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Your Trusty Guide to Coffee Terminology

Trusty Guide to Coffee Terminology

One of the best things about coffee is that there are so many different ways to drink it. There’s hot, cold, iced, pressed, dripped, and the list goes on and on. If you’re not a trained barista, it can get a bit intimidating, especially if you’re just venturing in to the new coffee culture. You walk into a coffee shop, take one look at the terminology used to describe the dozens of options available, and have absolutely no idea what to order. It used to be so simple. It was regular or decaf and maybe one flavor. Now you find yourself staring at a wall full of crazy sounding concoctions and you realize that you no longer speak coffee. The language has taken on a life of its own, but that’s okay. You can learn — and we will help.


Learning the lingo

Let’s start with coffee itself. The word originated in the late 16th century from Turkish kahveh, Arabic kahwa and Dutch koffie – and eventually made its way into the English language as coffee. It was second to tea in the “New World” until Boston Tea Party times when Thomas Jefferson proclaimed coffee to be the “favorite drink of the civilized world.” And so it was…and still is.


Related: Five Things to Know about Your Cup of Joe


With our history lesson out of the way, we’ll venture back to current day:


Espresso: Ah, you may own a machine, but do you really know how it works its magic? It’s done by forcing hot, pressurized water through coffee that’s very finely ground. The result is a concentrated, dark and creamy coffee drink. It can be made from any coffee beans. The trick is grinding it properly. If you don’t have a grinder, or aren’t sure just how fine the beans need to be, you can purchase 1-pound bags of espresso coffee. It’s ground perfectly and ready for those cute, little espresso cups we all love.


Americano: This one is pretty basic. An Americano consists of a shot of espresso and hot water. If you’re thinking that it might be easier to simply order a regular coffee instead of diluting espresso, you may be right, but there’s some history (yes, more) to this one. During war time when soldiers were stationed in Italy, they found the coffee served there to be too strong. It was pure espresso. So they asked the servers to add hot water to their coffee…just enough to dilute it to the consistency they were used to drinking. Today, Americanos are made with one, two, or even three espresso shots depending on your taste.


Latte: A latte is simply a shot of espresso that’s poured into a cup and then filled to the brim with warm milk. It’s a creamier way of drinking espresso and oh so good.


Macchiato: If the latte sounds good, but you’d prefer less milk, the macchiato is one to try. It’s an espresso with a little bit of steamed milk added in. The mixture provides the unique taste of espresso that’s tamed just a little with milk.


Cappuccino: This one often takes people by surprise when we tell them that cappuccino has a flavor profile that’s in-between that of a latte and macchiato. Espresso is poured into a cup, followed by hot milk and foam. If you’re thinking that being a barista is harder than you thought, you’d be right!


Single Origin: This refers to where a coffee comes from. Because the term means different things to different coffee buyers, it can relate to a single farm in a coffee-producing country, a few farms located in the same area, or just part of a single farm. This can get confusing for even seasoned coffee connoisseurs so your best bet is to ask. This is one time when not having the answer will make you look smart as most people would never know to ask.

While these six terms are just a start, they will get you through the line and up to the café counter feeling coffee confident.  We’ll explore some of the newer, less-known terminology in a future post. Until then, coffee on.