Have you ever stepped into a coffee shop and felt you should’ve brought a translator? Sometimes ordering from a barista can feel overwhelming.
There are so many choices, phrases, and options– it can make your head spin!
The good news is that you really can’t order WRONG; you just might not get exactly what you intended to order.
However, if you want to feel more confident in how you order and what you order the next time you’re out for coffee, we’ve got you covered.
Let’s get you ready to order at your local coffee shop like a boss!
Know The Coffee Basics
This article will help you demystify the coffee lingo.
You’ll be able to understand your choices and explore your options so that you can be sure that you order something you genuinely enjoy every time you visit your local coffee shop!
You’ll learn about the different types of coffee and espresso drinks, the milk options available to you, what those crazy size names actually mean, and what kinds of flavors and extras can take your caffeine experience to a whole new level!
It’s best to start by breaking down our drink options into categories.
How to Order a Good Old-fashioned Cup of Coffee
Let’s start simple. If you just want a coffee, you’ll likely want to order a “drip” coffee from your coffee shop barista.
Drip coffee is the pre-brewed coffee that most shops and even restaurants have hot and ready to pour.
Drip coffee is made from coffee beans such as Arabica or Robusta beans. It is ground and then drip brewed with a filter and hot water. This is the kind of coffee you can easily make at home, but there’s something extra special about effortlessly grabbing a “cup o’ Joe” to go from your favorite coffee shop!
Find out everything you’ve ever wanted to know about the beans you drink. Please check out our article, Different Kinds of Coffee Beans: What are you missing out on?
Black Cup of Coffee
Black coffee is a symbol of our culture: some people only drink coffee black.
Others are surprised that anyone can drink it with no sugar or other flavors added. The best way to enjoy black coffee is without any add-ins, sugar, or dairy.
There are many coffee beans and coffee roasts available in local coffee shops. All you have to do is ask what’s available.
This makes black coffee more complicated, but we recommend that you try more premium coffee beans. This includes single-origin (batch of coffee beans from a specific place) and strictly high-grown (coffee grown at an elevation).
Higher-quality single-origin coffee beans will taste better than lower-quality coffee blends. Don’t shy away from black coffee if you’ve only had it from the office, it might just be the beans!
Other Coffee Brew Methods You Should Know
Your local coffee shop will have a lot more on the menu than only drip coffee.
The best part is that all of these brew options are available at home if you find there’s one you love.
What’s the Difference Between an Iced Coffee and a Cold Brew
Not all iced coffees are created equal. Most people think of iced coffee as precisely what it sounds like: coffee on ice.
While this may be the case, it isn’t always. Many shops offer iced coffee and cold brew, while others have shifted to only selling cold brew (it’s usually pricier and more robust, but it tastes better).
These are distinct caffeinated beasts, so you may want to double-check that you’ve ordered what you intended.
These two refreshing drinks are brewed differently and will offer unique flavors.
Iced coffee is typically drip coffee (brewed strong) over ice. This is what most people are familiar with. It is quick, simple, and usually more affordable than a cold brew.
If you’d like to see more about iced coffee, then please take a look at our article on how to make cold brew.
Cold Brew Coffee
Cold brew coffee is becoming increasingly popular in coffee shops. It is made by steeping coffee grinds in cold or room temperature water for several hours.
The result is a smooth, intense flavor that has more caffeine than a typical cup of coffee. This is a longer process, but don’t worry about having to wait forever for your order. Most coffee shops brew their cold brew coffee in large batches.
If you’d like to take a deep dive into cold brew, make sure to check out our article here.
Now that you’re well-versed in coffee-based drinks, we’ll venture into the world of espresso!
Getting Familiar With Espresso
Most blended drinks at your local coffee shop will have at least 1-2 shots of espresso in them as a base, so you will likely come across this term at your local coffee shop.
Let’s explore how to pronounce the term, what sets espresso apart from regular coffee, and some of the unique ways you can enjoy espresso at your local coffee shop.
Pronunciation is Key
First things first. To order like a boss, you’ll want to pronounce espresso correctly. It should be said, “eSpresso”, “not eXpresso”. Emphasize the “s” to avoid a rookie mistake!
What is Espresso
You might be surprised to learn that the most common ingredient in a coffee shop is actually espresso.
Coffee beans and espresso beans are essentially the same, but their brew methods are different.
The difference is caused by the amount of water, the brew temperature, the brew method, and the amount of pressure.
Espresso is concentrated coffee brewed at high temperatures under intense pressure. The process is called “pulling a shot.”
This type of brew brings out strong, intense flavors from the coffee grinds. Espresso is significantly stronger than your regular cup of coffee. Espresso has a 1:2 ratio of coffee to water, while coffee only has a 1:16 ratio of coffee to water.
The critical thing to remember is that one serving of espresso is equivalent to about a 12 oz. cup of coffee.
How to Order Espresso
You can order a shot of espresso on its own or even request a “double” shot. Traditionally a shot of espresso is served with a side of sugar and a small glass of sparkling water (which acts as a palate cleanser).
