Thursday, September 15, 2011

Barista's Coffee Guide

Hey there.  I would like to say hi to all the people that came here because of the letter I wrote in the Fayetteville Observer.  I've been working at Books A Million for near about 3 years, and now we're changing over to a 2nd And Charles.  This is a used bookstore that will also sell games, technology, and even vinyl records.  Check us out when we change, if you live in Fayetteville, NC.

Trouble is, the new store will not have a cafe.  I'm really sad about this, as I've learned a ton about what a coffee shop can do and what sorts of flavors go together.  If you look at any given coffee shop menu, you'd never realize that there's simply too many kinds of drinks for us to put them all up there.  So I'm writing this guide as my "legacy", so that I don't forget and so that everyone will try new things and new flavor combinations.  Life's too short to get the same thing all the time.

Starting off, here are some basic coffee drinks and what they are.

- Espresso: very strong coffee used to make all other espresso drinks.  This is not sold by size, but by number of shots.  They are usually sold as single, double, or triple.  You can get a quadruple if you want to, but generally you should only if you need to stay awake for a long time. :)

Espresso drinks--
- Cappuccino: espresso, steamed milk with foam.
- Latte: espresso, steamed milk with little to no foam.
- Breve: espresso, steamed half and half.
- Americano: espresso, hot water.
- Mocha: espresso, steamed milk, and chocolate.

Other drinks:
- Cafe au Lait: regular coffee with steamed milk.
- Chai latte: spiced tea with steamed milk.
- Steamer: your choice of flavor shots with steamed milk.

Cold drinks (note that any hot drink up there can be iced):
- Frappuccino (Frappe): a creamy, blended ice drink.   This can come in many different flavors, like original (coffee), vanilla, mocha, orange creamsicle, strawberry creamsicle, light original, light mocha, light vanilla, and a partridge in a pear tree.  There are as many frappes in the world as there are creative ideas.
- Smoothies: this will vary by store, but the flavors we used to have were orange, mango, strawberry, and acai berry/blueberry/pomegranate.  We also used to have cherry and banana/kiwi, and perhaps other coffee shops carry them, so don't be afraid to ask.
- Italian Sodas (called Italian Ice elsewhere): These are basically where you make up your own soda based on what flavor you prefer.  You can make this a cream soda, and this is generally good for the fruit flavors (except lemon or pomegranate -- keep it regular then).

Now, any given coffee shop will not have all the flavors you're looking for.  For example, the Starbucks at Fayetteville's Barnes and Noble doesn't have Irish cream.  (They also don't stir their drinks, so be sure to tell them to).  I hope that other Starbucks have Irish cream, because I went to an obscure coffee shop in China, and even they had it.  Darn it, if Starbucks is going to take over the world, then they can at least have the flavors I want.  Anyway, here are the flavors that we had over the past 3 years, and hopefully other shops do too.

Basic flavors:
Chocolate, vanilla, caramel, hazelnut, almond, Irish cream, white chocolate, coconut, cinnamon.

Most shops will have these.  I call them basic because these are the most blendable flavors.  You can add basically anything to chocolate, and hazelnut, almond, and Irish cream have what I call "underwhelming" flavors: they add quality, but not too much distinctiveness (for an underwhelming latte, get all three).  Experiment with these flavors a lot, because they'll go in anything.

Also, don't underestimate the awesomeness of coconut.  I don't even like the stuff, but it's just so tasty in our drinks.  Just getting a plain coconut latte will make your taste buds happy, I guarantee it.

Fruit flavors:
Strawberry, blackberry, lemon, pomegranate, orange, raspberry, apple, peach.

These flavors are more or less self-explanatory.  They're generally better for cold drinks, though raspberry, strawberry and blackberry are wonderful in mochas, whether the chocolate is normal or white.  Orange is a little different in a mocha, but it tastes good too.  Peach is good, but it's a bit too strong of a flavor.  It goes great in chai, but you might want to ask your barista to put in one less pump (unless you like your drink really sweet).

Note that pomegranate and lemon will work in frappes, but that is the only dairy drink they'll work in.  I don't know who would want this, but don't ask for a lemon latte or a pomegranate cream soda.  These syrups don't do well in milk, and you're not going to get a good drink.  They're really better for the blackberry lemonade (a non-dairy blended iced drink) or perhaps a pomegranate soda with no cream.

Hm...I wonder if lemon would be good in a strawberry smoothie....

Extra flavors:
Gingerbread, pumpkin spice, frosted mint.

These flavors are more distinctive, and while they work well in several drinks, it generally depends more on your personal taste as to what you would like them in.  I love mint mochas, or even just a shot of mint in a regular coffee, but not everyone does.

With that in mind, I've come up with some drinks that will not be on the menu, but are certainly worth trying.  These are guaranteed to taste good.

White chocolate cocoa with cinnamon.
Hazelnut mocha.
Coconut cafe au lait
Pumpkin spice chai
Coconut mocha frapp
A strawberry smoothie that's half vanilla frappe (add a couple pumps of chocolate if you want)
Caramel apple latte, or frapp.
Caramel Irish cream latte.
Strawberry/lemon frappe
Lemon coconut Italian soda (remember, no creamer!)

So there you go.  Hopefully this guide will help you add different flavors together and figure out new things to try of your own.  Enjoy!