We’ve all been to a coffee shop and probably noticed how extensive their menus can be. If you haven’t worked as a barista or studied up on your coffee knowledge, those menus can be be intimidating. Maybe you want to branch out, but you feel pressure to choose quickly from a long line behind you, or you just might not be comfortable asking your barista questions.
Whatever the reason, I, as a former barista myself, am here to help you navigate those sometimes intimidatingly large coffee shop menus. In my last article, I coved the basics of their most popular drinks, like lattes, cappuccinos, and blended coffees. If you missed it, check out Part 1 here.
Today, we’ll delve a little further into the coffee shop world and I’ll describe a some of the lesser-known menu options that might sound more complex, but are often actually even simpler beverages than their popular counterparts.
If you’re a fan of black coffee or don’t like the milk-to-coffee ratio of lattes, you’ll probably like americanos. An americano is simply espresso and hot water. It might not sound appetizing, but it’s actually one of my favorite things to order.
I highly recommend ordering an americano if you’re fan of black coffee, especially if you don’t like a particular coffee shop’s black coffee. Espresso is super strong tasting, so even though an americano is diluted with water, it doesn’t taste weak at all. The espresso is so strong that the hot water takes it down to a level that makes it enjoyable to sip plain, and I think it tastes much smoother and richer than drip coffee.
Red Eye & Black Eye
Red eyes ad black eyes are not on every coffee shop menu, but every coffee shop should be able to make them. A ‘red eye’ is black coffee with one shot of espresso added into it and a ‘black eye’ is the same thing, but with two shots of espresso.
These drinks are insanely strong tasting and, as you can imagine, have a super high caffeine content, so I wouldn’t recommend actually ordering them except maybe in serious caffeine-related emergencies. And maybe not even then – especially if you’re sensitive to caffeine. For context – a large hot latte usually contains two shots of espresso, and no other caffeine.
Café au lait/Café misto
Café au lait is French for coffee with milk, and that’s really all there is to the drink. Unlike in France, it isn’t made with espresso here in the US; instead, it typically consists of about half brewed coffee and half steamed milk, though you can ask for different ratios when ordering it.
A café misto is the same thing. The name used depends entirely upon the region it’s being sold in.
Breves are lattes, but instead of being made with steamed milk, they’re made with steamed half-and-half. As with a plain latte, you have to ask for flavor to be added to the drink, unless you want just the half-and-half and espresso mixture that is this drink.
I wouldn’t recommend ordering a breve if you have any kind of dairy intolerance. It’s a very thick, rich drink, and – though some people love them – from what I have experienced and witnessed, at least – it seems like only a small portion of the population actually enjoys them, so I’d reccomend trying the smallest size available the first time you order it, just to make sure you like it before you commit.
Chai latte & Tea latte
Contrary to what many people believe, chai lattes don’t actually contain any coffee. Instead, they’re made with chai tea – which is a spiced black tea – and milk. Black teas – including chai teas – are the most-highly-caffeinated tea type, so a chai latte does contain caffeine, just not any coffee unless you specifically order a shot of espresso added in.
Chai lattes are extremely popular in both their hot and iced forms. They taste creamy, kind of cinnamon-y, and more mild than coffee lattes. If you don’t like chai tea but do like cream in your tea, it is usually possible to get a tea latte with another type of tea. In these tea lattes, the tea bag is seeped right in the steamed milk, and sometimes gets a bit of vanilla syrup added. You can ask for espresso to be added to your chai latte – this is gaining in popularity, and is commonly called a ‘dirty chai’. However, as a chai latte doesn’t automatically come with any coffee or espresso in it, you do have to specifically order that it be added, and will most likely be charged extra for each shot you add.
The most popular tea latte that’s made from a tea bag and steamed milk is the ‘London Fog’, which is made with Earl Grey tea. Most places also make it with a little bit of vanilla flavored syrup mixed in as well.
There is one more kind of tea latte that’s growing in popularity: the matcha green tea latte. These lattes are made from matcha powder (which is super concentrated green tea powder) and steamed milk.
You can get a green tea/matcha latte in a hot, iced, or blended version.
Cold Brew vs Iced Coffee
Most espresso drinks can be made in either a hot version, which is usually default, or the iced one. If you order a regular iced coffee instead of an iced espresso drink, you’ll probably get some form of brewed coffee that’s iced or a coffee that’s made cold in a pitcher from an instant-coffee powder. It often comes with plain sweetening syrup, and the barista might ask you if you need any room to add creamer.
Cold brew or cold press coffee is yet another type of iced coffee beverage that many coffee shops offer. Cold brew is made by coarsely grinding coffee beans and then soaking the grounds in cold water for twenty hours. The resulting product is very strong, very bold-tasting iced coffee that sometimes comes with flavor and creamer already-added in to make the drink more appealing to more people.
Steamers & Secret Menu Items
Like red & black eyes, steamers aren’t always on the menu, but most coffee shops should be able to make them. Steamers are basically hot chocolates, but with a different, non-chocolate flavor, like vanilla or cinnamon. They don’t contain any coffee, so they’re great special-occasion choices for kids who don’t like chocolate – all there is to the drink is steamed milk with the flavor of your choice, topped off with either milk foam or whipped cream.
The ‘secret menu’ at Starbucks has become almost notorious at this point. But here’s the thing – the menu items on the secret menu don’t actually come from Starbucks. Since they’re not actually affiliated with Starbucks, not every Starbucks has the capability to make all of the ‘secret menu’ creations, and no staff is trained in how to make these drinks. If your Starbucks barista knows how to make a secret menu item, it’s because that item has been ordered so frequently that they’ve memorized the recipe.
It’s when customers come to Starbucks expecting the barista to know how to make your non-Starbucks ‘secret menu’ item and when they get angry at the barista who doesn’t know how to make it that baristas can get frustrated. Don’t let that stop you from branching out and experimenting with some of these alternate drink suggestions, though; as long as you bring the secret menu recipe of the item you want to try to Starbucks with you and are understanding if they can’t make it exactly as the recipe calls, most baristas will be happy make it for you.
Don’t forget that your baristas are always great resources for your questions!
I’m also here, and you are more than welcome to leave me any questions you have in the comments below. In fact, I actually really welcome any feedback you might have for me, whether it’s on my website, on it’s content, on topics you’d like to learn more about, or just sharing your own experiences on my topics.
I thank you in advance, and encourage you to get out when you can and start experimenting with your coffee preferences! Let me know if you have questions on any other coffee shop concoctions!