There’s nothing quite like walking into a great coffee shop – the sights, the sounds, the smells, the unfinished screenplays. You’re invigorated. You feel at home. And…you need some damn caffeine.
But then…you step up to the counter to place your order and…you totally freeze.
What are all those coffee drinks? What do all those names mean? What’s in that?
You’ve got questions. Questions that you never ask because you don’t want to look like an idiot. So, you just order a plain ol’ black coffee and wonder what could have been.
From macchiatos and mochas to cappuccinos and cortados, let’s demystify the menu at your coffee shop, shall we? Then, you’ll be able to walk in with supreme confidence and order whatever your soon-to-be caffeinated heart desires.
Common Coffee Shop Drinks
These are the most common coffee drinks you’ll find on the menu in a typical coffee shop:
Yep, even though there are a multitude of milk options and a seemingly infinite number of sweeteners and syrups, plenty of people just want a cup of straight up black coffee. There’s a good chance your coffee shop has a quality roast that’s perfect for your palette. Ask your barista what’s brewing.
Looking to cool down on a summer day? Prefer drinking out of a straw? Get an iced coffee. Yes, iced coffee is exactly what it sounds like – regularly brewed coffee served over ice.
(If coffee shops aren’t your thing, you can easily make Iced Coffee at home. You can even make Iced Coffee with a Keurig.)
Ever wonder why your coffee shop menu has Iced Coffee AND Cold Brew? Well, there is a difference between the two, and it all comes down to how they’re prepared. Again, Iced Coffee is just regularly brewed coffee poured over ice. Cold Brew, however, is made by steeping coarse ground coffee in cold water – usually for 12 to 24 hours.
Care to make your own cold brew? Try this easy-to-use at-home cold brew maker.
Espresso (Short Black)
When you order an Espresso, you’re actually ordering what’s known as a Short Black. This is 1 oz. (or 1 shot) of highly concentrated coffee. Espresso is made by forcing piping hot water through finely ground and tightly packed coffee grounds. It’s typically served in one of those cute 2-4 oz espresso cups.
If you’re on a budget and you’d prefer to make espresso at home, check out this list of the best espresso makers under $200.
Double Espresso (Doppio)
Doppio is the Italian word for ‘double.’ And a Double Espresso is – you guessed it – two shots of Espresso.
This popular drink essentially has three components: espresso, steamed milk, and foam. So what makes it a latte? It’s the ration, which is generally 1/3 espresso (2 oz.) and 2/3 steamed milk (6 oz.). Then, there’s the thin layer of foam on top.
While many order their lattes with alternative kinds of milk (Almond, Soy, Oat), Whole Milk is best for a latte. Whole Milk has the highest fat content; so, it results in supreme frothiness. If your barista has mad skills, they’ll turn that thin layer of foam into drinkable art.
Meet the cool cousin of the latte. It’s basically – but not exactly – made the same way. There’s a lot more milk involved. An Iced Latte is generally comprised of 1/4 espresso and 3/4 milk. Because the milk doesn’t need to be steamed or frothed, many like their Iced lattes with Almond Milk, Soy Milk, or Oat Milk. Top it all off with a big scoop of ice.
A cappuccino has all the same components as a latte but with a different ratio. While a latte has 1/3 espresso, 2/3 steamed milk, and a layer of foam on top, a cappuccino has an even distribution of the three. In other words, a cappuccino is made with 1/3 espresso, 1/3 steamed milk, and 1/3 foam (or foamed milk).
Because there’s so much steamed milk and foamed milk, it’s best to make a cappuccino with Whole Milk. Whole Milk has more fat, remember?
To keep this as simple as possible, a traditional macchiato is a shot of espresso with a splash (or a dash or a dollop or a spoonful) of steamed milk. The word macchiato literally means marked – as in the milk marks the espresso. There’s no foam like you might find in a latte or a cappuccino.
Originating in Spain, the Cortado strikes an even balance between espresso (2 oz.) and warm milk (2 oz.). While the milk is steamed, it isn’t frothed or “texturized” like it is when making a latte or a cappuccino. The Cortado is traditionally served in a 4 oz. glass.
If you need minute away from the moo juice, this is the perfect coffee drink for you. An Americano is made with espresso and hot water. No milk at all! A typical Americano is made with 2 parts hot water and 1 part of espresso. But you can play with the ratio to achieve your desired taste. You can also cool down on a hot summer day with an Iced Americano.
Created by the Australians, the Flat White is similar to a latte in that it contains espresso and steamed milk. However, a Flat White has less milk than a latte, so it yields a stronger taste. There’s also a difference in technique. The milk is steamed just to enough to create extremely dense, tiny bubbles – or microfoam. This microfoam is poured slowly over the espresso.
Cafe Au Lait
Had enough espresso? Try a Cafe au Lait, which is coffee with milk. In fact, cafe au lait is French for “coffee with milk.” A traditional Cafe Au Lait is comprised of hot, strong coffee (typically made with a French Press) and hot milk. The milk must be hot for it to be considered a Cafe Au Lait.
It’s also worth noting the American version of the Café Au Lait which originated in New Orleans. This version features coffee with chicory, a plant (or root) that has a woody taste. The milk is heated right up to its boiling point.
In New Orleans, the Cafe Au Lait is often served with a beignet (the French version of a donut). You can get a Cafe Au Lait and an order of beignets at the world famous Cafe Du Monde as well as other coffee shops in New Orleans.
Mocha is short for Mocha Latte, and it’s made the exact same way as a regular latte. There’s really just one major difference: A Mocha has chocolate syrup added to it. The chocolate syrup is typically added first to the bottom of the cup. Then, in goes the espresso and steamed milk. A little stir and you’ve got yourself some chocolatey goodness.
Of course, you can order a mocha hot or iced.
Note: Many coffee shop baristas will ask if you want a White Mocha (with white chocolate syrup) or a Dark Mocha (with dark chocolate syrup). A standard mocha is made with milk chocolate syrup.
Less Common Coffee Shop Drinks
Here are a few concoctions that may not even appear on your coffee shop drinks menu. But there’s a good chance your barista knows precisely what they are.
A Red Eye is simply a brewed up of coffee with a shot of espresso added to it.
A Black Eye is simply a brewed cup of coffee with two shots of espresso added to it.
A Dead Eye is simply a brewed cup of coffee with three shots of espresso added to it.
With roots in Australia and New Zealand, a Long Black is almost identical to the Americano. There’s just a different order to things. An Americano is made by pouring the espresso first into the cup, then the water on top. A Long Black is made by pouring the hot water first into the cup, then the espresso on top. If the ingredients are not added in this order, then it’s not a Long Black.
Vietnamese Iced Coffee
A Vietnamese Iced Coffee is made with strongly brewed dark roast coffee and sweetened condensed milk. There are several nuances that make it a true Vietnamese Iced Coffee.
Learn how to make your own Vietnamese Iced Coffee.
A traditional Brazilian drink, the Cafezinho is made by adding sugar or rapadura to strong black coffee. While typically served black, you’ll commonly find coffee drinkers adding milk or cream to both lighten and thicken their Cafezinho. Learn more about how to make an authentic Cafezinho.
Now that you’ve digested the main entree, it’s time for dessert. Affogato is typically made by pouring one shot of espresso or a few tablespoons of strong coffee over two to three scoops of ice cream.