Aroma Coffee and Tea Co. – Top 10 Words Food Writers Should Never Use. Ever.

aroma coffee and tea co/cafe - coffee spices

This post on the Village Voice about words it hates and this post on epicurious about food cliches set off an obsession, turning what was once this bloggy list of ten words into an exercise in “wordspotting.” I love collecting little rain droplets of haterade, so please do leave your (un)favorites in the comments, then go over to the Delicious Dictionary to make suggestions for the better.

Let’s discuss the art of writing, shall we? More specifically, let’s talk about writing a food blog. If you’re getting all fussy about the details of the syllabus, then the lecture topic for today is vocabulary, and if we’re going to drill right down to the core, we’re going to list words you should never use when writing on your food blog.

No, they include neither “cinnamon” nor “nutmeg.” “Vanilla,” however…

don’t skip ahead!

** note ** If your food blog consists only of pictures and recipes in standard listed, numbered format, ignore me. I’ll ignore you too, because that’s boring.

I’m Not a Writer. I Just Play One on My Blog

I have absolutely no business writing a post about how to write a food blog, or how to be a good food writer, or how to write at all, for that matter. I have no education, certification, formal training, or experience in anything remotely related to writing or to food. I was an economics major in college. Not the intellectualization for Domestic Goddess, home economics, but the widget-producing, consumer surplus-ing, policy arguing economics economics. I crunched numbers and played with models, and they weren’t even the pretty, dumb ones that I could “tutor.” In grad school, I only learned how to edit “I’m the best of breed in this 800-pound gorilla so you should monetize the ground I hit running before I paradigm shift my high-ROI value propositions to another category killer that won’t take my bandwidth offline” to just…”MBA.” (I wanted to, but just couldn’t, work “synergy” in there.)

As far as professional writing experience, I have none. My first real job was consulting wherein the only writing I did was bulletized onto whiteboards so I could be in ur powerz, pointing ur pointz! Currently, I’m in marketing, and as you know, marketers make up words expressly because they can’t write. Let’s do some namestorming, ‘k? And food? I didn’t cooooome (close)…to Chan Dara.

Wow. If ever I actually did want to pursue a career in food writing, I should totally use this post as my resume!

Eating and Reading – More than Just a Rhyme

If anything at all, I am a fabulously talented food reader, and these are my thoughts from that perspective.

If you cook, then you know that one of a cook’s ultimate goals is to produce a dish or meal that is at once flavorful, colorful, creative, and accurately expresses whatever emotion or experience the cook was trying to achieve through food.

A food writer is like a cook. Words are the ingredients and the final result should be something just as colorful, vibrant, flavorful and creative as a gurgling blue cheese-blanketed blood red filet that weeps its rare grilled history onto the plate or a pristine piece of poached halibut lying anxiously like a virgin on a bed of pureed fava beans. (Ew. Yes, that was trying a little too hard.) Even with the most mundane of ingredients like tomatoes, basil and cheese, cooks look for the freshest, the brightest, the ones that will have the most impact on the plate. The cook wants to re-create an experience with food, and so too should someone writing about food pick words to re-create the experience in a reader’s mind. It’s not enough for a cook to present just a tomato, and it’s not enough for a writer to say “good.”

Given that I will probably be excommunicated from the food blogosphere for such an audacious post, such flagrant intellectual arrogance, as if I were some celebrated food blogger who has the authority to write on such matters, I’m…totally going to get started!

