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Coffee Shop Lingo

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Imagine, if you will, about 15 years ago, an energetic teenager, out on the town with her friends. They were branching out from their original Starbucks hangout to various independent places (this time, City Dock Cafe in Annapolis, MD- still there!). Said sprightly teenager confidently approached the bar and ordered "a tall caramel macchiato, please". This occurred at least two more times with the same barista in subsequent weeks, and finally, she cracked. The next time the order was placed, the fed-up barista said, "No. You can't have that. I'm making you a real espresso macchiato, and you're going to try it. If you don't like it, I'll make you a caramel latte". Well, I loved it. And that was the moment my real interest in coffee started, eventually leading to my career in the industry (Thanks, City Dock, and the barista whose name I can't remember!).

Maybe you're a cafe owner (or an aspiring one), or you work in one, or maybe you are a coffee-lover in general. No matter who you are, you're interacting with THE LINGO.

Intimidating to beginners, oft-misused and misunderstood, the usually non-English words can confuse a bar order, cause "bar-fright", and even prevent new customers from even coming in (no one wants to look dumb in that high-pressure, "order now" situation).

Behold, a list. (I love lists to a scary degree). There are more terms, to be sure, but here are some common pitfalls, usually the combo-fault of mass-chain-coffee and the Italians (it's ok, I am one, so I'm allowed).

Tall/Short- it took me a while in my youth to figure out why "tall" one place meant "small" everywhere else. And sometimes people mean big when they say tall, because that does make logical sense. In the coffee world, tall refers to a 12oz drink, which is technically "tall", compared to the traditional "short", 6-8 oz cup, but is usually the smallest size offered. I like to avoid that confusion altogether and sell based on volume, but I do encourage people to order a "short capp", because that's where it's at, and we love to make them.

Macchiato- it means "marked" in Italian. It's traditionally espresso "marked" with a dollop of drily textured milk- it should be no more than than 3 oz total. This is my favorite, and how I, as a coffee snob, judge a cafe's understanding and skill (#notsorry).

Cortado- think of this as between a macchiato and a short cap- around 4-5 oz of espresso and textured milk. A really great proportion.

Affogato- espresso over vanilla ice cream

Breve- anytime an espresso drink contains milk, and the dairy is switched out for half and half, it's a breve. Great for those on high-protein diets, or who love a rich drink, but not great for those on any other kind of diet!

Americano- often mispronounced as "americanah", this is espresso diluted with water to the same strength of a "regular" cup of coffee

See Cappuccino and Latte here

The main factor in my "conversion" to quality, independently brewed coffee was the interaction with my barista, her commitment to authenticity and quality, and willingness to educate her customers (even if she was a bit snarky, but I was a precocious teenager, so it was warranted). As pros, we've got to ease the way for customers, helping them understand without making them feel silly. If we recommend something new to a guest, it should come with a quick explanation, so they don't feel pressured to agree to something without knowing what they're getting into.

For example: customer asks for iced coffee, and barista says, we're out of cold brew but I can make an iced Americano." Um, ok? They're going to get something really good, but they may not know how to respond because two of those terms were unfamiliar. A sensitive barista combined with something like a well-placed explanatory chalkboard infographic can be the education. How do you do it? Or as a coffee-lover, how did you learn?



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