A non-comprehensive guide to
Iced americano or a pourover. I like small drinks.
Latte art design
Slowsettas (because they're fast and I need to just slam drinks out)
I honestly don't have a go-to lol I cycle between
Latte art design
Swans (because I don't need to worry about symmetry so I can go absolutely craAaAAazy)
✨ After ✨
The best drink is the one that you enjoy. Don't let anyone shame you for liking or not liking something.
Also, the world of coffee is deep and wide. We aren't experts and there are a lot of things that we're skimming over, simplifying/generalizing, and leaving out.
Coffee is a fruit! Processing it is pretty labor intensive, and there are a several different methods to do this. Two major factors in what a coffee tastes like are how it's processed and where it was grown.
Coffee can only be grown between Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn. To grow, coffee requires a specific climate (including altitude) and different regions produce vastly different flavors of coffee.
A term you'll hear frequently in specialty coffee is origin — this refers to the place where the beans were grown. Most coffees tend to be blends — they're sourced from different locations and roasted together. Single origin coffees can always be traced to one specific geographic region, and sometimes even gets as specific as a single farm.
The coffee plant is indigenous to Ethiopia. Our English word (coffee) comes from the Dutch koffie, which in turn was taken from Ottoman Turkish's kahve, which was originally borrowed from Arabic qahwah (قهوة).
The earliest evidence of human knowledge of coffee and coffee drinking comes from the 15th century, when Sufi Imam Muhammad Ibn Said Al Dhabhani imported coffee from Ethiopia to Yemen.
Coffee has been used as for spiritual and religious purposes. It's politicized, banned, and involved in some of the greatest violations of human rights in history. Even today, there are significant labor exploitation issues within the coffee industry.
On the flip side, cafes have served as gathering grounds and been at the heart of communities. Revolutions (both literal and intellectual) have been planned in them and a cafe is often in touch with the heartbeat of its surrounding community.
Since the rise of coffee as a consumer beverage, there have commonly accepted to be three "waves" of coffee (some now say there's a fourth ¯\_(ツ)_/¯). Here's a quick rundown of what they are:
The first wave of coffee was all about bringing coffee to the masses — flavor was not the focus here, it was all about getting the kick.
Folgers, Maxwell House, Green Mountain Coffee, most Italian shops
The second wave of coffee was all about shifting the perception from a utilitarian beverage to one that you were meant to enjoy. Second wave made coffee a mainstream drink for anyone to enjoy, especially with all of the inventive flavor and drink combinations that were offered.
The idea of the third place comes in here, despite the emphasis on the to go cup. Second wave shops focus on consistency, even when that means sacrificing quality — this is one of their biggest strengths (and keys to success) as well as one of the reasons that people began to turn away from them.
You'll hear third wave, specialty, and craft coffee used interchangeably. Here, aesthetics and flavor are the main focus.
This wave emphasizes the art and the science of coffee, as well as sourcing and roasting beans to bring out their distinctive flavors.
Unlike the second wave, personalized and individualized drinks are not encouraged. Most shops have a standardized recipe for all and both sizes and add-ins are very limited (if offered at all). Quality and preparation methods can vary a lot between shops.
Stumptown, Blue Bottle, Intelligentsia, Counter Culture
Think of tasting coffee (and especially tasting notes) like wine or craft beer. The flavor of a coffee changes as it ages, so every morning your barista will write down notes on how the coffee tastes that day. The descriptions used aren't usually literal — if a tasting note says "granny smith acidity" it usually doesn't mean that it actually tastes like an apple, just that the acidity level is around there.
There are a lot of factors in how your coffee tastes. Too much or too little of one can result in overextraction or underextraction. Understanding whether your coffee is over or underextracted is a skill you develop with practice — here are the hallmarks of each:
Can be a result of: too much time, too fine a grind, bad ratio of coffee:water
Hallmarks: Bitter, drying, astringent
Can be a result of: too coarse of a grind, not enough time, bad ratio of coffee:water
Hallmarks: Sour, quick finish, salty
There are endless brewing methods and tools. A lot of them cost a lot of money — almost none of them are necessary to make a good cup of coffee. But they look cool!
Tip: The order of the drinks on the menu for most specialty cafes is typically by size and modifiers — so the drinks at the top of the list are the smallest with the least added components, while the ones at the bottom are typically largest and have more stuff in them.
There are a ton of different ways you'll encounter to get drip coffee. The most common ones are batch brew and pourovers.
Just like it sounds, this is a many servings of coffee brewed in a machine. Until recently, specialty coffee has looked down on batch brew.
This is typically a single serving of coffee, brewed by hand. There are machines that can do this automatically now, but they're expensive and kind of fussy.
There are a lot of ways you can modify your drink to your liking — here are a few of them (but beware, some of these mean different things depending on where you are):
What will happen
Your drink will have less liquid
They'll pull the shot for less time
They'll pull the shot for longer
Extra EXTRA foamy. Like, just foam.
You'll get half and half instead of milk
It's a shot of espresso. You can order a doppio if you want it to be a double.
