Perk Up With 12 Tempting Coffee Terms!

Coffee Date

OK, so you’ve probably got your regular coffeeshop order, or two. But what if you varied it a little and stepped out of this comfort zone? Have you ever wondered what’s so American about an Americano? What’s the difference between a doppio and a solo? How did a monk inspire an Italian favorite? October 1 is World Coffee Day, so if you’re in a java rut and wondering what to try next, it’s time to level up your coffee knowledge.

We’ve ordered up some much needed coffee terminology for you to try the next time you’re talking to your favorite barista. (Psst, we’ve got some words for tea lovers, too!)


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 a cup of 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 is 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.

Order instead a caffè latte, or “coffee (with) milk.” English has generally shortened it to latte.

Because lattes are milky in taste, they’re a popular breakfast drink in Europe. The café au lait (also “coffee with milk”) is a similar French drink made with equal parts milk and espresso.


A cappuccino is equal parts espresso, steamed milk, and milk foam, and it’s sometimes topped with powdered cinnamon or whipped cream. The top layer of foam is key. Cappuccino is Italian for “Capuchin,” monks whose habit (special garb) were fancifully thought to resemble the color of the coffee drink.

flat white

A flat white coffee drink was born in Australia or New Zealand (it’s a piping hot debate) in the 1980s, 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.


What do the order sizes grande, venti, and trenta actually mean?


Also known as a caffè mocha or mochaccino, the mocha is essentially a latte with a layer of chocolate between the espresso and foam. It’s typically made with chocolate syrup or pieces of chocolate. This drink is the perfect halfway point between an espresso drink and a hot chocolate!

Mocha ultimately takes its name from Mocha, a port in Yemen, that was a marketplace for coffee beans until the early 1700s.

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. The word immaculate (literally “unspotted”) is related.

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 (often just an Americano) is a shot of espresso with two shots of water.

It’s popularly said that 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 isn’t actually a drink. It’s a scoop of vanilla gelato with a shot of espresso poured over it. The name comes from the Italian word for “drowned, smothered” 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.


To capitalize on that sweet tooth, read up on gelato and other delectable ice cream words.


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 it has have a very high level of caffeine.


Okay, this one’s not actually coffee. Rather, it’s a type of spiced tea that was popularized in India. (Chai means “tea,” ultimately from Chinese, chá, meaning and source of our word tea.) 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 serve concoctions like chai lattes (lattes with added chai for flavoring).


Again, not actually coffee, but it still bears mentioning because of its recent uptick in popularity in cafés. Matcha (also from the Chinese chá for “tea”) is 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.

Feeling fully energized? Ready to call yourself a coffee aficionado? Run through our word list of coffee terms to test yourself. (You’ll have the option to create flashcards and a spelling quiz, too.) Or are you ready to go straight to our coffee quiz? (Maybe refresh that drink first … we’ll wait.)


Now take a quick bite out of these food toponyms, and learn which people and places they were named for!

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