Back to Basics: Coffee Lingo

Friday, 5 May, 2023

Words by Ayanda Dlamini

If you’ve ever worked as a barista, you’ll know that not only do you exercise the skill to make good quality coffee. You also exercise the skill to become an exceptional people analyst. The act of observing people and their interactions; you become good at reading body language and knowing who’s a regular and who isn’t.

With that said, something I’ve come to analyse about some people that walk into coffee shops, is that people can often feel intimidated by coffee menus and coffee lingo. For someone who isn’t familiar with the dialect within coffee culture, the coffee shop experience can often feel quite alienating.

So similar to how travellers may carry a glossary, filled with words and terms to help their basic understanding of the languages spoken in a foreign country. I’ve created a mini list of coffee terms that you may not hear as often as your “cappuccino or latte”, with the same purpose of a travellers glossary; for our growing coffee enthusiasts and upcoming cafe-goers, this will come in handy when trying to understand the language used in most coffee shops.

Keeping in mind, coffee lingo can also be authentic to specific cafes (the Meia de Leite from vida e caffe springs to mind, their version of a cortado) and the unique drinks they have on offer, this list will give you a general outline and understanding of the widely used words in coffee shops:

Affogato: An espresso drink with a scoop of ice coffee, mostly seen on dessert menus in the RSA.

Cold Brew: Cold concentrated coffee. This entails brewing coarse coffee grounds, steep in coldwater, over a long period of time (12-24 hours).

Con Panna: An espresso with whipped cream on top

Cortado: A ratio of 1:1 of espresso and microtextured milk, so a quick, strong kick of delicious.

Crema: The creamy layer of dense espresso foam on top of a freshly extracted espresso shot

Dry Cappuccino: Espresso with milk foam (equivalent to the amount of milk you’d have in a regular cappuccino). For people who like to play with their coffee, rolling that pillowy foam in the tiny espresso down below. It is fun, no judgement

Flat White: Comparable in size to a cappuccino, in the sense that it’s espresso topped with microtextured milk, but it is always a double shot and it is always in a short cup.

Editor's Note: In the Coffee Magazine's humble opinion, there is no such thing as a Tall Flat white. It is a one size drink and the proportions of espresso to milk are important. If you want more milk with your double espresso, then you have moved into a Double Shot Cappuccino zone as far as we are concerned, double shot, bigger cup. People can debate this all day, there's a whole article on Flat Whites here.

Lungo: The act of pulling an espresso shot for a longer amount of time, over the recommended time

Macchiato: Espresso with a dollop of milk foam.

Mocha or Chococcino: The combination of espresso and chocolate with steamed milk

Pour-Over: A manual brewing method, where water is poured slowly over ground coffee (such methods include, Chemex, Hario V60, Aeropress, Kalita)

Ristretto: A short shot of highly concentrated espresso coffee. It is made with the same amount of ground coffee, but extracted using a finer grind, which slows the extraction and increases the pressure. Intense!

When it comes to coffee beans...

Blend: A mixture of coffee Beans from different regions and perhaps varietals, ie Arabica and Robusta, which is what most of the world famous Italian brands are made from.

Single origin: Coffee beans from one specific region ie Ethiopian Sidamo

Cupping: The process of tasting coffees, to evaluate, taste, smell and measure the quality of roasted Coffee


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