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Cafe Coffee Drinks For Dummies

Updated on June 24, 2015
JenPaxton profile image

Coffee Goddess by day, renegade writer by night. Jen lives in the Midwest and holds a BA in Creative Writing. She blogs in her spare time.


Coffee Drinkers - can't live with 'em, can't get 'em to go to sleep because they're too hopped up on caffeine!

Ever stand in line for a regular old coffee at a starbucks, or other cafe, and hear the person in front of you order a quad-venti-iced-espresso-macchiato and wonder "what the heck?" Or, do you have an espresso machine at home, but keep making the same drink over and over because you don't know what goes into anything else, and you want to try new things, like some of those wonderful cafe drinks?

As a barista at a prominent bookstore cafe for over three years, I know a thing or two about coffee, specifically those crazy espresso drinks, and that it can be a little difficult deciding what you want to try next when you don't know what the heck anything is. I am constantly asked "What's the ________?" or "what's in the _____?".

So, from a cafe insider to you, here is a brief breakdown of what is what.

Basic Guide to Most Popular Coffee Flavors

Starbucks' Veranda
Starbucks' Pike Place Roast
Starbucks' Verona

Drip Coffee Drinks

What Is Drip Coffee?

Drip Coffee is the basic, every day coffee you brew at home. It comes in all different flavors and strengths in bags, ground or whole bean.

A Guide To Strengths

Light, Mild, or Blonde: Starbucks has recently coined the term "blonde" roast, but it can also be called a mild or light. This is your least acidic, least flavored coffee, ideal for people who either don't like or aren't used to that heavy, sometimes described as "bitter" coffee taste. An example of this include Starbucks' Verdana blend.

Medium: A medium blend is your middle-of-the-road. It has a good, deep flavor without too much acidity. Good for coffee drinkers with GERD who can't take stronger acidities, and you can find some good flavors in medium blends. It's also the second most common strength of coffee. Examples of this include most cafe's House blends, most guatemalan's, columbians, kenyens and some vienna's.

Dark, or Bold: Dark roasts are also known as Bolds, for a reason. They have rich, deep flavors, a dark coloring when brewed, and the most coffee flavor. These are the favorites of most "hard-core" coffee drinkers and addicts. Darks include many French roasts, Italian roasts, and, even, Espresso's.

Drip Coffee-Based Drinks

Yes, you can even make "cafe" drinks with just regular coffee. Here are a few of them:

  • Cafe Au Lait or Cafe Misto: it's as simple as brewed coffee and steamed milk, anywhere from a 3:1 ratio to only 1/4" of steamed milk in the cup, depending on preferences.
  • Cafe and Cocoa: Coffee, mocha sauce (chocolate sauce in cafe' terms), and steamed milk.
  • Red-Eye: mostly drip coffee. One to two shots of espresso.

Espresso drinks

These are by and large the most common drinks people will order in cafe's, and also the most versatile. You can add espresso to just about anything. Trust me on this one.

Espresso drinks can be made either iced or hot - it's a good idea to specify when ordering (you won't believe how many drinks I've had to remake because they ordered five hot drinks and didn't specify the ONE that was iced and they forgot to say it. I'm not saying YOU do that, I'm just saying it's REALLY easy to forget, I've done it myself).

Some Espresso Terms

  • Single, or solo - one shot of espresso. A "shot" is 1-1 1/4" of brewed espresso.
  • Double, or doppio - two shots.
  • Triple - three
  • Quad - four
  • Steaming - the process of using steam forced through a wand in order to heat milk up to the proper temperature. On average, most starbucks-based steamers are set to steam until you get to approximately 160 degrees f.
  • One-Thirty (130) - degrees f that is generally considered "Kids temperature" - generally what you want if you wanna chug your drink sooner.
  • Extra hot - approximately 180 degrees f

