A few days ago, inspired by the awesome New York Times feature "How Y’all, Youse, and You Guys Talk" I thought I might apply a small part of this idea to coffee. After all, there is a bunch of variation in coffee language across the United States: most people who travel for coffee at some point notice that there are variations in language (what do you call that drink?) in cities across our great country. I set out to find out if some of my own observations were true! So, I set up a little quiz: ten questions off the top of my head based on things I’ve noticed over the years. A little over 400 people took the quiz, mostly from the U.S. but also in Europe, Austrailia, New Zealand and South Africa. Want results? Ok! Read on:
What is Brewed Coffee with Espresso Called?
You don’t have to work at a coffee bar very long before some maniac asks you to put an espresso in a cup of coffee. In the 80s and 90s, this combo began appearing on coffee bar menus, but because the drink was not “classic”, it earned a variety of names. Could it be that these names were geographically organized? Consult the map and see for yourself.
As is instantly apparent, the closer you are to New York, the more likely you are to call the drink a “Red Eye”, and the closer you are to Seattle, the more likely you are to call it a “Shot In The Dark”. How about that? There are a couple other names, too: shown in yellow, the term “Hammerhead” seems to be restricted to San Diego and the Bay Area (probably due to influence from my alma mater, the Pannikin). There were a number of write-ins (shown in green) in the Midwest which called the drink a “Depth Charge”. Barista Seth Lester speculated that this might be because of Caribou Coffee’s influence. Indeed, research supports this theory: Caribou has in fact registered the name as their copyright! I would speculate that Shot in the Dark and Red Eye have similar single-shop origins, and center-of-origin data indicates these shops might be in Tacoma and Philadelphia, respectively.
The Mysterious Mocha.
This is an interesting one. First of all, I wanted to establish how people make the ubiquitous coffee-and-chocolate drink. Turns out, most everyone combines espresso, steamed milk, and chocolate syrup in the serving cup. Only a few in the Southwest and East Coast combine espresso and steamed hot chocolate, and a number of write ins (shown in yellow) specified “Chocolate Ganache”. Only a tiny handful make a mocha with brewed coffee. This leads to the next question, what do we call it? I was working on a theory: since the coffee-and-milk drink Café au Lait (from the French) is usually made with brewed coffee and the Caffè Latte (from the Italian) is made with espresso, I thought perhaps Mocha might follow the same pattern. It does not. (click here for map). The neutral term “Mocha” is most popular, followed in almost equal measure by “Café Mocha” (2nd most popular) and “Caffè Mocha” (3rd, but almost equal). There does not appear to be any geographic influence in the U.S. However, check out Europe: only one respondent used ”Caffè Mocha” (someone from Luxenbourg). Since the drink was presumably invented in Vienna, let’s pay special attention to respondents from Austria: one says “Mocha” and the other “Café Mocha”.
Just Give Me The Regular
So, first off, apparently people from New England don’t like to take web surveys. This is disappointing, considering that perhaps the definitive regionally-specific coffee drink is “Coffee Regular”, which is said to be exclusive to the American Northeast. Though no actual New Englanders were available for comment, it’s clear that an order of “Coffee, regular” has a chance of getting you a cup of coffee with half and half and sugar in the Northeast, although usually you’ll just get a cup of black coffee. Charmingly, a handful of Europeans seem to know this tradition, or else it originated in Europe and made it across the Atlantic. Most write-ins were baristas who thought they might go deeper into the question with their customer.
A Cortado is not a minivan, neither is a Gibraltar
I thought a good one to address would be the cortado/gibraltar thing. Really gaining in popularity over the past few years, a teeny rocks glass with espresso and textured milk in it is a delicious thing. Famously christened a “Gibraltar” (after a brand of glassware) at Ritual Coffee in San Francisco, but also known as a “Cortado” (after a Spanish drink), I thought it would be interesting to see the geographic distribution of these names. It was! (map here) Indeed, Cortado is more popular than Gibraltar everywhere except the San Francisco bay area, where Gibraltar trounced it, and for some reason Minneapolis, Minnesota. I have no explanation for this except that I’m pretty sure it has something to do with Noah Namowicz.
Porcelain or Glass?
I first learned to make Caffè Lattes in a tall glass (wrapped with a paper napkin for safety!) but now I see them mostly in giant porcelain cups. Of course, I wondered if there was a geographic connection and indeed there may be: Lattès in glass seems to be a San Francisco thing, where you stand a reasonable chance of getting served the drink that way. For some reason, North Carolina has a similar demographic, and New Orleans seems to accept the practice.
The noun is variety, you guys
Of course, everyone who knows me understands there is no way I could do a study on coffee language without my personal bête noire, the use of “varietal” as a noun instead of as an adjective. As such, this is the only question in the quiz that had a “wrong” answer. I know, I know, the wine guys do it. Anyhow, geographically, the East Coast showed their strength- and the Southeast in particular!- by having the highest percentage use “Coffee Variety”. I SALUTE YOU ON THAT FARAWAY COAST! Others sought extra credit by writing in “Cultivar” which I suppose is a pass.
This was super fun you guys! I look forward to doing this again in the future.