11 Drinks That Are A Red Flag For Baristas, According To A Coffee Expert

Whether you have dreams of visiting the first Starbucks or prefer to stick to a local coffee shop, at least one important person standing between you and your beverage of choice: the barista. As you probably already know, baristas are coffee experts. They're the ones who make the drink you select, often following special instructions to prepare it just how you like it.

Coffee making is more of an art than many people realize, especially with all the specialty options. Generally, baristas don't mind following special requests to create a cup of joe that suits your liking. However, certain drinks are a red flag for baristas. If you order one of these, it may annoy your barista or clue them in that you don't know what you're ordering. We chatted with coffee expert Matt Woodburn-Simmonds, the owner of Home Coffee Expert, to learn more about which drinks baristas see as a red flag.

Anything with hot heavy cream

Matt Woodburn-Simmonds explains that milk, not heavy cream, is better for steaming the heavy cream. He shares that milk has an ideal " balance of fats, proteins, sugars, and water." Heavy cream, on the other hand, has a much higher fat content. This makes it very dense, preventing it from steaming correctly or causing the foam to collapse, as Woodburn-Simmonds notes.

Heavy cream isn't necessary for a coffee beverage. Woodburn-Simmonds says if he hears someone order a drink made with it, "You also have to wonder if they even want a coffee or if they should just grab some ice cream. In fact, getting affogato is a nicer coffee experience anyway so maybe just do that instead." If you're unfamiliar with it, affogato is an Italian treat made by pouring a shot of hot espresso over a scoop of creamy ice cream and one of the words you should know if you're ever in an Italian restaurant.

Mixing coffee and matcha

For those unfamiliar with matcha, it's a high-quality green tea called tencha, ground down to a fine green powder that you add to hot water or milk. Matt Woodburn-Simmonds has some strong words to share about messing with matcha, a beverage he describes as "glorious." He notes, "Getting a fresh, vibrant, matcha tea is a very enjoyable experience and one to savour." However, he is more of a purist when it comes to matcha and sees adding even sugar or cream to make a matcha latte as ruining a good drink.

Even worse, according to Woodburn-Simmonds, is when customers ask their barista to make a "dirty matcha" by combining espresso and matcha. He describes this combination as offensive to "the excellent espresso and matcha powder." When combined, he says, "You end up with a drink that has made every component worse than they are on their own." If you don't want to raise red flags with your barista, stick with either matcha or espresso, not both together.

Cappuccino with no foam or dry cappuccinos

A well-crafted cappuccino with a perfect espresso and foamed milk balance may be one of the best, and most iconic, coffee drinks you can order. Matt Woodburn-Simmonds shares, "There are a few drinks that are sort of OG 3rd-wave classics that shouldn't be messed with. Cappuccino falls firmly in this category." Due to Woodburn-Simmonds' strongly held belief, which is likely the same for many other baristas, you will send all sorts of red flags if you mess with such a beautifully balanced coffee by asking for a cappuccino with no foam.

Woodburn-Simmonds says, "nothing good will happen," if you alter the years-long perfected ratios. He advises to "enjoy the cappuccino in its pure form or order something else." If you're not in the mood for the foam, ask your barista to make you a drink that doesn't traditionally come with foam, such as an Americano, an espresso, or a flat white.

Extra hot latte

Sure, the hotter your drink is, the longer it will stay warm. If you're always on the go and forget about your drink, ordering it "extra hot" can help it retain more heat for longer. Or, perhaps you're just someone who likes a piping hot drink or likes to sip it like a fine wine, so you want to make sure that your latte is served as hot as possible. However, if you order an extra hot latte, Matt Woodburn-Simmonds explains that you're raising a red flag for your barista and making them question your logic.

Woodburn-Simmonds explains, "Milk is steamed to a maximum of 165 degrees Fahrenheit, if we go above that we're going to burn it and it will taste horrible." You're just asking for disappointment when you order an extra hot latte. If the barista truly follows your directions, you'll end up with a drink that tastes like burnt milk. Who wants that?

Asking for milk for a pour-over

A pour-over is a special drink where hot water is poured over the loose coffee grounds. As the water travels through the grounds, it mixes with its flavor before hitting the coffee mug. Matt Woodburn-Simmonds shares that a pour-over is one of his favorite drinks and the type he will most likely order when visiting a new coffee shop. He explains, "The amazing aromatics of the coffee are brought out so nicely, and it shows off amazing regional variance, roast variance, and processing variance from the coffee producers."

