Boycott Bold


This poster was created with the same intention as the others I’ve designed—to simply express my own frustration with certain habits and trends within the coffee industry. While the first one (the dreaded x) was self explanatory, some of these need a bit more explanation. So let this be the first.

Bold: adj \’bōld\ 1) Fearless before danger. Daring. Adventurous. See ‘bold’ type.

I know that coffee fearlessly takes on each morning like an undefeated champion and gives us the courage to face the day. But there are many other ways to describe this revelation—and the taste of your coffee—than with a hollow descriptor that Starbucks practically own the rights to:

What Makes a Coffee Bold? At Starbucks we will call a coffee bold based on its flavor intensity. Bold can come from a combination of roast, flavor intensity or the complexity due to where is it grown. Some examples are the grapefruit notes in Kenya or the full body of the earthy and spicy Komodo Dragon Blend®. –Starbucks

By this definition, any coffee that exhibits “complexity, ” whether it’s a citrusy Kenyan or a spicy Indonesian constitutes being described as “bold.” Coffee by its very nature is an intense (some might say bold) beverage. The flavors, the aromatics, the body, the complexity, the caffeine—all create a unique beverage experience unlike anything else.

However, the word “bold” has been hijacked by marketing and used to describe everything from darker roasts, to higher brew ratios, to even implying there is more caffeine in bold coffee (which there isn’t). This creates confusion among customers, frustration among baristas, and puts pressure on roasters to participate in the erroneous descriptor circus, just to sell coffee to an indoctrinated market.

The industry is full of metaphor and sometimes rather curious coffee descriptions:

Sweet, just bracing enough, the coffee recalls nothing so much as getting out of the subway at Lincoln Center on an icy winter day with three dollars in your pocket, and saying “Yes. Today is the day I buy those honey-roasted cashews from the guy with the nut cart.” –Blue Bottle Coffee

But creative and indiscernible is better than vague and ambiguous. My suggestion, remove “bold” from your coffee vocabulary. Boycott bold. Begin to notice more specific characteristics of your coffee—do you like sweet, fruity, floral, citrus, spicy, smokey, nutty, earthy, chocolaty? These are some of the basic coffee flavors that can help you pick out what you enjoy about your coffee. You don’t need to discern Satsuma orange and rosewater to order a coffee you’ll like, but everyone will benefit if you avoid using bold.

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  • Reply Matt C Reynolds 02/10/2011 at 11:16 am

    There is a lot more than bold we need to boycott.
    Unfortunately people are used to such descriptives.

    “Deep roasted”, “slow roasted”… etc.. is all a bunch a bullsh*t. False advertising, and completely arbitrary words.

    Our job is to educate people, as mediators, to whatever they may face. We need to demystify coffee and espresso, and make sure baristas are also aware and continue to educate others.

    After all, it’s a BOLD statement to boycott something, isn’t it? 😉

    -Matt @ Coffee Folk

    • Reply bwj 02/10/2011 at 12:41 pm

      Agree. I have a long hit list. This one just happens to be near the top. The hardest part seems to be educating people without coming across as a “coffee snob.”

  • Reply Coffeestork 02/10/2011 at 12:11 pm

    Well said! I like the message in this post a lot. I hear far too much “bold” descriptors outside of specialty circles. I’m also really enjoying discovering your site. Best.

    • Reply bwj 02/10/2011 at 12:39 pm

      Thanks Mike. Glad you agree! I know it’s an uphill battle to change the status quo, but I cringe every time I hear the term used. Enjoy the site.

  • Reply Tweets that mention Boycott Bold « Dear Coffee, I Love You. | Caffeinated Inspiration. -- 02/10/2011 at 12:18 pm

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Mike Brinker, CoffeeAdventure and Christos Andrews, DCILY. DCILY said: Boycott bold. A new post about this meaningless coffee descriptor. […]

  • Reply Bold is a Relatively Meaningless Descriptor | ShotZombies 02/10/2011 at 2:59 pm

    […] from Dear Coffee, I Love You. Other terms that hold little value for me? Gourmet, strong, fresh roasted, fair trade, organic, […]

  • Reply BulfinchesCoffee 02/11/2011 at 4:26 am

    Brilliantly stated, but sadly only the surface of the false indoctrination companies such as S*arb*cks are using to destroy the market (‘It’s Not About The Coffee,” after all). Keep fighting the good fight.

