You've most likely stood in line at your local coffee shop, stared cluelessly at the menu and then ordered something you didn't want.
Whether you were intimidated by the baristas or felt the pressure of the long line behind you, ordering a coffee or an espresso drink shouldn't be a traumatic experience. No one wants to drink a coffee or espresso drink that doesn't taste good — especially those who are serving it to you. So we went to the experts — Mocha Joe's Cafe in Brattleboro, Vt., Barrington Coffee Roasting Co. in Lee, Mass., No. Six Depot in West Stockbridge, Mass., and South Street Cafe and Bakery in Bennington, Vt. — to find out what we're doing wrong and how to fix it ...
1 You order a "regular" coffee
Ordering a "regular" coffee at your favorite drive-thru will get you a coffee with cream or milk and two sugars, but at a coffee house don't expect to be handed anything but a black coffee.
In the coffee business, "regular coffee" has different meanings in different parts of the country. Our experts agree that outside of the Northeast and New York (and a few parts of New Jersey), ordering a coffee "regular" will get you black coffee.
"Saying you want your coffee 'regular' is not something you would do anywhere else in the country. But here, it's a descriptor, you're telling us to 'please do something to my coffee,'" said Erik Johnson, head coffee roaster and green coffee buyer for Mocha Joe's.
2 You expect milk and sugar
There's a reason why those small coffee houses won't add milk and sugar for you. They want you to taste the coffee. Our experts say that taking a few minutes to add your own makes a world of difference.
"At our cafe, we serve the coffee black and let the customer put milk and sugar in," Lisa Landry, co-owner of No. Six Depot, said. "I would say, if you are having great single-origin coffee that is fresh roasted that it is wonderful to just taste it black. And then gradually add in milk and sugar if you prefer. People are often surprised."
And with so many different types of roasts and blends out there, the amount added can vary for an individual depending on the drink.
"Ideally, different kinds of coffee from different origins should taste different, some are great on their own and others pair nicely with lots of cream," says Mukunda Feldman, who runs the Barrington Coffee Roasting Co.'s retail stores in Boston. "I say, start with a black coffee and find your own way rather than rolling the dice."
3 You don't understand why the espresso drinks are so "small"
You're probably used to commercial coffee places, where $5 will score you 20- to 24-ounces of espresso and steamed milk. But in the world of the barista, bigger isn't better.
"It's all about the ratio of milk to the coffee," Johnson said. "A shot of espresso is 1 ounce, but most places use 2 ounces by default. The amount of steamed milk and foam added depends on the type of drink. A real 20-ounce latte doesn't taste that good, because you're just adding more milk to it, making it creamy and sweet."
4 You ordered an espresso, but they used "normal" beans
"There's nothing special about the beans we use for espresso," Johnson said. "Roasters may call a certain roast as an espresso, but the term is really about the way the coffee is made. Espresso is a term for how you extract the coffee out of the beans with water."
5 You ordered a latte, but wanted a cappuccino
The experts agree, don't be intimidated ... ask questions.
"We understand customers may not all be at the same knowledge level when it comes to exactly what all of these espresso drinks are ..." said Maeve Webster, who co-owns South Street Cafe and Bakery with Brian Darr and Steve Darr. "Taking that extra time is worth it to make sure someone is happy with what they've ordered. I'd rather have someone ask about the drinks then order anything just to get the order out of the way and then not be happy in the end."