QUESTION: What’s the best coffee to order? My girlfriend like going to coffee shops, but I’ve never really been into coffee that much. What should I try? – Arnold K
ANSWER: When you’re just starting to appreciate stopping at the coffee shop for a tasty caffeine fix, the sheer number of options can be overwhelming—so we’ve created this guide to introduce you to some of the best coffee drinks to order. Take a few moments to review the descriptions we’ve listed here of the drinks we recommend. We’ve worked hard to include selections that everyone can enjoy.
If you want to go even deeper, we have this complete list of different coffee drinks.
As you browse through this list of the best coffee drinks to order, take your personal taste into account to determine which of the choices is likely to be your favorite. By the time you’ve finished reading this article, you’ll be able to order with confidence, regardless of how extensive and complicated the menu may be at your local coffeehouse. Better yet, you’ll likely come away with a few new favorites that will become mainstays of your coffee routine. You’ll never again be frozen and speechless in response to the barista asking, “What’ll it be?”
Americano, or Cafe Americano, is just a shot of espresso dropped into a glass of hot water. If you thought that straight espresso was a bit too strong for your taste, but enjoyed the overall flavor, the Americano may be the perfect coffee drink for you. Unlike Cappuccinos or Macchiatos, the Americano, can be modified to suit your specific tastes by adding sweeteners, syrups, or creamers to it. If you like Americano’s but need a bit more coffee, try a double Americano.
Sometimes the standard order is classic for good reason. That’s certainly the case with the world-renowned cappuccino. Years ago, you’d only get to experience a quality cappuccino if you visited Europe or had an especially swanky coffeehouse in your neighborhood. But these days, the cappuccino is everywhere. Cappuccinos have become so widespread on coffee shop menus because people love to order and drink this tasty beverage. The cappuccino is an especially good bet if you’re already a fan of the omnipresent latte. The difference between these two popular coffee drinks is in how the milk is treated. A latte simply mixes espresso and steamed milk, but for a cappuccino, the milk is steamed into a froth, making a silky microfoam that occupies double the volume of regular milk. Once you get to know your preferences better and are more familiar with the ins and outs of ordering at your coffee shop of choice, you can also tweak the way your cappuccino is made, allowing you to enjoy the perfect cappuccino for you by adding just a few words to your order. If you order your cappuccino “wet,” you’ll get more liquid steamed milk in your cup, with the tradeoff of less foamed milk at the top. Ordering a “dry” cappuccino will get you just the opposite: less of the liquid steamed milk and more of that magical foam floating at the top of your cup.
If it’s a hot day, you’re especially hot-natured, or you’re just someone who prefers a cold drink to a steaming hot one, cold brew may be the best order for you. Unlike an iced coffee, a cold brew isn’t heated while it’s being made and then chilled before it’s served. The water and coffee remain cold throughout the process of brewing, which makes the final product surprisingly smooth and tasty.
Even better, you won’t have to watch helplessly as your tasty coffee quickly waters itself down before your eyes by melting the ice with its residual heat. Whether you like your coffee best when it’s black or you crave coffee with lots of cream and sugar, you’ll be happy with a chilly cup of cold brew. You can doctor your beverage however you like, just as you would with a cup of drip coffee.
If you’re a fan of the coffeehouse classic order of a latte but want to move past basic drinks and try something new, a cortado may be just what you’re looking for. You may see a cortado listed on some menus under the names piccolo or Gibraltar. The cortado is modestly sized—usually in the neighborhood of four ounces or so. This portable serving makes a cortado an especially good choice for people who tend to stop for coffee when they’re in a hurry, those who don’t like the feeling of uncomfortable fullness that can accompany larger drinks, or simply those who don’t want to carry around a to-go cup the size of their heads.
The cortado is a very similar drink to the latte, but in a cortado, equal parts of espresso and milk are combined. You’ll get to enjoy all the complexity and delicacy of the coffeehouse’s espresso, but you needn’t worry that your beverage will be too bitter to enjoy. The generous application of milk offsets many of the flavors that people tend to find unpleasant in some coffee drinks, as the dairy makes the cortado rich, sweetens the flavor of the espresso, and provides a counterpoint to the coffee’s strongest elements.
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it—a standard cup of drip coffee always hits the spot and is one of the best ways to get to know the differences between the various types of coffee beans on the market, how coffees from different parts of the world taste, and how the level of roast on the coffee beans impacts the flavor of the finished brew. Many coffee shops will have a few different types of drip coffee at the ready on any given day, so this classic order doesn’t have to get boring.
Drip coffee also tends to be one of the most economical choices you can make at any coffeehouse, making this a particularly good order for people who need their coffee fix but also want to avoid breaking the bank. As we already mentioned in the section on cold brew coffee, drip coffee is a customizable order. You can add tons of cream and sugar, just a bit of each, or enjoy your coffee black, whichever you prefer.
The latte is one of the most popular coffee drinks you can order. There are many different lattes that offer different flavors, but the common latte is just a shot of espresso with frothed milk and a nice foamy layer on top. Often, skilled baristas will create a design on the top of a latte to make it appear more fancy to those that order it. If you like a little bit more flavor in your coffee, try specialty lattes by adding a flavor to the drink, such as french vanilla, caramel, hazelnut, white chocolate, peppermint, and many more. In the fall, spiced pumpkin lattes are some of the best selling lattes.
If you love chocolatey drinks, the Mocha is a chocolate version of the latte, typically made with a shot of espresso and chocolate syrup with frothed milk and a whipped cream top instead of foam. At starbucks and other coffee bars, iced lattes can be ordered, which typically use cold milk instead of frothed milk, and these too are available in many different flavors.
If bitterness isn’t a big concern for you or you enjoy the taste of espresso when it stands alone, consider mixing things up by ordering a macchiato. Perhaps the most common macchiato on the market is the ubiquitous caramel macchiato on the menu at Starbucks Coffee. The macchiato combines espresso with a lick of milk, letting you enjoy the taste of the espresso without a lot of competing flavors to hide its intricacies. Because the drink consists mainly of straight espresso, a macchiato is also an attractive choice for those who are watching their weight or tracking the amount of calories they consume each day.
To give you an idea of the nutrition information, the aforementioned Starbucks caramel macchiato has just 120 calories for an eight-ounce drink (Starbucks’ “short” size) made with half and half. A 12-ounce “tall” caramel macchiato made with half and half contains 190 calories, a 16-ounce “grande” has 250 calories, and the 20-ounce “venti” size provides 310 calories. Those calorie counts even include the vanilla syrup and caramel drizzle that Starbucks uses to make the drink. As you can probably imagine, you can make a macchiato even more diet-friendly by skipping some of the extra options or switching the half and half out for 2 percent milk or another lower calorie alternative.
Italian coffee drinks like espresso, cappuccino, lattes, and Macchiatos, are somewhat of an acquired taste. The first time you try an espresso shot, you may wonder what the big deal is and why so many people swear by this bitter, pungent coffee drink. You may like it enough to finish it and order another, or you may take one sip and spit it out.
No matter what your initial opinion is about the classic espresso, it may change over time as you try more and more espresso based drinks, so don’t just try one espresso and decide that it’s not for you. The drinks on this list will help you find out which coffee drinks are the right ones for you. Once you find a few that you like, you might decide to re-order some of the first drinks that you tried. We recommend going back to the simple espresso shot to see if it hasn’t grown on you now that you have found your favorites.