For those of you who don’t drink coffee religiously like I do, I can only imagine that the menu at your local café looks like it was written in a foreign language. You might be thinking, “What the hell is an Americano? And what’s the difference between a Latte and Cappuccino?“
Well, as a self-professed coffee addict who spends more time in cafés than I do in my own house, I am here to help demystify a standard café drink menu for you.
Ah, the good ol’ cup of Joe; aka my caffeinated savior. I would hope most of you at least know what coffee is because if you don’t I’m not even sure what you are doing in a café, to begin with. Just as a refresher, coffee is made up of coffee beans and water, and can be served either hot or cold. You can drink it “black” or just add some sugar or flavoring and a little crème or milk and you are ready to conquer the morning.
A wonderful concentrated coffee beverage from Italy made up of coffee beans and a small amount of water. If you wish to “do as the Romans do,” you will drink your espresso shot straight or maybe with a hint of sugar. Warning: espresso is pretty advanced stuff. If you don’t like the taste of coffee, a straight espresso shot is not the way to go.
Lucky for you, espresso is a key ingredient in almost all other café beverages, so there are many other ways to enjoy it.
Italian for “milk,” latte is an espresso-based drink mixed with hot milk. For new coffee drinkers, I suggest asking the barista (the person who makes your drink) about the different flavored syrups that they carry, such as caramel, vanilla, and hazelnut, which they can add to your drink. Lattes are also topped off with a bit of foam (milk steamed to a froth); depending on the barista, they may even draw a design in your foam. And if you ever find yourself at café in Paris craving a latte, just ask the waiter for a Café au lait, (“coffee with milk”), which is the French equivalent of the Italian Latte.
Named after the habits worn by Capuchin friars, the Cappuccino is a staple of the Italian breakfast. Cappuccinos are one part espresso, one part hot milk, and one part micro-foam, and can be topped off with a sprinkle of sugar, cinnamon, or cocoa. You might think, “gee, that sounds just like a latte.” Cappuccinos are very similar to lattes but the key difference is that cappuccinos have more foam than lattes. So if foam isn’t your thing, stick with the latte. Another distinction between lattes and cappuccinos is that in Italy, people will give you very weird looks if you order a cappuccino afternoon. As I mentioned, cappuccinos are a staple of the Italian breakfast, so it seems weird to them that you would order it at any other time of day. However, since we don’t live in Italy, you can order a cappuccino whenever you feel like it without fear of being judged.
For those of you who are new to drinking coffee, or prefer something a little sweeter, the mocha will be your new best friend. Mocha is a blend of chocolate, espresso, and steamed milk, and usually topped off with whipped cream and chocolate syrup. Sounds delicious, right? That’s because it is. Coffee snobs and purists may frown upon your choice to drink a mocha because they believe coffee should be enjoyed without being bastardized by chocolate, but in my opinion, coffee and chocolate are a match made in Heaven. And who cares what they think? They aren’t the ones ordering the drink, you are, so enjoy it, because it is delectable.
Americanos are very similar to traditional coffee, and quite frankly, I don’t really see much of taste a difference between the two. An Americano, which is Italian for “American”, is made up of an espresso shot and hot water. They got their unique name from American GI’s stationed abroad during WWII who diluted the strong taste of an espresso shot with water to make it taste like the coffee they were used to drinking back home. And fun fact, the slang term for coffee, “cup of joe,” came about from all the American servicemen, or GI Joes, who were seen as avid coffee drinkers.
See? Ordering coffee isn’t really that scary once you have a better idea of what goes into the different drinks. And if you are ever unsure of what certain things on the menu are, don’t be afraid to ask the barista. They are nice people who wish to share their love of fine coffee with the world so they will be more than happy to give you a hand.
Hopefully, you find this guide helpful and thanks a “latte” for reading!
(also, please excuse my horrendous attempt at a pun)