There was a time when I thought that a cappuccino was a thick sugary vanilla flavoured hot beverage made by mixing hot water with powder. Don’t get me wrong, the Tim Horton’s French Vanilla (or the English Toffee, mmm) is one of my guilty pleasures. But it shouldn’t be called a cappuccino, because it is nothing like a real one. And the first time I went to a real coffee shop, I was very confused at what was offered.
I love coffee, and everything that contains coffee. This made it okay that I had no idea what I was going to get when I was ordering. It was a fun adventure, but over the course of it I noticed that a lot of people have the same problem, and they were receiving unpleasant results because they weren’t getting the beverages that they wanted.
Unfortunately places like Tim Hortons and Starbucks have bastardized a lot of traditional café beverages, and trained mass society not to know what proper drinks are. Not to mention the potential deliciousness they’re missing out on.
Between working and hanging out in the local coffee shops, I’ve learned a lot about café drinks and I feel like people need to explore proper hot caffeinated beverages. It supports local businesses, tastes a hell of a lot better, and most of them (around here, anyway) use organic products so it’s actually healthier for you to partake in the small local café scene.
Let’s start with brewed coffee. Most chain stores that sell coffee have their own special blend (McDonald’s is the only good one, IMHO), so you learn which ones you like and what you like in it. In general, real cafés have a selection of coffees available for you to choose from. Coffee differs greatly depending on where it’s grown and how it’s roasted, so explore away! The only advice I can give is to pay attention to roast scale so that the coffee is fulfilling your needs.
The longer a coffee bean is roasted, the stronger the flavour. You get some very punchy earthy flavours, and if you like your coffee strong, you’ll definitely enjoy a dark roast. The only catch is that the longer a bean is roasted, the less caffeine it has. So if you’re looking for an extreme wake up, either get a giant coffee or go for a lighter roast. Some popular dark roasts include Bolivian, Kenyan, and Sumatran. MountainView Estates has this amazing blend called Urban Experience, it’s one of the best coffees I’ve ever tasted. If you’re ever in a café that has it on the menu, TRY IT. It’s orgasmic.
Medium roast coffees are the go-to for most people. Brighter flavour, good amount of caffeine, it’s always a nice morning coffee. The most common medium roast is Columbian.
Light roast coffees are generally flavoured during roasting, with flavours such as vanilla, caramel, or hazelnut. Wreckless Eric has an amazing Canadian Maple coffee that is just to die for. Light roast coffee is packed with caffeine, and I find that a little sugar is needed to really bring out any flavouring, so be careful or you’ll be super wired!
There are other roasts in between and beyond all of these, but if you’re aware of these three general categories, it will help you in choosing a coffee so that you don’t end up paying for one that doesn’t work for you.
One more perk to most small cafés is that they either roast their own beans or buy beans and then grind them fresh to brew. A lot of huge chains and restaurants just buy grounds, and even though they come sealed the freshness doesn’t stick around too long. Most cafés will grind fresh for the day, or better yet, fresh per cup, and you’ll notice a huge difference in your coffee experience.
Another big difference is the preparation of the coffee. Many will grind fresh to brew through a drip machine into a carafe, which is great in itself, but my very favourite is the french press. Honestly, it’s the most delicious way to prepare fresh coffee, and you should throw out your coffeemaker and go buy one. I have a little one-mug one that I got for three dollars at Canadian Tire, and it makes an amazing cup of coffee. The beauty of it too is that if the person you’re with likes their coffee stronger or weaker than yours, you can adjust each cup. They’re super easy to clean and are small enough to just pop in the cupboard with your mugs.
Anyway, when a café pulls out a french press to make you a fresh mug of java, get excited. Get very excited.
(Not pronounced ‘expresso’)
When you grind coffee beans very fine and run a few ounces of water through it, espresso happens. It comes in a tiny little cup and is meant to be enjoyed quickly before the flavours dissipate. It’s a great way to enjoy the coffee experience if you don’t want anything too heavy, such as after dinner. Or if you need a quick boost before heading somewhere that you can’t feasibly have a full cup of coffee. Also it’s just fucking delicious. If you’re a fan of strong flavoured coffee, definitely try an espresso at a small cafe. They often grind fresh right into the portafilter which guarantees a rich and decadent coffee experience.
