‘Why is this even a topic for a grammar blog?’ and ‘Why can’t I just get an ordinary cup of coffee anymore?’

Well, if statistics and PR are to be believed (and marketing statistics prove they are) then there are grounds to believe that the business of café culture is now a major part of our daily lexicon. Coffee grounds, obviously, m’lud. Not that barista-speak would ever be confused with barrister jargon, except in support of an antique pun.[1]

Barista-speak is a compressed tone-poem; a high street haiku if you get it right. And, yes, the wide-awake and somewhat excitable caffeinated word list that follows is no doubt, yes, must be, the jittery result of one or two shots too many.

Warning: not wishing to put the mochas on your cuppas, or the jive on your Java, you should know that some of the following vocabulary items may contain hidden sugars.



For starters, the sybaritic pleasures of an afters. A scoop of ice cream dressed with a shot of espresso and, possibly, properly overdone with whipped cream. Affogato is Italian for ‘drowned’.



A drink of watered down espresso. That’s the way the Spanish use it: for them it means ‘American’, diluted from café Americano in American Spanish. On the UK high street it is almost the coffee default. That, or a cappuccino. Or a latte. Caffé Americano is the Italian way which is pretty much the same thing: one or two shots of espresso topped up with hot water.



One shot of espresso to an equal measure of steamed milk. Other than in this coffee context antoccino has no meaning whatever. Not even in Italian.



A coffee-maker and -server. Acquired for the coffee trade from the Italian for ‘bartender’. You’d think in that case then that the bloke making the coffee would be a baristo with a nice masculine -o ending but, word and job, barista is non-gender-specific. There’s much more to a barista than just coffee. Go into your local coffee shop, look at the menu and be impressed by the spectrum of pleasurable refreshments and pick-me-ups in your barista’s repertoire. A high street superhero.


black coffee

All that can be certain with this brew is that no milk is involved.



A rich variation on a latte theme. Equal proportions of steamed milk and cream are added to an espresso base. It’s Italian for ‘short’. In music notation, however, a breve is a double note, which does add an accidental charm to the legato mix.


café au lait

Literally, ‘coffee with milk’. From French to give it that well-marketed sheen of sophistication.


café noisette 

‘Noisette’ is one of those confections found in chocolate selections: the hazelnut one. The ‘noisette’ in café noisette, which translates from French as ‘hazelnut coffee’, refers only to the hazelnut colour of the perfect infusion and not an ingredient. Café noisette is simply an espresso coffee served with a little hot milk.



Although the British high street doesn’t always serve this with a consistent accent, and sometimes may call it a ‘coffee press’, ‘coffee plunger’ or ‘French press’, la presse Française ou/or cafetière à piston is so much more than a jug with a filter plunger. However, it is not necessarily a French indulgence – an Italian designer patented just such contraption in 1929. Whatever. This ‘press pot’ (another high street alias) has all the sensual pleasure of fresh-brewed coffee infused with the primitive Bond villain thrill of pushing a ceiling down onto the coarse soused grounds trapped in the hot tub.


caffè corretto

Only available on licensed premises: espresso with a spirituous chaser, grappa or suchlike. Italian style, corretto translates as ‘correct’.


screen-shot-2017-02-09-at-15-19-49Camp Coffee

To be honest, you’d be lucky to find this nostalgic treat in a high street coffee shop, so shake off the chains to seek out this original instant coffee. First manufactured in 1876, in Scotland, and still on supermarket shelves, this brown syrupy liquid blends chicory essence with a hint of decaffeinated coffee (just add hot water) to create what is now a taste of bottled history. Also adds an alleged taste of coffeeness to home-made cakes.



Equal parts espresso, hot milk and steamy foam with a dusting of sweet or spicy stuff. Take a moment now to picture the milky bald spot and brown cowl of a Capuchin monk (not a Capuchin monkey although they are related): that is the visual metaphor that supports this coffee coinage. ‘Cappa’ or ‘cappu’ for caffeine customers in a hurry.



This is tea. Not coffee. Legendarily, and it ain’t no myth, yer actual tea leaf has more caffeine pro rata than a coffee bean. After tea is watered down it is coffee that wears the caffeine crown. Have a coffee.



Noun. A beverage made with the roasted and ground ‘beans’ of coffea shrubs.


coffee ‘beans’

Not really beans. Seeds. Don’t mention it.



A coffee shop when it’s been co-opted as a temporary office facility.



Equal parts espresso and steamed milk, a wave of the magic barista wand and – hey presto! – a miniature latte! Just like a real coffee only smaller. Cortado is Spanish for ‘cut’ (with a little milk) and related linguistically to ‘embarrassed’, ‘shy’ and ‘curdled’. On the UK high street the cortado can sometimes be aka ‘piccolo latte’.



A creamy mottled froth that expresses the soul of each and every espresso. Si. Prego. It’s Italian.


cup of mud

A cup of coffee, as strong and American as it sounds in this Tom Waits lyric: So I walked into this stop, well I ordered me up a cup of mud / Saying ‘Big Joe’s setting this dude up’[2].



