Order Your Coffee Like a Boss

Coffee Date

You’re standing in a cafe looking up at the complicated menu. Maybe you’re there with a hot date you'd like to impress. You’ve totally heard about most of the drinks available, but perhaps you’re not super familiar with what they actually are. Whether it’s your first time in a proper cafe (one that doesn’t have s’mores frappuccinos) or you’re in a coffee rut and aren’t sure what to try next, it’s time to level up your coffee knowledge.

Espresso

Espresso is a strong coffee prepared by forcing live steam under pressure, or boiling water, through ground dark-roast coffee beans. The word itself comes from the Italian caffè espresso, which roughly means pressed coffee.

Though espresso is also known for its bold, bitter flavor, it actually has less caffeine than drip coffee, contrary to popular belief. It’s traditionally served as a single shot (or solo, 1 oz), a double shot (or doppio, 2 oz), or as part of another coffee drink.

Latte

Latte is actually the Italian word for milk. If you happen to order this in Italy, just be aware you might get some funny looks asking for a glass of milk. Luckily, this one is also known as the caffè latte (or milk coffee). Because lattes are milky in taste, they're a popular breakfast drink in Europe, and have been since at least the 1800s. The café au lait is a similar French drink made with equal parts milk and espresso.

Cappuccino

A cappuccino is equal parts espresso, steamed milk, and foam, and it’s sometimes topped with powdered cinnamon or whipped cream. Some coffee purists say the drink should only be about 4 oz, but many cafes serve cappuccinos that are 5 - 6 oz. Most experts agree that the top layer of foam with bubbles is the most important aspect of what makes a legit cappuccino.

Flat White

A flat white is a coffee drink that was born in Australia, and until very recently it wasn’t very well-known outside of there. The flat white is basically a cappuccino, but without the distinctive dry foam. It’s known for its velvety texture and espresso-like taste. If a flat white is ever served with foam on top, it’s usually an extremely smooth microfoam.

Mocha

Also known as a caffe mocha or mocaccino, the mocha is essentially a latte with a layer of chocolate between the espresso and foam. It’s typically made with chocolate syrup, broken up pieces of chocolate, or a ganache (a whipped frosting or filling made with semisweet chocolate and cream). This drink is the perfect halfway point between an espresso drink and a hot chocolate!

Caffè Macchiato

The name macchiato comes from the Italian word macchiare, which means “to stain or spot.” So essentially, a caffè macchiato is a stained (or spotted) coffee. Recipe-wise, it’s a shot of espresso with a dollop of steamed milk on top. Because of that, it has a much stronger espresso taste than others in the “espresso with milk” drink family.

Caffè Americano

Caffè Americano is a shot of espresso with two shots of water. It was named for the American GIs in Europe during World War II, who couldn’t handle the intensity of Italian espresso. They’d dilute it with water to make the taste more palatable.

Affogato

Affogato isn’t actually a drink. It’s a scoop of vanilla ice cream (or gelato) with a shot of espresso poured over it. The name comes from the Italian word for “drowned,” so you can think of it as drowning your ice cream in coffee. It’s a nice blend of hot and cold, sweet and bitter. But again, it’s more like a sundae than a drink.

Cortadito

Also known as a cortado, this drink is an espresso topped with an approximately equal amount of steamed milk. The name comes from the Spanish word cortar (“to cut”), and the suffix -ito (“little”). So cortadito literally means “a small cut.” That said, the drink can aptly be described as espresso “cut” with milk.

Cold Brew

A cold brew is both a way of preparing coffee and the name of an actual coffee drink. The process involves steeping coffee grounds in room-temperature or cold water for many hours, which produces a concentrate. From there, you can add water to taste. It’s worth noting that cold brew is a type of iced coffee, and that it does have a very high level of caffeine.

Chai

Okay, this one’s not actually coffee. Rather, it's a type of spiced tea that was popularized in India. Chai tends to have a nice blend of sweet and spicy flavors that pairs surprisingly well with espresso-based drinks. You’ll see a lot of cafés carrying it on its own, and many serving concoctions like chai lattes (lattes with added chai for flavoring).

Matcha

Again, not actually coffee, but it still bears mentioning because of its recent uptick in popularity in cafés. It’s a finely ground green tea powder that’s traditionally used in Japanese tea ceremonies. In Japan, it’s also popular as a dye and flavoring for desserts. Like chai, even though matcha is a type of tea, it’s become popular to blend with coffee-based drinks like the latte for a kick of delicious flavoring.

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