On the Lighter Side

A Guide to the Coffee Menu

Happy National Coffee Day (a day early, so you have time to prepare)! Some people find the array of options at the local coffee shop bewildering, so here’s my handy dandy guide to help you figure out what’s what.

Cappuccino — Espresso with steamed milk and milk foam. Lovely with cinnamon or cocoa powder and sugar sprinkled on top. Beware of the molten hot espresso and steamed milk lurking under the warm foam; cappuccinos have burned many an unsuspecting tongue.

Cold Brew — Not be confused with iced coffee, cold brew is coffee made with cold water instead of hot. This is typically done in a French press. Cold brew is especially delicious because the beans have never come in contact with heat, so the flavor is less acidic and more mellow. It seems that not everyone is sold on this distinction, though — my local coffee shop doesn’t do cold brew, which I think is a terrible shame.

Red Eye — Coffee with a single espresso shot. Make it a double shot for a Black Eye, or a triple shot for a Green Eye. (No, I don’t know why they call it that. Do I want to find out? Unsure.) In my humble opinion, a Red Eye is even better than either coffee or espresso by itself. It’s like a richer, more flavorful cup of coffee. I usually take my coffee with cream, but a Red Eye is so good, I’ll drink it black. Preferably with cheesecake. Super delicious.

Cafe au Lait — Coffee with steamed milk. It’s nice enough, but it kind of just tastes like warm milk.

Cafe Mocha — Espresso with steamed milk and chocolate syrup. A good mocha strikes just the right balance between the flavors of chocolate and coffee — too much chocolate will make your mocha more like a hot cocoa. Not that hot cocoa is a bad thing, of course, but it isn’t quite the same as a mocha, so they shouldn’t taste exactly alike.

Espresso — Not merely strong coffee, and prepared in a completely different way, the espresso-making process relies on pressure to force a small amount of water through finely ground, dark roasted coffee beans. Expect to see a bit of thin, slightly creamy froth called crema on top. This is your quality assurance. It lets you know the beans are fresh and the espresso was made properly with the grounds tamped down not too tightly or too loosely.

Americano — Espresso with hot water. I’m not the biggest fan of this one; to me it just tastes like weak, watered down coffee.

Latte — Espresso with steamed milk. The absence of foam on top is what makes a latte different from a cappuccino. Good by itself, but even better with a good quality vanilla flavoring.

Frozen Coffee — This is really a milkshake that got lost and ended up on the coffee menu by mistake. Half the time it doesn’t even have any coffee in it, as in the case of flavors like Heath Bar and Cookies n’ Cream.

Iced Latte — Iced lattes taste pretty much like milk with ice cubes, so if I’m in the mood for a cold coffee drink, I usually go with iced coffee instead.

Macchiato — Espresso with milk froth on top. It’s sort of like a mini cappuccino, for people who couldn’t decide between a cappuccino or an espresso.

Flat White — Espresso with steamed milk. Apparently, there is some sort of difference between a flat white and a latte, but I’m not sure what that is. I’ve also never seen it offered in any coffee shop that I can recall. Or maybe it was on the menu, and I just happened to miss it. With a name that sounds like something you’d find in the paint department at Home Depot, I’m sure that’s more than likely.

Breve — Espresso with half and half. This is one I’ve not actually tried. It sounds like Death by Fat Overdose, but in reality I’m sure it’s no worse than eating ice cream. And speaking of ice cream…

Affogato — Espresso over ice cream/gelato. If you’re in the mood for dessert, this is the one to have.

Individual cup/coffee pods — Just kidding. These will never be found on any self-respecting coffee shop’s menu.

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