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The Ultimate A-Z of Espresso Vocabulary

July 10, 2017

Are you new to espresso?

Here, I’m going to list and explain all the most common words that people use when talking about espresso coffee. I’ll even throw in some trivia and a few jokes just because I like you, random person from the internet.

Do you consider yourself an expert on all things coffee and espresso? See if you know everything here, there’s 35 items in total. I tested this list on some experienced baristas and home coffee makers – happy to say no-one managed to get everything!

Like any true A-Z we’ll start with A and end with Z covering the espresso terms for every letter. I’m sad to say that there’s nothing for a few of the letters. I did try to make a tenuous link between the letter Q and some strange coffee making practice I discovered, but it only ended with me shaking my head at myself in the mirror. Nothing worse than disappointing your own reflection.

No espresso drinks here

What this will not include is the various names for the various types of coffee you can make with Espresso. Things like Cappuccinos or Lattes or Americanos.

Oh no! I hear you cry. Where will I ever learn how to describe an espresso shot that is dabbed with a touch of steamed milk?

Well you are in luck. Every espresso drink under the sun is covered in my in-depth article which you should totally check out. And yes, I am recommending my own article. Please don’t hate me.


Contents

1. Arabica
2. Barista
3. Bar (Pressure)
4. Blade Grinder
5. Bloom
6. Burr Grinder
7. Crack (first, second…)
8. Crema
9. Cherry
10. Decaf
11. Demitasse
12. Doser
13. Espresso
14. Extraction
15. Filter Basket
16. Foamed Milk
17. Green Coffee
18. Grinder
19. Group Head
20. Instant
21. Irish Coffee
22. Hopper
23. Moka
24. Puck
25. Pull
26. Portafilter
27. Roast
28. Robusta
29. Skinny
30. Shot
31. Spout
32. Steam Wand
33. Steamed Milk
34. Tamping
35. Tamper


1. Arabica

arabica coffee  beans

Coffee beans are harvested from two types of coffee plant, Arabica and Robusta. The coffee produced from Arabica is less bitter and less caffeinated and is generally considered the better tasting bean. Most coffee beans available to buy are Arabica coffee. And oh look, an in-depth article on just that!

2. Barista

a barista at work

photo by Jeremy Keith

A barista is the person who makes the coffee in a coffee shop. The term is usually used more for commercial coffee chains although it can also apply to small cafes and independent run places. Sometimes sporting lightning blue hair and daring neck tattoos, these guys are the difference between a smoking hot latte macchiato and wishing you’d ordered a mineral water to go.

3. Bar (Pressure)

espresso machine with portafilter in place

A bar is a unit of pressure where 1 bar is about equal to the pressure from the atmosphere at sea level. In coffee terms, 9 bar is the recommended pressure to produce quality espresso. Some espresso machines like to advertise the pressure they can reach, wowing potential customers with their 15 or 18 bar pressure! Don’t fall for the flashy advertising, anything that can produce 9 bars of pressure is fine.

4. Blade Grinder

The poor man’s choice for grinding coffee beans. A blade grinder uses a – believe it or not – blade to cut up the coffee beans into small chunks. This method of grinding has serious flaws because there is no way to keep the chunks consistent. Big chunks will not extract properly and small chunks will over extract – making your coffee taste bad. You want to use a quality burr grinder instead.

5. Bloom

a pour over in bloom

photo by Jem Yoshioka

Blooming is when your hot water hits the coffee in a pour over coffee maker. The mixture causes the coffee grinds to rise and sit on the surface. The image of the pale and dark brown swirled together looks almost like a flower. Hence the word: bloom. Technically, this isn’t related to espresso coffee but I thought I’d include it because of its uniqueness.

6. Burr Grinder

The preferred method of grinding your coffee beans. A burr grinder has two burrs which are kinda like teeth that are set a certain distance apart. The coffee is forced through the burrs and then passes out the other side in nice, equally sized chunks. The distance these burrs are set apart is usually customisable for different ways of making coffee. The consistency of the grind means your coffee tastes as good as possible.

7. Crack (first, second…)

When roasting coffee, the beans make loud, audible reactions to the roasting process – we call these noises: cracks. The first crack comes at the point when the beans have browned, the roast can be stopped at this point. If the roast continues there will be a second audible reaction which is the second crack, stopping here produces a very dark roast.

