Coffee 101

The complex world of coffee is one that I love to live in. As a former barista, I spent about three years working at different coffee shops of all calibers from small-town, in-house roasted coffee to fast-paced, New York City fancy. Every shop is unique, from the beans they use to the recipes that match their menu.

If you are new to coffee or stuck ordering the same drink every time, looking at a coffee menu for the first (or sixth time) can be very intimidating. A lot of the names of the different options might look like they’re written in another language! I can still remember my first day training to be a barista when I was 18. On the cash register, I was actually afraid when a customer ordered a breve!

Coffee is actually really simple when you break it down. I created this list that explains the different options that you will typically find at any local coffee shop.


coffee is poured into a glass cup on a counter. there is a carton of oat milk next to it Christopher Rusev | Unsplash

Drip Coffee: What you might think of as “black coffee.” The classic cup of joe can be dressed with sugar and creamer but it can get more complicated than that.  French/Dark: Strongest flavor. Medium/Light: Lighter flavor; has the most caffeine. Decaf: No caffeine; typically a medium roast.

Au Lait: Drip coffee with steamed milk. Red Eye/Shot in The Dark/Depth Charge: Drip coffee topped with shots of espresso. Iced Coffee: Made with brewed, drip coffee and served over ice. 

Espresso: A shot of espresso is extracted from a machine producing an ounce of liquid per shot. Order an espresso once you have a refined palate and passion for coffee.

Americano: Shot(s) of espresso served with hot or cold water. It can be spiced up in the same way as drip coffee with cream and sugar. 

Cappuccino*: Traditionally served with espresso, steamed milk and foam. Sometimes sprinkled with chocolate powder on top.

Traditional Macchiato: A shot of espresso with equal parts steamed milk/foam. Expect a two-ounce beverage.

Macchiato “Starbucks Style”: Served like a latte but with flavor incorporated in the milk, espresso poured on top and topped with a sauce (like caramel).

irish coffee Thimo van Leeuwen

Latte: Espresso with micro foamed, steamed milk poured into it. It is common to add flavors. Breve: Similar to a latte but made with half and half instead of milk. Mocha: Similar to a latte but incorporates chocolate sauce within the beverage. 

Cold Brew/Cold Press: The beans go through a long process that includes soaking ground coffee beans for about 22-26 hours. The final product creates a concentrate that is mixed with water. This iced drink is very caffeinated and also very delicious.

Frappe/Frappuccino: Blended iced drink. Recipes vary between cafes but they are typically dessert-like drinks. *Varies a lot between different cafes/coffee shops

wooden background with laptop and coffee Pixabay / Pexels

While ratios for these different drinks differ between cafes, hopefully, this list helps you find something you might like to order. As a barista, we are always willing to answer any questions and are satisfied when a customer enjoys their drink. Don’t be afraid to experiment with new drinks and flavor combinations- you might even find a new favorite drink!