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Learn English: How to order a coffee in Australia

A flat white
A flat white.

Unsplash CC: Carli Jeen

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What's the difference between a 'flat white' and a 'latte'? Read on to learn more about all the words and phrases you need to order your next coffee just the way you like it.

Know your way around an Australian café

In Australia most cafés offer 'table service'. That means a member of staff will come to your table to take your order.  The staff member who serves you is usually called a 'server'or you can use gender-specific terms like 'waiter' for a male and 'waitress' for a female.

If you are not planning to stay in the café while you drink your coffee, you might go up to the counter and specify that your order is to 'take away'.

The person who makes your coffee is called a 'barista'.

A barista
A barista making a coffee.

Unsplash CC: Daryan Shamkhali

Café language

There are a number of phrases you may be met with when you arrive at a café.

"What can I get you?" is a common café greeting. It means: "What would you like?" Or you may be asked: "What are you having today?"

Customers who visit the same café are often referred to as 'regulars' – a short form of 'regular customer'.

If you are a 'regular' at a café, the staff might start to remember what you order each day. In this case, they might greet you by asking: "The usual?"

They mean:

"Are you being served" is a common way of asking if a staff member has taken your order. You might also be asked "Are you being looked after?" which means the same thing.

How to order

If you're going to order coffee you need to know just what sort to ask for.

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Watch the video above to see the range of coffee available – you should be able to recognise some of these common coffee orders. YouTube: Australia Plus

An 'espresso', or 'short black' is made by forcing very hot water through ground coffee beans, under pressure. This concentrated form of coffee is the base used for most coffee drinks. It you order a 'short black' or 'espresso' it will be served in a small cup or glass. You can also order a 'double shot espresso'. You'll get twice as much – but it's also twice as strong!

A short black
A short black.

Unsplash CC: Jonathan Pielmayer

To make a 'long black' the barista will pour an 'espresso' over some hot water. It's served in a larger glass or cup.

Milk?

If you prefer your coffee with milk, there are a few options on offer. In cafés, milk is heated with steam. This causes it to 'foam'.

A 'macchiato' is an espresso with just a small amount of milk foam.  A macchiato is sometimes shortened to 'mac'.

A common coffee ordered in Australian cafes is the 'latte'. Served in a glass, it’s an 'espresso' topped up with steamed milk with just a dollop of milk froth on top.

Then there's the Australian specialty, the 'flat white'. It’s served in a cup and is also an 'espresso' with milk. In this case the milk should be a mix of liquid and froth.

A 'cappuccino' is also an 'espresso' coffee with steamed milk, but it has a thick layer of milk froth. It is served in a cup and is often dusted with chocolate.

A cappuccino
A cappuccino.

Unsplash CC: Karl Chor

If you'd like something sweeter, you could order a 'mocha'. It's basically a latte, but with the addition of chocolate, either as powder or syrup. 'Mocha' refers to the combination of coffee and chocolate.

And finally, for the kids, there's the 'babycino'. It's just a tiny cup of steamed milk, sometimes with a sprinkle of chocolate on top. 

More variations

On top of this you might want to specify the type of milk you prefer in your coffee.

If you ask for a 'latte', for example, it will be served with full cream cow's milk. This is the standard milk in most cafes in Australia.

Two lattes
Two lattes.

Unsplash CC: Chiara Pinna

In many places you can specify that you'd like a 'skinny latte'. That means it's made with low-fat milk.

Or you can order a 'soy latte'. That's a 'latte' made with soy milk.

Most milk coffees have these options. So you can order a 'skinny cappuccino', or a 'soy flat white'.

In some cases you could order your milk 'on the side'. This means it will be served with a small jug of milk, so you can add it yourself.

If you're having coffee seated at the café, once you're finished you usually go up to counter to pay. In Australia there's no obligation to tip for service, though you might choose to add some small change to the tip jar on your way out.

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