Coffee. It's a word that most of us are more familiar with than the word "sleep". As a former Starbucks barista, I've witnessed firsthand the hordes of zombie-like, sleep-deprived college students, trudging forward in line at eight o' clock in the morning, waiting for that sip of magical bean juice to wake them up. However, the vast number of different caffeinated drinks can quickly get confusing. Don't worry—here's a comprehensive coffee guide to help you decide what to order in any situation (and it's applicable to all cafes).

Living in the Bay Area? Here are some coffee shops that you should try out.


Alex Kaplan

Ah, the good ol' cup of Joe. This is the simplest (and cheapest) type of caffeinated beverage you can buy, and it's the preferred drink for most functioning adults. There are three different roasts typically sold: blonde, medium and dark. Blonde roast is light-bodied, mellow and slightly acidic. Medium roast, as the name implies, is the perfect balance between blonde & dark roast and provides a smooth flavor. Dark roast is heavy-bodied, strong and slightly more bitter. A splash of your preferred milk will complete a cup of coffee.

#SpoonTip: The blonde roast actually has more caffeine than the other two roasts, so try replacing your morning coffee with this if you need a little more kick.


Espresso: the core of most caffeinated beverages.  Espresso shots, or just "shots," are made by forcing hot water under high pressure through finely-ground coffee beans. It results in a smooth and slightly viscous liquid, with all the flavors and caffeine condensed into a fluid ounce. Although taking shots by themselves will give you an energy boost, you may feel jittery and crash after a few hours. I recommend enjoying espresso in the other forms that I will describe.

Iced Coffee vs. Cold Brew

"What's the difference between iced coffee and cold brew?" is a common question I hear. The difference is in the way they are brewed. Iced coffee is made by brewing hot, double-strength coffee, which is then cooled down and diluted with ice. Cold brew is made without heat by submerging ground coffee in water for a certain period of time; this method yields a cup that is less acidic, and it contains more caffeine than iced coffee. Cold brew is probably my preferred drink from this coffee guide. Regardless of your preference, both taste great with milk and a few pumps of syrup.


An americano is made with just espresso shots and water, and they are a favorite among many students. Americanos originated during WWII, when soldiers added water to the espresso shots they had in Europe in order to imitate their familiar coffee.


Alex Kaplan

Lattes are easily the most popular beverage at many cafés. Lattes are made with steamed milk and espresso. The creamy texture combined with the richness of the espresso is loved by many, and the drink itself is very aesthetic. In some cafes, baristas often decorate lattes with latte art, which is drawn by skillfully pouring the steamed milk on top of the espresso. Lattes are often customizable, and drinks like mocha or pumpkin spice latte are just lattes with flavoring.

#SpoonTip: I usually enjoy my lattes with oat milk and two pumps of vanilla and toffee nut—you should try it next time!


Similar to lattes, cappuccinos are made using steamed milk and espresso; however, the milk in cappuccino is aerated for a longer time, which creates a lot more foam. It's harder to make cappuccinos with plant-based milks because they don't contain enough protein to stabilize the air bubbles, so I recommend sticking with lattes if you prefer milk alternatives.


Not to be confused with the cappuccino, the Frappuccino is an iced, sugary, blended beverage made by Starbucks. However, many cafes serve some form of this drink as well. The amount of caffeine in a Frappuccino ranges depending on the store; some cafes add actual espresso shots, while Starbucks only adds coffee concentrate. From experience, there is a lot of sugar in this beverage, and the combination of caffeine and sugar basically guarantees a crash. If you're trying to stay up and study, I would not recommend ordering a Frappuccino.

Matcha Latte

Okay, okay—this technically isn't a coffee drink, but matcha is a beloved drink in many cafes. It's made using scoops of matcha powder and steamed milk, and matcha has been proven to have many health benefits. Personally, I drink matcha with a pump or two of vanilla syrup, which really complements the nuttiness of the tea. Matcha also has lower amounts of caffeine, so you can enjoy it in the afternoon without having to worry about a sleepless night ahead.

#SpoonTip: A cup of matcha latte can cost up to $6-7! Save some money and make it at home using this simple iced matcha recipe.

Hopefully this coffee guide will make your next trip for coffee a little easier. Just don't drink too much at once.