A Coffee Amateur’s Guide to Ordering Coffee

A Coffee Amateur’s Guide to Ordering Coffee

What's the Difference Between a Macchiato and a Latte?
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For some people, coffee is a lifestyle. It’s exactly why cafés are so popular these days. Coffee brings people together, whether it is for work or play. Some can’t even start their days without it! After all, this breakfast staple doubles as morning fuel. No wonder it has a place in every restaurant menu. In fact, 54 percent of Americans over the age of 18 drink coffee every day. The U.S. also spends $40 billion on coffee each year. Needless to say, coffee is loved by many.

But if you do not know much about it, ordering a cup can be intimidating. How does dark roast taste? What is in a macchiato? Why is there foam on top? It is enough to make anyone’s head spin. You don’t have to panic order, though. Take some time to learn about the basics; it’s the best way to enjoy a cup of joe.

What is Coffee?

Coffee is a brewed caffeinated beverage. They are made from coffee beans – which are not actually beans at all! These “beans” are the seeds of the berries from a coffee plant. They start out green, but turn brown when they are processed and roasted. This makes them more aromatic, something coffee-lovers adore. Discover more about the journey of a coffee bean.

Specifically, dry heat is used to roast coffee beans. Different flavors and aromas can be achieved through different techniques. You can learn about various types of coffee beans here. Once roasted, the beans are ground and ready to be brewed. At home, most people use an automatic coffee maker to make their coffee. But more serious connoisseurs might use equipment like a French press or a pour-over coffee maker. However, a basic automatic version is all you need to enjoy a simple cup. You can also go to a café and have a barista do the fancy work for you.

Roasted beans can be purchased whole or ground. Whole beans need to be ground, which can be done with a coffee grinder. And since coffee is freshest right after grinding, some people prefer doing this. Otherwise, pre-ground coffee can be brewed right out of the bag.

What is Coffee - A Coffee Amateur’s Guide to Ordering Coffee

Types of Roasts

Depending on the type of roasting, coffee can vary in color, taste, and caffeine levels. There is something for everyone out there.

Light Roast:

Because light roast beans are not roasted for long, they are a light brown shade. These beans yield a mild coffee, making it ideal for people who do not like strong flavors. Contrary to what you may think, light roast actually has the most caffeine. After all, the longer beans are roasted, the more caffeine is destroyed.

Medium Roast:

Medium roast beans have a medium brown color. They are the most popular choice in the U.S., earning them the nickname of “American roast.” If you take it up a notch, there is also a medium-dark roast. This one is darker with a faint bittersweet aftertaste.

Dark Roast:

Beans roasted for a long time are called dark roast. The beans are so dark that they are basically black. Coffee made with dark roast beans is very bitter and has the most flavor. The specific taste will differ depending on the type of plant. Dark roast also has the least caffeine, since most of it is cooked off.

Specific caffeine levels will depend on the type of coffee. Preparation also matters, so make sure you are up to date with your coffee brewing techniques. However, an average 8-ounce cup of coffee can have anywhere from 75 to 20 milligrams of caffeine. Decaffeinated coffee has just 2 to 12 milligrams per 8-ounce cup.

Classic Coffee Drinks

Common Coffee Roasts - A Coffee Amateur’s Guide to Ordering Coffee


Have you ever noticed those tiny cups at a café? That is espresso, a coffee served in “shot” form. They might look small, but they pack a lot of punch. In just 1 to 2 ounces, each espresso has 75 to 100 milligrams of caffeine. It also has a very intense flavor that might not appeal to everyone. Espresso calls for very hot water, a short brew time of 20 to 30 seconds, and a super fine grind. But since it is best made right before serving, practice and experience are necessary for an awesome cup. You can learn how to make the perfect espresso in a few, simple steps. Plus, a shot (or two or three) can be added to coffee for a strong drink.


If you cross an espresso with a normal cup of coffee, you have an Americano. To make one, hot water is added to espresso at a 1:1 ratio. This creates a frothy layer on top. Milk, cream, or more water can be added to adjust the strength.


When an espresso is topped with a layer of milk foam, a macchiato is born. In Italian, macchiato means “marked,” emphasizing just how little milk foam is used.


A cappuccino is made by combining equal amounts of milk and espresso. The milk is frothed into a “microfoam” and poured over the espresso. Baristas use a foaming wand on an espresso machine to make that microfoam. You can also make it at home by shaking a jar of milk and microwaving it for 20 to 30 seconds.


To make a latte, a 2:1 ratio of milk and espresso is used. The milk is steamed instead of frothed. This is added to the top of the espresso, along with any milk foam that is made in the process. Some creative baristas like to use this foam to make fun designs. Just do a quick search for “latte art” and you will find tons of photos! When all is said and done, an 8-ounce latte can have 63 to 175 milligrams of caffeine.


If you love sweet treats, this one is for you. A mocha is made with espresso, slightly less steamed milk, whipped cream, and chocolate syrup. You can also use hot chocolate mix, cocoa powder, or a mocha syrup made with ingredients like cocoa powder, vanilla, and sugar. When ready, a mocha is quite delectable. It can have 63 to 175 mg of caffeine in an 8-ounce cup.

Classic Coffee Drinks - A Coffee Amateur’s Guide to Ordering Coffee

During the summertime, macchiatos, cappuccinos, lattes, and mochas can be made into blended frozen drinks. Any of these drinks – both hot and cold – can be customized to your taste depending on the type of beans and milk used. You can even use non-dairy milks like coconut or soy milk. But keep in mind that consistency or frothing might differ.

The world of coffee is extremely diverse. So, do not be afraid to experiment and try new things. You might just find something that your taste buds love.

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Kirsten Nunez
Kirsten Nunez is a lifestyle author based out of New York. She focuses her writings on health, DIY, creative projects, and food. She is the author of the DIY book, “Studs & Pearls: 30 Creative Projects for Customized Fashion”
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PUBLISHED ON February 28, 2017
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