What Your Coffee Order Says About You, According to a Professional Barista

By Samantha Suarez | Photography by David Specht

Sitting down for a good old cup o’ joe with colleagues, old friends or a date is a past time enjoyed all over the world. Drinking coffee is pretty good for you, too. Research suggests that consuming a moderate amount of it reduces your risk of a heart attack. One study from Seoul National University even found that just smelling coffee could reduce the stress caused by sleep deprivation. It’s no wonder coffee is such a cultural phenomenon. 

As for the type of coffee you drink? Like your wardrobe, your favorite restaurant or the shows you binge watch, your preferences say a little something about you. While baristas are not ones to judge, they are certainly qualified to make a few observations. Who better to reveal what your coffee order says about you than Leah Ritsema,cafe operations manager of Grand Rapids’ iconic MadCap Coffee Company?

Espresso

Coffee brewed by forcing a small amount of nearly boiling water under pressure through finely ground coffee beans.

Leah Ritsema: I get excited whenever someone orders an espresso. That’s the equivalent of ordering whiskey neat at a bar. It’s the chance to try coffee in its purest form. My impression of someone who drinks espresso is that they’re either really efficient or a true coffee lover.

FUN FACT: When you order an espresso at Madcap, you get automatically get a double. Most of their other drinks (lattes, cappuccinos, mochas, etc.) contain espresso shots as well.

Latte

MadCap’s Latte contains 2 ounces of espresso and 10 ounces of steamed milk with a nice thin layer of foam across the top

LR: This is probably our most commonly ordered drink. I would say latte drinkers probably don’t like coffee all that much, or they’re looking for a safe bet.

Cappuccino

MadCap’s cappuccino has 2 ounces of espresso, 4 ounces of steamed milk, and a thicker layer of foam on top. 

LR: Sometimes, when people order a cappuccino, they’re expecting a large foamy latte, but a proper cappuccino is actually a small drink. If someone orders a proper cappuccino, I would think of them as someone fancy or someone looking for something a little sweeter than a latte. It’s the perfect afternoon drink!

Flat White

Hugh Jackman, who owns a coffee shop in New York, says a flat white is “like a latte with a little less milk and more espresso.”

LR: There are so many definitions of what a flat white is out there because it’s not a real drink. Usually, what they want is a short latte or a cappuccino that’s steamed like a latte. My impression when someone orders a flat white is that they think they know what they’re talking about, but they don’t.

Iced Coffee

Coffee served over ice (duh).

LR: Our iced coffee is a coffee concentrate brewed with hot water over ice. I personally love iced coffee because you can perceive more flavor in coffee when it’s cold. People who order this year-round, especially during winter, are stubborn, or they’re just looking to be refreshed!

Mocha

MadCap’s mocha is the same recipe as their latte, but with 8 grams of chocolate syrup made in-house.

LR: People who order this probably want to take a cute picture for social media. Mochas look great in photos because the chocolate creates a darker surface to work with and it contrasts more with the foam. It’s pretty ‘grammable!

Coffee with Flavored Syrups

LR: If someone wants a cup of coffee with vanilla syrup, my first impression is that they’re inexperienced coffee drinkers or have never tried our coffee plain. I always encourage people to try it before adding something to it! They expect it to be bitter, but our coffee is delicious and easy to drink.

Black Coffee

Coffee brewed by letting hot water drip down through grounds, served without any additives like milk or sweetener.

LR: I’m super stoked when someone orders this! Like I said, a cup of black coffee or espresso is the purest way for us to show you what we do here. 

Americano

Espresso shots topped with hot water.

LR: We don’t have Americanos on our menu, but we can make it if people ask for it. My impression is, why don’t you just get a cup of black coffee? Or enjoy the espresso on its own instead of drinking a watered down espresso? I would say that people who order this are on a diet, or they think there’s more caffeine in espresso than brewed coffee, which is not true.

Coffee with Milk Alternatives (soy milk, almond milk, etc.)

LR: It depends. They’re either people with real dairy allergies or Instagram fitness models. I don’t get why people have a stigma against whole milk. Our whole milk is delicious!

FUN FACT: Madcap does not use the term “skinny” when describing
drinks with skim milk. They would call a “skinny latte” a “latte with skim milk” instead.