8. Crema

crema on coffee

Crema is the pretty little foam that sits on top of an espresso shot. Don’t confuse this with milk, foamy or otherwise. It comes directly from the espresso machine. Besides looking pretty, Crema is widely considered to be a strong sign of excellent espresso.

9. Cherry (Coffee Bean)

coffee cherry

When farmers pick their coffee, they take it from the plant inside a red, cherry looking thing. This is the coffee cherry. The coffee bean that we know and love and worship is actually inside the coffee cherry and we need to remove it before we can process it. The cherry actually contains 2 coffee beans most of the time, with a rare chance (10-15%) that it only contains 1 – called a ‘peaberry’.

10. Decaf

Decaf is short for decaffeinated and refers to coffee with no caffeine. It’s useful for late night drinks or for those who want to live a healthier, caffeine-free lifestyle. We make Decaf coffee by taking the beans before they have been roasted and soaking the beans in hot water and some sort of solvent with dissolves the caffeine. Unfortunately, for a lot of people, this negatively impacts the taste of the coffee.

11. Demitasse (Cup)

demitasse cup

Demitasse is French for ‘half-cup’ and is the name of the cup used when drinking just the espresso shot. The capacity is about 2-3 ounces or 60-80 ml. It is also used for the popular espresso hybrids like Macchiato or Ristretto.

12. Doser

A doser is a part of a coffee grinder which sets an amount of coffee to grind. A dose of coffee, if you will. In commercial environments where the baristas pull thousands of espressos per day, using a doser is a good time saving measure. At home it is more of a luxury. As you would expect, a grinder with a doser costs a lot more.

13. Espresso

espresso

Espresso is the super strong and concentrated coffee that an espresso machine produces. It is so strong that it is generally added to milk or water to make lots of different drinks. Americanos, Cappuccinos, Lattes and the like. Espresso is made with high temperature and high pressure. It contrasts with brewed coffee which produces a much larger amount of coffee that isn’t quite so strong.

14. Extract/Extraction

Extraction is the process where the hot water becomes coffee. To extract, you add hot water to coffee in some way and the soluble flavors from the coffee get dissolved into the water. Depending on how you do this, you can end up with a pretty little shot of brown gold, or something that will make you wonder what you did to upset whichever god you worship.

15. Filter Basket

filter basket with coffee inside

The filter basket is the small, cylindrical basket in the portafilter where you put your ground coffee. You can see it in the picture here, full of ground coffee.

16. Foamed Milk

Foamed milk is milk that has been placed under a steam wand and heated. Foamed milk – or frothed milk – is made differently to steamed milk in that the steam wand is placed under the surface of the milk as it is steamed. Foamed milk is used in Cappuccinos and many other espresso drinks.

17. Green Coffee

green coffee beans

When coffee is harvested, the coffee beans must be removed from the coffee cherry. These coffee beans are bright green and sometimes referred to as green coffee. They must be roasted before they take on the dark brown color they are known for and can be used to make coffee.

18. Grinder

Coffee beans are big, fat things that would never do anything if placed in water by themself. The beans must be ground into little pieces first using a grinder. Different ways of making coffee require different sizes of ground coffee. For example, espresso coffee requires very fine pieces, like fine sand. These things are the key to making great coffee, whether hand or automatic.

19. Group Head

a group head

Photo by Angie Chung

The group head is the part of the espresso machine that attaches to the portafilter. When making espresso, you fill the portafilter with coffee then lock it on to the group head. Essentially, it connects the hot water with the coffee. If you keep an eye out at your local coffee chain you might see huge espresso machines with 5 or 6 groupheads!

20. Instant

Instant coffee is like magic. In that you put instant coffee into a cup and then add hot water and the coffee dissolves into the water – no coffee grounds left over! Unfortunately, it’s pretty bad tasting magic. I recommend you stay away unless convenience is the highest priority for you.

21. Irish Coffee

an irish coffee
Irish coffee is a particular type of cocktail where Irish whiskey and cream is added to coffee to make a specific alcoholic drink. It can also be used to mean when alcohol is added to a coffee drink given the Irish relationship with drinking. It’s maybe a little unfair to stereotype a whole country of people like this, though – that’s more something that the Germans would do.

