HOW TO ORDER COFFEES
I have to be honest. I fall into the category of people who would stand in front of a coffee menu for a good 10 minutes or more, looking lost and torn, even though I was sure I knew what I wanted when I had stepped in.
In today's (specialty) coffee drinker's world, we are spoilt for choices that cafes now offer. You have coffee beverages served in all types of cups and glasses (or versions of drink wares even), hanging menu boards that are almost as large as the wall on which they are hung on, and names of coffees so long and foreign that you could not even pronounce, let alone have heard of. While at the other end, you have coffee menus so simple that you start doubting if you actually knew what they mean.
Well, if you’re anything like me (and I’m the type who’d ask anyone on the street for directions), you’d ask the barista to explain the menu or ask for a recommendation. While this, I believe, is still the best approach when ordering from an establishment that is new to you, if this is not your cuppa joe, or if you feel doing this is just so..noobish..here are some general reference points to get you started. . Note that this write up is meant for you if you are just getting into specialty coffee. We will not go into anything too complicated, confusing, or any technicals here.
For a simpler text, we will just be covering basic 'specialty' cafe coffee beverage options here. (This will omit drinks such as mocha and other blended or alcoholic coffee based beverages. If you want to skip the explanation for a 3 point answer, scroll to the bottom of this page.
Gone were the days where there were just a few options if you wanted your coffee BLACK or WHITE. (Without or with milk).
Now, different variations of the same drinks are floating around on coffee menus around the world, confusing the customer who just simply wants a coffee. We'll cover some of the most basic drinks here.
When you enter a coffee bar serving espresso coffees, you are likely to see these menu options. (graphic below).
What is an Espresso?
Simply put, an espresso, is a concentrated shot of coffee pulled (extracted/made), from an espresso machine or an espresso apparatus.
This is a low volume of liquid that is packed with loads of coffee content and flavour. A traditional espresso is pulled using a 9 bar pressure (the machine provides this pressure to extract the shot of coffee). Modern espresso machines have incorporated technology so that baristas can profile (design) how their shot is extracted.
So what are these espresso beverages?
Espresso Drinks Explained
Espresso – This is the pure shot of coffee that is extracted from the espresso machine (See About Espresso here)
Ristretto – The ristretto is a shorter pull of the espresso shot. This means that the barista stops the shot earlier, resultng in a smaller volume of espresso being extracted to the cup. In an espresso, the last parts that are being extracted, are the less flavourful components, which can be more diluted, bland and thinner than the beginning or middle parts of the extraction. By not allowing the ends of the extraction to end up in your cup, you end up with the sweeter parts of the extracted shot. However, whether a ristretto is really sweeter than an espresso depends on a myriad of factors and is often subjective. Some Whites are made with espressos, and some, with ristrettos, depending on a particular coffee/café’s recipe.
Macchiato – A macchiato is a shot of espresso or ristretto, served with a small dollop of foam/froth. Some like their shots clean (espresso, ristretto), while others, who find that the espressos or ristrettos are too biting for them, prefer a little foam to go along with it to soothe the harshness of a shot. This macchiato is often confused with the other caramel macchiato served at Starbucks. If you enter a specialty coffee joint (and one that is not Starbucks), and order a Macchiato, do not expect that it would be served in a full cup with frothed milk and caramel drizzle. Some things to note while ordering a macchiato. While many coffeebars may serve macchiatos, these may be priced much higher than a espresso/ristretto. Unless you are ordering in a high volume espresso bar with continuous orders of White coffees, the barista would have to steam a pitcher of milk just to get that one dollop of froth for your macchiato – and that is likely to cost you. Well, either that, or you may just be getting old froth leftover from a pitcher. See ‘What is Froth?’ here.
Americano & Long Black – These two are pretty much the same thing – espresso with water. The only difference, is Sequence, and well, taste (if you can distinguish it). In an Americano, the espresso shot is extracted into the cup first, and hot water added on top of it to dilute the taste. In a Long Black, hot water is frirst poured into the cup, with the espresso shot extracted into the cup of hot water. In a Long Black, the crema is preserved. A coffeebar is unlikely to serve both options, so with either ones, you are pretty much ordering a black coffee made with espresso. See The Other Black Coffee here.
