Starbucks Crash Course, Part 1, For Ms. Rachel Cooper

Lattes. Cappuccino. Chai. Eh???

What the heck actually GOES ON in Starbucks? What is "espresso" anyhow? Why can some people order super complicated drinks with ease?

This is a crash course in Starbucks.

You have two main components: espresso and steamed milk.

Espresso is an extremely dark roast coffee that is packed tightly in a little hand-held coffee urn and then brewed between 18 and 23 seconds. The result is two 1oz. servings of extremely strong, extremely dark roasted coffee. We let them "pull" (brew) straight into shot glasses, thus the name: "espresso shots". These shots are a bit fussy. If they are pulled less than or more than 18 and 23 seconds, they're considered "bad" and must be dumped out and pulled all over. Because each shot is hand-packed with coffee grounds, and the grounds are effected by humidity, water pressure, size of the grounds, and how hard they are manually packed in, they can be a bit challenging. (During a time when we have a huge line with a lot of drinks to be made, if I pull a 17 second shot, it's going in your drink, and I just don't care)

Some badass customers drink these shots straight up, usually in twos and fours. You can order a "solo espresso" (just one shot) a "doppio" espresso, a triple espresso, or a quad espresso. After that, you're just crazy... but we've had people order six and eight, and I've heard reports of 20!!!! That's a lot of caffeine. You can also ask for one or two shots to be put in your regular coffee. One shot in your regular old coffee is called a "Red Eye" and two shots is called a "Black Eye". This is a coffee house standard... you can walk into any coffee shop and they'll know what you mean. (When we are behind the counter and calling, from one end of the counter to the other, for a "Black Eye", it is inevitable that SOMEone will say, "Hootie!" or "Webster!" or "Colin Powell!"... or any other famous "black guy"...and if you're wondering if I started that, well, yes. I did.)

Next we have the steamed milk. The cold milk is poured into a stainless steel pitcher and steamed with a steaming wand. Anyone who's seen a home cappuchino machine will understand this concept. You make foam by holding the wand near the surface of the milk, and steam it smooth by sticking the wand further into the milk, towards the bottom. The milk is steamed to 160 degrees F (unless the customer asks otherwise).

Espresso shots plus steamed milk is a latte. A latte is the foundation of all those complicated "Starbucks drinks".