I've heard plenty of people refer to coffee in many forms. People refer to it as a "cup of joe," "morning buzz," or "good stuff," among other things. Others will refer to coffee by specific brand names, whether it entails Starbucks or Dunkin or Tim Hortons. I prefer to call it coffee, although I try to be specific about what form of coffee I want.
However, I've also come across some people who talk about coffee and enter disputes over how to refer to coffee. These disputes are minor and all in good fun, but it does bring up a point. Some people talk about getting coffee, while others mention getting some "coffees" for themselves or others.
This point brings me to what I want to discuss. Is coffee a countable or uncountable word? I took a look around to figure out the answer, and I found a logical explanation for everything. As it turns out, coffee is countable, but that depends on how you use the word.
What Is Countable?
To start, we need to look at what makes a word countable. Oxford University's Lexico website says that a countable word is a noun that can be counted. You can use a word alongside that number to specify how much of something you are discussing.
The word traditionally features singular and plural forms. For instance, the term "tiger" is countable because it comes in both singular and plural forms. You can use "tiger" when talking about one tiger, or "tigers" when referencing multiple ones.
Coffee appears to be a countable word, as it does feature singular and plural forms. Merriam-Webster lists "coffees" as a plural form of the noun. But there's much more to the word to consider over how you use the term.
What Does the Word Refer To?
Coffee may still be uncountable, depending on how you use the word. Let's say you ask someone, "Are you going to get some coffee?" In this case, the word coffee is uncountable. You are referring to the drink in general, and not anything specific.
You could be getting a single cup, but the word in that form could apply to many cups for various people. It may refer to different quantities or specific coffee types.
Whatever the case, the usage of the word here is too vague for it to be countable. When someone in the workplace says, "I'm going to get some coffee," I become curious as to whether that person is getting coffee for many people or just for himself or herself.
Implied Nouns Make It Countable
A critical part of making coffee countable entails the other identifying words you use alongside it. Implied nouns may appear in your reference.
Grossmont College writes that implied nouns are clauses that emphasize another noun. The implied word may incorporate a descriptor surrounding the noun. One descriptor may be something that causes a word to become countable.
For instance, "coffee" might appear to be uncountable if you use it as "I am getting coffee." But if you add "cup" or "cups" to it alongside a number, the original word becomes countable.
In this case, the phrase would become, "I am getting two cups of coffee." You have made the word coffee countable by using an implied noun. That word identifies a specific thing you are trying to get surrounding coffee.
You're also more specific when telling people about what you're getting. Instead of suggesting that you're getting coffee in general, you are letting people know that you're getting a definite amount.
The "A" Part
There may be cases where you refer to coffee as "a coffee" in a sentence. In this case, the word coffee may be countable. When you talk about "a coffee," you are almost always referring to a single cup of coffee, thus making the word countable.
This point is similar to what I've noticed from others in the workplace. Someone will see, "I'm stepping out to get a coffee." I know at this point that the person is going to get a single cup of coffee. If that person were to say, "I'm going to get coffee," I or anyone else might pipe in and ask that person to get us something specific. But when it's "a coffee," we know that it's for one person.
The use of "a" also goes for invitations. Someone would ask me, "Did you want to get a coffee with me?" I know that person means, "Do you want to get a cup of coffee with me?"
The word coffee would become uncountable if the "a" part were removed altogether. You're referring to coffee in general at this point, and not a specific cup. You have to use that connecting word to let people know that you're getting something specific. You don't have to include additional details about the coffee unless you wish.
Understanding Other Connectors
The CMO website says other connecting may dictate whether the word coffee is countable or uncountable. If you were to use "a few," you'd make it countable, as you are referring to a few cups of coffee.
But if you used "little" or "a little bit of," you're making the word uncountable. You say that you want a little coffee, but everyone has a different idea of what the term "a little coffee" means. Are you talking about a full cup or half a cup? You'd have to be more specific when talking about what you want.
A Common Error
A final note to see surrounding coffee as a countable word involves the use of the words "much" and "less." The two words may appear alongside coffee and other countable words. But it is a mistake, as it does not read well.
Instead of saying "less coffee," you should say "fewer cups of coffee." You could also say "more cups of coffee" instead of "much coffee." Those terms are more sensible, not to mention you are specific over how you use a word.