10 Words to Help You Order the Coffee You Want to Drink

updated May 2, 2019
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(Image credit: Anna Brones)

A guy walks into a coffee shop and… In today’s age of coffee culture, finishing that sentence might be a little more difficult than it once was. Does he get an espresso? A cappuccino? A macchiato? A pour over? So many options, so little time.

Do you get confused about the differences between all these many choices? Here’s a cheat sheet to ten of the most common coffee terms to help you order the coffee you want to drink.

How about you? When you go into a coffee shop, are you the kind of person that knows what you want or are you willing to try new things? Sometimes it can be intimidating looking at a coffee list, and often, it can feel easier to opt for the Americano just because at least then you know what you’re getting.

But not to fear. There’s no reason that a coffee shop should intimidate you in the slightest, so here’s a list of ten words that will help you navigate your coffee choice. And no, we’re not talking venti and grande.

(Image credit: Anna Brones)

10 Coffee Words to Know

1. Espresso – Let’s start with the basics. Most people know what an espresso is, but in case you needed a reminder, espresso is a coffee drink made by forcing hot, pressurized water through finely ground coffee beans. This creates a very concentrated drink, often with a layer of caramel-colored foam on top — the creme.

Espresso, however, is not a type of coffee bean or roast; while espresso is commonly made with darker roasts, it can be made with any type of coffee beans.

2. Americano – On the list of simple coffee drinks is the Americano, made by pouring a shot of espresso into a coffee cup and then adding hot water. Americanos can be made with one, two, or even three shots if you’re feeling feisty. The name is said to back to WWII, when Americans ordered coffee in Italian cafes. Because they wanted coffee that was similar to what they drank back home — not the typical Italian espresso — they would have the baristas add hot water to dilute it.

3. Doppio – You could order a “double shot of espresso” but why not just go with the Italian name instead?

4. Ristretto – An espresso ristretto — literally “restricted espresso” — is essentially a “short” shot, even more concentrated than a normal espresso. Many coffee aficionados believe that this to be perfect espresso.

5. Latte – A latte is made by pouring milk into the espresso. First the espresso is poured into the coffee cup, and then warm milk is added until the cup is full.

6. Macchiato – If you are looking for a coffee drink with much less milk, you can opt for the macchiato. This is an espresso with a little bit of steamed milk — in Italian, “macchiato” means “marked,” so it’s an espresso marked with milk. This is good if you want the intensity of the espresso flavor, but cut just a little bit with the soft feel of milk.

7. Cappuccino – A cappuccino is in between a macchiato and a latte. It is made by pouring espresso into the coffee cup, which is then filled with steamed milk and foam. If you order a “dry” cappuccino, you will get one with more foam. The same goes for a “wet” cappuccino, which will have more milk.

(Image credit: Anna Brones)

8. Pour Over – Pour over is exactly what it sounds like: the coffee is made by pouring hot water over grounds. There are several methods for making pour over coffee — like a Chemex or the Hario V60 ceramic coffee dripper which you may have seen at some coffee shops — but the concept is the same. The grounds are placed in a filter in a pour over cone, and hot water is slowly poured over them. It is a simple and clean way that brings out the coffee’s flavor in a very distinct way. It’s also a fun one to experiment with at home.

9. Single Origin – A single origin coffee is a coffee that comes from a single place. But this phrase can be used broadly, with some brands using it to define coffee that comes from a single farm, and other defining coffee that comes from a group of farms in the same area. Some roasters focus on a single section of a single farm. Want to know more about where your coffee came from? That’s what your barista is there for. Just ask!

10. Blend – At specialty coffee shops, especially places that roast their own coffee, you may have a choice of what type of coffee you would like to drink. A blend is exactly what it sounds like: a mixture of two or more coffee varieties. Roasters will make these blends depending on how the beans will be made. A blend intended for espresso may be darker than a blend intended for a pour over, for example.

Are there any other coffee terms that have puzzled or confused you? Do share in the comments; we’ll explore them next!