Spilling the beans on coffee lingo

Well over half of America will resort to a cup of coffee to chase off the chill. Drive-thru services make specialty coffee drinks a convenient indulgence, and for many, it’s a daily ritual. But, do you know what you’re drinking?

If the gourmet coffee shop is a usual stop, knowing “coffee lingo” will help you have it your way.

  • Coffee: Is just that: plain coffee. It will come black and caffeinated unless otherwise requested.
  • Espresso: Concentrated coffee. No sweeteners or milk are added. Espresso is the foundation of many gourmet coffees.
  • Latte: An espresso with steamed milk and a little foam.
  • Cappuccino: An espresso with equal parts steamed milk and foam.
  • Americano: An espresso with hot water.
  • Mocha: An espresso with steamed milk, a little foam and chocolate sauce.

In general, coffee drinks come in four sizes: short (8 oz.), tall (12 oz.), grande (16 oz.) and venti (20 oz.). Size variance can account for a difference of nearly 300 calories. Also pay attention to milk choices. The default is usually 2% milk, but by request, skim milk can be used, called a “skinny,” which saves 50 calories.

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Forego the whipped topping and cut an additional 80 calories. Other options include fat-free cream and sugar-free syrup. Being conscious of the serving size and what’s going into the coffee could mean a difference of up to 400 calories.

Calorie content is not the only issue to consider. Coffee with caffeine is the standard unless ordered otherwise. The daily recommended amount of caffeine is about 250 milligrams (mg) which is equivalent to about three espresso shots (each espresso shot contains about 75 mg caffeine).

When ordering, the number of espresso shots typically correlates to the cup size: one shot in a short or tall; two shots in a grande; four shots in a venti. However, the number of shots can be adjusted to your preference.

Even with these caveats, the American Heart Association concludes that moderate coffee consumption probably isn’t harmful (except during pregnancy) and may confer health benefits.

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Drinking coffee in moderation—two to three cups a day—may decrease risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, gallstones, cirrhosis, Parkinson’s disease, dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, and colon, liver and breast cancer. The health benefits of coffee may be due to caffeine, antioxidants, and other components.


Written by Gina Keilen. Keilen is a registered dietitian formerly of the Greater Lansing area, now living in Howell.  She works at University of Michigan Hospital as a Food Service Manager.


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