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The beginner's guide to coffee

You've been *dying* to try out that cute new coffee shop that just opened in your neighborhood, but when you finally walk through the door, you're totally overwhelmed by the endless list of menu options. Your mom reliably orders herself a black coffee (boooring!) and your bestie always gets a cappuccino, but you don't know what that even means...

Never fear! If you're new to the world of coffee or even if you're just looking to expand your tastes, here's our unofficial guide to decoding the menu at your fave café. Read on to learn more about what all those coffee-related words mean—and maybe you'll even discover your new signature drink while you're at it!  

1. Classic drip coffee


The tried-and-true: a cup of hot or iced drip coffee is unbeatable, if you ask us. Drip coffee is made by pouring hot water over ground coffee beans, and coffee shops will usually make it using an automatic coffee maker. Most coffee shops offer all kinds of fix-ins, everything from creamer to oat and almond milk to various flavor syrups, so you can ~make it cute~.

2. Cold brew


Cold brew is exactly what it sounds like: an iced (and stronger!) version of regular coffee that makes the perfect refreshment on a hot day. Usually cold brews are brewed overnight, and this extra steeping time allows them to pack a super powerful caffeinated punch. 

3. Espresso

Espresso is a concentrated form of coffee, which is served in "shots" or really tiny servings that fill only part of a cup. It's the base ingredient for lattes, cappuccinos and tons of other common coffee drinks. But if you're feeling brave and are in need of an intense dose of caffeine, you can drink a shot of espresso straight or with a little half-and-half or over ice. 

4. Lattes (and mochas!)

Lattes may seem fancy, but tbh, they're made of two pretty simple components: espresso and steamed milk. The larger the latte you order, the more shots of espresso the barista will throw in your cup. Then, they'll slowly pour the steamed milk on top in a circular motion and voila! you've got a yummy latte on your hands. Extra points if they swirl the milk to create some Insta-worthy latte art! 

And if you've ever wondered what a mocha really is, it's just a classic latte with a dash of chocolate syrup mixed in to give that sweet finish. Most coffee shops will allow you to add flavor syrups for a small added fee—we can never say no to caramel, honey, hazelnut or lavender! 

5. Cappuccinos


Cappuccinos, like lattes, are made of espresso and steamed milk. The only difference is that cappuccinos have a thick layer of foam, which experienced baristas are able to whip up using a milk steamer wand. Some cafes will even sprinkle a bit of cinnamon on top as a final touch—v. cute!

6. Cortados


Cortados originated in Spain and are def the most adorable of all the drinks mentioned here. These fun-sized bevs are usually served in smaller cups because they're almost like mini latte, although the ratio of espresso to steamed milk in cortados is roughly equal. While a latte typically contains much more steamed milk than espresso, cortados have a 50/50 breakdown of each. 

For the low-caf and decaf girls...


If your new year's resolution was to cut back on the caffeine (or if you were never a big coffee gal in the first place), you can still definitely still find a fun and delicious go-to drink. In terms of beverages with lower caffeine content, we're a big fan of matcha lattes. If you like tea, you might also opt for a London Fog, which combines Earl Grey tea and steamed milk, and can be sweetened with vanilla or lavender, if you're into something more sugary. 

Occasionally, coffee shops will offer both decaf coffee and decaf expresso, which really opens up your options for enjoying a no-caf treat. But always be sure to ask first. You don't want to unexpectedly end up buzzing with energy when you thought you were drinking decaf! 

In need of more drink inspo? Check out these related stories and quizzes:
☕ How to make Insta-worthy coffee at home
☕ Pack a school lunch and we'll give you a new tea to try
☕ The perfect to-go cups to keep your drink warm

Tell us your go-to coffee order on Twitter @girlslifemag!

All GIFs via Giphy


by Madelon Basil | 4/7/2023