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July 26, 2004 // UPDATED 2:41 pm - April 25, 2007
By: Jennifer Frey
Jennifer Frey

Decoding the coffee concoctions menu

You're a Downtown employee and you don't have a lot of time on your hands. You need coffee, and you need it now. Sure, there are plenty of coffee shops to go to, but then, when you get there, it takes 30 seconds simply to find the price of a regular cup of joe. After that, there's little time to inquire about all those other options on the seemingly unending menu of caffeinated (and non-) concoctions: Depth Charge, Macchiato, Americano, etc.

Consider your coffee queries quenched. We checked in with some baristas and scanned some Web sites to come up with this glossary of fancy coffees. So now, instead of smiling and nodding at people who talk over your head with coffee lingo, you can join in the conversation and impress your friends with your knowledge.

Menu basics

Dark, medium and light roast: These monikers basically reflect how long the beans are roasted, how shiny they get and the tone of the coffee they produce. Contrary to popular perception, dark roasts have less caffeine than light roasts.

Foam: Thick and foamy milk that has been aerated with hot steam via the big, whaling espresso machine.

Latte: Espresso mixed with steamed milk.

Doppia: A drink made with two shots of espresso, one shot of hot water.

Mocha: A small, irregular bean with a unique acidic taste, usually from Mocha Yemen.

Americano: A shot of espresso poured into a glass of hot water.

Espresso: A shot of coffee made through brewing with high pressure to extract the heart of the coffee bean.

Cappuccino: A mixture that is one-third espresso, one-third steamed milk and one-third frothed milk on top, given the name because the frothed milk "caps" off the drink to retain heat.

Macchiato: A shot of espresso with just a dab of steamed or foamed milk on top.

Ristretto: The strongest and most concentrated espresso drink, made with half the amount of water and the normal amount of coffee as regular espresso.

Depth Charge: Regular coffee with shots of espresso added to it.

Tools of the trade

Barista: A person who makes coffee drinks as a profession.

Demitasse: A small cup used for serving espresso.

French Press: A coffee-making device in which ground coffee floats around in/is steeped in water and then the grounds are pushed to the bottom by a plunger with a filter in it.

Terms to impress your coworkers

Varietal: The term used for coffee that comes from a certain geographical region, a variation of "variety." (As in, "I'm not such a fan of this varietal. Let's try that Tanzanian Peaberry next time.")

Blend: A mixture of two or more varietals of coffee.

Caffeine: The stimulating drug contained in coffee. This alkaloid evolved to act as an insecticide on coffee and other plants by being bitter tasting and also by overstimulating and providing an unpleasant zap to pest invaders' nervous systems. (Nicotine is also a natural insecticide in tobacco plants.) Caffeine prevents a chemical in the brain, adenosine, from regulating/slowing down nerve impulses, thus allowing you to buzz yourself.

Cupping: While wine tasting is called "tasting," coffee tasting is called "cupping." (As in, "Guys, I think we need to do some cupping of other varietals.")

Briny: The salt sensation caused by excessive heat after brewing. ("The coffee's been here too long. I think it's gotten briny.")

What is that

Of course, in addition to the normal coffee shop drinks, many individual cafes come up with their own creations.

Mint Condition

Caribou Coffee employee Camille Pridmore says the most popular summer drink at the Caribou Coffee where she works on 11th & Nicollet is the Caramel Cooler. This frothy blend of caramel flavoring, ice and espresso is a good way to cool down. As usual, lattes and coffee are also popular.

When you look at the Caribou menu, you might see something called Mint Condition. No, it isn't fine coffee that's been perfectly preserved over time, it's a mix of espresso, steamed milk, mint syrup and whipped cream. For coffee consumers with a sweet tooth, this drink solves both the caffeine craving and the need for something sweet.

Spanish Latte

What makes a Spanish Latte different from a regular espresso-and-milk latte? No, you don't have to order it in Spanish. This specialty drink from Espresso Royale, 1229 Hennepin Ave. S., is a regular latte with a shot of sweetened condensed milk added to it, according to employee Andrea Vinje.

For those looking to mix up their lattes even more, Espresso Royale also offers a peanut butter latte. (Don't worry, they use a peanut butter syrup, not a clump of Skippy, to flavor it.)

Green Dragon

OK, it's not a coffee drink per se, but I had to find out what a Green Dragon, a tea drink, is. Don't worry. The Tea Room on the second floor of City Center at 40 S. 7th St. hasn't liquefied a magical creature and put it in a glass for you.

According to Les Crawford, manager of the Tea Room, a Green Dragon is a green tea latte with Japanese matcha added. Matcha is green tea that is brewed into a powder, traditionally used in Japanese tea ceremonies. It smells like freshly mowed grass, but Crawford says it tastes better than it smells and it has a lot of health benefits.