Every week hundreds of students and staff exchange hellos and order coffee from baristas at the Espresso Mia stand in the Student Union Building on the South Puget Sound Community College campus. I am one of many regular customers.
I always told myself I wouldn’t become the person who adds 15 different things to my coffee order. Within the last year I have become “that guy.” I usually stick to my triple-shot soy hazelnut latte, only very recently stepping out of my vanilla latte comfort zone. Also recently, I found out what a latte actually is. This led me to wonder: do most people really know what they’re ordering? Does Ms. Smith really know what a tall non-fat extra-foam-no-foam caramel macchiato is?
So I took to the linoleum and collected a small survey of 30 students and staff. Of those 30 people, 60 percent say they do not know or only sort of know how their coffee is made or what goes into it. The other 40 percent affirmed that they do know. Two-thirds of people surveyed say the reason for ordering their usual is that it “tastes good.”
What exactly is a macchiato? What is a latte or a mocha breve? What’s the difference between drip and espresso? Between orders I spoke with Sarah Person, morning barista at Espresso Mia. She gave me a quick rundown of the contents of these coffees.
A shot of espresso is the basis of most drinks. Both espresso and drip come from the same place; ground coffee beans. The main difference is in the concentration. For espresso, a smaller amount of water is shot through fine ground beans. With drip coffee, not only is more water added to more a coarser grind, but the grounds sit in the water for more time. Because of this, Person said, drip coffee is more bitter.
Other than espresso, coffee drinks are a different mix of syrup, milk, and foam. A latte is a number of shots of espresso and steamed milk, usually with foam from the milk. An americano is espresso with hot water. A mocha is simply a latte with the addition of chocolate.
The elusive breve is espresso mixed with half and half, instead of milk. Add a bit of chocolate and you’ve got yourself a mocha breve. A cappuccino is made with foamed milk and a bit of steamed milk. It can be ordered wet or dry, Person said. A wet cappuccino has more steamed milk than foamed milk and a dry cappuccino has more foamed milk than steamed milk.
As for that macchiato? According to Alex Choppin, editor-in-chief at The Sounds and barista at Batdorf and Bronson in downtown Olympia, a macchiato is simply espresso with a dollop of foam. And except for at Starbucks, there is no such thing as a caramel macchiato.
Only 47 percent of people in this survey order an additional shot of espresso when they increase the size. Something many people don’t realize is most coffee shops do not add extra shots of espresso to larger size drinks. Many people order a larger coffee, expecting to get more caffeine.
However, unless you ask for an additional shot or two, the only thing you are getting more of is milk and syrup. If caffeine is what you’re after, getting a 20-ounce single shot vanilla latte is not going to cut it.
While only 66 percent of the 30 people surveyed explicitly said they order their coffee because it tastes good, I think all of us can agree that’s why we like our coffee. That, and of course, the caffeine.
All in all, a coffee menu is a whole lot less confusing when you know what you’re looking at. And it’s rather simple once you’ve learned the differences.