Top 10 Words You Should Avoid in Your Writing as a Food Blogger

(Because They’re Too “Vanilla”)

  1. good – This is just about the most generic word, food-related or otherwise, ever penned by man. Good? Good could mean it was outstanding, it could mean it was average, or it could mean you didn’t develop dysentery. If “good” is all you have in your arsenal of words, at the very least, use its comparative form “better” against something that was not as good. For example, don’t say “The coffee at Aroma Coffee and Tea Co. was good.” So the fuck what? At least say, “The coffee at Aroma Coffee and Tea Co. was better than Starbucks.” Just make sure they weren’t serving Starbucks.
  2. bad – If you’re going to throw out “good,” then go ahead and handcuff it to its opposite, “bad” before you hurl them both into the toilet. Bad is not only a generic negative term that could mean everything from slightly flawed to “may cause death or disfigurement,” but it has the added problem of having a positive connotation in an urban context. Just ask MJ. He’s bad, and in this case, we’re not talking about his cosmetic surgery gone awry. And don’t ever let me catch you writing “not good” to replace bad.
  3. best – Good is bad, better is better and the superlative form “best” is just nonsense, if that makes sense. There is no such thing as “the best” anything. Is it – whatever “it” is – really the best, as compared to say, Martha Stewart’s? Of course not, because Martha Stewart is the best, duh. I don’t care if your mother makes “the best” lasagne. Says who? You? You’re fickle. Tomorrow, of course your mother-in-law makes it better, and then what? What’s better than the best? Nothing! “Best” by itself to describe a thing is stupid because it doesn’t describe anything in detail. How is it the best? Is it the best looking? Best tasting? Don’t use “best” unless you add some qualifiers.
  4. flavorful – Everything you put in your mouth is flavorful if you can taste it. Hell, even water is flavorful. Mine is full of the flavor of Clorox boiled in a cast iron skillet.
  5. bland – The pasta was bland. Gee, really? You mean the kitchen went against every thing they’ve ever learned in cooking school and decided to serve it without a trace of sauce? In fact, they made the pasta themselves? Out of air? Wow, I guess it was bland. If it wasn’t salty enough, say “it wasn’t salty enough.” If it tasted like chicken broth straight out of can, say “it tasted like chicken broth straight out of the can.”
  6. tasty – Tasty is the same as “tastes good.” See number 1, and try again.
  7. delicious – This is my word. I made it up. I don’t care what Merriam, Webster, or any other etymologist says about chocolate covered
    crickets. Don’t use “delicious.” It’s mine.
  8. spicy – You can’t use this word without at least explaining whether it was spicy with respect to spices like cinnamon and nutmeg, or spicy in terms of heat like registering so high on the Scoville Richterometer that you had firrhea for three days. They are different. You can’t just say “the coffee cake was spicy” because you could have made it with Tapatio and no one would know. P.S. Cholula is so much better than Tapatio.
  9. juicy – This is a powder blue terry cloth track suit, not a descriptive word that should be used to describe fruit, steak, or eggs. In either case, fashion or food, give it to Goodwill.
  10. mouth-watering – If it makes your mouth water, you’re one of Pavlov’s dogs. Try again.

Unlearn these words. Today. Use a thesaurus. It won’t bite.

aroma coffee and tea co., cafe - cookies and cream cheesecake
delicious, tasty, and good

Oh, and by the way, while we’re talking about the finer points of effective food writing, you should never, ever try to weave a story about a restaurant or café into some pathetic post about blogging on your food blog. I mean, look at how unsuccessful I have been in my attempt to associate a list of too-generic food words with Aroma Coffee and Tea Co. in Studio City. First of all, there is absolutely nothing generic about Aroma Coffee and Tea Co. Secondly, the fact that you can linger over delicious coffee that you’ve flavorfully flavored with spicy spices like cinnamon and nutmeg, and enjoy a tasty piece of cookies and cream cheesecake while reading a book you’ve purchased from the bookstore with which the cafe shares a charming little patio is a stretch. And when I say “stretch,” what I’m really saying is that I probably won’t be going back to Aroma Coffee and Tea Co, even though it’s good, because it’s in Studio City.

P.S. By writing this post, I am in no way implying that I am a good writer, nor am I claiming that I have never used these words before. You know what they always say. Those who can’t do, write on a blog.

