If you approach the counter of a serious coffee shop with sweaty palms, a shaky voice, and an inner monologue running rampant (Will the barista think I’m a wimp if I ask for lots of milk? What the hell is a flat white? I thought cortado was a type of sliced meat!), take a deep breath. This handy guide breaks down every coffee drink on the menu so you’ll know exactly what to order—and expect.
We didn’t just whip up this guide by typing “what is a cortado” into Google. Instead, we took a trip to Toby’s Estate in Brooklyn, New York to get the inside scoop on what makes frequently ordered coffee drinks so unique. We were also pretty curious about whether baristas judge us for not knowing what the hell a red eye is… because it’s seriously embarrassing to ask! We got all the answers from Chloe Langham, an educator at Toby’s Brew School. (The woman knows her coffee.)
The formulas of each coffee drink were a given, but we went deeper. Wondering why you prefer the taste of French press coffee to brew from a pour over? It has to do with body. What’s the difference between coffee and espresso beans? Nothing! (Cue the gasps.) If you’re like us—coffee nerds, that is—and want all of the dirty details on your favorite morning drinks, keep scrolling for the full interview.
Coffee Talk: Our Chat With the Pro
What is a good starter beverage for someone who doesn’t drink coffee regularly?
I always recommend people start with a cup of black coffee or shot of espresso. If the coffee is roasted and brewed well, it should be enjoyable by itself.
A smaller milk and espresso beverage is often extremely enjoyable. I personally like cortados, as they are an equal amount of espresso and steamed milk… [they] allow you to enjoy the flavors of the espresso while cutting the intensity of the shot with the sweetness and creaminess of the milk.
What is the difference between light roast and dark roast coffee?
Dark roast coffee is coffee beans that have been roasted for longer, causing them to brown further and become oily. Light roasted coffees have been halted sooner in the roasting process: Too light, and the coffee can taste sour, grassy, and vegetal; too dark, and the coffee can taste bitter and ashy.
French press or pour over?
It depends on your taste! The metal mesh filter on a French press allows a lot of oils, fats, and insoluble bean material to get through, so your coffee ends up being much heavier bodied. This can mask flavor clarity, but provide a very rich mouthfeel to the coffee. Pour overs tend to use paper filters, which filter out a lot of those things. This provides a coffee with more flavor complexity but a lighter body.
What are your thoughts on nondairy milks in espresso drinks?
I think nondairy milks play an important role in coffee, as they allow those who can’t or don’t consume dairy to enjoy some kind of milk-like pairing to their coffee or espresso. They also open up a world to new and exciting flavor pairings in coffee. I’ve come to enjoy almond milk the most, as it gives a light, nutty flavor to the beverage. [However] nondairy milks often don’t behave quite like cow’s milk, so that can be tricky when steaming or pouring.
Why shouldn’t we use drip coffee in a latte or cappuccino?
Drip coffee or any coffee that isn’t brewed on an espresso machine is not concentrated (or thick) enough to stand up in the steamed milk. A latte or cappuccino is defined by its combination of very concentrated coffee (espresso) and steamed milk. Steamed milk and drip coffee would be considered a cafe au lait.
What’s the difference between espresso and drip coffee?
There is no difference between coffee and espresso beans… Espresso is simply another coffee brewing method, not a separate category of coffee beans or a different roasting style. You can use any beans you like for espresso. Granted, some coffees taste really great as espresso, while others don’t taste as good. But any coffee can be prepared as espresso for a latte or cappuccino.
Special thanks to Toby’s Estate for allowing us to shoot these beautiful photos in its Brooklyn outpost.