22. Hopper

a hopper

Photo by Kars Alfrink

The hopper is the part of a coffee bean grinder where you put the beans. Once you’ve done this, you can start grinding like the regulars of a trashy nightclub.

23. Moka

two moka pots

photo by Arek Olek

Moka coffee is a type of ‘espresso’ produced by a stovetop espresso maker – or a Moka Pot. These little devices are cheap and convenient and with a touch of skill can make great coffee. The ‘espresso’ they make – as shown by my clever use of quote marks – is not considered real espresso, but it can still be used to make Latte and Cappuccino type drinks.

24. Puck

coffee puck

photo by Matt Davis

When the ground coffee has been tamped into the portafilter the shape is like a short cylinder, or a hockey puck. A puck, then, is the remains of coffee after the espresso has been pulled. You can see this quite clearly when you empty the portafilter – sometimes the wet, ground coffee stay stuck together and you get a hockey puck shaped wedge that falls into your trash.

You can see one here emerging from the top of an Aeropress.

25. Pull

spout with espresso pouring from it

To pull a shot of espresso is to pour a shot of espresso from the machine into the cup. The name comes from the old style espresso machines where you had to pull a lever to make the water pass through. These machines are called manual espresso machines and you can still get them today – one for the real connoisseur.

26. Portafilter

a portfilter and a tamper

The portafilter is the device that you clip onto your espresso machine. It has a small basket where you put your coffee, lock it onto the grouphead and away you go!

27. Roast

Raw green coffee beans are roasted to produce the characteristic flavor that we know and love. Beans can be roasted longer for a heavier, almost burnt tasting ‘Dark Roast’ or for less time for a lighter tasting ‘Blonde Roast’. The quality of the roast is a big factor in how good your coffee will taste.

That image on the right is a beautiful roasting machine working away.

28. Robusta

farmer holding coffee beans

Coffee beans are harvested from two types of coffee plant, Arabica and Robusta. Robusta is more bitter and more highly caffeinated than Arabica and is considered to be the less ‘superior’ bean. It does have its uses, though. About 10-15% of traditional Italian espresso coffee is Robusta and it is generally used to make instant coffee where the high caffeine content helps give the weaker tasting coffee a kick. And oh look, a link to an in-depth article on just that!

29. Skinny

a skinny latte

Used to order an espresso drink with low-fat milk, as in ‘I’ll take a Skinny Latte my good sir, I’m on a diet!” A lot of drinks like Lattes or Cappucinos contain a large amount of milk which takes the number of calories way up – coffee itself has barely any calories. As such, reducing the calories from fat is a easy way of cutting back.

30. Shot

a small glass of espresso

A normal pour of espresso is called a shot. It’s a small amount but packs a powerful punch. You can think of it like a shot of alcohol, a strong ingredient that can be drunk by itself but is more commonly mixed with other things. Asking for an extra shot is a quick way to get a stronger coffee. And then there is the elusive ‘God Shot’!

31. Spout

spout with espresso pouring from it

The spout is the bottom of the portafilter where the coffee drips out from. There are spouts that have 1 or 2 exits so you can get 1 or 2 shots of espresso. Triple spouts do exist – but they are rarely, if ever, used. Some portafilters don’t even have a spout, they are called a ‘naked portafilter’ but that’s a word that deserves an article in itself!

32. Steam Wand

This is the little spout that on the side of the espresso machine. When you press a button, steam spurts out which is used to make things like steamed or foamed milk. Mastering the use of this little guy is the key to making a perfect Cappuccino.

33. Steamed Milk

Steamed milk is milk that has been put under a steam wand and steamed and heated for a while. It is less dense than foamed milk and made slightly differently. Steamed milk is the main ingredient in a latte and is also used in a number of other espresso drinks.

34. Tamping

Tamping is the process of patting the ground coffee into place in the portafilter. It may not seem like it, but this is an important part of espresso making and can make a noticeable difference to the taste and quality of your coffee.

35. Tamper

a portfilter and a tamper

This is the metal or plastic utensil that you use to tamp (pat) the coffee into shape. These vary in quality much more than you might think – using a solid tamper is a very satisfying feeling.

It’s the silver thing in this photo.


How many did you know? Let me know in the comments. You were doing pretty well if you could get over 25 and you’re an espresso boss if you got over 30! Extra points if you know something that’s not on here!

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