We’ve all been there. Bleary eyed and tired, rolling into the coffee shop completely under-caffeinated. Baristas are there to save the day. In the tens of thousands of coffee shops across the country, dedicated java-brewing pros listen to what customers want in their coffee and tailor it to their liking. Baristas are the ultimate champs.
I worked as a barista myself for a couple years at a small independent cafe. It was a fun, high-paced job. Working the espresso machine, chatting with customers, and fulfilling their coffee orders was my favorite part. However, to the average java drinker, it can be difficult to understand the nuances that differentiate a latte from a macchiato, or what makes a cappuccino “dry.” And then there are the multitudes of plant-based milks (oat, almond, soy, even pistachio) and customizations like sugar-free syrups. It’s no wonder some customers are at a loss on how to order! But, patience and kindness go a long way, and baristas are eager to get it right. Trust me.
Baristas sling expertly made coffee drinks—sometimes non-stop in a busy rush—and honor even the most specific requests without so much as blinking an eye. Well, most of the time. There are, however, some orders that make baristas’ eyes roll. Whether they are confounding, counterintuitive, or overly fussy, baristas share which 11 coffee orders make them roll their eyes—and why.
Overly sweetened drinks are a big turn-off for some baristas. “Once I had a girl order a latte with so much syrup that it would be disgustingly sweet,” says barista Joonas Jokiniemi, founder of Coffee Maister. “She said, ‘I’d like a latte with 15 pumps of vanilla syrup. Yes, I said 15.’ Yup, I can do that, but it’s not going to taste good.” That’s about 80 grams of sugar, Jokiniemi explains, which works out to about 20 sugar cubes. “Five pumps of vanilla syrup would be the maximum that I recommend for a large drink,” he says. “At 15, you can barely taste the coffee anymore. It will just taste like sugar and vanilla.”
Did I hear that right? A black coffee with … cream? Tons of baristas have received this exact request, which, of course, makes no sense. Jokiniemi says silly slips like these (or similar orders that make no sense) are usually because customers are in a hurry. “The people who make irrational orders often look tired,” Jokiniemi says. “They probably can’t focus on what they are ordering because it’s early morning and their brain is still waking up—that’s why they need the coffee!”
Jiyoon Han, founder of Bean & Bean Coffee Roasters in New York City, sees examples of customer miseducation, too. “Sometimes orders may be redundant or contradictory,” Han says. “One example is when customers request foam on cappuccinos. Cappuccinos by definition involve a layer of silky, luscious microfoam!”
Ah, the confusion that is macchiatos. Macchiato means “marked” in Italian. Traditionally, it’s simply a double shot of espresso with a small amount of milk foam on top. It’s a small drink, only about four ounces of liquid. It would be served in the same cup as an espresso. So, imagine some customers’ surprise when they order a “caramel macchiato” at an independent coffee shop and get a tiny cup. When I worked as a barista, I quickly learned that customers usually want a Starbucks-style caramel macchiato. The sugar-laden and ultra-popular drink is often to blame for the puzzlement.
Starbucks’ take on the caramel macchiato is actually a vanilla latte with the espresso poured over top (rather than sitting on the bottom) and finished with caramel drizzle. It’s a far cry from the traditional Italian macchiato. Most baristas have to spend time walking the customer through any macchiato order before making it. “Customers at my work read the menu, and say I want a ‘traditional macchiato‘ and then they are confused when I hand it to them.” Thanks to the popularity of the Starbucks drink, it’s up to baristas to ask whether customers want a traditional macchiato or a large latte a la Starbucks. “If they say they don’t know, I give them a vanilla caramel latte,” one barista wrote on Reddit.
Nothing slows down a busy morning rush quite like whipping out a blender, an appliance that is the scorn of many baristas. “Nothing really gets my eyes to roll besides blender drinks during a 20-plus drink solo barista rush,” says barista Johnny Lau, who worked in cafes in Australia for years. This is especially frustrating when there is only a single blender and multiple blended drink orders coming in at once. To prevent cross-contamination, the blender has to be washed between drinks, which slows down everyone’s orders. “I break momentum and it costs me about two minutes,” Lau says. One former “broista” at Dutch Bros hated when customers asked for their blended drinks to be blended twice in the blender. “As if that made it taste any different,” they wrote on Reddit.
Baristas are busy. You can’t blame them for not being familiar with every drink that’s trending on TikTok at any given moment. And ordering “the new pink TikTok drink” doesn’t give them much information to go on. “I couldn’t be more annoyed at stuff like this,” one barista wrote on Reddit. “I don’t have TikTok, so I [don’t know] what you’re talking about… whatever it is doesn’t have a name or ingredient list, so we can’t make that for you during rush.” Another barista agreed: “Just today someone is like, ‘Do you know how to make the Frankenstein Frappuccino?’ I’m like, I never heard of it. She listed the ingredients and with all the modifications. It was like a $9 drink and smelled disgusting while I was pouring it.”
One order that comes up often for baristas is an iced cappuccino. Not to be confused with an “Iced Capp” from the Canadian coffee chain Tim Hortons—which is essentially a blended iced coffee beverage with milk, cream, and sugar—an iced cappuccino is a tough drink to make for a few reasons. Typically, the barista starts out with an iced latte and adds extra steamed milk on top to achieve that foaminess a cappuccino is known for. The problem is, the steamed milk is hot and needs to cool down first, lest the entire iced drink become warm. This is time consuming.
