You’re standing in line at the new Starbucks on the corner, mulling over the menu as the woman ahead of you gives her order. “I’ll have an iced venti doppio breve mocha latte with a shot of cinnamon.” She might as well be speaking a foreign language. She moves down the line and it’s your turn. The barista is looking at you expectantly while you feel like an alien on your first trip to Earth. Don’t panic. As long as you understand the basic ingredients, you’ll be prepared to enjoy coffee in all its many forms and flavors.
In the world of coffee drinks, size matters. In coffee lingo, small, medium, large, and extra-large transform into short, tall, grande or venti. These sizes are usually 8oz (short), 12 oz (tall), 16oz (grande) and 20 oz (venti). The amount of coffee in a drink also varies. A solo is a single serving of espresso. Most coffee drinks, such as cappuccino, are made with a solo. You can also order a doppio, also known as a double shot, a triple, or a quad (4 shots).
This isn’t your grand-daddy’s cup o’joe. Coffee drinkers are faced with a cornucopia of roasts and preparation styles. In a bean shell, roasts range from very light, such as Half-City and American, to very dark roasts such as French or Italian. The darker the roast, the more of the bean’s natural oils rise to the surface. More oils mean stronger flavor.
The brewing method is another factor in the flavor of coffee. Most people are familiar with automatic drip coffee makers that pass hot water over ground beans. Other methods, such as the French press, steep ground beans in hot water to make coffee. Espresso is a special process of brewing, which forces water near the boiling point (around 195F) and under high pressure through finely ground, firmly packed coffee. The result is a very concentrated and intensely flavored drink. When prepared properly, espresso will have a dark tan layer of foam on top called crema.
Turkish coffee (also called Greek or Middle Eastern coffee) is brewed by grinding coffee into a fine powder and then boiling it in water. The coffee isn’t filtered, which results in a thicker beverage with a strong flavor.
New Orleans iced coffee uses a cold brewing method similar to making sun tea. Coffee beans are coarsely ground and mixed with cold water in a large container. The container is stored either at room temperature or in the refrigerator for at least 12 hours. When the concentrate has brewed, it’s poured through a fine mesh sieve or coffee filter into a clean container and stored in the refrigerator.
A single shot of espresso equals 1 – 1.5oz of liquid. The short shot, or ristretto, is .75oz of liquid. The smaller amount of water intensifies the flavor even more than a normal espresso. A lungo uses twice the amount of water as a regular shot to brew the coffee. A Cafe Americano starts with a single regular shot of espresso and then adds hot water to make an 8oz cup. The flavor is similar to the coffee from your pot at home.
Dairy and dairy substitutes
Many coffee drinks use dairy products, usually steamed or foamed milk. Your barista will use whole milk unless you specify something else. If you order a low-fat drink your barista may use 2-percent milk; a “skinny” or non-fat drink uses skim milk. For those who aren’t worried about fat and calories, a breve uses half-and-half or heavy cream. Whipped cream often tops drinks such as cafe mocha. For the lactose intolerant, many coffee shops offer dairy alternatives such as soy or rice milk.
The amount of milk or dairy substitute can also vary from a spoonful of foam in the espresso macchiato to the familiar cappuccino, which layers equal parts steamed milk and foamed milk over a shot of espresso. Some coffee drinks, like cafe au lait, are made with steamed milk added to regular drip coffee. Others, like the granita, use frozen milk.
Beyond the standard coffee and milk combinations, many gourmet coffee drinks include extra ingredients for flavor. You’re probably familiar with cafe mocha, which blends powdered cocoa or chocolate syrup with espresso. Espresso Romano combines espresso with a twist of lemon peel and Cafe Medici is made from a doppio poured over chocolate syrup and orange peel, and topped with whipped cream.
Once a popular coffee substitute, chicory root is still a cultural preference for some people, and prized as coffee flavoring for many more. No trip to New Orleans would be complete without sampling a cup of chicory coffee. Italian syrups come in a wide variety of flavors such as hazelnut, raspberry, or peppermint and add a little extra joy to your java. Most coffee houses carry sugar-free varieties for those who want the taste without the calories.
Another popular coffee drink is Irish coffee. This recipe is made with Irish whiskey layered over regular drip coffee. Milk is then poured over the back of a spoon to create a cap. Since it’s made with alcohol, you won’t find it on the menu of your favorite coffee shop. However, some manufacturers sell Italian syrups that approximate the flavor of Bailey’s Irish Creme so you can get the taste of Irish coffee without the hangover.
Finally, many popular coffee drinks are topped with spices such as cinnamon and nutmeg. Some specialty drinks, such as a frappe, blend espresso with crushed ice or ice cream. Enjoy your coffee in any weather.