Coffee House Survival

Yesterday morning, as I was getting ready to walk out the door, Allison informed me that our home-brewed coffee was "horrible".  I was better off stopping on the way to the office and getting my morning caffeine fix. "Sweet!" I love coffee.  I love making coffee at home and drinking it.  I also love going to a coffee house and having someone else make my coffee.  It's not that I enjoy watching someone else make it, but its that it my cafe americano tastes so much better when its "professionally crafted".

Espresso Bar

As I pulled into the parking lot at Starbucks (due to the fact that Northern Virginia loves commercial businesses, we do not have a variety of local shops) and headed for the entrance I saw the line of other coffee enthusiasts waiting to get their morning fix.  I stood in line and waited my turn to order, watching the people in front of me order.  It is always easy to tell folks who rarely go to a coffee house.  Their orders do not roll off the tongue like a well rehearsed poem when speaking with the barista.  This got me thinking, is there a proper way to order coffee?  If so, what is it?  Starbucks does not have employees standing at the door with a cheat sheet for the coffee novice.  There are not separate lines like airport security for the expert or casual coffee drinker.  It's trial by fire. I order the same thing everyday, grande americano with room, but I never say the order the same way twice (eventually I probably will as I will run out of combinations).

I am sure this has been done before, but I want to share my tips, and do's and don'ts for coffee house survival.  These are observations over my tenure of visiting Starbucks and local coffee shops.  I am by no means an expert or will I ever claim to be one.

Coffee - mild, dark, bold, houseFirst lets begin with drinks:

  • Americano - combo of espresso and hot water
  • Cappucino - combo of espresso and equal parts steamed milk and froth
  • Latte - combo of espresso and steamed milk and froth
  • Macchiato - espresso topped  with equal parts steamed milk and froth
  • Chai Tea - spicy tea, usually combined with milk to create a latte
  • Decaf - all espresso and coffee is available in a decaffeinated version, but why bother?

Now that we have the basic language, lets take a look at the all important ordering process.  Size matters, so know what size drink you want when you begin ordering.  Typically the barista will write your order on the side of the paper cup.  To make life easier for your barista, at least know the size beverage you want.  When rolling that sweet poetry off your tongue begin first with the size drink you want: small, medium large (tall, grande, venti - depending on where you are).  Next, if you are ordering straight up coffee tell your barista what kind you want and if you need room (for cream).  Now if you are not in the mood for coffee and need a larger pick-me-up you must decide if you want your drink with non-fat (skinny) or low-fat milk.  Then proceed to the order your grande, non-fat, extra hot caramel macchiato or venti, soy (milk, I know it's weird), chai latte.

This is by no means everything there is to know about coffee shop ettiqute or all of the details on coffee house drinks.  What tips or tricks do you have that help you when ordering in a coffee house?