Coffee 101: The Basics We Never Knew

Everyday, 54% of American adults wake up and drink a cup of coffee within an hour of waking up. The craze that is coffee seems to be taking over. We see coffee drinks on our news feeds as people walk to class, we pass by numerous coffee shops each day, and probably enjoy a cup or two (or three!) to ourselves. Coffee can be complicated and confusing, so the Lala has created a guide to becoming a coffee connoisseur!

What does it even mean? 

The word coffee means “wine of the bean” from the Arabic language. Look at that–wine and coffee in the same sentence, a girl’s dream!

What are the origins?

Coffee was first discovered in the Ethiopian highlands in the 13th century. The Arabs were the first to cultivate coffee and begin the trade.

What is roasting and why does it happen?

Roasting coffee beans is what produces the coffee’s “personality.” The beans expand and change in color, taste, smell, and density for each roast’s unique flavor. Unroasted coffee beans still have the caffeine but lack the taste, and that’s why so much emphasis is on the type of roast you prefer to buy and drink.

Light vs. Medium vs. Dark Roast?

Light Roast: Light roasts will be light brown in color with oil on the surface because they are not roasted long enough. They also contain the most caffeine because caffeine is lost in longer roasting processes.
Medium Roast: Medium roasts will be medium brown in color with a stronger flavor and a non-oily surface. According to the National Coffee Association USA, most people prefer medium roasts in America.
Dark Roasts: Dark roasts will generally have an oily surface and a bitter taste. The darker the roast, the less acidity the coffee will be. Dark roasts contain the least amount of caffeine.


Ground vs. Whole Coffee Beans?

If you’re looking for the most flavor and the “fresh” quality in a cup of coffee, buy whole coffee beans! However, most people prefer ground beans for the convenience. The downside to ground beans is that they tend to go stale and lose their fragrance and taste over time. The coffee pro’s recommend buying a week’s worth of grounds at a time to ensure the best taste out of your beans!

Coffee From Around the World

Ethiopian Coffee: From eastern Africa, east of Sudan, and north of Kenya

  • Taste: A complex, smooth, and balanced “busy” flavor, usually a dense and sweet berry flavor
  • Acidity: Medium

Kenyan Coffee: From the mountain regions of Kenya

  • Taste: Big, bold, sweet, and juicy
  • Acidity: High
  • Coffee in Kenya is grown without shade, giving the beans a rich, full, and acidic taste


Sumatran Coffee: Grown in Indonesia

  • Taste: Bold with an earthy aroma, some say it has an almost earthy flavor
  • Acidity: High

Jamaican Coffee: Grown on Jamaican mountains

  • Taste: Earthy and floral
  • Acidity: Medium
  • Jamaican coffee is one of the most expensive coffees in the world, so keep an eye out for steals and deals at the store!

Brazilian Coffee: Grown on the grassy plains of Brazil

  • Taste: A nutty sweet flavor, often bittersweet with a chocolatey roast taste
  • Acidity: Low
  • About 1/3 of all the world’s coffee is grown in Brazil!

Popular Coffee Drinks


Concentrated strong black coffee made by forcing steam through ground coffee beans. Espressos are very strong and usually only added to specialty drinks.


Made with half milk that has been frothed by pressurized steam with half a glass of foam and a shot of espresso added in.



A shot or two of espresso with just a splash of milk that “marks the espresso.” Much stronger than cappuccino or latte!


Made with espresso and steamed milk, lattes are weaker than macchiatos and cappuccinos.

How to save!

Some quick ways that you can save on your coffee spending are: buying a French Press, switch to instant coffee, use an aeropress, or steep a pinch of coffee in a cup of hot water.

All photos credit to Britta Nicole.

Emma Tiernon

Contributor, Indiana University Major: Journalism Her heart belongs to: her family, friends, and avocados. Take her away to: her lakehouse in the summer and give her sunscreen!

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