So you’re set on opening a coffee shop, but you don’t know much about the industry. You’re probably overwhelmed by all the different terms surrounding coffee shops. Perhaps you haven’t even heard of many of them! Well, lucky for you, I’ve detailed the most common coffee shop terms for newbies below!

Generally speaking, you will need to know three main categories of coffee shop terms to get by in the industry. The first category is the different types of drinks you’ll be serving (no, it’s not as simple as drip and espresso). Starbucks has also taken creative liberty with many drinks, thus the actual drink in regular coffee shops can often differ from the corporate giant’s definition. The second category is the different brewing methods; again, it’s not as simple as drip and an espresso machine. And finally, there are just general terms related to coffee shops such as baristas, counter service, etc.

One thing that can be confusing, but also quite interesting, is all the different terms from around the world. Different countries have different caffeinated delicacies, such as cafe au lait in France or iced Thai coffee. You may be interested to learn about international drinks and offer some at your coffee shop. or perhaps you want to open an international coffee house! I’ll detail many popular drinks from around the world below. (You can also learn a little more about opening a shop in other countries here, here, and here.)

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Coffee terms and drink names

This is probably the most important category to familiarize yourself with, as it will be the bread and butter of your coffee shop. I’ve detailed the big staples below (as well as international favorites a bit later). Please note this is not meant to be an exhaustive list, just large enough to get your footing.

  • Espresso – Very concentrated coffee, made with finely ground coffee (usually labeled as “espresso” variety) and almost boiling water under high pressure. Used to make the majority of coffee shop drinks besides drip. Usually made in “shots” with a machine and measured as such.
  • Shot – As in espresso shot, not different from what is described above, but the measurement is used in all espresso drinks. Usually, 8 – 12 oz. drinks will have one shot, 16 oz. drinks will have two shots, etc. But depending on the coffee shop, “single” always means one shot and “double” always means two, and so on.
  • Americano – Espresso with hot water added for body.
  • Latte – Espresso and steamed milk. The name can change depending on the milk; soy latte is a latte made with soy milk, a skinny latte is made with nonfat milk, etc.
  • Mocha  Espresso, milk and a chocolate addition, sometimes powder, sometimes syrup, whatever your coffee shop fancies. Like a latte can change depending on the milk used, soy mocha is made with soy milk. Most shops top it off with whipped cream by default, but customers may ask to opt out.
  • Cappuccino – Espresso, hot milk and a lot of steamed milk foam (like at least 50% of the beverage), often topped with cocoa powder, nutmeg or whatever the customer asks for. Perhaps this belongs in the international section, but it is a staple at most coffee shops.
  • Macchiato – No not the Starbucks variety, a true macchiato is made with 50% one shot of espresso and 50% milk foam. Again, perhaps the Italian beverage belongs in the international section, but it is a staple at most coffee shops.
  • Latte Macchiato – Closer to the Starbucks signature
  • Drip – Exactly what is sounds like, coffee is made with grounds and water that “drips” through (as opposed to pressurized water used for espresso). Can be done with a filter, press pot, or counter coffee maker.
  • Iced Coffee – Exactly what it sounds like, cold coffee with ice. Can be brewed cold or hot with ice added later.
  • Iced Espresso Drinks – Similar to iced coffee, except the espresso is always brewed hot, with ice and cold milk or cream added after to make an iced latte, iced mocha, etc.
  • Frappe – Blended drink typically consisting of coffee, milk (or cream), flavoring and ice. Typically topped with whipped cream, called Frappuccinos® at Starbucks, and frappes everywhere else.

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Brewing terminology

There are a few different ways to brew coffee. I’ve detailed the most common ways below; again, not meant to be an exhaustive list.

  • Drip – As described above, the most common way to brew coffee, extracting the flavor with water instead of pressure.
  • Cold Brew – Takes a bit longer than hot brewing methods, coffee grounds are steeped in cold coffee, typically overnight (roughly takes 12 hours) and then strained and served cold.
  • Filter Coffee – Drip coffee made by lining a cone funnel with a filter.
  • French Press – Coffee made by pouring hot water into a glass container and pressing a filter down after a few minutes.
  • Pour Over Coffee – Originally from Japan, it utilizes a cone and filter but the water is “poured over” the coffee in a steady stream for several minutes.
  • Red Eye – A cup of coffee with an espresso shot.

