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Coffee Shop Glossary and Espresso Drink Guide

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Being a manual brewing enthusiast and living somewhat far from any third wave coffee shop, I must admit I can get a little hazy on all the different espresso drinks.

The comedian Jim Gaffigan has a funny bit about working in a Mexican restaurant. In the bit, he essentially points out the fact that no matter what you are ordering at a Mexican restaurant, you are getting the same few ingredients (tortilla with cheese, meat or vegetables) presented in a different way and called something slightly different.

I imagine that the majority of casual coffee shop patrons feel the same way when they are trying to order an espresso drink at a coffee shop.

Rewritten, the bit would go something like this:

“What is a Cortado?” It is espresso with steamed, frothed or foamed milk.
“What is a Flat White?” It is espresso with steamed, frothed or foamed milk.
“What is a Cappuccino?” It is espresso with steamed, frothed or… Look it’s all the same stuff. Just say a fancy coffee shop term and I’ll bring you something delicious.

In the spirit of learning things by writing about them, I thought it might be useful to compile a concise list of the most popular beverages you encounter at third wave coffee shops.

The Brewing Coffee Manually Espresso Drink Glossary

Coffee Shop Basics

It helps to start at the beginning. Here are a few broad terms that you should know before we dig into the coffee drink lexicon:

  • Espresso- Despite what some may believe, espresso is not simple really concentrated filter coffee. It is a strong coffee concentrate that is produced by forcing hot water through finely ground coffee at 9-10 bars of pressure. The result is a one or two ounce syrupy shot with (hopefully) a thin layer of a brown foam called crema on the top. Unlike its filter counterpart, espresso takes a considerable investment (in the form of a quality espresso machine) to produce a top tier café level product.
  • Slow Bar (Manual Brew Bar)- This is where the V60, the Aeropress and all the other manual brewers hang out. When you think of a slow bar, think of the brewing process you (hopefully) do at home. They should start with fresh whole bean coffee and grind it right before they brew your coffee manually. The slow bar offerings usually take more time to prepare than most of the espresso based drinks, thus the name.
  • Mod Bar-A type of modular brewing system that is gaining popularity. With a mod bar, all the equipment is located beneath the countertops. Above the counter tops are simple taps with the function of making espresso, steam or hot water for an automated pour-over. Although all the mod bars I have seen are extremely modern, the mod stands for modular.
  • Batch Brewed Coffee- Batch coffee is filter coffee that is brewed in large automated batches. The coffee is stored in urns, thermoses or airpots and produced immediate on request. Both the espresso and slow bar offerings are made to order products, while batch coffee is pre-made and ready to go (no waiting needed in most circumstances).
  • Multi Roaster- A multi roaster is a coffee shop that sells a variety of coffee from different roasters. They will typically not roast their own although there are some exceptions. The strength of a multi roaster is in its depth and variety. Multi roasters have many offerings (from several roasters) to pick their in-store coffee from and should always have a few great coffees on hand.

Coffee Shop Drinkware

The obsession with cups, mugs and other coffee drinkware runs deep. Like the drinkware of spirits, wine and beer, many drinks have a standard serving vessel that is expected. This, of course, does not mean exceptions are not made. Here are a few of the most commonly used coffee serving vessels.

  • Demitasse- This small cup ranges from 70ml to 90ml (2-3 ounces) and is used for serving single and double shots of espresso as well as macchiatos. There are countless different demitasses for sale but some of my favorites are from Acme & Co.
  • Small tumbler glass- These small glasses range from 90ml to 150ml (3-5 ounces). According to Cortado Glass 4.5 ounces is the perfect size.
  • Cappuccino cup- The cappuccino cup is around 200ml (7 ounces) though it can vary some. It is the utility player of the coffee drinkware world. There are lots of great cap cups but I am kind of partial to the Lino ones by notNeutral.
  • The Mug- Mugs range in size so much it is difficult to put a hard number on them. Luckily we all know what a mug is (if you need some inspiration, check out the Mugshots page).
  • Latte cup- A latte cup ranges from 240ml up to 360ml (8-12 ounces). There are also notNeutral latte cups (small and large).

