All the Coffee Terminology You Need to Know

Latte Macchiatto

EdnaM/Getty Images

These days heading to your local hipster coffee shop can be somewhat intimidating. With so many drink options and fancy Italian names, it’s hard to know exactly what you want. Drinks vary by producer — a cappuccino at Starbucks might not have the same amount of milk as a cappuccino at your mom-and-pop coffee house owned by that chic Armenian — and a barista’s knowledge of traditional coffee terms can often be spotty. Thus, it’s really up to the consumer to specify precisely what they want when ordering their morning beverage. Don’t know your mocha from your macchiato? Stop worrying and start reading. We’ve created this handy guide with all the café terminology you need to know. The next time your foodie friends are discussing that amazing cold brew they had, you’ll be able to chime in and know what they are talking about.


You may recognize this name from a dessert menu at your favorite Italian restaurant. The word affogato means “drowned” in Italian. This popular drink consists of a scoop of ice cream (usually vanilla, but dulce de leche is equally delicious) with a shot of hot espresso poured over the top.


Since Europeans see Americans as drinkers of diluted coffee, an Americano is a shot of espresso that is diluted with hot water.

Cafe au Lait

Equal parts milk and coffee, the café au lait, or café con leche, is a shot of espresso that is diluted with a generous amount of milk.


When well made, my personal favorite coffee drink, the cappuccino, is a sip of heaven. A shot of espresso is topped with a pillowy layer of foamy steamed milk. It’s more foam than milk and should never be more than eight ounces total.

Cold Brew

Cold brew refers to a process in which chilled coffee is made. Instead of making the coffee hot and chilling it with ice, the cold-press technique takes coarsely ground beans and soaks them in cold water for an extended period of time, at least 12 hours. After the coffee has steeped, the grounds are filtered out, and the liquid that is left is a coffee concentrate. This is diluted with water or milk and then used to make iced coffee. If you order a New Orleans–style iced coffee (which also has chicory), it is made using this technique.


A cortado is a shot of espresso topped with a dollop of hot milk. It’s a very small drink, no more than four ounces total.

Drip Coffee

The most common kind of coffee, drip coffee is found in diners across America. This is black coffee that is made with a French press, filter, or countertop coffeemaker. Drip coffee is made by pouring water over roasted, ground coffee beans that are contained in a filter. As the water seeps through the grains, it absorbs the beans’ essences and oils. It’s collected in a vessel and served black or with cream and sugar.


Highly concentrated coffee that is made when hot water is forced at pressure through incredibly fine grounds, an espresso is less than two ounces of total liquid and quite potent.

Flat White

An espresso with steamed milk totaling about five to seven ounces. A flat white is like the cappuccino’s sister, as they are basically the same drink, but one has foam (the cappuccino) and the other (the flat white) does not.


A shot of espresso that is served with at least one cup (or more) of steamed milk. A latte is similar to a café au lait, but it has twice as much (or more) milk.


The word macchiato means “marked” in Italian. The drink is an espresso topped with a mark of foamy milk. It’s served in an espresso glass, so it’s less than four ounces of total liquid.


An espresso mixed with steamed milk and some sort of chocolate, syrup, or flavoring.

Slow Drip

A special type of drip coffee originally developed in Japan. Hot water is slowly poured in a steady, thin stream over a filter cone. It can take up to three minutes for it to brew and often involves various chambers, unique kettles, and multiple cones.

Related Stories