  • Reply Chase Mann 02/11/2011 at 9:40 am

    Excellent article … and a GREAT graphic!

    I don’t think I’ve used the word “bold”, but now I’m going to have to go back into my reviews and read them and hopefully I’ve been more creative in them.

    I like the simplicity of your website, do you do graphic design too?


    • Reply bwj 02/11/2011 at 9:57 am

      Thanks Chase. If you’ve never started using it, you’re in good shape!

      Yes, I’m a designer and creative consultant by trade.

  • Reply Todd C. 02/11/2011 at 1:31 pm

    Bold is forever banished from my coffee vocabulary, but what does “enzymatic” or “dry distillation” smell/taste like?

  • Reply greg 02/11/2011 at 2:02 pm

    Forget “bold”. Everyone knows it’s all about a “dark, rich, hearty roast”:

    But I’ll still stomach “bold” more than the ridiculous and meaningless use of the word “gourmet” any time.

    • Reply bwj 02/11/2011 at 3:43 pm

      Ha. Fair enough. I don’t think I’ve ever bought a bag of coffee that says “gourmet” on it.

  • Reply christopher 02/17/2011 at 11:12 am

    i own a coffee shop that serves over 1500 people a day. we use beans from a famous roaster that everyone knows and have been lucky enough to once in awhile be mentioned as one of the better shops in the country by the press. sometimes those simple quick statements are all we can do. we dont have time to go into the ‘sweet, fruity, smokey, chocolaty etc….’ spiel. for 95% of our customers ‘bold’ is ok to say and they get the drift. in the end it doesnt matter how you describe it if the coffee doesnt taste great. and it REALLY doesnt matter how you describe it if the customer left because the line was moving too slowly because the barista turned coffee professor feel the need to educate every person who steps up to order. the condescending atmosphere that has taken a hold in the coffee world will eventually come back to haunt everyone. we are in the customer service business, we should act like a agent to our customers not as gatekeepers. have the knowledge to explain and enlighten but know when to. always keep in mind that coffee may mean a huge amount to us, but for most people its just a small aspect of their daily life. perspective is everything. cheers.

  • Reply bwj 02/17/2011 at 3:41 pm

    There’s nothing condescending about education. The people who believe so seem to be the same ones in politics who try and negatively label college educated individuals as “elites.” It’s almost as if they’re offended by knowledge.

    I understand that cafe’s get busy, but baristas aren’t giving lectures about the chemical construction of coffee flavors to each person who walks in the door. However, it takes very little extra effort to say, “this is a fruity or smokey coffee” instead of “this is a bold coffee,” which means many things to different people.

    Being principled and passionate, while also advocating for integrity and honesty in your industry doesn’t make you pretentious, it makes you bold.

  • Reply Christopher 02/18/2011 at 12:11 pm

    Maybe your right, you do have a blog about coffee. Thanks for the education.

    • Reply bwj 02/18/2011 at 12:26 pm

      Now who’s creating a “condescending atmosphere?” I guess perspective is only a good thing when it comes from you? For the record, I was a barista for 5 years professionally and haven’t stopped making it, studying it, and drinking it. I just happen to write about it also, since I’m not serving a “bold cup of joe” to 1500 customers a day.

  • Reply branding the conversation | coffee common « re:design 02/24/2011 at 7:43 pm

    […] coffee, and they’ve named it Coffee Common.  Coffee Common boldly (though we now know that bold does not describe coffee) claims that great coffee is a collaboration of an empowered coffee farmer, an artisan coffee […]

  • Reply Mar.01.11 – [Caffeine Edition] | Duhlicious 03/01/2011 at 12:44 pm

    […] // Boycott Bold — An article for the hardcore coffee drinkers who want to split hairs over the ‘bold’ debate. […]

  • Reply tmcphail 03/22/2011 at 3:30 pm

    word, bwj… bold quickly and easily differentiates based on acidity, body and complexity. high acidity? not bold. low complexity? maybe bold, if its got good body. bold is a well bodied, sometimes complex, low to moderate acidity, cup. a few ‘bolds’ I hate, most I like. but coffees that the coffee ‘illiterati’ would describe as mild, I seem to uniformly dislike. maybe my tastebuds are set up to taste bold.

  • Reply tmcphail 03/22/2011 at 3:33 pm

    shit i meant christopher. damn this formatting.

  • Reply bwj 03/22/2011 at 3:36 pm

    Thanks…that really clarifies the whole “bold means nothing” argument.

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