Aroma Coffee and Tea Co.
4360 Tujunga Avenue
Studio City, CA 91604

Who Else Had Words with You at Aroma?
~ 38 Yelpers give it a collective 4½ stars out of 5
~ Six more Yelpers were just confused by the name
~ You can take your dog there
~ A Calendarlive reader calls it a “quaint little gem”

** a year ago today, (ice) wining me is cheaper than dining me **
** two years ago today, i ate for under $10.40 while doing my 1040 **

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  • doowighty

    Uh-oh, you’re in MY ‘hood now, shorty.

  • Craig

    that is just about the most flavorful, mouthwatering blog entry you have ever written and you have written some good ones too.

    It was tasty, bland yet spicy, juicy in all its mouth-watering details. You made bad appear good but you were nice about it. Just the best.

    I’ll close by saying that while I come around less frequently, I can never see or hear delicious without little miss dl coming to mind.

  • Craig

    that is just about the most flavorful, mouthwatering blog entry you have ever written and you have written some good ones too.

    It was tasty, bland yet spicy, juicy in all its mouth-watering details. You made bad appear good but you were nice about it. Just the best.

    I’ll close by saying that while I come around less frequently, I can never see or hear delicious without little miss dl coming to mind.

  • sarah

    doowighty: and i am there once a week for other stuff…might have to find some places…suggestions?

    craig: such a colorfully composed comment! ;)

    awww…i love that. i AM delicious!

  • sku

    Wow, thanks for your tips. As a baby blogger, I will take them to heart!

    Personally, my pet peeve is “cloyingly sweet.” Cloyingly is an annoying adjective. Why isn’t anything ever cloyingly bitter or cloyingly anything else…

  • Joe DiStefano

    Good post, quite juicy, in fact.

    You’re the E.B. White of food blogging. Just kidding, I’m all in favor of eliminating lazy writing from the face of the earth. Food bloggers/writers who can’t vividly share their experiences with their readers are not only lazy writers but probably lazy eaters and boring lovers.

  • Joe DiStefano

    Good post, quite juicy, in fact.

    You’re the E.B. White of food blogging. Just kidding, I’m all in favor of eliminating lazy writing from the face of the earth. Food bloggers/writers who can’t vividly share their experiences with their readers are not only lazy writers but probably lazy eaters and boring lovers.

  • Lori

    Good to see there are other verboten words aside from “wonderful,” “yummy,” and “to die for…” Great list.

  • saffronandblueberry

    hilarious. However, I must admit that I used delicious just the other day… sorry.

  • hermz

    ur powerz, pointing ur pointz!
    haha!!!1 sum1z bin surfin teh internetz!

  • hermz

    ur powerz, pointing ur pointz!
    haha!!!1 sum1z bin surfin teh internetz!

  • swag

    4 out of 5 Yelpers spend more time licking their own anuses than they do licking the food in front of them.

  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous

    I never considered blogging until I fell upon all this tosh by chance. What an utter waste of all your time. Don’t you folks have anything more important to do with your lives?

  • The Food Monster

    Somehow, I feel like this post was directed at me, even though it was written before I became a serious food blogger. Of course, I only use words that are better than good, in fact, they are so good, they are bad, or not good, whichever is best. This comment is bland, if I was a better writer I would write mouth-watering juicy comments, that use flavorful descriptive words to keep things spicy, and I don’t mean the delicious variety either.

  • Jon.

    A good writer can use any word to express their meaning. A good reader can understand that.
    J/K! :-)
    (not really)

    • Sarah J. Gim

      jd: no need to throw in the “j/k” either…bc the logic is somewhat true, though i tend to think more along the lines of an effective writer being able to write about anything without ever having to use the words “good” or “bad.”

