Y'know, we here at Coffee Shoppers are here to serve you. To provide you with information and make your life easier. Need to know where to go for the best chai? What the gluten-free options are? Where you will see the least fedoras? We got you covered.
But what if you are a trendy coffee shop novice? What if you walk into a hipster wonderland one day and are completely overwhelmed and unaware of how to proceed without judgment?
Well, never fear. We got your back here, too.
We know ordering coffee can be stressful. You want to be specific but not so specific that your order takes more than 15 seconds to rattle off. You want to appear confident but sometimes the menus are not clearly visible. You really want almond milk because dairy doesn't agree with you but there are 80 people behind you in line. Or you are simply overwhelmed with the sheer amount of options you have.
In the words of Joe Fox (F-O-X):
The whole purpose of places like Starbucks is for people with no decision-making ability whatsoever to make six decisions just to buy one cup of coffee. Short, tall, light, dark, caf, decaf, low-fat, non-fat, etc. So people who don't know what the hell they're doing or who on earth they are can, for only $2.95, get not just a cup of coffee but an absolutely defining sense of self: Tall. Decaf. Cappuccino.
--You've Got Mail
Today we present to you the Coffee Shoppers Guide to Ordering in a Trendy Coffee Shop.
1) Walk with your head held high, even if you have no idea what you're doing. Mean baristas can smell fear. Act like you don't care. You maybe don't even want coffee today. It's whatever.
2) If the menu is hanging above the counter, casually peer at it as if you're not really interested but actually take in the information and start trying to make a decision. Do not take a picture of the menu, no matter how much you want to try to DIY a replica when you get home. You will need to know what you want when you arrive at the counter.
To help you with this, here is a breakdown of what you should get depending on what you're looking for:
Latte: Get a latte if you like coffee but need it a little sweet (choose a flavor), a lot creamy and enjoy art. Cappuccino: Cappuccinos are great if you like lattes but want a little more nothing in your cup or find a latte too heavy to carry. Drip Coffee: Get drip coffee if you are in a hurry, are running low on cash, or don't mess around with frivolous things like "flavors." Only add cream or sugar if you're prepared to do the walk of shame to the condiment table. Are they still called condiments if they are coffee additives? Someone help me out on that. Espresso: Order espresso if you are feeling simultaneously fancy and brave, but you don't have giant hands. Otherwise you would just look ridiculous. Chai: Many people don't realize this, but chai has a lot of caffeine. It's not as much as coffee, but (I was told this once, not gonna try to verify it*) the caffeine releases slowly over the course of several hours. Coffee is all at once. Therefore, chai will keep you alert longer and is better for study sessions. Or mornings. I (Elizabeth) have a threshold of 2pm for chai. After that, I can only drink it if I'm staying up late. Unfortunately, I can't tell you what your threshold is; it's something you have to learn through trial and error. Anyway, chai lattes are creamier if served with no water, and the most delicious drink at Starbucks (ask a barista--most agree) is a no-water, soy chai latte. Most of the time, coffee shops also have iced chai lattes. I generally go light-ice, because paying $4 for a cup filled halfway with water is not ideal. Black Tea: Most coffee shops only stock a couple of varieties of black tea, usually Breakfast and Earl Grey. Black tea typically has caffeine, too. Not as much as chai, but I feel like the slow-release thing is still possibly true. I take mine with about 2 teaspoons of sugar, because I'm Southern, and cream (milk, half-and-half, whatever they have--I'm not picky). The British also take cream in their tea, but I did that before I knew they did, so I'm not copying. But, you do you. Some people take theirs black. Green Tea: Green tea is much, much lower in caffeine. It is also so healthy, it's almost like drinking vegetables.* It is not as bitter as black teas, so try less sugar or even honey instead.
3) Do not hesitate when it is your turn to order. The people behind you will bore a hole into your skull with their judgment stares because they probably get the same thing literally every time and you are holding them up. It may be helpful to practice your order as you wait in line, so that you're ready. Just make sure you do so silently--don't be weird about it. Gosh.
4) Do not tell a barista you want your coffee "for here" but in a to-go cup. I, Laura, found out recently via a barista friend that this is frowned upon. I can't help myself because I am a terrible liar and want people to know the 100 % exact truth all the time and if I say I want it to-go but then go sit down I'm afraid I will be judged for taking up a table when I SAID I was taking it to go. (I overthink this.) I, Elizabeth, usually say, "Um, to go" and then sip it very, very slowly so that I do actually take some to go at the end of the visit.
DO get a to-go cup if you are prone to spills. If you lose half your coffee you've just wasted $2 and maintained 3rd-degree burns.
5) Keep your questions to a minimum. If you must ask, keep it short and sweet. "Do you have almond milk?" is acceptable. "What is a latte?" is not. If you don't know, google it on your phone while you're waiting in line. I mean, what else were you doing the whole time? Making eye-contact with people? Get out. (If you are still living in 2004 or you simply think smart phones are the downfall of this country, you may also refer to the handy guide we have provided above.)
6) Stand to the side while you wait for your coffee. Most shops have a counter where they will put your drink and call your name or drink type when it is ready. You will often feel in the way. This is normal. If you have good hearing or the shop is not particularly large or busy, you can go sit down and just listen for your drink to be called.
7) Please keep in mind all variations of your name, both visually and audibly. Sometimes baristas like to give you nicknames, for fun, because you're BFFs now. Or because Elizabeth has nine letters. Sometimes the nicknames are "Liz" and sometimes they are "Melissa," since "Elizabeth" can sound like "Melissa" in some situations. Apparently.
We know it can be intimidating to order at a coffee shop. It's a fast-paced environment and no one has had their coffee yet. But you've totally got this. Follow our tips above and you will be more than halfway to coffee shop ordering success!
What's your most awkward or embarrassing coffee shop ordering story? Seasoned veterans, baristas, what ordering tips can you give those just diving in to coffee shop culture?
*No science was consulted during the writing of this blog post.