Coffee Shop 101: How to Order like a Pro

If you have ever found yourself next to order at the coffee shop but had no idea what to get because the menu was too overwhelming you are not alone my friend. Or, maybe you love coffee but do not know what the difference between a latte and flat white is. There have been numerous times I went with the first drink on the menu because I did not know what half of the drinks listed were or I ordered a vanilla latte because it was the safe choice and hey, it tastes good. I do not consider myself a coffee aficionado. However, several years ago I did work as a barista and although it didn’t have that job long, I still learned quite a bit about coffee that I never knew before. I learned the difference between different coffee beans and roasts and how to make the drinks I am going to talk about below. Now that I know more about what goes into each drink and how it is prepared I tend to be more adventurous in trying new flavors and styles of coffee I never would before.  

Espresso vs. Coffee

Espresso is an Italian method of coffee-making where a small amount of almost boiling water is forced under pressure through finely ground coffee beans. Espresso beans are roasted longer than regular coffee beans and are ground much finer. The average shot of espresso is two ounces and contains around 130 mg of caffeine.

Coffee is made with various roasted coffee beans that are roughly ground and then brewed with almost boiling water. The average serving of coffee is 12 ounces and may contain roughly 140 mg of caffeine.

Light vs. Dark roast: These labels can be deceiving because most would assume light roast means it has less caffeine and dark roast has more but that is not the case. It is actually the other way around with light roast having a slightly higher concentration. They also have quite different flavors. Light roast coffee has a slight citrus, sour taste, while dark roast have the more traditional coffee flavor. I found that most people new to drinking coffee plain tend to lean towards medium to dark roasts.

Espresso Drinks

Latte, cappuccino and macchiato are three of the most commonly ordered espresso-based drinks, but you may not know what the difference is. If the barista made you a latte instead of a cappuccino, would you know by the first sip? Probably not, because they would taste the same; the difference is in how they are prepared. The first five drinks listed are all made using espresso and milk. They can be customized to your liking by adding an extra shot of espresso or the milk of your choosing (whole, skim, almond, oat, etc.). You can also add flavor to these drinks, just ask the barista for a list of flavor options. I like to get a hazelnut latte with almond milk for extra nutty flavor. If you usually opt for a black coffee because you do not prefer milk, try ordering one of the last three drinks listed as they are made using only espresso and water.

  • Latte: Made by topping espresso with steamed milk and a light layer of foam. If you order an iced latte it will be made by adding ice to the espresso then topped with cold milk.
  • Cappuccino: Made similarly to a latte but with more foam. The milk to foam ratio should be 50/50. Here is a photo (from Kings of Caffeine) to give to a visual of what I mean. There are also some other fun illustrations of different coffee drinks on this site. The drink on the left is a cappuccino, and the drink on the right is a latte.
  • Macchiato: made by pouring the espresso over the steamed milk. It is essentially a reverse latte. So, if you order an iced macchiato it will be made by pouring the espresso over the iced milk.
  • Flat White: also made similarly to a latte but with less milk. Therefore a flat white will be a smaller serving size but you are still getting the same amount of espresso as you would in a latte.
  • Cortado: equal parts espresso and warm milk. Since the milk is not steamed there will be no foam. This is usually a smaller drink, so if you’re looking for something to hang out and sip, this probably isn’t the drink for you.
  • Americano: espresso that has been poured over with hot water. Again, this is usually a smaller drink.
  • Double Espresso: two shots of espresso. Usually something you would drink quickly. Most hardcore espresso drinkers don’t sip espresso like you would a normal cup of coffee.
  • Shot in the Dark: brewed coffee with a double shot of espresso added. 

Coffee Drinks

Coffee can be brewed in several different ways; it all comes down to how the water is introduced to the coffee grounds. You are probably most commonly aware of how to brew coffee using an electric coffee pot, but here are a few other brewing methods you can try:

  • Drip/Pour Over Coffee: Made by letting boiling water drip slowly through finely ground coffee held in a filter into a carafe or mug. This method is used to accentuate the subtle flavors of coffee when compared to other brewing methods. You can click here to check out the above Chemex. You will hear “Chemex” pronounced “kim-ex” more often, but some people pronounce it with a French “shem” instead. Just depends where you are.
  • French Press: Made by steeping coffee grounds in hot water and then pressing the grounds down to the bottom of the press. Because the coffee is sitting directly on the grounds for a period of time this method can make your coffee taste more bitter and is prone to oiliness. However, this is one of the easiest brewing options after drip coffee. Below is a French press from World Market. French presses are also one of the cheaper coffee making equipment for beginners.
  • Cold Brew: made by mixing ground coffee with cool water and steeping in the fridge overnight. It’s different than iced coffee, which is brewed normally then cooled. Cold brew tends to have less acidity than other coffees since it never touches heat.

Tea Drinks

Tea is made by pouring boiling water over cured leaves. If you are not a big fan of coffee you might enjoy the lighter flavors of green or herbal teas. But, did you know there are some lattes made using tea instead of espresso? 

  • Black: generally strongest in flavor. Go with iced for a familiar flavor.
  • Green: typically light green to yellow in color and somewhat light flavor. If normal green tea is too bitter for you, try matcha. It’s powdered green tea but has a milder flavor. Matcha lattes are popular now.
  • Herbal: technically not actually a “tea” since it is made by infusing various herbs, spices or other plant materials. Usually they don’t have caffeine so they’re good to order at coffee shops if you’re wanting a drink but also wanting to avoid coffee.
  • Chai: Black tea mixed with a mixture of Indian spices (cinnamon, cardamom, cloves and ginger) If you enjoy this tea, try ordering a Dirty Chai, made with chai, steamed milk, and a shot of espresso.
  • London Fog: made with earl grey tea, steamed milk and most commonly vanilla syrup. If you enjoy this drink I suggest trying it with honey and lavender for a unique flavor experience.

Our drink orders:

Mine (Bethany): Go-to order: Hazelnut latte with almond milk. Fun order: affogato (espresso poured over gelato). You can usually find this at most gelato places.

Alexys: Go-to order: Iced mocha or americano with hazelnut syrup. Fun order: London Fog with vanilla syrup.

Taryn: Go-to order: flat white. Fun order: Masala Chai, similar to a chai latte but the milk is just heated, not steamed (meaning no foam).

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