Learn the Lingo: 9 Pieces of Coffee Terminology You Need to Know

In the United States, there are more than 377,000 coffee businesses, and Canada boasts an additional 5,000+ businesses country-wide.

Are you interested in breaking into the coffee industry? Do you want to run your own coffee shop or start a roaster/retailer business?

Whatever your specific goals are, if you’re going to run a successful coffee business, it’s not enough to walk the walk. You also have to talk the talk.

Listed below are nine key pieces of coffee terminology that you definitely ought to have in your arsenal.

1. Espresso

First of all, let’s get one thing straight. It’s pronounced “espresso” not “expresso.” No one will take you seriously if you offer them a shot of “expresso”.

Now that we’ve explained that, let’s clarify what espresso is.

Espresso is a very strong, very dark form of coffee. For a long time, it was more popular in Europe than in North America. It’s gaining popularity, though.

The process of making espresso involves forcing high-pressure water through beans that have been very finely ground. You can make espresso from a variety of coffee roasts. The difference is in the preparation rather than in the beans themselves.

Because espresso is stronger than regular coffee, it’s usually served in one-ounce shots. When someone drinks it alone, it’s served in a tiny demitasse cup. You can combine it with other ingredients to create a larger, more elaborate drink.

2. Latte, Cappuccino, Macchiato, Americano

Lattes, cappuccinos, macchiatos, and Americanos are all types of espresso drinks. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed when you come across all these terms for the first time. There are some key differences between them, though.

A latte, for example, is an espresso drink topped with steamed milk. Some baristas add flavoring, such as vanilla, to make the drink sweeter.

Cappuccinos, on the other hand, include espresso, steamed milk, and frothed milk. Each of these ingredients makes up about 1/3 of the drink.

A macchiato is a shot of espresso topped with steamed milk foam. It’s a good option for someone who wants a drink stronger than a cappuccino but weaker than espresso served by itself.

An Americano combines espresso with hot water. It’s made with at least one shot of espresso—although most baristas serve two, three, or even four shots with the hot water, depending on the size of the drink.

3. Breve, Cafe Au Lait, Steamer

Breve, cafe au lait, and steamers are all steamed drinks.

A breve is a latte that is made with steamed half and half. Cafe au lait, on the other hand, is made of half coffee (rather than espresso) and half steamed milk. Some people also add flavoring to this drink.

A steamer is made with steamed milk and flavoring. It’s essentially a flavored latte without any espresso.

4. Fair Trade

Many coffee businesses advertise their beans as being “fair trade.” This means that the coffee beans were grown and harvested in an ethical way.

To be considered Fair Trade Certified, for example, coffee must be grown and harvested by workers who earn a certain minimum wage and work in conditions that are deemed safe.

The fair trade movement also places a heavy emphasis on environmental sustainability and the growth and harvesting of coffee (and other products) in a way that causes the least amount of harm to the environment.

5. Iced Coffee and Cold Brew

Some people are confused about the difference between iced coffee and cold brew. Iced coffee, in its simplest form, is coffee poured over ice. Some baristas use espresso for a stronger drink.

Cold brew coffee, on the other hand, requires a specific preparation process. It involves a longer extraction period using cold water to brew each cup. Many people make their own cold brew using a French press, and then pour it over ice.

6. Light Roast

You can roast coffee beans in different ways to produce different flavors. There are three main types of roast: light roast, medium roast, and dark roast.

Light roast coffee is roasted the least. Light roast beans have the highest caffeine content and tend to have a more acidic taste. They’re sometimes referred to as city roast or New England roast.

7. Medium Roast

Medium roasts get roasted longer than light roast beans and have a darker color and a slightly richer taste. They have less caffeine and tend to be less acidic as well.

Medium roast coffee beans are sometimes referred to by other names, such as breakfast roast, American roast, and regular roast.

8. Dark Roast

As you would expect, dark roast beans get roasted the longest. They have the darkest color and the richest taste. They’re the least acidic as well and have the lowest caffeine content.

Dark roast beans are sometimes referred to as espresso roast, Spanish roast, or French roast.

9. Arabica and Robusta

When you’re shopping for coffee beans for your business, you’ll likely come across the terms “Arabica” and “Robusta.” Not sure what the difference is between these two? In short, they’re two different types of beans.

Arabica beans are the world’s most popular coffee beans. In fact, they make up approximately 70 percent of global bean production. Robusta beans are the second most popular option.

Arabica beans differ from Robusta beans in shape: Arabica beans are longer and thinner while Robusta beans are rounder. In flavor, Arabica beans have a sweeter, fruitier taste and Robusta beans are more bitter.

Because of their bitter, richer taste, as well as their higher caffeine content, Robusta beans are often used in espresso roasts and instant coffees.

Put Your Coffee Terminology Knowledge to the Test Today

As you can see, there are many different coffee terminologies to learn, especially if you want people to take you and your coffee business seriously.

Now that you’re familiar with these common coffee terms, it’s time to start putting them to the test. The more you use them, the more naturally they’ll come to you when it matters most.

In addition to extensive coffee knowledge, you also need to offer the right coffee to your customers if you want your business to thrive. Contact us today to learn more about what sets our green coffee beans apart from the rest.


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