Super Specific Coffee Orders

“Can I have a triple shot soy decaf vanilla latte with whipped cream, rainbow sprinkles and a silly straw?” 

LR: This is the worst. The reality is, a lot of people are used to big box coffee shops that can cater to anything they want. At Starbucks, for example, they can customize your drink in a bunch of different ways. Our menu isn’t designed like that. If you just try the drink the way it was intended, I promise it will taste a lot better! When you make all these weird changes to it, it doesn’t taste as good. People who order drinks this way are probably used to getting things exactly how they want, have never worked in service before or don’t actually love coffee.

Decaf

Coffee with the caffeine removed.

LR: In reality, there is no naturally-occurring decaffeinated coffee in the world. All coffee is caffeinated. When coffee is decaffeinated, it goes through some sort of process to remove the caffeine. Most places use a chemical process which makes it taste papery and kind of gross. We use a natural sugarcane process to extract the caffeine. It ends up tasting syrupy and caramel-y. It’s actually delicious! People who order decaf in the morning might really love coffee but probably gave up caffeine for health reasons.

Chai Latte

Black tea infused cinnamon, clove, and other spices, combined with steamed milk.

LR: Our chai latte is two-thirds a concentrate of black tea with a bunch of spices, like star anise, and with one-third steamed milk. Someone asking for a chai latte is looking for something warm and comforting. They’re also usually either a grandma or a young girl. There aren’t a lot of men that order these, for some reason! 

Dirty Chai

A chai latte mixed with espresso.

LR: These people are really trying to blast off. There’s already caffeine in the black tea, and they want two shots of espresso on top of that?! Just have them as separate drinks!

Tea 

LR: Usually, they’re meeting someone else or got dragged there for some reason. I will say our tea is delicious though!

Cortado

Espresso with a small amount of steamed milk.

LR: A cortado is essentially a baby latte. It’s a 4-ounce drink with 50 percent steamed milk and 50 percent espresso. It’s still an espresso-forward beverage because you can taste the nuances of the espresso, but it’s warm, sweet and delicious because of the milk. Like espresso drinkers, I would say cortado drinkers are efficient.

FUN FACT: Leah recommends drinking espressos and cortados inside the coffee shop instead of to-go. Otherwise, you’re creating waste by using a tiny takeout cup that you’ll finish in minutes!

Hot chocolate

LR: These people love themselves. 

Cafe Miel

A latte with honey and cinnamon.

LR: This was the first sweet drink we put on our menu! Before that, the sweetest drink we had was a latte. We realized we were missing a large part of our demographic by not having a sweet drink available, and if we were going to put one on the menu, it had to be a good one. This is my go-to recommendation for someone who tries ordering a sweet drink we don’t have on our menu, like a caramel macchiato. People who order this want the caffeine but also want something sweet, or they wanted something we didn’t make.

FUN FACT: While you can order a cafe miel at almost any coffee shop, MadCap was actually the first place in Grand Rapids to put it on their menu.

WLM: Are there any misconceptions about the coffee industry you want to debunk?

LR: We consider ourselves a third wave coffee company. First wave coffee is diner coffee. Second wave is the big box establishments like Starbucks, Biggby and Tim Hortons. Third wave coffee is a step further. There’s this misconception that third wave coffee is pretentious, and your barista is arrogant and will look down on you for what you order. At Madcap, all our baristas are friendly and want to help. It’s important for people to understand that we consider coffee a craft. It takes a year for baristas to get their espresso certifications here. There is care and intentionality that goes into what we’re doing, but we’re always happy to answer questions if you need help navigating the menu or want a recommendation from us.

WLM: Any advice for women in the
service industry?

LR: Know your truth, wear your crown, be who you are unapologetically, support other women in your industry and work hard. The world needs more women in the service industry. We provide hospitality in a way that men can’t. Not to say that men don’t offer their own wonderful form of hospitality, but we offer something unique and different, and the world is better for it. I think women are amazing people, so don’t be intimidated. Ladies are bad-ass!


Sam was born in Chicago, grew up in the Philippines, attended college in Australia and is now living in Grand Rapids. She loves cheese, video games and music, and will quote a movie or TV show every chance she gets.

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