Take note that most espresso machines automatically spit out two ounces of espresso, which would make a single actually a double. So if you want an actual two ounces, make sure you confirm that they are actually giving you that. Sometimes if you ask for a double, you actually get a quad, and then you’re paying more than you meant to.
At some point in history Americans tried espresso and were pussies about it, so they added hot water to make it weaker. Thus an espresso with hot water added is called an Americano. Us Canadians tend to drink Americanos (Americanoes?) to have a coffee experience with more kick. Sometimes espresso just isn’t enough, and you want something to sip at. But regular coffee just feels lame sometimes. The Americano is a lovely substitute for those that like a strong flavour.
A macchiato is a drink that has certainly been bastardized by chain coffee stores. Here’s what a macchiato is supposed to look like:
A macchiato is a small drink that is 1:1 espresso and steamed (or frothed) milk. So, if you order a single macchiato, you’ll get 1 oz of espresso mixed with 1 oz milk. It’s tiny and delicious.
Lattes cause mouth orgasms.
A latte is 1-2 ounces of espresso topped with frothed milk. When milk is frothed with a steam wand, it adds volume and sweetness to the milk, so when it’s poured on top of espresso you get a creamy amazing feast for the tastebuds. Generally coffee shops will advertise flavourings for lattes, and this is where they get really fun. The most common are vanilla, caramel and hazelnut, but sometimes you can get really funky flavours like pumpkin spice (my personal fave), toasted marshmallow, or pralines and cream. These all come in the form of flavour syrups, and are mixed with the hot espresso before the milk is poured on to create a seriously boss beverage.
For those of you who are fans of ‘lattes’ from chain stores that don’t taste like coffee, I will warn you that lattes taste like coffee. Very creamy amazing coffee, but it’s there nonetheless. I find that a few shots of flavour syrup will kill that taste, but people that aren’t hardcore coffee drinkers often complain that the coffee flavour is too strong.
If you just want a sweet delicious treat that’s nice and frothy, you can ask a barista to make you a ‘Steamer’. It’s simply flavour syrup mixed with frothed milk, without the espresso. It’s absolutely fantastic, and if you’re looking for something closer to a ‘French Vanilla Cappuccino’, I definitely recommend this. Alternatively, you can just ask for extra flavour shots in your latte to cover up the coffee flavour, then you’re still getting that caffeine boost.
Ok, so let’s talk about milk. Skim milk sucks, you guys.
Starbucks came up with this thing called the ‘Skinny Latte’, which is a latte with skim milk and sugar-free vanilla syrup. This was a great marketing idea on Starbucks’ part. Women everywhere love the ‘Skinny Latte’. Who wouldn’t want to enjoy a delicious frothy vanilla beverage without getting all of that sugar and fat? Problem is, not only does the Starbucks Skinny Vanilla Latte taste like shit, but it’s a fake latte. Which means that when you order a ‘Skinny Latte’ in a real café, the barista is going to think you’re pretentious and then pity you for having to drink a skim milk latte.
Sugar-free syrup is totally doable, and most cafés offer it as an option. But in a real latte, skim milk sucks. Period. It doesn’t froth well, which means you get hot milk with tasteless bubbly foam on top. I honestly don’t know how people drink it. Skim milk wasn’t made to be frothed. It’s lame. The lowest you can go to get a good froth is 2%. Homogenized milk works the best. If you’re leaning the other way and want some serious creaminess, you can ask for a latte breve, which is frothed cream. It’s like a party in your mouth.
Let’s go over non-milk options. Soy milk sucks, you guys.
A lot of cafés offer soy milk as an alternative for people that are lactose intolerant or have milk allergies. More and more cafés are switching to or adding almond milk to their repertoire, because soy milk is fucking disgusting and not healthy for you. Also, it froths like shit.
Certain brands of almond milk (Silk TrueAlmond is my favourite) froth beautifully, are good for you, and taste amazing steamed. If it’s naturally sweetened almond milk the latte will taste like roasted almonds, it’s so amazingly yummy. So if you feel like whole milk is too fattening, and you’re armed with the knowledge that skim milk sucks, try almond milk!
