Take a steaming sip: Your guide to the taste, color, and flavors of coffee


Walk into a coffee shop. You hear the shouts of baristas, the whirling of a distant blender, the sound of espresso being made. Look at the walls. Dozens of coffee bags line the interiors, all with different descriptions. Columbian, Blonde, Fair-Trade, Italian Roast. Even when buying coffee at the store, all of these phrases jump out at you, running through your head. You sit and wonder, what do these mean?


It’s one thing to know different types of coffee drinks–lattes, blended beverages, cold brew, and more–but you can easily be deemed a coffee “expert” simply by exploring the process a little more. Below are some vocabulary words you can use to sound smart while you sip your coffee, however you take it.


Fair Trade: These labels on coffee bags ensures that coffee farmers are given fair conditions and wages. It ensures sustainable farming methods that benefit the environment and producers.


Light/Cinnamon Roast: These types of beans are coffee that is not fully roasted. This makes for a lighter brown color in the bean and a non-oily surface. It is easier to tell where the coffee is from as the flavors of the bean are more distinct. Light roasts are also called cinnamon due to their lighter color.


Medium/City/Vienna Roast: This is the standard coffee roast, meaning that it is the sweetest the beans can be. These beans balance the flavors created from the roasting process and the ones from its origin. This is the most preferred coffee in the United States. The name ‘city’ comes from the concept that bulks of these roasted beans are sent to cities, where coffee is traditionally consumed. The name ‘Vienna’ comes from Vienna, Austria, where they traditionally roast in this style.


Dark/Italian/French Roast: Dark roasts make for slightly “burnt” beans. The flavor can be preferred by those who prefer the smokey flavor of the roast, and less the flavor of the coffee bean itself. The coffee is more bitter and is best for espresso drinks. The terms “Italian” and “French” come from their respective countries, in which the coffee is roasted darkly.


Based on the coffee, brands will tell you what roast your coffee has gone through. While the process has a large impact on the flavors of your coffee, the places your coffees are sourced can make or break your morning cup of joe. In fact, many coffee traders mix beans from different countries in order to make a more flavorful drink. For example, one may mix Brazilian beans with Indonesian beans to create a stronger chocolate flavor. These are the different variations based on region.

Annika Lopez (12) takes a sip of coffee during her “Cafe Ole” Intersession. Photo by Becca Alonso.

Central America:

  • acidity fruity flavor
  • smooth sweetness, chocolate/pastry like
  • a backdrop of spice and chocolate

South America:

  • Nutty undertone
  • Most recognizable coffee to Americans
  • Caramel sweetness


  • Peanut quality
  • Heavy (strong mouthfeel)
  • Chocolate and spice undertones
  • Light clean aftertaste


  • Heavy, syrup like
  • Sweet berry flavor
  • Lighter and dry on the palate


  • Sour (puckering) and sweet flavor
  • Tropical tasting
  • Preferred by coffee professionals


  • Smoky-earthy flavor (dirt-like)
  • Long dark cocoa lingering aftertaste


As students at Ann Richards, caffeine is often believed to be essential to our workload. Next time you grudgingly wake up at the crack of dawn or you persevere through a night of studying, make note of the scents, sourness, and sweetness you get from your steaming mug, and take the time to enjoy your beverage rather than gulp it down before your next class.