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Jack Merriman

Content Marketing Manager

Today we’re going to explain the drinks menu of a specialty café. Specifically, we’re going to discuss what you can expect to receive when you order a coffee from their menu. It can be difficult to understand what all of the words on a coffee menu refer to. And, to make matters worse, there’s no industry standard for what each drink should be. You might be confused or even frustrated when you go to a new café and order your usual drink, but end up being served something completely different.

So, you can use this article and video as a rough guide for what you might receive when you order a coffee from a modern specialty coffee shop. It’s important to note that this is based off of my own experience, so if you disagree with any of the drinks I mention, let me know in the comments what that drink means to you.

We’ll start with espresso.

What is an espresso?

An espresso is a very concentrated, small cup of coffee. Often they can be very intense in flavour and can be quite inconsistent in quality, so I personally would only order a straight espresso from a café that I have visited before and know that they take great care in preparing an espresso.

In different places, an espresso can mean quite different things. But in a modern, specialty coffee shop, you can typically expect to receive a 30-50g espresso drink made from anywhere between 16-20g of coffee beans. A standard espresso drink from a specialty coffee shop can, confusingly, also be referred to as a double-shot of espresso.

If you go into a shop and ask for ‘just a single shot of espresso’, they’ll extract into two separate cups and serve you just one of these. I find this quite confusing personally, but if you ask for ‘an espresso’, a double-shot is the standard.

Most specialty coffee shops will have a ‘house blend’ of espresso, which is typically quite approachable and friendly in flavour, maybe with some chocolaty, sweet, potentially even fruity notes to it. A very nice café might also offer different coffees to try as espresso, like a rotating menu of guest coffees to try for a limited time only. These might be a little more interesting in flavour and gives you something new to try if you become a regular customer.

A double espresso forms the base for most milk coffee drinks.


Explaining Specialty Milk-Based Coffee Drinks


A macchiato is a ‘marked’ coffee. It’s typically served in a small espresso cup, and is made up of a double shot of espresso with a small dollop of thick milk foam on top.


A cortado is a small, pretty strong milky coffee, and is typically made up of equal parts espresso and foamed milk. Though the ratio can vary between shops from any between 1 part espresso : 1 part milk, up to 1 part espresso: 4 parts milk. It’s often served in a 4oz glass or cup, made up of a double espresso with thin foamed milk and a small, intricate latte art pattern.

Flat White

A flat white is similar to a cortado, just a step up in size, typically 6 or 8 ounces. Again it’s typically served in a small glass or handleless cup, and is a double shot of espresso topped with milk that has been steamed with as little foam as possible. This is probably my personal choice when visiting a new café, as you can taste the nuances of the coffee but with a little milk that’s there to reduce the effects of any harsh bitter flavours.


A cappuccino is by far the most controversial drink on today’s menu, and it’s definition has changed drastically since it left Italy and has been adopted by the third wave specialty coffee movement. The point of biggest debate is definitely the texture of the milk, with a traditional cappuccino being made up of thick, dense milk foam. In a modern specialty coffee shop, baristas often like to show off their latte art skills and this requires a thinner milk foam.

Another point of debate is whether your cappuccino will be served with a little chocolate powder sprinkled over the top. This can vary not only between coffee shops but also between baristas, so it’s definitely worth asking when you visit for the first time.

Typically, a modern specialty coffee shop will serve a cappuccino as a double shot of espresso, with medium foamed milk in an 8oz cup.

Click through to watch our dedicated video on the two different cappuccino recipes.



A latte is probably the most easy to define, it will typically be a larger milk-based coffee drink served in a 12oz cup, made with a double shot of espresso and steamed milk with some form of latte art.

Many coffee shops will offer different sizes anywhere from 8 to 16 oz, but a small latte is essentially just a flat white so it’s a little arbitrary. Like most of these drinks, the differences between coffee shops often comes down to the size of their cups.


A mocha is milk-based coffee drink with the addition of chocolate, either by melting some solid chocolate, sauce, syrup or chocolate powder. What you essentially receive is a hot chocolate plus a double espresso. Typically served in the same cup size as a latte, with equal parts double espresso and chocolate, topped with steamed milk and an optional dusting of chocolate powder.

Black Coffee Drinks Explained


An americano is a larger black coffee made up of espresso and hot water. The size can vary between café and it’s very easy for the café to accommodate different sizes by adding more or less hot water.

It’ll be served as a double espresso with hot water, typically in a 10-12oz cup, and let’s you sample the clean flavours of the espresso whilst giving you a substantial size of drink to enjoy. It’s also pretty acceptable for the customer to ask for milk or sugar, though it may be worth trying on its own beforehand as light roasts may in fact taste worse with milk and sugar.

Batch Brew / Filter

A batch brew or filter coffee is a black coffee brewed by a machine pouring hot water over a bed of coffee grounds, with a paper filter to separate out the solid particles leaving you with a delicious and clean cup of coffee.

A batch brew will typically be made every morning and throughout the day as needed in 1 or 2 litre batches by a machine. In specialty cafes, they might offer a regular house filter or a rotating menu of different coffees to try. Using a batch brewer takes most of the human error out of the equation, and once the grind size and ratio are dialled in, lets the baristas quickly and easily serve a delicious and consistent cup of filter coffee.

A batch brew, or filter coffee, is served black in a diner style mug, or 12oz cup, and typically tastes better without milk or sugar if the specialty café is using high quality, medium to light roasted coffees.

V60 / Pourover

A V60, hand brew or manual pourover is a shrunk down version of the batch brew that is manually brewed to order by the barista. A number of different pour over drippers can be used but the most common from my experience is the v60. If you’re visiting a good specialty café, typically there will be a number of coffees to try with different flavour profiles, processing methods and origins.

This is a drink that should definitely spark a conversation between yourself and the barista, who will hopefully be excited and passionate about sharing a particular coffee with you.

You will typically be served 200-300ml of delicious black filtered coffee, and again it will usually taste better without milk or sugar if a sweet, fruity or floral coffee is being served.


Finally we have the Aeropress which is another manual coffee brewer that seems to still be growing in popularity amongst specialty cafes. It’s a very flexible brewer so the recipe can vary quite a bit between cafes, but what you can expect to receive is around 200ml of deliciously sweet black coffee. If you want to find out how an Aeropress is made, make sure to click through to our Aeropress recipe video.

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