One barista who works at an indie shop describes the process like this: “We basically make an iced latte, then steam the sh*t out of whatever milk they want, then put it in the fridge for a few minutes so that the foam can separate from the milk. Dollop that on top and it’s an iced capp,” they wrote. “Many try to take the iced latte before the foam is added, which is why I said people don’t know what they’re ordering.” That’s a lot of work for some extra foam. Another Redditor agrees: “You want a lukewarm drink after I froth this milk and pour it over ice?”
Any coffee order asking for it to be made “extra hot” is a delicate balance. This is true for drip coffee, espresso, Americanos, and steamed milk drinks. Here’s why: A drip coffee can only be as hot as it’s brewed, unless you add more hot water to it. An Americano, which is espresso topped with hot water, is difficult to make hotter. (“I would boil it with the steam wand,” one barista on Reddit jokes.) An extra hot latte is tough, too, because there’s the risk of burning or scorching the milk. Oftentimes, extra hot lattes or cappuccinos are a pain because the customer says it’s not hot enough. But typically, they’re just tasting the foam or microfoam on top, which doesn’t hold heat like the liquid below.
Many baristas find these orders difficult to make perfectly. “I had a woman order an extra hot large cappuccino, extra foam. Sassy with me from the jump. I had lost the will to live at this point so I didn’t try to convince her otherwise. Made it for her,” one barista wrote on Reddit. “She took the world’s tiniest sip that I know was all foam. Foam (especially a lot of it) is obviously much cooler than the liquid. She slammed it immediately on the bar with a, ‘Not hot enough!!'”
Barista Kaye Kharasch, owner of the Wild Roaster in Illinois, finds it annoying when customers use Starbucks terms like venti, grande, or tall. “We are an independent coffee shop and it drives us crazy… we try to keep it simple: small, medium or large,” she says. As the owner of a small roastery, Kharasch hasn’t visited a Starbucks in years. “So I actually don’t remember what those terms even mean,” she says.
“Customers are treating all coffee shops like they are Starbucks and we are not. WAs a small business, we roast unique private blends in house 7 days a week,” Kharasch says. “We want consumers to appreciate the independent operators because we pride ourselves on both fresh product and personalized service.”
One barista on Reddit agreed with this point, especially when it comes to “skinny” latte orders. (At Starbucks, a skinny vanilla latte would be made with nonfat milk and sugar free vanilla syrup.) “I don’t even work at Starbucks, but if you ask for a skinny mocha and then act confused when I tell you I can do it non-fat but I don’t have sugar-free mocha then you get an eyeroll,” they said.
Ordering a latte made with heavy cream instead of milk is sure to elicit an eye roll—or, more likely, a wince. “I’ve gotten this request at least 5 times in 4 years of being a barista,” one coffee-shop pro wrote on Reddit. “I’ll make it for them but I think it’s absolutely abhorrent.” Many baristas shared a disdain for this coffee order. “This one woman used to come in regularly and order a latte made with full cream. My stomach aches at the thought alone,” one barista wrote. “When people order drinks with heavy cream as their milk option, [it] makes me want to die, their poor arteries,” another said.
Subbing in heavy cream is a popular order among people following a keto diet – heavy and whipping cream are considered keto-friendly since they are low in carbs. Baristas come across it often: “Keto customers would order a 20 oz. sugar-free white mocha breve and ask if we could make it with heavy whipping cream (gag).” Another barista agrees: “Any drink made exclusively with heavy cream. It’s literally an almost 500 calorie drink. There is nothing diet about that.” And, due to the cost of heavy cream, some baristas in indie coffee shops say they need to upcharge $2 to $3 for the request.
With so many plant-based milk options to choose from, some customers get creative. But asking for two different types of plant-based milk in a single latte is one way to annoy your barista. Lately, baristas notice customers ordering drinks like these: “I’ll have a latte with half almond, half oat milk,.” a somewhat confounding request. “I get the half oat half almond thing at my job too, and I thought we were the only ones,” one barista wrote on Reddit. “I guess it’s a thing now?” There was no real consensus on why customers order this way. Perhaps to balance out the flavor of the steamed almond milk, which can have a bitter aftertaste.
“Dairy free extra dry cappuccinos. It’s just not gonna happen,” one barista wrote on Reddit. Here’s why that’s a difficult order to fulfill: plant-based milks simply don’t froth up the same way full-fat dairy milks do. The proteins in non-dairy milks are weaker and there are fewer of them, so they can’t support air bubbles as well. Coconut milk is notoriously difficult to steam for cappuccinos because it’s high in sugar and fat, but low in protein. “I cannot explain just how much I loathe steaming coconut milk,” one barista noted on Reddit.
Now imagine a customer ordering an extra “dry” cappuccino made with coconut milk. That means they want espresso topped with a foamy pillow of frothed milk—no silky steamed milk in the middle, as it is traditionally made. Baristas have to work hard to make that a reality, coaxing enough thick foam out of the milk pitcher to fill up a cup. Oat milk is also low in protein, so it needs to be steamed for a longer period than cow’s milk to create a stable foam.
Don’t even think about ordering this drink in a large size, either—doing so, in the words of one barista, “should be illegal.”