Stop settling for coffee you don’t love. Here’s exactly how to find your perfect drink the next time you go to a coffee shop.
After Tuesday’s big whammy of a post (btw, thank you SO much to everyone who shared such positive supportive feedback) I wanted to lighten things up a bit. Which is why, today I wanted to talk about something I absolutely LOVE and love to talk about…. coffee.
This year, I worked as a barista at an rad little coffee shop on Nantucket. Since my senior year of college I’ve been a coffee lover and had always wanted to work in a coffee shop. You know, putting that expensive ass bachelor’s degree to work. But actually, working for Handlebar Cafe taught me WAY more about interpersonal communication, small business marketing and coffee than I ever could have believed.
One the absolute best parts of being a barista, is helping your customer find their perfect drink. I can’t tell you how many customers I had that I’d just start making their signature drink as soon as they walked in the door. To help someone find their perfect drink, first you need to know a lot about coffee, tea, and espresso drinks. Then you need to know a good amount about what the person loves and hates. Finally you can merge the two and craft the perfect concoction for that person.
Sometimes I’d be able to recommend something off our menu, while other times I’d straight up invent new drinks for people, which would become their go-to drink, or as I liked to call them “the ush” (abrev for usual).
So put together this handy guide for anyone who’s felt overwhelmed in a specialty coffee shop (ie somewhere that’s dedicated to serving coffee and espresso drinks)
How to Find Your Perfect Drink at a Coffee Shop
1.) If you have 0 idea where to start try… a latte
Cappuccino, cortado, macchiato, tornado, linguini, all these different drinks start to sound like gibberish (and yes I know the last two aren’t actually drinks). As someone who’s easily intimidated when they’re ordering something new for the first time, I can 100% relate to the overwhelm of being in a coffee shop and not knowing where to start.
I usually recommend people start by trying a small latte. Lattes are made with a single or double shot of espresso (very strong coffee), steamed milk and a light layer of foam. They’re creamy, delicious and give you a good base line to go off of in the future.
Bonus: if you have a good barista they’ll be able to make you some rad insta-worthy latte art
2.) If you love lattes but wish there was less milk try… a cortado
Soy lattes were my go-to drink for a long time. I still enjoy them on occasion, but as my taste for espresso grew I realized I wanted a drink similar to a latte but with less milk.
That’s when I discovered the cortado. Cortados are made with roughly equal parts espresso to steamed milk. Perfect for the espresso lover who wants something short and strong.
3.) If you have a sweet tooth try… a mocha latte
Mocha lattes are lattes (espresso + steamed milk + light layer of foam) that also have a little chocolate! If this sounds amazing… it totally is. If you’re looking for a great ‘treat yo self’ drink or maybe it’s that time of the month, then a mocha is definitely a good idea.
If you love chocolate but want it a little less sweet don’t be afraid to ask for 1/2 the chocolate. The good thing about a great barista is that they take true joy in making your drink juuuust right (as long as you ask nicely of course.)
4.) If you love the taste of coffee, but the steamed milk from a latte try… a cafe au lait
In French, cafe au lait translates to “coffee with milk.” In barista language this just means brewed coffee with steamed milk. This is perfect if you like a milkier coffee but don’t want it to be cooled down too much. Plus you get that creamy delicious steamed milk. I believe Starbucks might call it a cafe misto.
5.) If you love iced coffee but want to try something different try…2-3 shots over ice
Love iced coffee? Same. However sometimes it’s just not strong enough. If that’s the case I love getting 2-3 shots of espresso over ice. Usually I’ll add a splash of almond or soy milk so it’s about 50/50 espresso milk.
This is also a great drink if you like ice lattes, but find that they aren’t strong enough. This drink totally got me through the summer. And let’s be real, I’m from New England so I’m still ice all the way.
6.) If you love coffee and want to deepen your knowledge (and love) try… a pour over
Coffee nerds and budding coffee nerds will totally geek out about a fresh, single origin pour over. If this sounds like a foreign language no fear my friend.
Pour overs are a type of coffee brewing method. Rather than brew a big batch of coffee, pour overs are a way of brewing small batches at a time. The pour over method helps bring out many of the subtle flavors of coffee. Coffee tasting can be a lot like wine tasting. You find different notes and flavors depending on where the coffee is grown and how it’s roasted.
A single origin coffee just refers to a coffee that is all from one farm or area of one coffee growing region. Each coffee region of the world produces different coffees. A coffee grown in South East Asai will taste far different than a coffee grown in East Africa.
If you want to learn more about coffee, a great barista will be giddy to explore their shop’s current single origin offering and go over tasting notes.
7.) If you love coffee but want to switch things up try… a matcha
If you’ve been on Instagram or in a trendy coffee shop in the past year then you’ve probably seen or tried matcha. Matcha is a powdered green tea concentrate that can be made into a tea or a tea latte. It’s savory in taste, but can be sweetened.
Matcha still gives you a nice caffeine boost. Rather than the jolt you get from coffee, green tea is more of a gentle lift in energy. If I’ve already had a cup (or two) of coffee in the morning and still need a little something I love drinking iced matcha lattes. I usually lightly sweeten mine with a pump of vanilla.
8.) If you hate coffee try…tea, hot or iced
Real talk: tea does NOT get enough love, especially from a coffee junkie like myself. However, a nice earl grey, lemon ginger or moroccan mint can be such lovely refreshing drinks. There are 3 main types of tea: black, green and herbal. Black and green both have a little caffeine (much less than coffee) and herbal has none. So even if you’re a coffee drinker, tea is a great afternoon drink or coffee alternative when you want to shake things up.
If you’re looking to get fancy
Many places serve tea lattes. You can get a matcha latte, chai tea latte or a “London Fog” (earl grey with steamed milk).
At the End of the Day
When I used to go to coffee shops and bars I used to feel like everyone was judging my choices. Turns out good baristas and bar tenders just want you to love whatever it is you’re drinking. Nothing is more fun that having someone ask for your help or assistance. I dare you to try something new next time you go into your favorite coffee shop.
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- What’s your go-to coffee order?
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