Have you ever felt confused about what to order at a coffee shop? With so many options, it can be intimidating to know how to ask for what you want. Here, you'll learn all the basic terminology necessary to craft your perfect order, and to sound smart when doing so!

The Beans:

Though they’re called coffee “beans,” coffee comes from the seed of a coffee cherry. In other words, coffee is actually a fruit! Each coffee cherry contains two to three seeds which the average person could recognize as coffee beans.

Essentially all commercialized coffee comes from 2 types of beans: Arabica or Robusta. Any other difference in flavor is achieved through roasting technique.

Arabica beans account for around 70-80% of the world’s coffee production. They are expensive to cultivate, but highly desirable for their fine, mild and aromatic flavors. Most consider Arabica beans the “superior” coffee bean. Chances are, most of the coffee you’ve ever consumed has come from this bean.

Robusta beans are more frequently used in blends and instant coffee. They're 50-60% higher in caffeine, and significantly cheaper to produce. However, coffee brewed from Robusta beans is often described as having a burnt or rubbery taste. Still, many specialty coffee companies have been exploring the possibilities of Robusta-based coffees. 


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The Roasts:

Light roast: Light roasts are mild, light-bodied, and slightly acidic. They taste closest to the flavor of the original bean and have the highest amount of caffeine. (As a rule of thumb; the lighter the roast, the higher the caffeine content.)

Medium roast: Medium roast coffees are an intermediate between light and dark and therefore have a more balanced flavor. The taste of the coffee is a bit more spicy and has more body than a light roast. 

Dark roast: These are often the most bitter, and contain less of the original bean’s flavor. Dark roasts get most of their flavor from the roasting process itself, and therefore have a smoky or even burnt taste. 

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Jocelyn Hsu

The Drinks:

There are seemingly endless coffee drinks to choose from. Here are a few of the ones you should know:

Hot coffee: comes in light, medium, or dark roasts. There may be other brew infused with flavor (like hazelnut or pumpkin).

Iced coffee: a regular coffee, but chilled and filled with lots of ice. 

Espresso: a full flavored, concentrated shot of coffee. It comes in a small cup.

Macchiato: espresso with milk foam on top. Macchiato means "stained" in Italian, because the coffee is stained with a dash of milk.

Latte: an espresso with lots of steamed milk, topped with a thin layer of foamed milk.

Cappuccino: an espresso with a small layer of steamed milk and a large layer foamed milk.

Americano: an espresso with hot water to add volume.

Mocha: an espresso with chocolate syrup and steamed milk, possibly topped with whipped cream.

How to Order:

The easiest way to present your coffee order is by first say the size of the drink, followed by the name of the drink, and then any special additions or instructions. For example, “I would like a medium iced coffee with skim milk” is a straightforward way to give someone your order. If you want decaffeinated you must specify that, or else it will be assumed that you want "regular," or caffeinated coffee.

If you go to Starbucks, you should change “small,” “medium,” or “large” to “tall,” “grande,” or “venti.” They even have a "trenta" size, which means extra-large. However, if you say you want a medium iced coffee, they’ll still know what you’re talking about.

Most coffee places will allow you to customize the milk fat content (whole, low fat, nonfat, or nondairy) and the number of sugar packets. If you prefer to add your own milk or sugar, ask for “room” in the drink so they will leave some space for you to add extra liquid and stir. If you want espresso added to your drink, you can ask for a single, double, or triple shot to be added to the original order. 

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Shelby Cohron

So, now you know the basics! While this isn't an exhaustive list of all there is to know about coffee, hopefully you've been enlightened about your newfound coffee knowledge and feel more confident when ordering your next drink!