Merriam Webster defines “bold” as…



adjective, -er, -est.

1.not hesitating or fearful in the face of actual or possibledanger or rebuff; courageous and daring: a bold hero.
2.not hesitating to break the rules of propriety; forward;impudent: He apologized for being so bold as to speak to theemperor.
3.necessitating courage and daring; challenging: a boldadventure.
4.beyond the usual limits of conventional thought or action;imaginative: Einstein was a bold mathematician. a difficultproblem needing a bold answer.
5.striking or conspicuous to the eye; flashy; showy: a bold pattern.

If I had a dollar for every time I heard coffee flavors referred to as “bold,” I could retire at age 25. No, seriously. Starbux, Petes, and all the other big names in coffee have used this term to describe dark, rich, full bodied, and generally bitter coffees. Makes sense, if that is the agreed upon term. However, many in the artisan coffee industry would likely disagree.

I never utilize the term unless it is to differentiate “good” and “bad” coffee knowledge. My coffee sensei told me the term was coined by these corporations though it doesn’t make sense; liquid (more notably coffee) cannot brave or daring, nor is one adventurous for imbibing it. True, I thought. The more I saw the word “bold” used to describe coffee, the more pretentious I became. I would think, “what barbaric terminology.” It basically put a shop’s image and marketing along the same lines as Starbux; buzz words appealing to those who don’t really know coffee.


One day, I walked into a well known Santa Cruz establishment. They will remain unnamed since I am not out to bad mouth this place. I sat down, ordered a coffee to try out the shop’s beans. My friend Sal and I asked about the different coffees available. The young, hip woman serving us suggested an El Salvador. A note about South American coffee: generally, they are known for their acidity due to Wet processing, though this is not always the case. Some can taste more earthy than others, some more on the sour side, some outright bland. I expected an explanation about acidity. Her response was, “if I had to describe it, I would say it’s bold.”

I sat, stunned. I looked at Sal, then back at the server. “Bold? Oh, well, alright let’s try it.” I was surprised, she must have meant earthy. How rad, an earthy El Salvador coffee! I got my coffee, tasted it, and was stunned for a second time. It was nowhere near “bold.” Frankly, it was pretty typical of a South American coffee and not exactly the most flavorful cup I have had from the region. The head barista must have caught wind of this because once she left he asked, “what do you think?” I was terse, “this is nowhere near ‘bold,’ it is nothing but acidic. I am a little surprised she would say that.” He seemed displeased, even a little offended. This, I believe, was an aberration. The server was new and I am still a regular patron of that shop.

The point of this story was to demonstrate how pervasive the term is and demonstrate how it can be misleading, aside from being kind of funny. Maybe the barista thought I was inexperienced and using buzz terms would spark my interest in the coffee, or maybe she really thought the coffee was “bold.” More likely, she probably had never tried it. In any case, terms like “bold,” atleast for me, are more of a mark of inexperience and a lack of knowledge than anything else. This is just me, but if you are going to use a term like that to describe coffee, be ready to be compared to Starbux.


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