As highly as Woodburn Simmonds and other baristas regard a good pour-over, most are not fans of messing with such perfection by adding milk. Woodburn-Simmonds goes as far as to say that adding milk will "ruin the whole thing [resulting in] so much time and energy wasted." If you typically order milk with a pour-over, see what Woodburn-Simmonds is raving about by trying it without the dairy. You never know; you might find a new favorite

Ordering a normal coffee

When traveling, knowing how to order your coffee without sounding like a tourist is important. However, knowing how to order coffee at your local café without making it sound like you have no idea what you're talking about is equally important. Matt Woodburn-Simmonds explains that one of his pet peeves is when customers order a "normal coffee." He says, "I feel a little bad for people who have been left behind by the 3rd wave coffee movement. People who never conceived of the number of variations coffee could have."

Is there such a thing as a "normal coffee?" How can you expect your barista to know what "normal" means to you when it could be the complete opposite of what it means to another customer? If by normal, you mean a plain, black coffee, then you'll need to specify that. You'll also need to specify whether you want a lighter or a darker roast profile. When making more complicated orders try and provide as much detail so the barista can understand what you want and how to prepare it for you.

Espresso with lots of ice

Have you heard about the coffee shop hack that says to order a shot of espresso in a large cup with ice? According to the creators of this hack, you can save money on your morning cup of coffee by adding milk or creamer to the cup to make your latte. However, if a barista hears you order an espresso with lots of ice, it's a major red flag.

Matt Woodburn-Simmonds says, "Refilling the creamer because people want to save money but not give up their latte is deeply annoying. The obvious result is that the creamer disappears, and that annoys everyone." The move to save yourself a few bucks is going to impact many other customers who may not be able to add a splash of milk or cream to their coffee, along with the baristas who will have to stop making drinks for other people to refill the carafes. So, as Woodburn-Simmonds says, ditch this hack and "just pay for your coffee like a normal person."

Secret menu coffees

You may have heard that many restaurants have a secret menu. This can make it exciting to order something that other customers may not know about. However, other customers aren't the only ones who may not be informed about the secret menu offerings. There is no guarantee that your barista will know what you're talking about if they never heard of the item.

Matt Woodburn-Simmonds considers it a red flag when customers simply order a "secret" menu item by name and expect him to make it right away. He explains, "Some people won't even specify what they want, they'll just ask for whatever it's called on social media. I'm 35 years old, I do not know what is trending on TikTok, and I definitely don't know what the current obscenity dreamt up by a teenager for internet clout is." If you want to try a secret menu item that you heard about online, be sure to come with a detailed description of the beverage so the barista can prepare it for you.

Overcomplicating standard coffees

While there are many specialty coffees, there are also tried and true standard offerings. Understanding the correct terminology when ordering the drink you want is important to avoid making things more challenging. Matt Woodburn-Simmonds says, "There are simple names for popular coffees for a reason." These names are widely recognized by baristas in different shops. Keeping things simple for your barista will help make their job more manageable and ensure you get the drink you want.

As an example, Woodburn Simmonds says, "Asking for a small, double shot latte when you want a flat white is confusing and unnecessary." Learn the name of your favorite drinks and order them correctly. You'll also want to avoid asking for something unnecessarily complex if you can order a more simple drink. For example, if your order is so specific that you want a venti eight-shot, two pump mocha, skim milk, whipped cream, and 5 shakes of cinnamon  sprinkled, not stirred,  know your barista is going to give you a dirty look. Try to simplify and do the five shakes of cinnamon yourself, maybe? 

Ordering a macchiatto when you want a latte

Matt Woodburn-Simmonds says if a customer orders a macchiato, it is also likely to sound alarm bells for baristas. He's found that many people order macchiatos when what they actually want is a latte. Macchiato means "stained" in Italian. A true macchiato is made up of espresso that is "stained" with a little steamed or foamed milk. To make a latte, much more milk is added on top of the espresso.

Baristas want to catch errors like this before they make a drink that doesn't match what the customer wants, so be ready to get some weird looks and a few questions if you ask for a macchiato when placing an order. Woodburn-Simmonds points to what he thinks is the reason so many customers make this ordering mistake. He says, "So this is Starbuck's fault really. The Iced Caramel Macchiato which bears zero resemblance to an actual macchiato, has confused people who will now ask for a vanilla macchiato and be horrified to receive an espresso with a spoon of foam on top." If you're looking for a milk-based latte, be sure to order that, instead of asking for a macchiato. You'll save yourself and your barista a lot of frustration and hassle.

Lungo

Lungo, which translates to "long" in Italian, is a type of espresso. Its name is derived from the fact it has a longer extraction time than a standard shot of espresso. Along with the longer extraction time, more water is used, yielding a larger drink (about 2 ounces compared to a 1-ounce espresso shot). While you may be intrigued and tempted to order a lungo, think twice.

Woodburn-Simmonds explains why a customer ordering a lungo is a red flag for baristas. He says the extra water used to make this beverage "results in a bitter and weaker coffee as the bitter flavors are extracted last." He adds, "We could adjust the grind to get a better balanced drink but doing that for a once in a blue moon customer is not likely to happen." Save yourself from getting a bitter coffee and opt for an espresso (or a double shot of espresso) instead.

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