A decaff duppy[3] has risen from its shuddering grounds. Lo! the lack-lustre zombie devoid of raison d’être that haunts the conscience of coffee.



A double espresso. Si, si, espresso e espresso. It’s Italian for ‘double’. Baristas will either make two separate single shots that decant into a single cup or glass, or, if they come equipped for the challenge, use a double filter basket. Grazie. Grazie.



More froth, less or no milk. Clouds in my coffee.[4]



Desperate times called for desperate measures. Faux joe from times of wars past. Might be OK from little acorns grow.



The art of darkness with barista as necromancer. One fluid ounce of near-to-the-boil water forced, drip by excruciated drip, through a tight pack of fresh grounds. Even the strongest heart, body and soul will yield secrets under this kind of pressure. Italians drink their caffé in a single swallow whilst standing. They don’t call it espresso.


espresso con panna

In the English barista-bollocks of the Caffè Nero and Coffee Republic chains, among others, this is a double shot of espresso topped-off with whipped cream. Yep, Italian for ‘with cream’.


espresso fizz

Coffee cocktails are a thing. This is a shot of espresso, tonic water, orange bitters and peel. A genuine non-alcoholic Noo Yawk experience.


espresso machine

A clinking, clanking, clunking[5], hissing and steampunking hoodoo contraption forged to express the quintessence of coffee. It makes the world go round.


espresso martini

No way is this a martini. Mix espresso and vodka or tequila with Kahlúa or Baileys or… well, you get the idea. Serve in a martini glass. Float a few beans on top.



It’s espresso, you bongo.


extra shot

A single measure of espresso is called a shot. More than that is an extra.


filter coffee

Unpressured, drip-brewed sophistication; the essence and colour of roast ground coffee beans captured by hot water as it flows through a filter into pot, jug or cup.


flat white

Milk is frothed with a steam wand to form the perfect micro-foam then poured into a default double shot of espresso. After which it is given the blandest name imaginable.



Iced. Chilled. Frigid.



A cup size dating from the period before coffee leviathans walked the earth. In the Seattle-based chain of coffee shops that has Moby Dick[6] at the heart of its creation myth, grande is the word borrowed to mean sixteen fluid ounces. 16 fl.oz! – one US fluid pint! In English imperial measurement that translates to 83-hundredths of a UK pint. Grande is used for both the measure and the receptacle it comes in. Italian for ‘large’.



Your choice of coffee served over lumps of frozen water. Coffee that gets weaker as you chill.



Soluble. Old-school powdered or granules. Just add hot water. This popular domestic beverage is often taken in private by those who care little for the pleasures of the fresh. However, when needs must, this instant gratification is an easy solution and sometimes the only on-sale hot-coffee option available…


Irish coffee

Hot coffee imbued with Irish whiskey and sugar, topped with and drunk through whipped cream. The logical post-prandial coffee cocktail treat for that moment of weakness when you really can’t manage another mouthful. Irish coffee is in this list as the tasteful representation of the many alcoholic adulterations that aren’t.



A slang generic for coffee, named for an original and enduring island[7] source of the magic beans.



Another slang name for coffee. It is unlikely there was ever a Joe in this story. Joe could be a distilled evolution a ‘jamoke’ an obsolete compound of java and mocha.



An informal get together over coffee. It’s a US thing, named after the German for gossip.


Kyoto dripper

A cold-drip contraption that wouldn’t look out of place in a Heath Robinson laboratory. The regulated flow may deliver as much as one drip of sweet syrupy full-flavoured coffee per second. Caffeinated water torture for those in a hurry.



Pronounced lat-tay or lah-tay in the kinda way we think an Italian might say the Italian word for ‘milk’. This is an espresso shot topped up with steamed milk. If you were to actually order a latte in Italy milk is all you’d get. OK, and maybe a funny look on the side. Italians know this drink as caffé latte. And only ever drink it in the morning.



With extra milk.



Once the perfect espresso has been created, at that point when the cup would be removed from the barista’s susurrating, chromium-plated engine of delights, the coffee cup is left in place and more water is made to ooze and drip through the grounds. Not the same as an Americano (in that process the extra water is added to a shot or two of espresso), this is a long espresso. Oft times missold as a double espresso.



Mmmm… sounds sexy. Macchiato is Italian for ‘stained’. In this case the coffee that dripped is stained with the merest smudge of milk … mmmm … sounds dirty.



Costa-mongery for a massive 560 millilitres, which, in old money, adds up to twenty fluid ounces. That’s a proper pint. In 1971 Costa Coffee was founded in London by Italian immigrants, Bruno and Sergio Costa. When they use words like massimo it has real linguistic authority; translates as ‘maximum’, serves as ‘large’.



Italian for ‘medium’. 450 ml. Sixteen fl. oz.



