The Beginner Coffee Snob’s Dictionary: A Few Coffee Terms To Know

Coffee Snob’s Dictionary

Jumping into the world of coffee can be confusing if you don’t speak the language. The coffee world seems to have its lingo, but a little knowledge goes a long way. If you can master these standard coffee terms, you’re on your way to becoming a coffee snob.


The lovely person who makes your coffee how you like it, even if that’s you.

Light vs. medium vs. dark roast

Most coffee vendors, like Mystic Monk Coffee, carry multiple roasts to accommodate everyone’s preferences. Understanding the differences can help you choose your favorite roasts.

Roasting coffee beans is complicated but crucial to delivering unique flavors. Lighter roasts have the most taste and slightly more caffeine because they spend less time over the heat, meaning they retain more natural oils. 

Medium roasts have a slightly oily exterior and slightly higher acidity, often with caramel or nutty notes. 

Dark roasts typically have a sheen because of the natural oils drawn out during roasting. 

Coffee vs. espresso

Coffee and espresso come from the same bean and deliver a tasty, caffeinated beverage. The differences between coffee and espresso are processing and preparation. 

First, espresso beans roast longer than coffee beans. Then, baristas use finely ground beans and different machines to make espresso. Espresso has higher caffeine content and smoother tastes because it comes from forcing hot water at high pressure through compacted grounds. 


Crema is the subtle foam layer on the top of an espresso shot.

Black eye vs. red eye

When you need an extra jolt in your morning cup, try a red eye to add a shot of espresso. A black look adds two shots of espresso to a brewed coffee.

Affogato vs. frappe

Dress up your espresso drink with ice cream. An affogato typically uses a scoop of vanilla in a single shot, while a frappe is a blended or shaken drink. Note that frappes don’t always contain coffee.

Americano vs. Cubano

If coffee is too much for you, try adding extra hot water to make an Americano, or add some sugar and whip it to craft a Cubano.

Cappuccinos vs. lattes vs. macchiatos

As you learn the difference between cappuccinos, lattes, and macchiatos, espresso drinks get confusing. They all involve espresso and milk but in different ratios.

  • Cappuccinos use ⅓ each of espresso, steamed milk, and foam.
  • Lattes involve a shot of espresso dropped in steamed milk and topped off with a touch of foam.
  • Macchiatos feature the same three components layered in a small glass.

Many baristas add flavors and toppings to all three drinks to create unique flavor combinations.

Cold brew vs. iced coffee

Cold brew is coffee brewed over hours or days with cold or room temperature water. Iced coffee is any brew poured over ice.


Fair Trade or direct trade coffee beans come straight from the farmers who grow them. Purchasing coffees with these labels means the farmers received a reasonable wage for their products. 

Before you go

Learning the lingo can give you confidence when ordering at a cafe and help you blend with the most discerning coffee drinkers. Not only will you be able to order a coffee drink you like, but you might also help others navigate complex coffee menus.

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