Flat White, Latte, & Cappuccino – These are possibly the most popular coffees ordered these days. Traditionally, the difference between a Flat White, Latte, and Cappuccino, is the amount of foam (See graphic), and vice versa, the amount of milk. If the espresso shot is exactly the same, and the cup size is the same, this would mean, that the Flat White has the weakest taste (having the most amount of milk), and the Cappuccino has the strongest taste (having the least amount of milk). Of course, it wouldn’t be right to assume that every coffeebar has the same recipe and same serving sizes for the 3 options. You may have encountered bars who serve Flat Whites with double shots of espressos/ristrettos, while Lattes and Cappuccinos are served with single shots only. There really isn’t a right or wrong way as there are too many factors to consider when designing a drink. Factors like cup size, coffee used, recipe,price, are all factors. I’d just leave it to the barista to recommend the option they like best. I had my first encounter with a Flat White some 11 years back in Australia, and that was the campus coffee bar’s Go-To drink. – everyone raved about it and I’d never heard of it. It was a simple cup of espresso with milk and a thin layer of microfoam. The other milk option was a Latte (Dbl shot @$3), and a Cappuccino (Dbt Shot @$3). The Flat White was priced at $1.50 with a Single Shot. Now, you would hardly find Flat Whites priced below Lattes, and they may have a single or double shot. So there really isn’t an industry standard to what a Flat White or Latte or Cappuccino should be, nor will any of the ratios of these, or even espressos be the same. My suggestion is to Just Ask the Barista For A Recommendation.
And then there are FILTERS..
Now I won't lie, Filters are what we at The Tiny Roaster love love love, and if you had been to our 2 coffee bars previously, you would have seen the display of our filter bar and our ever-changing filter menu. But what are these filters we have been raving about?
Filters, are again, simply put, filtered coffees (or coffee that have been brewed with the use of a filter.
Why are filters so popular in the specialty coffee scene today?
Filter coffees (with the exception of Batch Brewed Filters), are brewed to order, so they are a step up from your batch brews (which are usually pre-brewed and dispensed for serving) – this means, you get a fresh filter coffee, brewed just for you. Filters tend to be brewed using a coffee:water ratio that is close to that of cupping ratio, to bring out the more subtle notes in the coffee that may be lost in a concentrated shot of espresso. Furthermore, unlike an Americano/Long Black, where water is added to a shot of espresso, in filters, all the coffee grounds interact with the water that is used to brew the coffee.
Now, this is a generalization, but most specialty coffee joints offering filter will tend to offer specialty grade coffees that have been roasted for filter (meaning, that whoever roasted the coffee, designed a ‘recipe’ to roast this coffee to showcase it on filter methods. We’ll explore more of these filter methods below.
Click on each method to find out more.
Most commonly seen filter coffee apparatus include:
Drip Batch Brewers (Automatic, Machine Brew)
Hario V60, Kalita Wave, Chemex (Manual, Hand Brew)
Aeropress (Immersion, Pressure, Hand Brew)
Clever Dripper (Immersion, Hand Brew)
Siphon (Vaccuum, Immersion, Hand Brew)
You may have seen coffeebars and cafes offering their filter coffee selection with a choice of brewing methods. What are all these methods and how do I choose?
Honestly, no one method is superior to another – these are simply different ways of showcasing a coffee. Each brewing method is different which results in a different type of flavour profile for each coffee. For example, (and this is purely a simplified example) the same Colombia Supremo, brewed on a Chemex, may have a lighter, more crisp mouthfeel, as compared to the same Supremo, brewed using a Siphon, which may have deeper, richer tones. The same Supremo, may also feature better on a Hario v60 today, as compared to a Clever Dripper, while the same Supremo, may feature better on the Clever, 4 days from today, as compared to the v60.
Why is this so?
The roasted coffee’s taste profile will evolve and change over the course of its good lifespan, and different methods extract the coffee differently, which then results in a different flavour or profile in the cup.
Read more About Filters .
If you’d like to taste a coffee for all its natural taste notes, and an espresso shot is too overwhelming, try it as a Filter.
A simple answer here..
If you want something with milk, go for a Flat White, Latte, or Cappuccino.
If you want something black to throw back, very concentrated and punchy, and don't need a full cup, go for an Espresso/Ristretto Shot.
If you want something black, but not so strong, and an actual full cup of it, go for an Americano or Long Black (if the cafe only has an espresso bar), or go for a Filter, if the cafe has this on their menu.
When in doubt, just ask the Barista for a Recommendation.