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General coffee jargon

  • Decaf – Decaffeinated coffee, drip and espresso drinks can be made decaf.
  • Irish  – Coffee (either drip or espresso) mixed with sugar, Irish whiskey and topped with whipped cream.
  • Half-Caf – typically refers to espresso drinks, when half the espresso shots (i.e.; one of two) are made decaf.
  • Extra Shot – Refers to an additional shot of espresso in a drink (i.e; if the drink comes with one, adding an extra would mean it comes with two).
  • Green Coffee Beans – unroasted (essentially “raw”) coffee beans.
  • Roast – When green coffee beans are heated to create the flavors that will be extracted during brewing.
  • Roast Date – The date the beans were roasted, typically printed on the bag. The rule of thumb is to use the beans no more than two weeks after roasting takes place.
  • Dark Roast – When beans are roasted until they are very dark brown or black and exuding oils. Some argue it can overwhelm certain flavors.
  • Medium Roast – When beans are roasted for less time then a dark roast, leaving them a lighter brown color.
  • White Coffee – Made by roasting beans at a lower temperature and for half the time as other roasts. Due to the lower roasting temperature and time, it also has about 50% more caffeine than other roasts, and the beans are much denser. It also has a nutty flavor.
  • Single Origin – When a coffee comes from a single geographic area (such as Brazil or Indonesia), and sometimes even a specific state or farm. These beans have very distinctive tastes.
  • Blends – The opposite of single origin coffee, these beans come from a mix of areas, and are typically cheaper than single origins. Most espresso drinks are made with blends.
  • Seasonal Coffee – Usually single origins, since coffee beans ripen at different times of the year, many will be seasonal like other fruits.
  • Barista – The coffee maker!

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International drinks

Below, I’ve detailed popular drinks from around the world that you may like to add to your menu. You’ll notice many are from Italy, where espresso was created. I’ve mentioned more common Italian drinks in the category above, while saving more speciality and less common choices for this category.

  • Flat White – Origin: Australia. Espresso and a thin foam of steamed milk, creamier than and smoother texture than a latte.
  • Affogato – Origin: Italy. A shot of espresso and ice cream, typically vanilla.
  • Cortado – Origin: Italy. Espresso topped off with steamed milk.
  • Cafe au Lait – Origin: France. Coffee with hot milk, also the literal translation.
  • Breve – Origin: Italy. Espresso with half and half instead of milk. Translation: short.
  • Vietnamese Iced Coffee – Origin: Vietnam. Iced dark roast coffee often mixed with other beans and sweetened condensed milk.
  • Thai Iced Coffee – Origin: Thailand. Similar to Vietnamese iced coffee, except no coffee beans are used, typically ground corn, powder mixture, sesame or a mixture. Also iced with condensed milk.
  • Espresso con Panna – Origin: Italy. Espresso topped with whipped cream. Translation: espresso with cream.
  • Ristretto – Origin: Italy. Espresso made with less water for a stronger flavor.
  • Lungo – Origin: Italy. Espresso made with more water for a longer shot.
  • Chai – Origin: India. A tea beverage with a mixture of ingredients (including but not limited to; ginger, cinnamon, cardamon, etc.) made with tea and water, sometimes milk. A “dirty chai” refers to a chai with espresso.

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It’s not a memorization game or test! As a new coffee shop owner, you’ll want to be relatively well versed in the terminology, but you don’t need to be an expert right away. You probably knew more terms to start with than you initially thought. Now, just go through this list and familiarize yourself with what you determine are the absolute basics (I’d recommend the drink names and general jargon) to start. You always have this guide to refer back to!

Frequently Asked Questions

Help! I didn’t realize how many options for coffee drinks there were! How do I decide what to offer on my menu?

First, don’t stress. The answer is simpler than you might think. You’ve likely already devised an idea for the kind of coffee shop you want, the atmosphere, and the type of customers. So think a bit harder…what kind of drink would those customers want? Are they keeping it simple with just a drip coffee and a breakfast sandwich before work? Or do they need fancy Italian espresso drinks with pastries? If you’re still not sure, just start with the basics (such as drip coffee, latte, espresso, mocha, cappuccino, and maybe an iced drink or two). Then, add on a bit after consulting your staff!

What if my staff doesn’t know much terminology either?

Show them this guide! But on a more serious note, if you’re a newbie, it’s probably best to hire people who are closer to experts than you. You don’t want to be explaining the difference between a cappuccino and a flat white to your barista (who should know if they’re going to be making drinks) when you just learned yourself. Additionally, it will make learning faster for you if you’re surrounded by people “in the know.” Not to mention if you’re struggling with the question above, having well-versed staff can help immensely. 
For more “food for thought” about opening your own coffee shop, click here.

To learn more on how to start your own coffee shop checkout my startup documents here

Please note: This blog post is for educational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Please consult a legal expert to address your specific needs.