You know those really bad days, when you just can’t wake up and you know you need some coffee….but wait, you don’t like coffee...don’t worry, we’ve all been there! I promise, even the baristas weren’t born coffee drinkers. While many of us did start young, we understand that it’s often an acquired taste.
When I first started drinking coffee, I had a ridiculously strong sweet tooth. Naturally, I drank the sweetest coffee-drink on the menu—the White Chocolate Mocha (or, just white mocha). I would put extra pumps in to make it sweeter, and use whipped cream as a buffer for the bitterness of espresso.
It took a couple of years for me to dial back into something as comfortable as regular coffee. I still drink mine with cream and sugar, but that’s because I think it enhances the flavor of the coffee.
If you’re a total coffee beginner with no clue of the difference between a latte and an Americano, don’t worry, coffee is not as complicated as it looks. You just need to start with the basics.
Lattes, Cappuccinos, Americanos, Oh My!
Walking into a coffee shop for the first time and looking at the vast selection of Italian words on the menu can be so intimidating, I know. Nothing is explained, everything is hard to pronounce, and you instantly know you’re just going to order a hot chocolate anyways, even though you wanted to try something new.
Ordering outside your comfort zone can be hard and confusing, especially if you’re not familiar with the specific terminology used by everyday coffee drinkers. A great place to start your coffee journey is by learning what goes into making the average cup of joe.
It’s Espresso, Not Expresso
Espresso is concentrated coffee found in many popular coffee drinks. It is made by using pressure to force very hot water through a finely packed bed of coffee grounds (That’s why we need the big, fancy, noisy machine).
The coffee beans used can be whatever blend you find most appealing (in our case, our Little River Espresso Blend). Espresso typically comes out only two ounces at a time, but is strong, thick, and higher in caffeine than just regular coffee.
Don’t Cry Over (Spilled) Milk
Milk is essential in the building of almost any espresso beverage.The balance of espresso and milk is the perfect pairing of bitter and sweet.
Whole milk is going to be sweet and creamy, creating a smooth and even drink nearly every time.
Nonfat milk is less sweet, and a little lighter in texture, so you won’t feel full after drinking it.
Oat milk and Almond milk, or any other non-dairy milk alternative, will each have their own effects on the drink you order, usually in consistency and flavor (flavor is usually very similar to whichever type of milk you’ve chosen).
Since espresso is concentrated into two ounces, the milk usually makes up the majority of whatever size drink you’ve ordered. Please note that the size will affect the flavor as more of each element has to be added to meet the extra space. This is why a large drink might taste a bit different than a medium or small.
Coffee Snobs will tell you that lattes should never be larger than 12oz, and cappuccinos shouldn’t be larger than 8oz. But we’re American and we like everything a little bigger, so go for a large if you want. Just know that you’ll taste milk more than espresso if you do.
*Optional Addition: Flavor
In any drink you get at any coffee shop, you have the option of adding flavor. These flavors are made out of various simple syrups (a mix of sugar and water) and are an excellent way to cover up the bitter taste of espresso.
Some shops will have only a few basic flavors such as vanilla, caramel, hazelnut, or mocha (dark chocolate). Others will have many options and often will provide a list of them somewhere on their menu for you!
If you’re looking for something that won’t be complicated, a good default is a white chocolate mocha, or a mocha. You won’t taste much of the espresso, but you’ll still get the kick of the caffeine.
As you adjust to the flavor of espresso a little bit, you could try easing up into some lighter flavors, the syrups (flavored simple syrups) instead of the thick sauces. Vanilla lattes are basic for a reason. They’re a good staple that balances the flavor of espresso, vanilla, and milk perfectly.
What Do I Say When I Order?
Now that you know what goes into your average coffee drink, you can start to put together what type of drink you’d like to try first.
“But… How do I ask for the drink I want? Like, what do I say?”
The best advice I can give you here is to not stress about it too much, it doesn’t have to sound complicated or even exactly right. As baristas, we want to help you get what you really want. We take pride in serving drinks that customers enjoy.
