Coffee 101: How to Drink Coffee Like a Barista

March 26, 2014

Living in Seattle and working as a barista at several coffee shops, I’ve become well acquainted with a variety of coffee drinks (and coffee experts!)

My favorite coffee shop: Victrola in Seattle - How to Drink Coffee like a Barista

My personal favorite coffee shop in Seattle – Victrola!

Coffee culture is crazy in my home city. People take their coffee very seriously, and choose their home coffee shop based on the quality and locale of the roaster, the expertise of the baristas, and the ambiance of the shop itself.

Why do people care so much about this stuff? The truth is, so much goes into making a cup of coffee. In ordering that drink at your local coffee shop, you are supporting farmers all over the world (if you make sure your coffee is fair-trade friendly!) You are also supporting local roasting businesses, which support your community by providing jobs and business.

On top of that, you are supporting an art-form – coffee has become a niche in the culinary world, much like wine and beer. Public cuppings at your local coffee shop, much like a wine tasting, will discuss terroir, blended beans, single-origin beans, and roast.

So – Do you want to become an expert-level coffee snob? It’s good fun, I promise!

Here are some fun facts about coffee!

Roast – Lightly roasted coffee is all the rage right now. Italian-style, dark-roasted coffee makes for a strong-tasting cup of espresso. It’s caramel-y, rich, and (if the shot is pulled correctly), has that perfect, nutty flavor. However, roasting a bean to be that dark can mask some of the naturally-occurring flavors. When you’re ordering a cup of coffee or an espresso drink, ask the barista how the bean is roasted, and see if you can tell!

Brewing Method – There are SO many ways to brew coffee now. Here are a few popular choices:

Espresso: Obviously, a fantastic way to enjoy your cuppa! Finely ground coffee combined with lots of pressure and super hot water create magic.
French Press: My personal favorite! This brewing style uses coarsely ground coffee beans and mixes them right in with the water. It’s fantastic because the hot water is in direct contact with most of the surface area of the bean, and the mesh filter allows more of the oils to get into your cup. It’s also a fairly inexpensive choice for home-brewing – a new french press is about $35.
Pour-over: This method allows you to get a ‘clean’ tasting cup of coffee, since the paper filter doesn’t let NUTTIN’ get through! It’s also quick. Grinding the beans yourself is the key to this method; since the coffee is only in contact with hot water as long as it drips into the cup, you want to maximize the flavor extraction. Grinding the coffee immediately beforehand will make a huge difference!
Chemex: I’ve had a cup of coffee from a Chemex once in my life, and it was pretty freaking delicious. Apparently, the method was created by a chemist who found that this style of brewing extracted only the best parts of the coffee. I’ve never gotten around to purchasing one, but they cost around $40 – $50.

Chemex - How to Drink Coffee like a BaristaPour over - How to Drink Coffee like a BaristaFrench Press - How to Drink Coffee like a Barista

Fancy Espresso Drinks – Learn the lingo!

Americano: A cup of hot water, topped with two shots of caramel-y espresso. The drink should look golden-brown when served.
Macchiato: This is NOT a caramel macchiato! A macchiato is traditionally only two shots of espresso, topped with a dollop of foam.
Latte: Two shots, topped with steamed milk and foam. When I pour the drink, the espresso mixes with the milk at the bottom, creating a brown latte. Halfway through pouring, I’ll be pouring out white foam, moving the pitcher around to create latte art on top!
Cappuccino: Two shots, topped with steamed milk and a lot of foam. Typically, when I make a cappuccino, I will aerate the milk for longer, so that it ‘grows’ larger in the pitcher. When I pour the drink, the espresso will mix with the foamy milk, then a dollop of foam will top off the drink, leaving a perfect white circle. It’s physically lighter than a latte.
Ristretto: A shot is usually pulled for a certain amount of time. If you ask for a ristretto shot, you’re basically asking for the barista to pull it for a shorter amount of time, giving you a shot that’s a little bit bolder, and a little less bitter.

Latte Art – How do they do that?

A typical rosette or a heart on a latte are made simply by free-pouring the milk into the cup in a very specific way. Other, more detailed images are often made with toothpicks to manipulate the foam, or chocolate sauce to add accents / draw a picture.

Rosette Latte Art - How to Drink Coffee like a Barista

Basically, latte art is magic. 😉

There’s so much more to learn about coffee, but now you have the basics down! Go out there and get your snob on, you know you want to! Learn about local roasters, fair-trade sourcing, and local coffee shops in your neighborhood!

Related: How to Make Your Best Coffee

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Photo: CoffeeGeek; Nick J. Webb; Robert S. Donovan; Wickenden; acquagaby – all via Flickr

Abbie Zulock is a writer based out of Seattle, WA, currently traveling throughout Europe, working on organic farms and exploring vegan delicacies around the continent. Abbie is also an experienced professional tarot card reader and when she's not writing or traveling the globe, she can be found hanging out with her black lab, Jackson!


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