My granddaughter and I were walking around New York City in search of red shoes recently. She knew exactly what she wanted: not shoes, but a little boot; not too high; with soft leather but firm construction; a round toe, but not too round as to look fat; not a bright red, but not maroon - more like a cranberry; not shiny at all; laces and not buckles; a few design stitches were OK, but absolutely no extra ornamentation.
I needed a cup of coffee. "Okay, Grandma, there's a Starbucks," my granddaughter said.
"No, no, no Starbucks!" I said.
My grandgirl responded, "Why, Grandma, what's wrong? I do believe you're trembling."
Trembling? I looked over at the sleek brown building. The lady in the green circle was grinning at me. A mass of moving bodies could be seen inside the long windows, the bulk of New York on a coffee break. I gave an excuse, "I want to sit down."
My confident companion took my arm and headed across the street.
"I can always find a seat; come on, I'll buy you a salted caramel mocha espresso with whip cream."
I pushed the large door as I held tightly to the strap of Nina's backpack. We stopped. She pointed to the menu board. It was blurry. I made out iced hazelnut macchiato, skinny cinnamon dolce latte, white chocolate mocha, cappuccino and espresso con panna. Suddenly, finding those little red boots seemed easy.
We waited in the rapidly moving line.
"Next?" I heard somewhere.
"Gram, go ahead. Order."
I was paralyzed. "What would you like, ma'am?"
I answered, "Coffee."
Someone was talking to me, saying something about milk or soy milk or non-fat milk or dark roast or blond roast or large or small. I gratefully heard an angel say, "She'll have a caffe Americano."
Starbucks is known for coffee. I love coffee. I like strong coffee and I like it black. I am a coffee drinker. The people in Starbucks are not coffee drinkers. They are fruitcakes. They are seekers of silly drinks with nonsensical names.
Because I am a real coffee drinker, I never had a desire to order a frappe, or a latte with or without caramel. I drink just coffee, so I have never learned those terms that the rest of the world has come to know and love.
I don't need to enlighten my coffee palate. Really.
Really? Or am I afraid? Or am I just telling myself I don't want a cappuccino because I don't know what it is? Am I sticking to my boring black coffee to cover my ignorance? Starbucks has been around for many years. It is very successful. Shouldn't I know the difference between a caffe mocha and espresso? I mean, I am in the food business.
OK. I can do this. Armed with an iPad and a savvy 20-year-old, I started recording my Coffee Drinks 101, starting with the basics.
Espresso - A two-ounce serving of thick, dark, rich coffee served in a small cup. It is brewed by forcing (expressing) a very small amount of hot water through fine roasted coffee beans. On the top there are suspended solids that look like cream and are called crema. Its size or strength is given in lengths. It can be ordered ristretto/reduced, normale/standard or lungo/long. Espresso is the basis for many drinks.
Caffe latte - This is espresso with steamed milk, not to be confused with coffee with cold milk (latte). The steamed milk is microfoamed, meaning it has small bubbles. It is the kind used in latte art, or the designs "painted" on top of many coffee drinks.
Caffe macchiato - This is the opposite of a caffe latte. It is steamed milk with espresso added to the milk. Macchiato comes from the word stained. Macchiato is warm milk "stained" with espresso.
Cappuccino - This is one-third espresso and one-third hot milk, topped with one-third macrofoam, milk foam with large bubbles. The word comes from the Italian word meaning "hood." It is named after the Capuchin friars that wore habits with brown hoods.
Cafe mocha - Basically this is cappuccino with a form of chocolate added. It can be hot chocolate with espresso added, but it always has the foamed milk or whipped cream on top.
We found a seat. I wasn't a barista yet, but I was enlightened. I sipped my cafe Americano.
"What is this?" I asked.
"Oh, cafe Americano is espresso with hot water added. I thought you would like it."
I did. As we chatted, my angel drank her Valencia orange Starbucks refresher beverage with "three varietals of orange combined with floral and fruity notes from orange peel, cardamom, jasmine and apricot lightly caffeinated with green coffee extract," hand-stirred and served over ice. She knew what she wanted and she got it. She also knew she was going to find those little red boots, and Grandma was going to get them for her.
"Grandma, McDonalds has the same kind of drinks, why don't you know them?"
I explained that I order coffee through the drive-thru.
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