What does your coffee order say about you?

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Photo: Sarka Babicka

Coffee is an important part of my day. In fact, given the caffeine addiction that delivers an intense headache by midday if I haven't had one, it's an indispensable part of my day. 

Like many people, my most frequent order is the takeaway flat white. There's nothing pretentious about a flattie – it doesn't have one of those eye-talian names, for one thing. Solid and dependable, like an old Holden made before they abandon Australia. 

But as I've branched into other orders over the years, I've discovered that some coffee preferences draw all sorts of implications about you. If you don't believe me, just try asking a colleague to order you a piccolo latte, and wait for the sniggers.

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Photo: Karleen Minney

I've ordered just about all of the following over the years, and experienced various harsh judgements each time. So I've prepared this extensive guide that explains what else you're saying when you ask for a coffee.

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MILK DRINKS

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Photo: Peter SCHOFIELD

Flat white

A cup of steaming baristartery often topped with a little leaf or love heart which is completely pointless when immediately covered by a plastic takeaway lid. The flat white has begun conquering the UK and US, and I’m fully confident it’ll become the world’s favourite morning coffee – the balance between the flavour of the coffee and comfort factor of the milk is perfect to begin the day. I reckon ordering a flat white says nothing much about you except that you like coffee.

Caffe latte

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Photo: Marco Del Grande

In some parts of the world, a small latte gets you a flat white. But in Australia, a latte is milkier in its composition than a flat white, and often a lot larger in size, meaning that the coffee is diluted and less flavoursome. Most often, you get a glass of warm milk with a tiny it of coffee flavour. Also, after that one time I was in a park in the glitzy Sydney suburb of Double Bay and a woman ran past me in her heels calling after a dog called “Latte”, I find it a bit difficult to order them without wincing.

Piccolo latte

This is the most embarrassing to order of all the drinks, with a name combining the wankiness of a latte with a tiny flute. It’s ironic, seeing as the name is so silly, that the piccolo is one of the best coffee orders. Essentially it’s like a short black (espresso) cup filled to the brim with milk, giving it a strong flavour.

Macchiato

The perfect afternoon booster, a macchiato is just a short black with a dash of milk in it. You need to like strong coffee to enjoy this, so it either makes you seem kinda tough, or an unspeakable coffee snob who’s ordering something that’s meaningless to the majority of people.

Long macchiato

This is slightly different in just about single café – it’s something like a long black with a splash of milk. Quite strong and with an intense coffee flavour. Ordering this is unlikely to draw much of an implication except that you have obscure tastes in coffee.

Cappuccino

This was what I first started drinking in my late teens, and it’s a good entry point – you can eat the chocolate-sprinkled froth with a spoon before you have to tackle the coffee flavour. Drinking cappucinos (cappucini?) suggests either that you’re heaps 80s retro-cool, or still don’t quite like the actual flavour of actual coffee.

Mocha

Whereas ordering one of these says you don’t like coffee at all. I quite like mochas on a cold day, but don’t kid yourself – they’re basically a bitter, stronger hot chocolate.

Cortado

Essentially a three-quarter flat white. Good to order if you want to overtrump a snooty barista, as these aren’t generally ordered in Australia, as opposed to America where they have specially sized cups for them. I’m mainly including it here because I want to show off myself – and because they’re really flavoursome.

 

NON-MILK DRINKS

Espresso

Also known as the short black, this establishes you as a purist with no time for milk or excessive hot water. This is the kind of coffee people drink standing up at bars in Rome, and ordering it may well suggest that you know this and are a bit of a toss... well, let’s just say, the kind of person who would know that. But many say it’s the best way to appreciate the flavour of different blends of coffee, and I suspect they’re right.

Expresso

Don’t order this – people will laugh at you.

Ristretto

An even shorter black for those who really like it strong, this is another coffee with an Italian name that’ll be incomprehensible to most people. Still, thank you for saving water.

Long black

Very flavoursome and generally much hotter than coffee with milk in it, cradling a long black suggests that you’ve got the time to linger while contemplating nihilism and/or Sartre. Or that you don’t like milk.

 

VARIATIONS

Decaf

One of my friends who drinks decaf is at pains to point out that there is still a bit of caffeine in decaf so it’s not completely pointless. But if you’re an addict like me, it’s a waste of time. (If you’re not addicted to caffeine – what’s your secret?) Sure, people may mock you and call your coffee a “why bother”, but I reckon it’s worth it to avoid that crushing need for coffee that kicks in when travelling and has forced me on more than a few occasions to drink Starbucks.

