This post is an excerpt from my first ebook on coffee for college students, COFFEE 101 – Coffee Shouldn’t Cost As Much As Books (which, fingers crossed, should be available on Amazon for the Kindle on August 1, 2011!). Since many people walk into coffee shops and stare at the menu wondering what the difference is between a latte and a cappuccino, here’s a quick run-down of what you’re actually ordering and how to say it.
First, most coffee shops don’t serve JUST coffee. Most of their drinks will be coffee-based, but some aren’t. So the first distinction you need to make when you’re ordering in a coffee shop (especially if you’re trying to limit your caffeine intake) is whether or not your drink has coffee. This list is divided into two main sections: coffee-based drinks and non-coffee-based drinks.
Now that you know that you’re getting coffee in your drink, you have to know whether your drink contains espresso or brewed (drip) coffee. Most popular coffee shop drinks are based on 1-2 shots of espresso, but a few aren’t. So the coffee-based category is subdivided into espresso-based and brewed-based.
Espresso: Contrary to popular belief, espresso is not a type of bean, blend, or special roast. It’s just a method for preparing coffee by forcing hot water under pressure through fine grounds. Recently, espresso has become the main type of coffee in many parts of the world, although it used mostly as a base for other drinks in the United States. You may be able to order just a shot of espresso from a coffee shop, although this is uncommon and doesn’t appeal to many Americans. (By the way, the word “espresso” is Italian, and the letter x isn’t a part of the native language. So you should never call it “expresso”)
Americano (ahh-mer-i-kan-oh): A shot of espresso with about 8-10 fluid ounces of hot water added to it. Usually contains about the same caffeine as a cup of brewed coffee, but it has a different flavor.
Red Eye: A shot of espresso added to 8-10 fluid ounces of regular drip coffee. Also known as a Shot in the Dark or a Speedball.
Caffé con Leche (kah-fay kon lech-ey): A shot of espresso with steamed milk added to make an 8 fluid ounce cup.
Caffé latte (kah-fay lah-tay): One-third espresso and two-thirds steamed milk. Generally has a very thin layer of milk foam on top, whereas a cappuccino has a thick layer of foam. Can be flavored with syrup.
Caffé macchiato (mock-e-ah-toe): A shot of espresso with a teaspoon or two of foamed milk added to the top. Resembles a small cappuccino but has a much stronger taste because there’s less milk.
Caffé mocha (kah-fay moh-kuh): A traditional latte with chocolate added, typically in the form of chocolate syrup. Can also be flavored with cocoa powder or steamed chocolate milk. Flavored syrup is optional.
Cappuccino (kah-poo-chee-noh): Equal parts espresso, steamed milk, and milk foam. Variations include a cappuccino scuro (“dry”) which has less milk and foam, or a cappuccino chiaro (“wet”) which has extra foam.
Frappuccino (or Frappe): An iced or frozen cappuccino. The term “Frappuccino” is a registered trademark of Starbucks, but most coffee shops still serve Frappes. Can be made with flavored syrups, whipped cream, and chocolate sauce.
Mochaccino (moh-kuh chee-noh): A cappuccino with chocolate (essentially a mocha latte with a lot of milk foam).
Café au Lait (kah-fay oh–ley): Equal parts brewed coffee and hot milk. Similar to a Caffé latte but not as strong.
Iced Coffee: Iced coffee *should* be made with cold-brewed coffee for the best flavor, but many coffee shops just pour hot coffee over ice. Can be flavored or sweetened in many ways.
Most coffee shops offer many other drinks besides those based on coffee. These vary greatly from shop to shop, but here are a few common additions to most menus
Chai (chy, rhymes with “eye”): A spicy and sweet milk tea that comes from eastern countries (particularly India). Although it can be used to flavor lattes or other coffee-based drinks, by itself it refers to black tea brewed with a combination of spices and diluted with milk.
Italian Soda: Sparkling water with sweet syrup added.
Mayan/Mexican Hot Chocolate: Hot chocolate with added spices, often chipotle or cinnamon flavoring.
Steamer: A drink made from steamed milk and sweet flavored syrup. Similar to a latte but with no coffee or espresso.