“No coffee can be good in the mouth that does not first send a sweet offering of odor to the nostrils.” These words, spoken over a century ago by Henry Ward Beecher , appropriately describe the drink that Americans cannot live without today.
Coffee chains and independent shops are sprouting up on every street corner in larger cities and in the suburbs. Some cafes are connected to banks and others have opened 24-hour locations.
But espresso-based menu boards can be intimidating to read if you want to try something other than traditional drip. Even more cumbersome is trying to wade through all of the roasting terms if you are looking to buy a bag for home brewing. Looking to expand your coffee knowledge? These basics will get you on your way:
All Grown Up
The manner in which coffee beans are grown can make or break your cup of coffee. Organic beans are certified by an international agency as being free of synthetic chemical fertilizers, pesticides or herbicides. These are typically a bit pricier than non-organic beans because of the treatment they must endure. Coffee is grown in all parts of the world, and East African, Latin and South American and Hawaiian beans are among the most sought after for their bold flavors and aromas.
Cooked to Perfection
After the beans are grown, they are cooked in large metal roasters for a specified amount of time. Roasting companies follow guidelines to get the flavor they want.
Breaking down roasting terms can be the most intimidating part of purchasing from a coffee shop. A dark roast means that the beans will have a deep brown, shiny surface (like an espresso bean), and lighter roasts will show themselves by the beans outer coloring. A medium roast refers to the American standard. Italian roasts are darker than French roasts, though this has nothing to do with the origin of the beans.
Brewed Just Right
Like a dry wine, an acidic coffee leaves tartness on the back of your tongue after it’s brewed. The tart flavor is expected, and does not signal a bad bean.
Buzz words like clear, bright, smooth or rich can all refer to the acidity of coffee and the flavor it yields. Also, when coffees are aged, they lose their acidity and begin to taste sweeter.
The aroma of coffee is closely related to its flavor and acidity. Fruity or flowery flavors are emitted from brewed beans depending on their origin and how they are prepared. A full coffee has vapors that are pronounced intensely.
A coffee’s body is the heaviness or richness felt in the back of the mouth when drinking a brewed cup. Arabica coffees tend to be heavier than robusta beans. Heavy-bodied coffees, like espressos, are the way to go if you are going to add milk, but lighter-bodied coffees are fine for those who drink it black.
Interpreting the Menu
If you are thinking about ordering an espresso-based coffee, you have plenty of choices to make. Some variety of milk, from half-and-half to skim or soy, can be added and steamed with your coffee to give it a smooth consistency. You can also add extra “shots” of espresso to make the coffee taste stronger or add a bit of caffeine.
Flavored syrups from the common hazelnut and mocha to raspberry and Irish cream are available, and you can choose to top off your drink with a dollop of whipped cream for a few cents extra.
Study the terms below, and you’ll be able to look your barista in the eye and order with confidence.
Americano: American drip coffee made from equal parts espresso and boiling water. It tastes like a strong drip brew.
Cappuccino: Espresso topped with equal parts foamed and steamed milk.
Cafe au lait: Brewed coffee and steamed milk in equal parts.
Cafe breve: Espresso with half-and-half.
Cafe con leche: Espresso with steamed milk to fill an eight-ounce cup.
Cafe latte: Espresso in a six-ounce cup filled to top with steamed milk. A dense drink that may be topped with foamed milk.
Cafe mocha: A latte with chocolate
Cafe con panna: Espresso topped with whipped cream.
Cafe corretto: Espresso with a shot of brandy, cognac or liqueur.
Cafe creme: Espresso combined with one ounce of heavy cream.
Frappuccino: Blended iced coffee with milk and your choice of added flavoring.
Macchiato: Espresso topped with a dollop of foamed milk and often served with caramel.
Coffee doesn’t have to make you jittery or keep you up all night. Any of the drinks listed above can be brewed with decaffeinated beans. A decaf cup of coffee has 97 to 99 percent less caffeine than regular coffee. That means a 6-ounce cup of decaf only has about 1 to 5 milligrams of the stimulant.
While some people prefer to brew coffee at home, ordering coffee out can make it more of an experience. Whether you are traveling or wanted to find a coffee shop close to you, the options are limitless. Family-owned shops carry unique charm and often boast themes, like quirky names for menu items or locally painted artwork hanging on shop walls. But several larger coffee chains provide consistently good drinks at decent prices. Some of the more popular shops are:
Caribou Coffee: Headquartered in Minnesota with stores in 15 states, mostly in the Midwest
Coffee Beanery: Michigan coffee franchisee with stores nationwide
Gloria Jean’s: Founded in California with stores nationwide
Peet’s: Most locations in California; additional stores in Chicago, Boston, Portland, Seattle, Austin and Denver
Second Cup: Canada’s largest coffee chain
Starbucks: Popular Seattle chain with stores nationwide