Coffee Jargon Explained

Every subculture has its own language, and whether it is used merely as “show” in an effort to feel superior to those outside the circle, or as a necessary tool to communicate ideas specific to the culture (or both), it can be tricky to learn the lingo. Happily, coffee jargon is almost always employed for the sake of keeping things efficient or clear, and most baristas love to answer coffee questions!

With a long list of different beans, roasts, brews, drinks and additives, a basic shorthand is necessary to keep the line moving. If you don’t understand it all, you’re not alone:  The New York Times felt it necessary to publish this handy glossary of coffee terms back in 2010.

Drip Coffee

Fortunately, regular drip coffee is free of most of the coffee jargon that surrounds more advanced coffee drinks (usually those made with espresso). One older slang term is “unleaded,” which means decaffeinated.

An espresso poured into a cup of drip coffee is called a Shot in The Dark, a Speed Ball or a Red Eye.

Espresso (Brewing)

Much of the lingo you’ll hear in the coffee universe revolves around espresso. A shot of espresso refers simply to a cup of brewed espresso, which is comprised of 1 to 1.25 ounces of water brewed with 7 grams of finely ground coffee. The verb “pull”—as in, to pull a shot—is a holdover term from the early days of espresso when fully manual machines had levers that baristas (espresso bartenders) had to manipulate to brew the espresso. Once the shot has been pulled, the leftover grounds, squashed into the shape of a thick disc and ready for disposal, are often referred to in slang as a “spent puck.

Espresso (Ordering)

You may be familiar with fairly common espresso drinks like the Caffé Latté (comprised of ½ espresso and ½ steamed milk, topped with foamed milk; usually just called a latté) and cappuccino (2/3 espresso, 1/3 steamed milk). Variations on these drinks include the dry cappuccino (no steamed milk, just foamed milk) and its reverse (wet), the very popular Caffé mocha (a caffé latté with chocolate, generally just called a mocha) and the Caffé Amaretto (latté with almond syrup).

An 8-ounce coffee drink is called short; a 12-ounce is called tall. If you want some room left at the top of your drink to add cream (or to prevent spills), you’d like it with room. If you want two shots of espresso in your drink, that’s called a double; the hip way to order a double is to ask for a doppio. Make sure your shot of espresso has a layer of tan-colored foam on top; not to be confused with milk foam, it’s actually minuscule air bubbles composed of espresso film that forms a "cap" that protects the espresso itself from exposure to the air. It’s called crema, and it’s a feature of every well-pulled shot.

A peaberry is a football-shaped coffee bean that hasn't separated into two parts. A kind of über-bean, it’s the most intensely flavorful selection of its crop.