I am by no means a coffee connoisseur, however, I do have an above average working knowledge of the different terms and equipment used to make good quality coffee, so i figured I’d share a little of what I know.
Coffee – there are two main species – robusta and Arabica. Robusta is inexpensive and not very flavourful, and is used in canned or instant coffees. Some coffee producers blend this type with Arabica to keep costs down and increase production yields. Arabica beans are slower growing, allowing for more flavour developement. These are the ones used in specialty coffee places.
Coffee is often named for the country of origin (Columbian, Kenyan, Sumatran etc.) The beans start off in a raw state and must be roasted and ground up, then water is passed through the grinds to produce the beverage. Much is written about coffee’s shelf life once roasted, and generally it’s best for consumption as soon after it is ground as possible. For more information, check here: http://www.coffeegeek.com/
Barista – a barista is a professional coffee preparer. They are trained in the art of making a wide variety of specialty coffee drinks. These people, who work at specialty coffee shops, tend to be a good source of information about all things coffee related. They tend to be passionate about what they do, and take pride in their work. Just be aware that not all coffee shop employees are baristas. If you find a good barista, befriend them, and you are sure to get good quality everytime. http://www.vivabarista.com/
Espresso machine – essential for making espresso based drinks. Many different types exist, it all depends on their intended use. I have a home model on my kitchen counter, complete with group heads and steam wand. My wife likes getting creative with usin steamed and frothed milk to come up with new variations of old classics. (We’ve made a killer hot chocolate, and impressed guests with a unique “irish coffee” using baileys).
At one of the bakeries I worked at, one of the other employees, from Lebanon, used to have a small stove-top espresso maker that he would fire up every day at 2pm. I found one at a local thrift store for a dollar, and use it frequently for a quick pick-me-up. This would be the route I would suggest for someone just getting started with espresso, who doesn’t have the money to go out and get an espresso machine.
Grinder – Allows you to grind whole bean coffee just before brewing, which keeps the product fresh longer. I started out with a small hand held electric one, the type some people use to grind up spices. I have since upgradedto a more reliable countertop model, which allows for more consistent results.
Steaming pitchers – used to pour foam and milk. Generally made out of stainless steel. One with a pointed spout is required for making Latte art.
Tamper – for packing grinds evenly into the porta filter.
Espresso – 30ml (1.oz) of concentrated coffee, served in a demitasse (one of those tiny coffee cups). Very strong, if you are only used to drinking the typical North American cup of joe. Espresso is the base from which all other espresso based drinks are made. Note: it’s spelled espresso in North America, and Expresso elsewhere. Neither spelling is right or wrong, as long as you know what is being reffered too.
Cappuccino – Can vary widely depending on region, the basics of a cappuccino include espresso, milk foam, and steamed or heated milk. A lot of commercial coffee places that serve “ice-capps”, and other cappuccino-named drinks tend to sweeten the heck out of them. Keep this in mind when ordering at specialty coffee places, where no sweetener has been added by the barrista. I was used to Tim Hortons cappuccino, so the first coffee house cappuccino I had, I regret to say, ended up in the garbage because I thought it was burnt or something.
Doppio Cappuccino – Doppio means double; made from two espressos. May not be double sized, but double strength.
Macchiato – like a cappuccino with chocolate
Caffe Latte – espresso and milk
caffe mocha – like a chocolate Latte
Caffe Americano – I love the story behind this one. After the second world war, when tourism started to pick up in Italy, a lot of American tourists were dismayed to find that they couldn’t get a “normal cup of coffee”, and instead were given a tiny cup of a very dark, very strong brew. Some Italian baristas started using a larger glass, and thinning the espresso out with water, the whole time shaking their heads and mumbling “Americano!” That’s a basic caffe Americano. Espresso topped up with water. It’s good for anyone not yet used to the strength of a shot of espresso, or someone wanting something closer to a cappuccino, but who may be lactose intolerant. Also, not every barista will know this one, so it makes you look pretty knowledgeable (even if you aren’t).
There are many other variations you can try, and it’s fun to be able to make fancy coffee-based drinks when company comes over and you want to whip up a quick treat. Experiment and enjoy!