So, to the untrained eye, a cappuccino looks like a latte in a different cup. The differences are subtle in nature, but huge in flavour. A cappuccino is 2-4 oz of espresso, with a lot more froth and less milk. It’s a lot stronger than a latte, and people generally order them because they love the taste of good coffee. If you’re looking for something flavoured, go for a latte. Trying to cover up all of that espresso is just a waste.
A tea misto is strong brewed tea with frothed milk on top. You can choose any kind of tea the café has available (usually a variety of looseleaf blends), and they’ll brew it strong in about 1/3 of a cup of water and then pour frothed milk on top. This is a healthier and interesting way to get the latte experience with awesome flavours and no caffeine (if you choose a herbal tea). This can be done with literally any tea, though some turn out better than others. I specifically prefer rooibos teas this way, because they’re the only type of tea that I like to add milk to. Caramel or chocolate flavoured rooibos teas are delicious in a tea misto.
When ordering a tea misto (pronounced mee-sto), make sure you specifically ask for a misto. If you ask for a tea latte, it may be confused with either of the two entries below. Or, you may just get a tea bag in frothed milk. Misto is the term for water, so if you ask for a ‘tea latte’, some cafés may assume you don’t want the water, just a teabag in milk. I’ve never tried this, but I can’t imagine it’s as good as if the tea were properly steeped beforehand.
Chai tea is a spicy tea that smells like it should be in a pie. Some coffee companies carry concentrated versions of brewed chai that are sold in cartons specifically for use in lattes. 2-4 oz of chai is usually used, and it’s steamed so that it’s hot and aromatic, and then frothed milk is poured on top. Alternatively, the chai can be mixed with cold milk and then steamed all together. The flavours are more even this way, but it doesn’t look as pretty.
P.S. It’s ‘chai’ not ‘chia’. Just so you know.
Matcha is a Japanese green tea that is super rich in antioxidants. Most cafés have matcha powder that they can use to make lattes, smoothies, frappes, or just tea. Sometimes these are listed on drink menus as ‘green tea latte’, but if you’re specifically looking for matcha, make sure you ask for it. Some cafes don’t carry it, and you’ll end up getting a tea misto made with green tea. Which would just taste like watered down milk. I seriously find regular green tea horribly tasteless.
Matcha has kind of a grassy flavour, some people really like it but some choke it down because they want the health benefits. Don’t be afraid to sweeten it, it really helps the flavour!
I’m pretty sure Starbucks invented this (damn you Starbucks), but a lot of little cafés offer it. This is because it’s fucking delicious. It’s a tea misto made with earl grey tea and vanilla flavour syrup. It’s wonderful, and so much better made properly with looseleaf earl grey than at chain cafes.
Just a fun fact, too, if you’re not into lots of milk but you like earl grey tea, try a shot or two of vanilla directly into your tea. Vanilla and earl grey go together like peanut butter and bacon. So delicious!
A proper mocha is 1-2 oz of espresso mixed with hot chocolate. Whipped cream and chocolate sauce on top make for a delightful beverage.
Now, on to the cold drinks. Forget everything that Starbucks and Tim Hortons has taught you, because you’re in for a ride. The Frappe is a delectable mix of espresso, milk and ice, blended into a coffee flavoured milkshake. Some cafes use frappe powder to give it a creamy froth, others use heavy cream instead of milk. In any case, they’re delicious. You can get them in a multitude of flavours, topped with whipped cream and thick syrup for garnish. They’re just fucking amazing. I’m salivating right now.
If you’re looking for a cold coffee beverage that is not blended, the iced latte is the way to go. It’s 1-2 oz of espresso and cold milk poured over ice for a great refreshing caffeinated experience. Flavour syrups work well in these too, but if you’re not going for one of those, make sure you use liquid sweetener instead of powder or granules. Sugar doesn’t dissolve well in cold drinks, so agave nectar or simple syrup are the way to go with iced drinks.
If you walk into a local café and ask for an ‘Iced Capp’, the barista’s head will likely explode. Or they will offer you a frappe, which is a comparable and much better option. Or, they will passive aggressively make you an actual iced cappuccino, which is 4 oz of espresso with cold milk on ice. And I bet that’s not what you wanted.
In summation, support your local coffee shops. If you’ll excuse me, I’m off to go support mine.
- Coffee terms (slideshare.net)
- Espresso vs. Brewed (veganpoop.wordpress.com)
- A coffee, by any other name (jacobwhoward.wordpress.com)