We've all been there—you get to the front of the line at an artsy coffee shop downtown and you realize you have absolutely no idea what to order, or you are just totally swamped from studying for a million hours that you forget what you usually drink. Coffee lingo can be really confusing and overwhelming. You may not have a weird thing for cold coffee drinks like I do, but even then, I still can't decide which drink to order. And yes, even in the below-freezing Boston winters, I always opt for a cold coffee drink. It's weird, I know. 

It's actually crazy how, by just slightly altering the amount of milk or whether using espresso or black coffee, can change the name, taste, appearance, and really everything about the drink entirely. Instead of just guessing what's what when it comes to coffee, I've put together this pro-tip cheat sheet of common coffee lingo and decoded each drink to its basic elements and ingredients.


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The name makes it sound fancy, but an affogato has just two ingredients: coffee and ice cream. And that's really all you need to know because what else could you want?


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An Americano is basically just diluted espresso. The final drink is comprised of 2/3 hot water and 1/3 espresso, resembling a stronger version of regular brewed coffee with either a double or single shot of espresso.


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Dark, bitter, and intense, black coffee is just what it says it is: coffee and more coffee. There is no milk, sugar, cream, or half-and-half in there. There may be 11 myths about people who drink black coffee, but I actually think that iced black coffee isn't all that bad.

Café Au Lait

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Though the French name may make this drink seem particularly fancy, café au lait simply means coffee with milk. The composition of each drink you get may vary, though. In most of the US, there is a 1:1 ratio of brewed coffee to milk, but in Europe, they swap out brewed coffee for espresso, which essentially makes it a latte.


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Cappuccinos and lattes often get confused. They both have the same ingredients—espresso, steamed milk, and milk foam—but what differs among the two coffee drinks is the proportion of the milks. A cappuccino has more foam than milk, while a latte has more milk than foam. It's a ratio thing. Be prepared to get weird looks if you order an iced cappuccino, though, because you're just ordering hot foam on top of cold coffee.

Cold Brew 

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Cold brew coffee has become a huuuuge trending item these days, but it's really just coffee made by cold brewing (duh) instead of the normal hot brewing method. To avoid the ridiculously overpriced cold brew, try making your own cold brew at home. You may surprise yourself and become your very own barista. The process of making cold brew is very simple and straightforward: cold water and coffee are steeped for up to 24 hours. This slow process results in a smooth, more full-bodied flavor that is generally less acidic than regular coffee, which makes it easier to drink for some people. 


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As you might have already realized, espresso is the foundation of most coffee drinks. It's strong kick and high caffeine content make it the perfect base for any coffee drink formula. If you are in dire need of a caffeine boost though, an espresso shot is always a (bitter) better option. 

Flat White

Flat white

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flat white is similar to a latte, but consists of a double shot of espresso topped with streamed frothy milk. A drink originating in New Zealand and Australia, a flat white is the perfect blend of a smooth and strong coffee balanced with a frothy and delicate foamed milk.

French Press

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A French press gadget may look intimidating, but it is actually very simple to use. It may take a tiny bit longer than just pressing the "brew now" button on your Keurig to brew your coffee, but I promise you it's worth the literal two minutes. Plus, using a French press is actually kind of fun. And yes, you can take my word for it.


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Lattes are my personal favorite coffee drink because they are packed with both caffeine and flavor. Though composed of the same ingredients as a cappuccino, lattes are mostly milk with a dollop of froth on top. Starbucks has made a huge name for themselves with their seasonal Pumpkin Spice Lattes, but make sure to try a Chai Latte, which I think literally tastes like a gingerbread house exploding in your mouth.


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The classic macchiato, or sometimes called an espresso macchiato, is comprised of one shot of espresso topped with foamed milk. A macchiato is one of those drinks that tastes good in really any form, classic or flavored, iced or hot.


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For caffeine-desperate chocolate lovers, a mocha is absolutely heaven. It combines the adult-ing nature of coffee with the childhood whim of chocolate. During the holiday season, make sure to catch Starbucks' Peppermint Mochas. They are literally an ugly sweater holiday party in your mouth (minus the ugly sweater part, of course).

Nitro Cold Brew 

Tessa Epstein

The newest fad of cold brew is called the nitro cold brew, which is nitrogen-infused cold brew coffee that, unlike regular cold brew, is not usually served over ice. Nitro cold brew not only has a creamier and richer, almost chocolatey, flavor but also has a higher concentration of caffeine than regular coffee that will surely speed up the caffeine rush.

Pour Over

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Similar to cold brew coffee, pour over coffee has become a growing industry fad in those small artsy coffee shops or places like Blue Bottle Coffee and Clover Food Lab that are just ahead of us on everything. Essentially, it's pouring water over a coffee filter filled with coffee grounds, which then filters into a cup.

Red Eye

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A red eye is, well, exactly what you need after a red-eye flight or a sleepless night: a cup of coffee with a shot of espresso. Yes, that exists and people do order it.

If you're still confused about the types of coffee drinks explained here, which you very much may be, screenshot this for future reference:

Bennie Weber

Though it's true that once you break down the ingredients of each coffee drink, they all seem very similar, make sure never to mention that to a barista and especially remember to never order an iced cappuccino. Coffee making has really become an art, and people truly pride themselves on their coffee making skills. Literally, there is a US Coffee Championship. Yes, really.