Ordering coffee can be intimidating, especially if you’ve lived under a rock for the past 20 years or are still brewing Folger’s at home in your grandmother’s percolator.
However, if you do venture out from the rock and make your way to Starbucks or Peets or Grounds for Impeachment, don’t panic.
“Just relax, it’s a cup of coffee for God’s sake! The same rules apply as when you’re interacting with any other human being; be polite and courteous, don’t have your face buried in your phone and have your money ready to be respectful of everyone’s time. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, use it as a “learning moment”, any barista worth their salt should be happy to educate an eager customer.” -Krishna, beangenius.com
Try to keep your cool even if the cold-eyed, bitter barista with her Master’s degree in Southern Polynesian Anthropology is staring you down. Just follow these surefire steps, and you’ll be okay.
Step #1: Know Your Coffee
Before you enter a coffee shop, make sure you know what coffee is. No, it’s not the Maxwell House or Yuban you’ve been drinking for years. The beans in those clunky metal canisters are bad and are being punished for impersonating coffee.
If you know how to use the Google, then do your due diligence and acquaint yourself with the 3,296 types of grinds available. Or just three if you plan to go to Starbucks (blonde, redhead, dark).
If you do find yourself at an Intelligentsia or some other swanky java hut, don’t panic if their menu board looks like this:
“Don’t always go for a full on wake you up coffee. People so often think that a full roast high intensity coffee is the best. But if you always skip over the light to medium roasts you are missing out on some beautiful flavors. I particularly like the Ethiopian coffees for subtlety of flavor.” -Sarah, sarahscoffee.com
On your first visit to Grinding Your Teeth, don’t order a drink if you can’t pronounce it. Forget the cappuccinos, the Frappuccinos and the Al Pacinos. You just want a good-tasting coffee. In a cup. No foam.
Step #2: Learn Some Lingo
If you don’t want to be pegged as a newbie, start learning the language of the coffee shop. It’s easier than learning Portuguese and will earn you major points with the Caffeine Mafia.
Here are a list of words and terms you should know:
- Pour-Over. Not to be confused with the Trump comb-over. Most good coffee houses offer the pour-over method and some claim this is the best way to brew one’s coffee. The term comes from the Latin words “porus” and “overius” which loosely translated means “to examine one’s ovaries.” Not sure how that relates to coffee, but now you’ll never order a pour-over.
- Acidity, Acidy, Acid. Not to be confused with LSD. Acidity, for the Cognoscenti and other Italian families, refers to the tartness of fine coffee. Or it may refer to the actual pH of the coffee. You remember pH from chemistry class, right? A coffee that is high in acidity is less desirable. Much like your ex-wife.
- French Press. Not to be confused with Le Monde and other French newspapers. The French press is a unique and quite popular way to order your coffee. Just make sure the coffee shop or restaurant you’re frequenting has French presses. Some Philistines call it “the plunger method.” Not only is that uncouth, but it also conjures up way too many unsavory bathroom images.
With the French press method, coffee is placed inside the glass thingie then boiling water is added to it. Wait a minute or two and then press down on the plunger thingie. Et voila!
Step # 3: Adopt an Attitude
Coffee snobbery is rampant. In fact, it officially surpassed wine snobbery in 2009 as The World’s Most Annoying Thing. So, when you encounter your first barista, make sure you look the part. Wear a beret and a neck scarf and have a cigarette dangling from your lower lip. This will say to the world that you’re a Frenchman with a cold neck who may get lip cancer someday.
If you ever see this guy, punch him in the face.
Approach the barista wearing a look that straddles “confident casual” and “existential ennui.”
Pretend you could care less about how good the coffee is; what you care about is how super cool you look when sipping it.
Now order your coffee. If you’ve forgotten Steps 1 and 2, don’t panic. Just mumble something like, “Surprise me,” or “Coffee, please. Voltaire style.” Your barista will be in awe!
Step #4: Don’t Be American
Okay, if you’re reading this, you’re most likely American. But in a coffee shop, you’re one of the United Colors of Benneton. You’re a world citizen. Your new adopted country is CafeBrewistan. You smell like “Fierce.” Shed your blatant American eagerness as you slowly… Slowly approach the counter listening to something on your iPhone. Nod your head knowingly and then say to yourself out loud, “Mumford and Sons… ooh-gah.”
“The next time you’re ordering at your local coffee shop, ask the Barista which coffee has been their favorite lately. Baristas love talking about their favorite coffees. They’re constantly making and tasting coffees, and if they keep coming back to a particular roast, or particular bean, that means it’s a winner. You’ll score some brownie points with the Barista for taking the time to ask, and you’ll get an excellent cup of coffee!” -Bennett, Roaster at FireDeptCoffee
Be blasé and insouciant. Then go home and look up those words. Your barista will be so intimidated; he’ll give you a free coffee because “Money is so bouge.”
Step #5: Start Slowly
Professional coffee ordering is something one must aspire to. You can’t become a pro right off the bat. Start in Double-A coffee places like Starbucks where the attitude is friendly and where equally confused people will surround you. Order a Grande Pike and then leave.
“This one sounds simple but don’t be afraid to ask questions, speak to your barista, email your online retailer. They know there coffee inside out and are only too happy to offer advice to ensure that you are happy with your choice.” -Sarah, sarahscoffee.com
Keep working on your technique, and soon you’ll be in Triple-A places like Stumptown. By that time, you’ll be swatting away barista curveballs like Mookie Betts.
After a year in Triple-A, you’ll be ready for the Majors. You are now a smooth talking, confident coffee connoisseur. You know your Kenyan from your Brazilian beans. You always order a pour-over and insist on sitting alone in a dark corner savoring your divine drink. Mmmm… heaven.
Of course, you have no friends now. But who cares? Coffee is not a team sport.