Soy

Those who drink soy, or "morally superior" milk are, in general, either lactose intolerant or carnivore intolerant. I always thought soy coffee was a disgraceful compromise and would taste disgusting and watery. As it happens, it's nutty-flavoured and rich – well worth trying it even if you like regular milk. But there's no denying that ordering soy says you're fussy - and rich, since you'll be paying at least four bucks for a takeaway.

Half double decaffeinated half-caf with a twist of lemon.

LA Story is such a great film. I spent quite a bit of time trying to figure out what this would actually get you, but as yet, I’ve failed. Nevertheless, I’ll have a twist of lemon.

 

71 comments

  • I've recently changed from a long black to a medium black, or "a long black with a bit less water in it". Nice and strong, and less heat meaning I 'm not just starting to drink my coffee just as everyone is heading back to the office.

    Commenter
    Blakeus86
    Location
    Sydney
    Date and time
    February 21, 2014, 8:51AM
    • There is medium black? Where? How? Less water?

      Commenter
      Gerson
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      February 21, 2014, 3:40PM
  • A flat white and a latte are essentially the same size. Especially if prepared in take away cups. A small is a small and contains the same amount of liquid.

    The difference between a flat white and a latte therefore is not the size of the container, but rather how the milk is steamed.

    A flat white, prepared correctly, should be steamed milk without stretching the protein in it which gives it a silky smooth/creamy consistency. It is basically a shot of coffee with hot milk.

    A latte, is created by "kissing" the milk with the steam wand as you prepare the milk, which aerates it, giving a thicker, creamier quality. If allowed to settle, the foam will move to the top and the milk will settle to the bottom.

    This is why a latte is best consumed relatively quickly so that you can enjoy the creamyness of the milk throughout the beverage.

    Often, when "dining in" a latte and flat white will be distinguished from one another with the flat white served in a china cup or mug and a latte usually in a small or tall glass with a serviette tied around the glass.

    When one prepares a latte correctly in a clear glass, you can actually watch the milk begin to separate from the foam which causes an almost cascading like appearance (like a waterfall) which looks quite cool and is a sign that the barista has done a good job on the milk.

    Commenter
    Adrian
    Location
    Sydney
    Date and time
    February 21, 2014, 8:59AM
    • You said: "A flat white and a latte are essentially the same size. Especially if prepared in take away cups. A small is a small and contains the same amount of liquid". Your cafe is doing it wrong then as the traditional Latte glass holds more milk than the Flat White cup. And an ethical cafe will give you a double shot of espresso if you order a large Flat White. A good ethical cafe will also use a larger takeaway for the Latte than the Flat White. So if you are not getting this then change cafes to a good one.

      Commenter
      MVF
      Date and time
      February 21, 2014, 11:01AM
    • I was once in a cafe in a small rural NSW town when one of my party asked for a latte. The 12 year-old behind the counter called out to the kitchen: "Mum, what's a latte?"

      The answer came back: "It's a flat white in a glass."

      I personally stick to long-blacks or espressos, to avoid poisoning my insides with heated milk. Urgh.

      Commenter
      Jason
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      February 21, 2014, 12:00PM
  • Good to know at least someone knows what a proper Long Macc is. Half the places I ask for it give me a Latte Macc.

    Commenter
    Clint
    Date and time
    February 21, 2014, 9:17AM
    • When in Perth, ask for a 'Melbourne Macchiato' :-)

      Commenter
      Pete
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      February 21, 2014, 1:41PM
  • And what does an intolerance for coffee say about a person? Because I have to say, I've never learned to stomach the stuff. Bitter, nasty and impossible to enjoy even as a mocha.

    Commenter
    TK
    Date and time
    February 21, 2014, 9:30AM
    • Thought this was an April Fools windup until I remembered its only February. Flat white? Coffee of choice? A flat white is the espresso equivalent of instant coffee, favoured by those who have only just discovered adult coffee and are still longing for the texture of international roast, or what your Aunty orders when you take her to one of these new fangled cafe things because she can recognise it. Cortado - Americans have special cups for it. Wow. They also have mega grande hazelnut crimes against coffee too.
      Soy and milk shouldn't be used in the same sentence. Soy juice just doesn't have the same ring does it.
      Yeah, I drink piccolos or macchiatos depending on how much milk I want. Embarrassed? Never. Beats trying to order a 3/4 double shot skim latte - ends up being the same drink. No, I'll never order a "short" macchiato. There is no such thing as a long macchiato. Simples.

      Commenter
      macchiato and piccolo drinker since 1985
      Date and time
      February 21, 2014, 9:38AM
      • Totally agree :)

        Commenter
        Joe S
        Date and time
        February 21, 2014, 10:27AM

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