Espresso served as a shot is meant to be sipped slowly, savored, and enjoyed.
If you want to give any espresso-based drink a “boost,” you can ask for an additional shot, or more, of espresso. If you want a latte with two espresso shots, you can tell your barista, “I’d like a latte with two shots.”
Types of Espresso-Based Drinks
If you want to order like a boss the next time you visit a coffee shop, you should familiarize yourself with the basic espresso drinks you’ll find on most menus.
Espresso can be enjoyed all on its own, but it is typically included in various hot and cold beverages. Let’s explore some of the most common espresso-based drinks and what sets each one apart.
Lattes are the most common espresso-based drink. They usually start with a base of 1 or 2 shots of espresso, but you can always add more. Lattes have a 1:2 ratio of espresso to steamed milk to foam which makes this drink extra rich and creamy.
If you’d like to go more in-depth about lattes, please check out our article all about lattes.
The quality that sets a cappuccino apart from a latte is its layers. It has an equal ratio of espresso, steamed milk, and foamed milk.
The bottom layer includes 1-2 shots of espresso (in the US, it’s typically 2). Steamed milk is added, and the final product is topped with a layer of foam. Cappuccinos tend to be a bit more flavorful and robust than lattes because they don’t have as much milk.
Americano is a shot or more of espresso with hot water.
This is an excellent go-to if your local coffee shop is out of drip coffee or if it’s going to be a long wait until their new batch is brewed! It might be a bit more expensive than a drip coffee, but it’s equally delicious!
The Flat White has become more and more popular as of late.
It is similar to a latte, but people love it because it is more espresso-forward and less milky. It has a small amount of steamed milk and a thin layer of foam, so you get the texture without losing the robust and delicious espresso taste.
I’ve been on a caramel macchiato kick lately. I just can’t get enough of them!
Similar to lattes, macchiatos are very popular and almost always contain flavored syrups. Even if you don’t specifically ask, a macchiato will come sweet.
Macchiatos do not have milk foam and instead have steamed milk. The most popular macchiato orders include cinnamon, mocha, caramel, and mocha macchiatos.
But seriously, try a caramel macchiato!
These are perfect in the summertime.
Frappes taste sweeter than macchiatos and lattes, making them great for people with a sweet tooth. Frappes are a refreshing, cold mix of water, coffee, milk, and ice.
They have a smoothie-like texture. Some frappes don’t contain coffee, so be sure to check that the one you choose is caffeinated. What’s the point of a coffee drink without caffeine?
Level up Your Coffee Shop Experience
Now that you know how to order the basic drinks at your local coffee shop let’s go over some more options you can try. This is a fun way of finding new drinks you might fall in love with.
You can truly craft your very own perfect coffee drink. There are so many ways to make it taste just right for your taste buds. You can choose from different milk options, flavors, and more. Let’s explore the possibilities.
All the espresso-based drinks we reviewed above can be made with different kinds of milk. Instead of steaming Whole Milk, you can choose 2% milk, fat-free milk, half and half, heavy cream, almond milk, coconut milk, and even oat milk.
These options are becoming increasingly popular and accessible to people with allergies, dietary restrictions, lifestyle choices, and unique palates.
Flavoring is an excellent way to make a drink your own when you order at your local coffee shop. Flavored syrups like caramel, vanilla, or even pumpkin spice are often great additions to a latte or even a simple cup of drip coffee.
Put it on Ice
One of the best parts about ordering at a local coffee shop? You can make almost any coffee or espresso-based drink an iced, refreshing, cold drink. As for a latte, coffee, or Macchiato, on the rocks.
Play around with these different options. When you allow yourself to explore and try new things, you’ll realize there are many incredible ways to experience coffee.
Cup Sizes: Debunked
Last but not least, let’s break down the terminology of cup sizes.
This can vary significantly from place to place! Once you know what you expect, you won’t feel flustered when they ask you if you want an 8 oz. or a “short.” It’s a trick question because they’re the same thing!
Most coffee shops, including places like Dunkin Donuts, offer Small, Medium, and Large sizes. They may even provide an Extra Large option.
Boutique roasteries often name their cup sizes in ounces, from a small shot of espresso (4 oz.) to a medium cup, either 8 oz. or 12 oz., to a large 16 or 24 oz.
Starbucks pulled their cup sizes into their branding. They use Italian terms for their cup sizes. The cups go in size order from smallest to largest as follows: “short” (8 oz.), “tall” (12 oz.), “grande” (16 oz.), Venti (hot is 20 oz. and cold is 24 oz.), or Trenta (a whopping 30 oz.).
When in doubt, simply ask the barista if you can see the different cup options, so you know you’re ordering the correct size. Usually, they will be happy to help!
Ordering at your local coffee shop like a boss doesn’t have to feel daunting, confusing, or overwhelming.
Now, you are equipped to navigate the jargon, explore your options, and customize the perfect drink to satisfy your coffee obsession.
Now that you have the terminology down and ordering at your local coffee shop, you might want to level up your coffee game at home.