity is characteristic of high - grown coffees and is tasted on the sides of the tongue towards the back. See sour.


Refers to the odor of the prepared coffee beverage. It may be lacking, faint, delicate, moderate, strong, or fragrant (also called aromatic), and may be distinctive in character.


A taste description given to underroasted coffee, or coffee roasted too slowly at too low a temperature, so that the flavor is underdeveloped. See green.


A harsh, unpleasant taste detected on the back of the tongue. Found in over - extracted brews as well as in over - roasted coffees and those with various taste defects. Bitter is one of the four primary taste characteristics but the term is overused.


The tactile impression of weight and texture in the mouth. Coffees may be watery, thin, light, medium, full, heavy, thick or even syrupy in body, as well as buttery, oily, rich, smooth, chewy, etc. in texture. Easiest to detect in full - strength coffee, but body should not be confused with strength.


Said of oily body or texture in the mouth. Denotes full flavor and rich body.


A bitter, smoky or ashy flavor characteristic of dark - roasted coffee. A popular taste on the west coast. Coffees roasted too dark can move towards brunt.


Underlying spice accent sometimes detected in the aroma of fine coffee (a flavor nuance). Not a common description. Also, a term describing a very light roast.


Opposite of dirty. Characteristic of all fine coffees. Does not necessarily imply clarity of flavor impression (see natural coffee and wild). Associated with washed coffees.


Characteristic sweetish smell of completely stale roasted coffee. See Stale.

Dirty *

An undesirable unclean smell and taste, slight to pronounced. Dirty implies a defect such as sourness, earthiness, or mustiness. See natural coffee and wild.


A dirt odor and flavor note picked up in coffees when dried on the ground; also called groundy. See Musty. In some coffees, at low levels (Sumatra for example) earthiness can be desirable.

Flat *

A dull lifeless quality due to lack of acidity.


(a) The total impression of aroma, ranked on a scale... flavored acidity and body. If the impression is strong, and pleasant the coffee isdescribed as flavorful from poor, fair, good, to fine - flavored.

(b) Specific taste flavors that may suggest spices, chocolate, nuts, or something less complementary - straw, grass, rubber, earth, etc.


Opposite of stale. Applies to roasted coffees.

Fruity *

A flavor taint said to come from overripe fruit pulp. Found most often in dry processed coffees. Characteristic of rotted fruit.

Grassy *

A flavor taint from use of swamp water for washing or from improper drying. Also used as a synonym for green and past - croppish.

Green *

(a) A flavor taint found in coffee harvested before fully ripe.

(b) Characteristic taste of underroasted coffee; pasty.

Hard *

Opposite of sweet or mild; harsh. Description of Brazils between soft and Rio - y.

Harsh *

Crude raw taste; used to describe certain Brazils and Robustas.

Hidy *

Smells of hides or leather from improper storage.


Used to quality aroma, acidity, or body; a light coffee is delicate in flavor.


Full, well - balanced, satisfying coffee; implies low or medium acidity. See winey.

Musty *

A smell and taste taint caused by mildew; or improper storage of the green coffee. similar to earthy.

Natural Coffee

Aroma and flavor characteristics of coffees processed by the dry method. They are often ligther in acidity than washed coffees and may lack clarity of flavor. Some may have intense complex flavors and full, thick body. See wild.


A characterless, flavorless coffee, inoffensive to insipid; without virtue (safe for economical blending) but without defect. A desirable character in robusta and otherwise distinguished Brazils.


(a) Said of coffees that lack fully developed coffee flavor; also peanutty.

(b) A specific flavor nuance, suggesting almonds and so on.

Past - Croppish

Not to be confused with stale. Said of coffees that have deteriorated in the green state before roasting and thus taste as if from a past crop. See strawy and woody.

Rancid *

Extremely sour and very unpleasant. Characteristic of stale coffee as the oils rise to the surface and turn rancid.


Indicates depth and compexity of flavor and full, buttery body; overused.

Rio - y *

A harsh, heavy medicinal or iodine flavor typical of the poorest grades of Brazils but encountered in other coffees as well. Said to be caused by allowing berries to dry on the tress.

Rubbery *

Burnt - rubber odor characteristic of robusta.


Low acid coffees are described as soft, mellow, sweet.


Not to be confused with acidity. A distinctly sour, rank, or rancid taste is a defect, often due to improper processing. See wild.


Said of fine aroma or flavor suggestive of spices.

Stale *

Roasted coffee that has faded in quality after excessive exposure to air. Aroma of stale coffee changes from flat to rancid and finally to cocoa - like; the flavor of stale coffee changes from bitter to rancid and tastes carboardy. Not to be confused with past - croppish.

Strawy *

Characteristic scent of past - croppish coffees; hay - like. See woody.


Term used to indicate intensity of either defects or virtues (as in "a strong, sour taste" or a "strong fine aroma"). A strong - flavored coffee is therefore not necessarily a fine - flavored coffee.


Said of a smooth, palatable coffee, free from taints or harshness. Sweetness is tasted on the tip of the tongue, and is one of the four primary taste characteristic.


Said of coffees with low body and lack of flavor; typical of low - grown coffee.


Coffees with extreme flavor characteristics, or odd racy, tangy nuances in aroma and taste. Usually applied to natural coffees. These characteristics may be intriguing or undesirable. See dirty.


Sometimes used to indicate thick body and mellow quality, but also to denote a sappy, vinous acidity. Characteristic of certain fine coffees.

Woody *

A flavor taint caused by over - lengthy storage in warm wood sheds; also characteristic scent and taste of old, past - croppish coffees.

* Tainted characteristics

Source: The Signet Book of Coffee and Tea by Peter Quire Signet, Signet Classics, Mentor, Plume, Meridian, and NAL New York, NY published September 1976. Modified by: Capricorn Coffees