Major Coffee Shop Drinks Explained

Before I became a barista, my usual coffee order was always a black coffee or plain latte- not because they tasted amazing (though, of course, they did), but because I didn’t know what anything else was. Now that I’ve been working at a coffee shop for over a year, and have taken a few coffee classes, I’m able to put together this cheat sheet of coffee drinks to save you confusion and agony over this vital subject.


  1. 1. Latte:

    This is one of the most common coffee orders and deservingly so. It’s delicious and is able to satisfy your caffeine addiction. Typically, a latte contains 2 shots of espresso and a good amount of steamed milk. Lattes have the most milk of any specialty coffee drink.

    Insider Tip:  A large latte usually doesn’t mean more caffeine, it just means there will be more milk on top of the 2 shots. If you need a little extra boost, ask for an extra shot.

  2. 2. Cappuccino:

    This tasty drink is commonly confused with a latte, but has a few key differences. Cappuccinos consist of 2 shots of espresso and frothy steamed milk. In most coffee shops, these are served in smaller cups than lattes, and have less milk because the milk is steamed to a fluffy consistency.

  3. 3. Macchiato:

    This is one of the most commonly misunderstood espresso drinks, thanks to Starbucks. Literally, macchiato translates to “with milk.” This gives a lot of headway for coffee shops’ interpretation of the drink. Of course, we all recognize Starbuck’s delicious and sweet macchiato, but traditionally a macchiato is 2 shots of espresso with a spoon full of steamed milk. So, if you come to a small coffee shop and order a macchiato expecting a sweet drink, prepare to be disappointed. To avoid the disappointment, and unnecessary anger at your local barista (trust me I get more complaints about this than all other drinks combined), try ordering a vanilla latte with a caramel swirl (roughly Starbucks’ take on a macchiato).

  4. 4. Café Au Lait:

    This might have different names depending on the coffee shop, or it might not be listed at all, but because it’s such a simple drink these can easily be requested. A café au lait is a drip coffee with steamed milk. This has a similar flavor, caffeine content, and texture to a latte but has a higher coffee to milk ratio. This could be a great option if you want a lighter version of a latte.

  5. 5. Making a drink “dirty”:

    Most coffee shops have non-espresso drinks like Chai lattes (steamed milk mixed with chai tea) or Matcha lattes (powdered Matcha tea frothed with steamed milk). Often times, “dirty” versions of these are offered, and this just means adding shots of espresso to the drink. I highly recommend this option, especially because the teas already have caffeine, and hello what college student doesn’t need a little extra buzz from their coffee.

  6. 6. Drip Coffee:

    This is the most basic coffee form, but you’d be surprised how many people get confused by the term, “drip”. This is the coffee you probably make at home, but is soo much better when you go out to get it.

  7. 7. Mocha:

    This is literally just a chocolate latte. This is almost always a separate menu item than flavored lattes like vanilla or caramel, but yes. I like to think of it as a ramped up hot chocolate, (it makes it more fun). Enjoy your big girl hot cocoa.

Hopefully, this was able to give you a better understanding of the coffee menu, and you'll be able to confidently order on your next Starbucks run. Enjoy testing them all out, and showing your friends what a coffee connoisseur you've become.