Basic Espresso Drinks

  • Latte, Cafe Latte: Espresso, steamed milk, and 1/4" foam. You can add any flavor your cafe has to it, extra shots, or less shots. Nobody's going to be offended.
  • Cappuccino: Espresso and FOAMED milk. What's the difference? A proper cappuccino weighs a heck of a lot less than a latte - cappuccino's are almost entirely foam, and meant to be light and airy. Don't order a "Cappuccino with no foam". That's a latte. Cappuccino's can, however, be "wet" or "dry". Dry is the more official way, entirely foam, but you can have it a little bit heavier, with a "wet" variety. There is a technical difference in the type of foam used, but basically, it's just a little more towards the steamed side than to the foamed side - not by much, but a little.
  • Americano: Espresso and water. That's it. Or, if iced, espresso and ice, and that's it. There is a variation of this that is my current new favorite drink known as the starbucks double shot on ice - it involves syrup, shaking the americano on ice in a shaker cup, and pouring shot glasses of milk on top of it for a cool marbling effect that I end up stirring together anyway. That is six pumps of syrup and five shots of espresso goodness to supercharge me during a long shift :)
  • Cafe Mocha: Espresso, steamed milk, 1/4" foam, mocha (chocolate), and whipped cream. Again, you can add or subtract things to your liking.


Macchiato's are in a different category altogether, even though they're usually listed under espresso drinks (because they still contain espresso) but are of a different 'format' than other espresso beverages. Why? Macchiato's are, in essence, layered and "marked" drinks.

What? In italian (so I've been told), 'Macchiato' means "marked". You mark the base of your drink with the accent of your drink. Even more confusing?

Okay, if you go to Italy and order a macchiato, what you will get is known here as an espresso macchiato. At any starbucks-based cafe, it's completely different and more like a marked latte. Here's a basic breakdown of the three I know how to make:

  • Espresso Macchiato: most italian. Shot(s) of espresso marked with a dollop of foam. That's it. Not a cup-full of foam. A dollop. One little spoonful.
  • Caramel Macchiato: a layer of vanilla (yes, vanilla! surprise!) syrup, steamed milk, foam, LAYER of espresso on top (not mixed in, unless you're like me and like them "upside down"), foam, and it is "marked" with caramel sauce on top. That's why it's a "Caramel Macchiato" - you "mark" it with the espresso, yes, but it is the caramel that shows most prevalently on top, thusly the "Caramel" macchiato.
  • Marble Mocha Macchiato: something new they introduced within the last couple of years, it's constructed in the same way as the caramel macchiato, only with a layer of white chocoalte mocha on the bottom, steamed milk, espresso and foam, and regular mocha on top, marking it.

Frappe's and Frappuccino's

They are the same thing!!! HONEST. Hopping off my soapbox now.

Frapp's, Frappe's, Frappuccino's...however you want to call them, they are, at their core, ice-blended drinks. Yes. We take ice, ingredients, and blend it together. Plain and simple, it's really not that hard.

There are coffee frapp's and non-coffee frapps. The choice is yours, just be careful when looking at the menu. Especially when I work there and I'm stupid enough to order a 'creme' (non-coffee) that's the same as my usual coffee frapp when I get mixed up. It happens. I'm just warning you.

And, as an added bonus, a guide to Teas!

There are several different kinds of tea out there, but the basics that you need to know are this:

  • Black Tea: The strongest flavor and usually the strongest caffeine content. Don't recommend drinking these close to bedtime if you actually want to sleep.
  • Green Tea: most antioxidant bang for your buck, they usually have a distinctive flavor and some caffeine, but not as much as black. A few fruit-infused flavors in some varieties.
  • White Tea: the lightest in flavor with a little bit of caffeine - usually you only see these in grocery and convenience store bottled tease, but they're good enough to be on the list.
  • Herbal: DECAF!!! Caffeine junky like me? Don't bother. However, your delicious mint teas are usually in this category, as well as a lot of your other fruity flavored teas.

And that, as they say, is that

I do hope that, in some ways, this guide helped, or at the very least gave you a chuckle. This is an 'insider' view at the cafe industry and some of its sillier points, and more delicious points. Happy coffee drinking!


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    • othellos profile image

      Mario Psomas 

      4 years ago from Europe

      Enjoyable journey through innovative coffee language:=)

    • profile image

      rashie mohammed 

      5 years ago

      Cool maind

    • JenPaxton profile imageAUTHOR

      Jen Paxton 

      6 years ago from Missouri

      Thanks Josh! Much appreciated :)

    • josh3418 profile image

      Joshua Zerbini 

      6 years ago from Pennsylvania

      Wow, I am not even really a coffee fan, but for some reason I decided to read :) Very informative and well researched! Voted up, awesome, useful, and interesting!


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