Coffee Shop Espresso Drinks

It should be noted that I am labeling these drinks from a general United States coffee shop perspective. Every country, region and even shop has a different way of doing things. You can expect a fair amount of variance within each of these drink definitions.

  • Americano (6 ounces)-An Americano is a double shot of espresso (60 ml) with hot water (around 120ml) added to it. The water should be added on top of the espresso as the other way around is referred to as a “long black.”
  • Affogato (4-5 ounces)- An affogato is a scoop of ice cream or gelato with a shot of espresso (30ml) on the top. There are many varieties of gelato that are used but my personal favorite would have to be salted caramel.
  • Breve(4 ounces)- The breve is essentially a cortado made with half and half and doubled in size. The breve contains a double shot of espresso (60 ml), 60 ml steamed half and half with a little milk foam on top.
  • Cappuccino (6 ounces)- The cappuccino is a coffee beverage that everyone is familiar with but few actually know what it is. It is 60ml of steamed milk poured into a double shot of espresso (60 ml) with 60ml milk foam on top. A cappuccino can also be served dry or wet. While there is some ambiguity of the amounts, a wet cappuccino will contain more milk and less foam and a dry cappuccino will have more foam and less milk.
  • Cortado (2 ounces)- Also called a Gibraltar, a Cortado is an espresso shot (30 ml) served with 30ml warm milk. This 1:1 coffee to milk ratio can go as high as 1:2 depending on where you are getting the beverage. The Cortado is served in a small tumbler or Libby glass called a Gibraltar. Typically, this is a beverage that is intended to be consumed at the café and not to-go.
  • Doppio (2 ounces)- Also known as the standard double, this is the standard size for an ordered espresso (60ml) served in a demitasse.
  • Flat White(6 ounces)- Recently popularized in the United States by its appearance on the Starbucks menu, the flat white is just a hair’s breadth (or a little foam) away from being a wet cappuccino. It is a double shot of espresso (60 ml) with 120ml steamed milk served in a cappuccino cup. The ‘flat’ in flat white refers to there being no foam in the beverage.
  • Gibraltar (2 ounces)- (see Cortado)
  • Latte (8-12 ounces)-A latte is 180-300 ml of steamed milk poured into a double shot (60 ml) of espresso. There will typically be some foam as well. The latte is one of the most milk forward coffee beverages containing somewhere between a 1:3 and 1:5 espresso to milk ratio.
  • Long Black (6 ounces)-A long black is an inverted Americano. The cup (typically a cappuccino cup) is filled with 120 ml of water and a double shot of espresso (60ml) is pulled on top. (If the espresso is added prior to the water, this is called an Americano.)
  • Lungo (2+ ounces)- The opposite of a ristretto, the lungo is a shot that uses twice as much water and the same amount of coffee as a normal espresso.
  • Macchiato (1.3 ounces)-Because of Starbuck’s mega-sized dessert drink the caramel macchiato, the macchiato is one of the most misunderstood espresso beverages. It is quite simply a single shot of espresso (30 ml) marked with a small amount of milk foam and served in a demitasse. The few teaspoons of milk foam that are added to a macchiato are meant simply to add a hint of sweetness. The macchiato could be considered the inverse of a Latte since the espresso to milk ratio is 3:1.
  • Mocha (6 ounces)- A mocha is a combination of a double shot of espresso (60ml) and 120ml hot chocolate served in a cappuccino cup and topped with whipped cream. Think of it as a red eye where you substitute hot chocolate for the coffee and add some whipped cream.
  • Single Espresso (1 ounce)- When referring to a drink order, a single or solo espresso shot contains around 30ml espresso served in demitasse. It should be noted the most modern espresso shots are what is called a doppio or standard double. A single shot of espresso is typically produced by pulling a shot with a two-spout portafilter and using one of the streams.
  • Steamer (babyccino)- The steamer (or babyccino) is simply a foamy cup of frothed milk. There is no coffee, no caffeine and no added sugar (unless you have them put in a few pumps of the good stuff). It has most likely been coined the babyccino as it is a great option for children.
  • Red eye (5-8 ounces)- Depending on the region the red eye may also be referred to as a “shot in the dark” or “depth charge.” This drink takes a cup of filter coffee and adds a shot (or more) of espresso to it. Variations of the red eye include the black eye (double shot in the dark) which has a double shot of espresso and a dead eye with contains three shots worth of espresso.
  • Ristretto (.5 ounce)- A ristretto is essentially the first part of an espresso shot. It is made with the same amount of coffee as a regular shot but around half the water. This results in a 20ml shot that is (even) more concentrated than regular espresso and contains only the compounds that extract the quickest. Since 20ml is not a lot of liquid, you may want to opt for a double ristretto which would give you the approximate volume of a single espresso shot.