  • Carole

    Oh thank heavens, I can find a spot to share my PERSONAL PET PEEVE, which, regrettably shows up on Tastespotting submissions allllll the time. People, if you can’t think of anything original to say to describe your recipe, than just describe it factually. “Double Chocolate Chip Muffins” or “Peanut Butter Chocolate Pie” and leave it at that. At least you’re being accurate and concise. But for the love of all that is holy in food land, PLEASE don’t write “Peanut Butter Chocolate Pie — Need I Say More?” If you don’t need to say more, DON’T. If you can’t think of anything to say, DON’T. This “need I say more” idiom is tired, lame, boring, and makes you sound too stupid to write. Yeah, I said it and I stand behind it.

  • Sarah J. Gim

    carole: you are totally going to get me into trouble for this but I COULDN’T AGREE WITH YOU MORE!

    the truth is, from a practical standpoint on TasteSpotting, a LITERAL caption/description is just better for everyone involved – the reader will know what s/he’s seeing and the blogger will (kinda) reap the SEO benefits of search keywords. but of course, that’s a totally separate discussion.

    i kinda just hate “need i say more.” LOL

  • Liz

    No, no, don’t recommend a thesaurus to find synonyms for all these meaningless words …. actual descriptions that attempt objectivity are far more useful!

  • Ann Onymouse

    As a regular Tastespotting viewer (and sometimes submitter,) this post really hit home with me. My itty-bitty baby feelings were hurt. And I’ve had a glass of wine, therefore you’re going to get the brunt of my anger.

    Do you really think that most professional food photographers give a crap about the taste of the food they’re photographing?
    And do you think that most professional food writers even give half a rat’s ass about the photo… OR the taste of the food item they’re writing about? They’re paid to be verbose wordsmiths, and they get paid extra to toss in creative wording.

    For the most part, those of us submitting photos/descriptions to websites like Tastespotting are merely home cooks. We’re dedicated (and non-paid) food LOVERS who are willing to share our recipes with the world, confident in the quality and taste of the recipe. We’re not in it for the money. We just want to share the (yes) delicious and (yes) good tasting food that we prepare. If you’re all into the photo or the wording, then you’re not into the food itself.
    I appreciate both photographers and journalists but would expect neither to make me a grand-slam meatloaf. Nor would I blog about their inability to do so.
    All that bitching being said, your style of writing reminds me of the sarcasm that I practice, so I’m going to let this one slide, assuming you wrote this post in that light.

  • Sarah J. Gim

    liz: lol. true. and in food, the reality is, you can’t ever really capture flavor and taste and all that with just one, two or even three words. no thesauruses! (thesauri?)

    ann: thanks for the response, and i’m glad you figured out my m.o. in the end ;) i do feel the need, however, to perhaps ask for clarification or a reason why you brought up professional food photographers and writers? (god, i hope i didn’t say something in my post other than my not being either)

    i have to admit that i don’t think about whether or not food photographers or writers think or care about the food they’re shooting or writing about. i just simply assume they do; and though i have been told many times to never assume anything, in this case, i’m happier believing that anyone and everyone who is reading, writing, photographing, cooking, eating or anything else about food – cares about it a lot. i do believe that it is possible to care as much about how food is presented, as the food itself – whether it’s on the plate, or on the web with pictures and words.

  • Ann Onymouse

    I should have mentioned that I arrived here via Tastespotting. I found it a little irritating that Tastespotting would pick this post to feature on their website worshipped by people who really adore food.

    Again… I was just venting. Next glass of wine is one me.

  • camille

    Ann, Sarah runs Tastespotting.

    Anyway, the problem is that there’s this picky balance to strike between sounding too boring and sounding pretentious. If it comes down to it, for me, I’d rather err on the side of sounding too mundane and insufficiently descriptive rather than come off as some precious, foodier-than-thou little wordsmith who makes out with her thesaurus every day. Not everyone chooses that side of the balance; fine. But I don’t do this to show off my writing skills – or my anything skills, in fact – but because it’s an interesting community that gives me something, in the form of recipes and inspiration, and it’s rude to just take and never give. So my writing is secondary. For me. But hey, I guess I won’t be lonely on Joe DiStefano’s elimination-from-the-face-of-the-earth list.

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