Isabel Jones is a wife, barista and blogger. Originally from Atlanta, Georgia, now living in in Lake Charles, Louisiana, she has a wonderfully funny husband and a dog named Doge. And she was kind enough to share this post with us.
Coffee has blown up! Anywhere you go you can guarantee there will be a coffee shop, but you can’t guarantee you will be able to recite an order and get the same drink every time. Coffee has so many origins and so many traditions, and there was never really a big meeting where all the big coffee lords decided on a standard for all coffee shops to follow. I mean, there’s no way you can walk into any old coffee shop, order the macchiato and expect the same thing every time. This is why I want to give you a barista’s guide to getting exactly what you want from any coffee shop!
This is a good place to start. Generally, any drink you order stems from the four basic drink recipes. Once you know these, ordering will be a no brainer.
- Espresso – Simply a shot of espresso, traditionally 2 ounces
- Macchiato – Espresso with just a splash of milk and foam, 3-4 ounces
- Cappuccino – Equal parts espresso, milk, and foam, 6 ounces
- Latte – Espresso with mostly milk topped with a little foam, 12 ounces
So these are the basics that any coffee shop can make. It’s all the same caffeine content, just different amounts of milk to make the flavor stronger or creamier!
Here’s the thing though, even the basics get confused from shop to shop but that’s okay! There are more tricks on making sure you get the drink you want.
Size really does matter and you need pay attention to it. Most shops will tell you the size of the drink on the menu. You’ll notice above, the macchiato is only 4oz. That is tiny. If you look on the menu and the macchiato says “4oz” next to it, you can imagine it’s not going to be that big, sweet, caramel drink that you get from Starbucks. So if you look at the size of the drink, it is usually a good indicator for what you’ll actually be getting.
The caramel macchiato
Yes, this gets it’s own section. Starbucks, you’ve ruined the game and confused everyone. Don’t get me wrong, I love an iced caramel macchiato from Starbucks no matter how much it ruins my coffee cred. It’s a nice treat! But it’s confusing everyone. Shops trying to follow the basic, traditional recipes make more people mad than impressed, because of the freaking caramel macchiato! (Again, it’s not the drink I hate. Just the name.) They should really call it the MOCKiato.
The point to this rant is the Starbucks Caramel “Macchiato” is just a caramel latte with a fancy name. I mean, sure, they layer it and if you want a layered caramel latte, that is totally a thing that anyone can make and will be happy to do so! I just suggest ordering it as a “Layered Caramel Latte.” That is the most assured way to get exactly what you want.
Build your own drink
When in doubt, you can build your own drink! Just start with the basics and go from there.
Here is a general guide to follow when deciding what you want.
- Decide how many shots of espresso you want. My sweet spot is 2oz (about 2 shots). That is about the same amount of caffeine as a cup of coffee and it is a good balance between the coffee and milk. Knowing that, you can decide if you want more or less espresso.
- Decide how much milk you want. You don’t necessarily need more espresso to make your drink taste stronger. You can always ask for less milk! With the guide above, you can decide how strong you want your coffee and order a drink based on that list. Remember, every drink is pretty much an espresso base with a certain amount of milk diluting it to make it taste stronger or creamier.
- Pick out a flavor or leave it as is. From here you can pick out a flavor or just order as is! A quick guide to basic flavored drinks: Most of them are just a latte base with a syrup or sauce added. So a Mocha? A latte with chocolate sauce.
And if you still aren’t sure,
JUST ASK! Your barista is there to help you get the best coffee experience! They want you to enjoy your coffee exactly the way you want it and asking questions is the best way to be sure you’re getting the drink you want. Whether it’s asking your regular barista what is in your favorite drink or describing the flavors to a new one, that is what they are there for!
Cover image by Keet Veylupek. Read his Humans of Coffee interview here.