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Coffee Shop Menus: Reading Them like a Regular
Written by: Anne Mercer
For first-time coffee shop goers, a menu can look like gibberish.
“What the heck is a cappuccino?”
“What do they pour over my coffee?”
“Wait, I thought espresso was spelled with an ‘x’?”
Ordering from a coffee shop menu for the first time can be terrifying. But that’s why you’re here!
By the end of our guide, you’ll be ordering from coffee shops across the globe like a pro.
Coffee shop menus don’t have to be intimidating. All you need to know are the basics, like:
- The difference between coffee & espresso (+ why it matters!)
- What common beverages you’ll find in coffee shops
- Other terminology you might come across on your coffee shop adventures
Let’s get to it.
Coffee vs. Espresso: What’s the Difference?
The trick to reading a menu like a regular is knowing the difference between coffee and espresso. Once you understand this, the rest of the menu is a piece of cake.
When you look at a coffee shop menu and see both Coffee and Espresso drinks, this refers to how the coffee beans are brewed.
To clear up any misconceptions, espresso is not:
- A specific type of coffee bean
- A roasting style
- A predetermined level of dark roasted coffee
By definition, espresso is a concentrated coffee brewed by forcing hot water through finely-ground coffee at 7-9 atmospheres of pressure. The result is a tiny drink with prominent flavors, a velvety body, and a beautiful crema on top.
A properly brewed espresso is jam-packed with flavors and aromas ranging from sweet vanilla to floral jasmine, offers a balanced acidity, and provides the right amount of bitterness for a rich experience.
Drip coffee, on the other hand, is brewed using:
- A medium-fine grind
- Gravity (hot water poured on top without added pressure)
- A standard coffee-to-water ratio of 1:15, 1:16, or 1:17
In comparison to espresso, drip coffee is a larger drink and boasts a lighter mouthfeel, along with a variety of flavor characteristics.
Understanding the difference between espresso and drip or batch-brewed coffee will help you decipher coffee shop menus, no matter where you are in the world. These brewing methods are universal!
Whether you order a double espresso in Italy or Seattle, you can have confidence knowing exactly what delicious type of coffee you’re about to drink.
Deciphering the Menu: The Common Coffee Shop Drinks
Most coffee shop menus are divided into the following sections:
What would a coffee menu be without its staple: coffee!
The following coffee choices are often available:
On a coffee shop menu, you can choose from single or double shots of espresso or a drink containing espresso and milk. There are several espresso and milk combinations to choose from, each with its own tasty characteristics:
Cold coffee drinks always hit the spot on a sunny day, a road trip, or when you need to power through a long day at the office.
Wait, What Does That Mean? Other Terminology You’ll Hear at a Coffee Shop
On top of knowing what each drink is, you might also see some other phrases scattered about the menu. We’ll help you decode those terms too!
Blends vs. Single Origin
When building out their menu, specialty coffee shops have the option to use blends, single origin coffees, or both.
When talking about a single origin coffee, you may hear a barista use the words “washed,” “dry,” or “natural.”
These phrases are referring to the coffee’s processing method! To prepare the coffee beans for exporting, farmers use one of the following processing methods:
Do you need to know these processing methods to order at a coffee shop? Nope. But it’ll come in handy when you venture into single origin pour over coffee!
When talking about a particular coffee, baristas and roasters use tasting notes to accurately describe what a customer can expect. These notes refer to the coffee’s flavors, levels of acidity, and body or mouthfeel.
When you hear a barista say “This coffee from Colombia has a vibrant acidity and notes of sugar cane, melon, and an orange citrus acidity,” know that these are the natural flavors imparted by the coffee due to the processing and roasting methods. No extra flavors were added to your coffee!
Bring the Coffee Shop Home to You
With all of this knowledge in your back pocket, you’re ready to hit the town and order from every specialty coffee shop in the area!
But, who has the time for all of that? Why not make coffee shop quality drinks at home?
Our specialty coffee blends and single origin offerings are filled with the rich, sweet flavors you love from your morning cup of Joe. And, if you try JavaPresse coffee today, we’ll give you our #1 rated manual coffee grinder for FREE!