Regardless, to help ease your order anxiety, here are some tips you can take to make placing your order a piece of cake!
To start, we don’t know what you mean if you say “regular” as a size, we think of “regular” as either “your regular drink” or “plain black coffee” (in this case, we still need to know what size).
Every single coffee shop you go to will know exactly what you mean if you say small, medium, or large. You do not have to learn the weird terms that various shops come up with when we get overly excited.
Here’s an average for what each size equivalates:
Most coffee shops serve their coffees in these sizes. Occasionally, you’ll find one that also serves in 8oz for those true cappuccino lovers.
The size of the drinks affects how many flavor pumps, how much milk, and how much espresso goes into your drink. This varies per shop, so feel free to ask your barista how they’re going to prepare your beverage if you find you like it a particular way.
What’s It Called?
There are far too many different types of coffee drinks for me to cover the entirety of in this post, so I’ll cover just the basics for now. I’ll provide the name of the drink, it’s correct pronunciation, and a brief description. It may feel a little dense, but I promise I’ll be concise!
Latte (Lah-tay): a double shot (usually) of espresso with steamed milk, a thin layer of milk foam on top. Add whatever flavor(s) you’d like to this! Usually, coffee shops will have a specialty/featured flavor they’d love for you to try, if you’re feeling adventurous.
Cappuccino (Cap-uh-cheen-oh): Like a latte, but is more foamy. If made correctly, it should be about half foam, and lighter to hold than a latte. These often have more of an espresso flavor than lattes do as well.
Blended Espresso: This drink has many names across coffee shops, so try to look for something along the lines of “blended” on their menu. This should consist of espresso, milk, (a flavor: optional), ice, and some sort of base that creates the best flavor and texture for your drink.
Americano: Literally, this is just espresso and hot water. It mimics regular coffee, while being a little bit lighter on the stomach. Often, it doesn’t taste as acidic as regular coffee would, and is more easily customizable if you wanted a strong kick of caffeine—just add shots!
Drip: Drip Coffee refers to simply, brewed coffee. This should taste just like if you were to make it at home, except we’re required to use specific measurements. Made with fresh coffee that has been recently roasted, this coffee is a good staple, especially for mornings. Add flavors, sugar, milk, cream, honey, cinnamon...basically whatever you want!
***If you have not had coffee before, you may want to add cream and sweetener to this. Regular coffee can be intense, and is an acquired taste (that I do hope you’ll acquire, so we can nerd out about it together).***
Chai: This is a cinnamon black tea. It usually comes either as a plain ol' hot tea in tea bag form, or as a tea latte, steamed into milk with cinnamon on top. It is one of the cosiest drinks you’ll ever have. It does have some caffeine, but not nearly so much as coffee or espresso will. You could also order it as a dirty chai, which would be a chai latte with a double shot of espresso mixed in.
When in doubt: Ask! Baristas love to talk about coffee, and we embrace the opportunity to help you get exactly what you want when you order.
Putting it all Together
Now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s put it all together.
The basic structure for ordering is as follows: size, flavor, coffee type, additions (milk, cream, sugar).
Say you wanted to get a latte, you want it to taste like caramel, you can’t have dairy, and you want it in a medium.
You’d say: “I’d like a medium caramel latte with oat milk.”
Or maybe you want to stick to the basics, drip coffee with cream and sugar?
You’d say: “Let me have a medium drip coffee with three sugars and some cream (or extra cream?).”
And there you have it. You’ve just ordered your first coffee drink and are on your way to many, many more! (I guarantee it.)
Coffee Brings People Together
Ordering coffee shouldn’t have to be a challenge. It’s something millions of people can connect with and coffee shops are a great way of meeting new faces and creating lasting relationships.
If there is anything I can leave you with about ordering coffee, please, don’t stress out about it too much. Take your time and ease into coffee at your own pace. The barista is there to help in any way they can, and we are willing to answer whatever questions you may have.
I hope this helps you as you begin, or renew, your coffee journey!