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What You Need to Know about Café Lingo

Posted by Erwin Bryan Young on

Image of Coffee Text

You can walk the walk, but can you talk the talk?

Maybe you walk into a Starbucks needing a giant dose of caffeine, so you order a tall … only to receive the smallest cup they have.  Do you know the difference between a Trenta and a Grande?

If not, you need to understand these terms so you can walk into any coffee shop and speak the lingo.

Below we’ve got a mix of common – and not-so-common – café terms, perfect for wowing those friends who think they know everything there is to know about java. Try these on for size:

Americano Misto.  This is an Americano with steamed milk, similar to a latte without the foam.

Briny.  The salty sensation caused by excessive heat after brewing, usually seen in truck-stop coffees.

Caffe Ristretto.  A short espresso shot, but with the same amount of coffee as a full shot – just more concentrated.

Crema.  The caramel-colored foam that appears on top of a shot of espresso is called its Crema.  If it’s gone, then you waited too long.  Crema creates a cap which helps retain the aromatics and flavors of the espresso.  Its presence represents an acceptable brew.

Cupping.  To discern different flavors, acidity, body, and other qualities of coffee, cupping is the technique skillful experts utilize.

Doppio.  The hip way to order a double shot.

Earthy.  This refers to the spicy “of the Earth” taste of Indonesian coffees.  This may seem like a bad description, but it is actually a very nice compliment.

Hard Bean.  A coffee bean grown in relatively high altitudes – 4,000-4,500 feet above sea level. These beans mature more slowly and are harder and denser than other beans. They are also more desirable.

Harmless.  If you want a decaf espresso, this is what you need to say.

Monsooned Coffee.  This kind of coffee has been deliberately exposed to monsoon winds in an open warehouse to reduce acidity and increase body.  This is particularly true for Javanese coffees.  This coffee can be very expensive – but it is also very delicious.

Nive.  This is a breve with orange syrup and cinnamon.  A breve is short for Espresso Brave, or Espresso with half-n-half or semi-skimmed milk.

No Fun.  Refers to a decaf latte.

On a Leash.  To go, with handles.

Quad.  You could say that you want four shots of espresso, but isn’t this just cooler?

Short.  An 8-ounce cup.

Shot in the Dark.  A regular coffee with a shot of espresso — also called a Speed Ball or Red Eye.

Skinny Harmless.  A non-fat decaf latte.  Also called a Why Bother by snarky people everywhere.

Stale.  Coffee that has been exposed to oxygen for too long.  It is flat and has a taste like cardboard.  Leaving coffee exposed to air can cause it to go stale.

Thunder Thighs.  A double-tall mocha with whole milk, topped with extra whipped cream.

Triple.  Three shots. Perfect for those for whom a double just doesn’t offer enough of a jolt.

Wet.  Without foamed milk.  Steamed milk is used instead.

Tone.  The appearance or color of coffee is described as its tone.  Pouring coffee into a clear glass mug will help in determining the tone — and is a technique for coffee cupping.

Varietal.  This is a type of coffee than comes from a specific region in Kenya, Java, Costa Rica, or Sumatra.

And there you have it. Now you can walk into any coffee house with confidence, ready to teach not only your coffee-loving friends a thing or two, but also probably most of the baristas.


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