How to Order Coffee Without Sounding Like a Tool

Categories: Chow Bella, Grind

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Zaida Dedolph
Cortado? Macchiato? Learning the language can be a huge barrier to new coffee drinkers.

I worked in the specialty coffee world for almost a decade before retiring to the blogosphere. If there's one thing I learned during that time, it's that there is a massive language barrier between cafes and coffee drinkers. As with any other industry, coffee comes with its own vocabulary of terms -- many of which have been modified or mangled as the industry itself has changed. Here's a brief introduction for the bewildered.

See also: What's My PHX Coffee Shop? A Flowchart.

The Basics:
Brewed Coffee is the black or brown liquid that many people have in mind when they think of coffee. If you want the basic deal, this is what you should ask for.

Brewed coffee can be prepared a billion ways, and many shops offer an array of different brewing methods. Pourover brewing is just what it sounds like: hot water is steadily poured over a "bed" of coffee grounds, some beautiful chemical mumbojumbo happens, and you wind up with a cup of coffee. Pourover brewers generally utilize some type of filter (usually paper). The filter traps a lot of little coffee particles, which means the resultant cup is generally clean and articulate.

If you want a heftier, fuller-bodied cup of coffee, ask if your favorite shop offers any immersion brew methods. The most mainstream of the immersion brewers is the French press, but an immersion brew is any method of brewing coffee wherein coffee grounds are steeped in water for a period of time (generally four to five minutes). The grounds are then filtered out, generally by a mesh screen of some kind. This screen traps the bigger particles but lets more of the little ones through than, say, a paper filter would. Immersion brewed cups have big, fat bodies and usually have a somewhat viscous, oily mouthfeel.

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Zaida Dedolph
Espresso is small but mighty, and is a building block for a number of other coffee drinks.

Espresso is a method of brewing coffee by the application of pressure. Espresso is a tiny little drink (less than 2 ounces) with a huge set of jargon-y terms to be conquered. It can be excellent on its own, but espresso also serves as the base of a number of other espresso drinks.

A lot of people panic when they look at a cafe menu and gravitate toward an Americano without really knowing what it is. This drink is the whiskey soda of the coffee world: espresso, plus water, equals an Americano. If you're new to coffee and want to ease into exploring espresso, Americanos are a great place to start. You'll taste all the flavors of the coffee, but spread out a little bit so they're easier to interpret.

I like to break down coffee flavor traits into three basic categories for new drinkers. By this, I don't mean flavor additives, but rather inherent qualities that a coffee naturally possesses. These are in no way comprehensive, but they can help ease communication between barista and customer.

As a general rule, try to stay away from using terms like "bold" or "robust." These terms are vague, and don't give a barista much information about your preferences. Instead, talk about body: Do you want something full-bodied or a little less so?

If you like a tangy, fun coffee, ask your barista for something bright, fruity, or juicy. "Bright" is how coffee folk describe cups that are pleasantly acidic, but not overwhelmingly so.

If you want a coffee with candy-bar like qualities (think milk chocolate, peanut butter, caramel), ask for a sweet, balanced, full-bodied cup.

If you want a hefty coffee with a big, fat body, you have a few options. Ask for something dark chocolatey, earthy, or natural-processed. We'll talk about processing a different day, but naturally-processed coffees have a tendency towards rich, concentrated, red wine-type flavors.


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16 comments
TommyCollins
TommyCollins topcommenter

It looks like the coffee industry is trying to maintain parity with the wine industry. I don't think so.

Jukes
Jukes

Who sounds like a tool?

Ryan Abbott
Ryan Abbott

How about large, medium, small. I will never order a Venti, or whatever else they try to call it. S,M,L has worked for 100+ years- let's not make it more complicated.

Tony Morales
Tony Morales

The 1st page was well written, interesting and informative. If only three pages weren't necessary (they aren't)... I would have liked to read the whole piece.

Mary Doe
Mary Doe

I hope you start an installment series. Next, 'How to Take an Order without Sounding Like a Tool.' And let's not forget, 'How to Write about Coffee without Sounding Like a Tool.'

downtownbrown
downtownbrown

How do you say "Zaida Dedolph" with sounding like a tool?  Change your name to something normal.

James Patrick Harris
James Patrick Harris

I stopped reading @ 'mouthfeel'. I find it odd that folks care this much about coffee.

1wayfaringpilgrim
1wayfaringpilgrim

I received sample packs of coffee from different roasters around the country as a Christmas gift.  The descriptions on the labels had me chuckling at the pretentiousness; "warm floral tones interspersed with chocolate notes that then blend into a bright apricot finish".  Sheeeesh!  Really?  I just wanted a good cup of joe!

swag
swag

In this day and age of the Internet, do you honestly think there aren't around 40,000 identical articles like this out there? So why 40,001?

Hock
Hock

What a pretentious load of nonsense.  I'm not sure I've ever been talked down to before regarding coffee...until now.

cpalacio08
cpalacio08

@Hock i didn't pick up on that at all. it would have been very easy to throw in a hint of sarcasm of a jab at a Starbucks customer.. this article didn't do that.. not sure what you mean.

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