These adjectives relate mostly to the origin of the coffee and the
method of processing it (dry, wet, or both):
Acidity. Acidity in relation to taste has nothing to do
with acidity in terms of the gnawing pain in your stomach. Acidity
in coffee might be described by terms like bright, clear, snappy,
dry, clean, winey, etc. Coffees without acidity tend to taste flat
and dull, like flat soda. Acidity is to coffee what dryness is to
wine. Different varietals will possess different kinds of acidity,
for example high notes of some African coffees versus the crisp
clear notes of high grown coffees from the Americas. Unpleasant
acidy flavors may register as sourness. Dark roasts tend to
flatten out acidity. This is a key term in coffee tasting.
Aroma. The aromatics of a coffee greatly influence its
flavor profile, and comes from the perception of the gases
released by brewed coffee. Aroma is greatest in the middle roasts
and is quickly overtaken by carbony smells in darker roasts. Green
beans can also have a distinct aroma that may hint at their cup
Balance. A coffee that has several attributes present but
does not have one that overpowers others, might be called balanced
or mellow. If it simply lacks strong attributes in any significant
amount it might be called dull.
Body. Body is the perceived heaviness of a coffee, sensed
on the back of the palate. Extremely light roasts and extremely
dark roasts have reduced body, but body is also determined by the
type of coffee. Perceived body can be affected by some brewing
methods, for example presspot coffee, where a lot of fine matter
floats in the cup after pressing, or Espresso, where a lot of
coffee oils are present in a small quantity of liquid. Conversely,
if you brew using too little coffee, or too course a grind, the
result will be light on body. Paper filters can also reduce the
body in the cup.
Clean. The opposite of wild coffees. Clean-tasting coffees
are free of defects, shadow undertones, or varietal distractions.
Complexity. Complexity relates to the co-presence of
attributes in a coffee. Acidity, body, earthiness, sweetness,
etc., combine to make a coffee complex. Varietals are often
blended to increase their complexity.
Flavor. Just a general term to describe the overall
impression you get from a coffee.
Musty, Dirty, Rioy, Rough. A bunch of bad words. The first
two terms relate to poor storage conditions, improper aging, or
unpleasant earthiness. "Rioy" is an industry term for
harshness, (pronounced ree-o-ee after Rio De Janiero), like poor
quality low-grown Brazilian arabicas.
Spicy. Underlying "spicy" accent, either aromatic
or flavorful. It might relate to the coffee being natural, the
character of the acidity or the two combined. Examples are some
Ethiopian and Guatemalan coffees.
Wild, Earthy, or Natural. Relates mostly to the processing
method used, when the fruit of the coffee cherry is allowed to dry
on the beans before removal. Earthiness can also be detected, I
presume, based on the soils the coffee grows in (there are earthy
Indonesian coffees that are wet processed). Earthiness can quickly
become dirtiness. Dirty coffee is unpleasant. The winey flavors of
some wild coffees is called sour when it becomes unpleasant.