Dark robust flavors, strong smells, boiling water, a dash of milk, and maybe a bit of sugar–for most people, the day can only officially begin after a good cup of coffee. It sets the mood for the morning and gives you that needed kick to conquer the day.
In a fast-paced world, most on-the-go coffee-lovers would already have their favorite go-to drinks. Baristas are specially trained to take these orders on the fly, rarely even referencing a menu or guide.
However, menus and ingredients vary in different countries. While some words are borrowed and are similar, much can still get lost in translation. A slight slip of the tongue could end up with you getting a cup that’s not to your liking. So much for starting your morning off on the right foot!
Luckily, adventurous coffee lovers need not fret. Your mornings don’t have to be a letdown. Here are some phrases to help you get that much-needed caffeine fix while abroad.
The Middle East is known as the birthplace of coffee. Its inhabitants were the first to roast and brew their coffee beans. It was from the Kaffa province in Ethiopia, the coffee plant, Coffee Arabica, found its way to the Middle East. There, it became “قهوة” – pronounced "qahwa".
Turkish merchants picked up these goods and started calling the beans “caffè.” Over hundreds of years of trading, the word eventually became “coffee” in English vocabulary. Today, one of the most popular and prized coffee variations is Arabica Coffee, considered superior in taste. If you find yourself in an Arabic-speaking country, these phrases will help you get your coffee.
The French have created their own variations of coffee that are now known worldwide. They’re so popular that you don’t need to go to France to get a taste of them. They’re available as canned drinks, powdered mixes and are even available as a flavor.
Ordering a simple coffee in France is an entirely different story, though. While un café means a coffee in French, asking for one will result in the barista serving you an espresso. If you want something that’s not too strong, there’s an un allongé, a somewhat weaker espresso, or a une noisette which is a shot of espresso with some hot milk. French is a tricky language, but you can order your café with ease with a bit of practice.
Most of the coffee lingo used all over the world comes from Italy. As you head down to a coffee shop to peruse their menus, you’re bound to find some familiar words. This is because most of the terms are literal translations of how Italians describe their coffee.
For example, a cappuccino is an espresso with a cap of milk foam. A caffè macchiato literally meads “cloudy coffee”. A caffè americano was named after how Americans in Italy added water to their espressos because they found it too strong for their taste.
Although many of these words are common in coffee shops worldwide, they differ in context once used in Italy. For example, asking for a latte will be understood as ordering a glass of plain milk. If you ask for a caffè, they will hand you an espresso shot – as this is their go-to coffee. It may take some time getting used to, but with a bit of practice, you’ll be ordering espressos and cappuccinos like a local.
The Spaniards enjoy their coffee like everyone else worldwide, and their influence is still quite prominent. Spanish is widely spoken in many parts of the globe, and so, learning some key phrases should help you get around. Especially when it comes to getting your caffeine fix.
Chances are you are already familiar with some of these words and phrases, but it helps to know how they go together, particularly on a groggy morning.
Japanese locals take pride in their tea-making and have brought in coffee in this endeavor as well. Entering a Japanese café or kissaten may seem intimidating at first. After all, most traditional tea-drinking shops that serve coffee have an air of formality about them. However, once you learn a few simple phrases, you can order that much-needed cup of kōhī.
Want to learn more vocabulary for coffee? You can check out our Coffee & Tea topic in Drops along with more than 150 other topics. Try Drops: the new way to easily learn a language that combines engaging and fun word games with beautiful design. Learn more than 41 languages with fun, visual games. Try the fastest-growing language app in the world for free on iOS or Android.
About the Author: Charles is the managing editor of Cuppabean.com, where he helps people make better coffee by providing expert insights, recipes, and in-depth reviews on coffee makers. Thanks to Drops, he was able to use a few Hangul (한글) phrases during his travel to Korea last 2019. He plans to visit other Asian countries like Japan and learn more useful phrases from the app.