Most specialty cafes pull double shots as their standard, so if you want to get a double shot then you might actually be getting four shots — so if you're worried about your caffeine consumption, maybe check while you're ordering.
Espresso is often served with sparkling water as a palate cleanser.
Pulling double shots
This is a portafilter, it's what your shots come out of. The ground coffee goes into that basket and espresso comes out those spouts on the bottom. The output of each spout is one shot — so if you were to put everything that came out of there into a drink, that's a double.
Espresso and ice cream.
10/10 no notes.
Espresso and whipped cream
Also known as: redeye, blackeye, deadeye
A drip coffee with espresso. It will definitely wake you up.
Also known as: long black
Water and espresso. Maybe ice. That's it.
The italiano, which is equal parts espresso and water.
The base of all of these drinks is:
Also known as: caffe latte
A classic — it's just espresso and milk. At a specialty shop, this usually comes in one size (12 oz).
Also known as: caffe mocha
It's a latte with chocolate. Very cozy, very good drink to practice latte art with.
Also known as: flat white (sometimes)
This is another drink where the type of cafe you're in will make a huge difference.
A traditional cappuccino is typically espresso, steamed milk, and foam.
It's basically a small latte, so the flavor of the coffee will be stronger.
In specialty shops, a flat white is nearly always the same thing as a cappuccino.
This drink is typically ~4.5 oz and is served in a gibraltar glass (hence the name). It's basically a very concentrated, tiny latte.
Because it's served in a clear glass, it's a great training drink to teach milk steaming and texture. This also means it's easy to tell if someone messed up.
Due to the popularity of Starbucks' caramel macchiato, this is one of the most fraught and misunderstood drinks. We're going to break down what a macchiato is and what you might be getting if you order one, but keep in mind: in Italian, macchiato means marked.
What does Starbucks serve?
The Starbucks caramel macchiato is technically a latte macchiato.
A latte macchiato is milk that is marked with espresso — it's basically an upside down latte. The caramel macchiato also adds a bunch of caramel syrup (it's a very decadent drink).
The espresso macchiato
An espresso macchiato is espresso that is "marked" with milk.
It's typically equal parts espresso and milk (so about 4 oz total). But there's some divergence between what you'd get at an Italian shop vs. a specialty shop.
Italian macchiatos typically consist of espresso with foam only.
You make one by steaming milk and then spooning foam into the demitasse, over the espresso.
In most specialty shops, an espresso macchiato is essentially a tiny latte.
It's made the same way as any other espresso based milk drink — which means you can do latte art into it!
The best way to learn latte art is to have a good teacher and a lot of whole milk. Getting good at it is mostly a matter of muscle memory. Here's a quick breakdown of what you're going to need to do to make a beautiful latte:
Step 1: Prep your cup
If your drink has any additions, put those in now.
Step 2: Pull your shots
You want to try to time it so that you're done steaming around the same time as your shots finish pulling.
Step 3: Measure and steam your milk
To minimize waste and make it easier on yourself, measure out the proper amount of milk you need. There are two steps to steaming:
The end result should look like white paint: glossy, smooth, and flowy (but a lil thicc)
Step 4: Bang that baby on the counter and swirl everything you're holding around.
Step 5: Pour! The basic steps to pouring are:
The best milks to pour (in order)
Chris Baca (of Cat and Cloud Coffee in Santa Cruz) has great YT videos on coffee
You will definitely pour vulgar looking drinks and have to serve them. But if you do it with a straight face and don't make a big deal about it, the customer will usually assume they're the one with the dirty mind 😎
There's a correct direction to hold a ceramic mug when you're pouring.
This way, when you serve the drink and when someone drinks it, the design will be facing them instead of perpendicular to them. For takeaway cups, hold it so that the spout is on the opposite side of the cup from the logo when you pour.
✨It's the little things✨
PICK THE DANG CUP UP, DO NOT REST IT ON THE COUNTER!!
There are, of course, people who can pour beautifully while resting the cup on the counter. But you don't have as much control, and that can make learning a lot harder (even though it feels more stable when you're a beginner).
This is the foundation of all latte art. It's also the simplest design and the first thing you'll learn to pour. You create one by pouring a circle and then "pulling" or "cutting" through it to create the tail.
A lot of people will go "aww!" when you serve them this and some people will make it creepy. This is the design that people take the most photos of.
You basically pour a bunch of circles on top of one another and then cut through all of them.
But if you don't want to pull through, you don't have to.
Start your pour, do a little wiggle, then cut through.
There's also the slowsetta variant, which is like a rosetta but exaggerated. Funnily enough, it's actually a faster design to pour once you get the hang of it.
It looks nice, it's complicated, and to pour it you need to be able to do all of the other steps and designs really well.
This is too complicated to describe how to pour in text.
A sloppy one will often lose in latte art competitions to a really clean heart.
These are all 2-4 oz glasses. The smaller the pour, the more precise all of your movements need to be.
You need an additional tool to do these, like a thermometer. Big crowd pleasers for the kids. They're also good if you don't know how to pour because you can just make a mess and then scribble in it and people will be like "wow!"