Whether you’re an experienced barista or a complete newbie, your coffee vocabulary must be constantly expanding. Not all customers order right off the menu, so you’ll need to have your wits about you. This will help ensure that you provide superior customer service. Plus, you want to come off sounding like a pro, right? Understanding some key coffee terms ahead of time can make all the difference when it comes to good communication.
So, here are 10 essentials that every barista should know:
1 – Shot/Double-Shot
As a barista, you’ll likely already know a lot about espresso. That said, it’s important to remember that espresso is measured in shots, not cups. A single shot uses around seven grams of ground coffee and yields around an ounce of espresso.
For a double shot, you’ll grind and tamp around 14 grams of coffee and produce roughly two ounces of espresso. With that said, every cafe does things differently in terms of dose, extraction time and shot volume.
When customers order lattes, mochas, or other espresso-based drinks, they may ask you to include an extra shot or even a double shot in their drink.
Pro tip: a customer that asks for a “doppio shot” in their drink is just asking for a double-shot of espresso.
2 – Ristretto
Now that we’ve covered straightforward espresso shots, let’s talk about ristretto. The term comes straight from Italian, meaning “restricted,” and it refers to a short, “restricted” shot of espresso.
With ristretto shots, baristas only pull the first part of the espresso shot. So, less water is used in the extraction. In general, a ristretto shot clocks in at around 0.85 ounces and shouldn’t take more than 25 seconds to pull. As a result, you’ll get a sweeter, richer, and less bitter serving of espresso.
It’s not uncommon for customers to ask for ristretto shots in their coffee when they’re looking for a bolder, sweeter flavor.
3 – Single Origin Coffee
Ever had a customer ask if you’re serving single origin coffee? Single origin coffee refers to coffee beans that are processed and grown in a specific region, cooperative or farm. Since it’s unblended, single origin coffee tends to have its own unique flavor profile, which can vary from region to region.
Some customers prefer single origin coffee over a blend because they want to experience coffee at its “purest” as well as the unique terroir of the region in which it was produced.
In comparison, blended coffee often combines coffee beans from multiple regions. While some people may consider blended coffee to be “less pure” than single origin, blends still tend to be more popular due to their consistent flavor profiles.
4 – Body
As a barista, you may hear about the “body of coffee” quite a bit. When you talk about a coffee’s body, you’re referring to its physical characteristics, including how it feels in your mouth. Some coffees might be thin and watery, while others are thick and syrupy.
Roasters typically categorize body in three ways: light, medium or full-bodied. A light-bodied coffee won’t leave much texture or residue on your tongue, and it has a thin, water-like consistency. While this might sound unappealing to some, a light body will often demonstrate delicate, nuanced qualities.
However, heavy or full-bodied coffees have a thicker textured consistency, and they’re usually bolder and more flavorful too. As you’ve probably guessed, a medium-bodied coffee provides the perfect balance of texture and mouthfeel. Let’s just say Goldilocks would definitely choose a medium-bodied coffee that’s “just right!”
5 – Fair-Trade Coffee
Sooner or later, you’re bound to have a customer ask if your shop is selling fair-trade coffee, so it’s always a good idea to know what they’re actually talking about.
Fair-trade coffee refers to any coffee that meets the standards set by the Fair Trade organization. When a coffee package has that fair-trade stamp of approval, that means the entire production process – from growing the beans to brewing them – has met the organization’s standards for sustainability and fair labor practices.
6 – Lungo
Lungo means “long” in Italian, so no prizes for guessing that a lungo is simply a long-pull shot of espresso. While a standard shot of espresso uses about 30 milliliters of water and takes up to 30 seconds to pull, a lungo shot requires double the amount of water and double the time.
Not only are lungo shots larger in volume than regular espresso shots, they taste different too. Because of the longer extraction time, you’ll sacrifice complexity, sweetness and intensity. Not only that, lungo shots tend to be quite bitter. Still, plenty of folks love this type of espresso, so don’t judge!
7 – Demitasse
This French term means “half cup,” and it refers to a small coffee cup that holds two to three fluid ounces. If a customer is drinking a straight shot of espresso, they may ask for it in a demitasse cup.
In some cases, you may also hear people use demitasse as a form of measurement. Telling someone you drank a “demitasse of espresso” is the same as saying you drank a double or triple-shot of espresso.
8 – Crema
It’s kind of a given that crema is one of the major components of well-made espresso, but what is it? If you’ve ever gazed lovingly at that reddish-brown, frothy foam on an espresso shot, then you’ve seen crema.
When air bubbles meet the soluble oils in coffee under pressure, they create aromatic, frothy foam. The presence of crema on your espresso indicates a well-pulled shot, and it gives your espresso a fuller, more complex flavor.
Factors like over and under-extraction or using freshly roasted beans can all play a role in determining how much crema you get with your shot.
9 – Microfoam
If you’ve ever wondered how baristas create beautiful latte art or why your cappuccino tastes so velvety smooth, the answer is beyond the reach of human understanding. Just kidding – it’s all in the microfoam. Microfoam is a thin layer of freshly steamed milk that’s poured over certain espresso-based drinks, namely lattes, mochas and cappuccinos.
With microfoam, there’s very little air in the milk, so you’ll get a silkier surface and a smoother sip. While baristas automatically use microfoam when they’re creating latte art, some customers like the way it tastes. As a result, they may ask for a layer of microfoam, regardless of the drink.
10 – Affogato
It may not be on your menu yet, but this espresso drink has become a delicacy in many restaurants and coffee shops across the world. Affogato means “drowned” in Italian, and as a coffee drink and dessert, it’s just a scoop of vanilla ice cream “drowning” in a shot of espresso. Sounds kind of morbid, but it tastes amazing!
Although some coffee shops might offer the dessert as is to customers, it’s more common to hear people order drinks with affogato-style shots. With affogato-style shots, baristas pour the hot espresso shot on top of the drink – usually a frozen drink like the frappucino – without blending it in.
Coffee Terms & Lingo: The Bottom Line
With an endless number of coffee terms to learn and memorize, a barista’s vocabulary is always growing. Still, as long as you understand key terms like the ones listed above, you can ensure that you and your customers are speaking the same language – the language of coffee. And that goes for the ones putting in the orders, too! Hence the need for awesome tools that enhance communication.
Arne Preuss is a former barista and the founder of Coffeeness, a popular online resource for all things coffee-related. Arne initially specialized in evaluating super automatic espresso machines. However, since that time, his expertise has expanded to include every possible form of coffee maker.
If you liked this article, check out our post on essential restaurant terms and lingo.