It is claimed by some flakey journalistic sources that chocolate is ‘better than sex’. Not in my name. Chocolate has also been described as a ‘love drug’. If you buy into that then mocha is the range of possibilities that happen when chocolate is added to espresso; one way or another this drink is likely give you the get up and go. Allegedly. Certainly way more sophisticated than dunking your Snickers in Nescafé.


moka pot

An espresso maker in which steam-pressurised water is forced upwards through ground coffee beans. Originally designed in Italy in the 1930s for stove-top use, electric models are also available for the appliance of coffee science. Not to be confused with a ‘mocha pot’ which is an imaginary example of uselessness on a par with a chocolate teapot.


Neopolitan flip

An antiquated stove-top brewer and pot, named for the Italian city of Naples but apparently invented by a Frenchman. As a part of the coffee making process the pot is inverted and the jug which was upside down on top is now right way up at the bottom. Water and coffee ground containers are then removed and coffee is served. Flipping’ easy.


percolated coffee

Coffee brewed in a percolator. In the 1960s and ’70s this was the aspirational coffee that kept up those keeping up with the Jones.



A percolator is a pot in which boiling water is circulated through ground coffee beans until the desired perk-you-up brew is achieved.



One six ounce glass, two ristretto shots and a topping of warm milk. Piccino is a masculine Italian adjective meaning tiny or small. Just enough to keep you going.



More than a macchiato, less than a cortado, this is a little latte. Piccolo, Italian for ‘little’, comes to us from the baristas of Sydney and San Francisco.



Costa is Italian for ‘coast’. Primo is Italian for ‘first’. Primo is Costa Coffee-ish for ‘small’. Twelve fluid ounces. 340 ml.


regular (1)

Most often seen on coffee shop menus to indicate ‘medium’.


regular (2)

Not decaffeinated.


regular (3)

A coffee shop will have regulars who have a regular choice of coffee. If you want what the person queuing in front of you got by ordering ‘regular, please’ you may be cueing confusion.


regular (4)

A barista given to the Americanisms of coffee shop culture may use it to mean ‘usual’. As in ‘regular blend’.



Rendition by extraordinary extraction. All the grounds that go into a full shot of espresso, half the water. Less long but just as strong. Italian for ‘narrow’.



8.fl.oz. of coffee. If that’s what you fancy, ask for it. Even if it’s not on the menu, at least one of the major coffee chains always has shorts on stand by.




If your choice of coffee is made with milk it will be skinny if it’s made with skimmed milk.



12 fl.oz. Tall is small; small is taller than short. OK?


Turkish coffee

In the words of a Turkish proverb, ‘Black as Hell, Strong as Death, and Sweet as Love’. This is coffee prepared in the Turkish way; according to UNESCO, ‘an intangible cultural heritage’.



In a world where tall is small and small is short, we should pause to appreciate the linguistic impact of Howard Schultz and Dawn Pinaud, partners in Seattle coffee shop Il Giornale. In 1986 Schulz and Pinaud plumped for ‘venti’ as the largest measure in their regular hot coffee taxonomy: 20 fluid ounces. That’s US fl.oz. Venti is Italian for ‘twenty’. Easy to remember: it rhymes with ‘20’. Schultz took the word with him and sailed over to Starbucks.



Less froth. Honestly, the wetter the better for me.


white coffee

Coffee with milk. Sometimes still called ‘ordinary coffee’.


On top of all that, a barista’s dressing-up box of tricks may include marshmallows, condensed milk, sprinkles, syrups and sauces, any number and all manner of sticky and sweet treats, and more wholesome dietary requirements. So wake up and smell the coffee… there’s a lot more out there in the world than in this short, and very personal survey. Also, a range of non-espresso-based drinks, hot and cold, are available to suit your mood. Obviously.

One more cup of coffee for the road. One more cup of coffee ‘fore I go.[8]


Sweet dreams turns into coffee in the morning.[9]



[1] ‘… but this is a Coffee song so there’s good grounds for singing it – coffee grounds. It’s a good strain, so stir it up and let’s have it nice and hot.’ – R.P. Weston and Bert Lee, What I Want is a Proper Cup of Coffee (lyric), 1926.

[2] Tom Waits, Big Joe and Phantom 309, 1975

[3] A malevolent spirit of West Indian extraction.

[4] ‘I had some dreams, they were clouds in my coffee.’ – Carly Simon, You’re So Vain (lyric) 1972

[5] ‘That clinking, clanking, clunking sound […] It makes the world go round’, John Kander & Fred Ebb, Money (lyric), 1966

[6] The Starbucks coffee shops were almost named ‘Pequod’ after the doomed Nantucket whaling ship at the heart of Herman Melville’s 1851 novel, Moby Dick. ‘Starbuck’ is the chief mate.

[7] Java, East of Krakatoa

[8] Bob Dylan, One More Cup of Coffee, 1976

[9] Miguel, Coffee, 2015.