Coffee Guide for Beginners

Are you one of those people who's never really sure what they're getting after ordering at a coffee shop? Sure, a "skinny hazelnut latte with cream" sounds delicious, but be honest—do you even know what's in it?

Never fear, there' s no need to pretend anymore. Below is quickfire coffee guide for beginners. Take a moment to check it out, and next time that smiley barista (coffee maker) asks for your order, you won't have to pluck random words from the menu boards and simply hope for the best. 

Know Some of the Lingo

You may have heard people asking for drinks done in a certain way. They may sound fancy, but there's really nothing to it. Asking for a coffee that's "decaf" or "with cream" is pretty self-explanatory.

But you may occasionally overhear the person in front asking for their drink to be "skinny". Simply put, all they're asking is for the baristas to use skimmed milk as opposed to semi-skimmed or whole milk. As a rule, coffee shops will automatically use heavier milk, so if you're watching your figure, then asking for something "skinny" is the way to go.

Many cafes now also offer hazelnut, gingerbread, vanilla, and caramel variations on standard coffees. In this instance, all the barista will do is pop in a shot-sized amount of the requested syrup to give your coffee a specified flavor. 

As for the key drinks, there are five main types of beverage that you can get at any half-decent coffee shop. 

1. Espresso

Espresso shots are made by letting the espresso machine do all the work—which involves grinding down the fresh beans and running a single measured shot of coffee into a cup. Most cafes use specific shot cups for espressos as they are only tiny, and are usually wolfed down by commuters who need that caffeine kick to keep them going through the day.

If you haven't tried one before, you may find espressos a little bitter on first taste. It's probably best to ease yourself into the coffee world with something a little sweeter. A "double espresso" is simply two shots of coffee as opposed to one. 

2. Filter Coffee

The easiest of orders, filter coffee is brewed in a machine of its own behind the counter (separate from the espresso machine), and the baristas simply pull a lever to release the coffee into the cup. Then it's all yours to do as you wish with it. Add milk, cream, sugar, whatever. Anything you'll need will be at one of the condiments counters. 

3. Americano

Just like a filter coffee in many ways, but with one key difference. Whereas filter coffee is brewed by the batch in a separate machine, an Americano is freshly made for each order on the espresso machines. The beans are ground, and the hot water runs through them to create a creamy espresso shot, to which boiling water is added up to the top.

You'll usually be asked if you'd like milk on the side, but again, you can sort yourself out at the condiments counter if need be. Asking for a small pot of hot milk may be worth doing if you're planning on sitting for a while, as it will help your coffee keep warm. 

4. Latte

This is a very popular choice among veteran coffee drinkers. Made with a single shot of coffee from the espresso machine, the barista will then top up the shot with piping hot milk to create a delicious creamy latte. Many people like to add a syrup to their lattes (e.g. "vanilla latte"), or occasionally whipped cream.

You may hear someone ask for a "wet latte" now and again, which is simply a latte that is specifically less thick and creamy than usual. The bigger the size of the latte, the more shots of coffee are added to compensate.

5. Cappuccino

Made just like a latte to start with, cappuccinos also consist of hot milk whacked on top of an espresso shot. Only unlike lattes, cappuccinos are topped with puffy, foamy milk as opposed flat, creamy milk. The better coffee shops will add a little chocolate on top for good measure, too.

Again, you can request a cappuccino to made skinny, with a syrup. The bigger the drink, the more shots of coffee are added, so don't go for a large if you're planning on having an early night.

If you start to enjoy a particular type of coffee, you can always opt to have a machine at home to brew your own drinks. Check out suppliers such as Coffee Tech for various options, so you can be your own at-home barista.