What is your favorite thing to order at a coffee shop? Did I miss any of them in my list/ Join the conversation below. 


  1. Eugen

    My favorite thing is Coffee in a Mug with a dash of milk no sugar.

    • John

      Sometimes simple is the best. A dash of milk can definitely enhance a coffee. Tomorrow I will be posting about drinking coffee black. Which is my favorite way to consume filter coffee.

  2. Brian's Coffee Spot

    I love the endless variation of terms used to describe effectively the same thing: I’ve been served 7 oz cortados in the past :-).

    I could make a cogent argument that a cortado or gibralter is four ounces and what you’re describing is a piccolo.

    There’s a movement in the UK (and which I’ve seen a very limited number of American coffee shops) to do away with names completely and to just describe drinks as espresso and espresso with milk, with the different sizes being described by the total volume. I’ve no idea how this come across to the average consumer, but to me it cuts out an awful lot of confusion!


    • John


      Yeah the names of things can definitely start to run together. I kind of like the idea of a local coffee shop putting their own (small) spin on an espresso drink but I also appreciate a straight forward menu (like at Bandit Coffee) where you know what you are getting.

      I think I would prefer a small menu that has few drink offerings and features the name and it’s components in parenthesis.

      Then if you would like to go “off menu” and order your drink a certain way, you can have the appropriate conversation with the barista.

      The average consumer would just like to choose from a small list of menu items I would believe.


  3. Shannon Stamey

    I currently work at a restraunt in West Hollywood where the coffee station is pretty much a neglected afterthought compared to the phenomenal bar and kitchen. We have an older LaMarzzoco 2-group that an entirely-untrained staff treats like a frat house keg; leaving pucks in portafilters overnight, never purging or cleaning the steam wand, the machine hasn’t been backflushed once in my 3 months there. (I’d do it myself if they provided the proper baskets and cleaners).. Espressos are served in shot glasses and patrons are forced to let their shots cool off before they can pick the glass up… And nobody wants shots that’ve been sitting for 10 minutes. We serve pre-ground decaf espresso that even with 60lbs of tamp, still pulls like a gushing stump in Kill Bill…. I was hired as a barista and I have 21 years of experience behind the espresso bar and it’s beyond infuriating to work in a place with absolutely no standards for it’s coffee for as amazing as the rest of the place is. Not entirely sure why I’m posting this. As someone who holds themselves to a high standard in the preparation of their drinks and maintenance of equipment, I needed to rant to someone who’d understand..

    • John

      This is a great place to vent your coffee frustrations. It sounds like you have quite a few things to work on if you are going to get the coffee up to par at your restaurant. I am sorry that it has taken me awhile to respond. Do you have an update? Where you able to get some proper espresso cups? Have you implemented a cleaning regimen and sourced better coffee? Let me know, I would like to hear about it.

      I hope all is going well,

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