Coffee is Delicious: How to Properly Order an Espresso

Posted on 05 June 2016 by Vanessa DeMelo (Meds 2017)

In the first and most important issue of business, a very happy summer to all! Though the 2017s are still slugging about clerkship, even the surgery clerks can’t help but see the sun at some point over the day. I on the other hand am about to start psychiatry and family medicine and am quite the happy duck. My bicycle is brushed off, its tires pumped up and it is ready to be back in action as the primary mode of transportation!

Back to the topic au jour. The subject of this post was solidified by an experience I just witnessed while in line at the Masonville Starbucks. Observe below:

Gentleman is next in line, steps up and places order

An espresso, please. Long


Yes, long

Barista’s puzzled look deepens

Never mind, just an espresso

I was quite excited that I actually knew what he meant by that. The primary source of my education in this topic comes from a waiter in a café in Sliema, Malta, where he took pity on my uneducated North American self and revealed all of his coffee secrets. Let me take this opportunity to put in a plug for travelling to Malta – it is a magnificent, magical place and I had a phenomenal time there while doing a global health elective in plastic surgery (guess who gets a lot of skin cancer: older British people who retire in Malta). This is the view across the bay of Valetta, Malta’s capital city, from Sliema and the area of that very café.


As an extremely quick bit of catch-up knowledge, espresso is coffee that is brewed with beans that are ground more finely and a smaller amount of water, which results in a more concentrated drink. It’s the base for lattes, cappuccinos, flat whites, and all other variety of coffee-based drinks that make the world a better place. Espresso bars provided a source of socialization in urban Italy, where coffee prices were controlled if it was consumed while standing at the bar.

How to order espresso:

Size: the size of the espresso refers to how much ground coffee is used to make the espresso, and can be single, double, or triple (solo, doppio, or triplo). Changing the size requires changing the basket size, and the standard shot size today is a double.

Length: the length of the espresso refers to the volume of water used with the same amount of ground coffee while brewing the espresso shot. These can be ristretto (reduced or short), normale (normal or standard), or lungo (long). To add further details, the varied shots are not necessarily the same shot made with more or less water, as this can result in the coffee being over- or under-extracted. The grind can be adjusted to reflect the extraction time required to reach the target volume — ristretto uses a finer grind, so the extraction would be finished more quickly, while lungo will take longer and can use a coarser grind.

So now to interpret the previous extraction with our new knowledge, the gentleman from before was asking for an espresso with more liquid volume in a “long” or lungo. If we were being fancy pants, we might also say that this implies a coarser blend as it takes a longer time to extract than a standard shot and we wouldn’t want his coffee to be over-extracted. Given that Starbsy doesn’t seem to be a place that takes this much into account, I wonder if they would simply have added some hot water to his espresso to make it longer had his request been properly interpreted. However, somewhere a European or pretentious hipster probably just wished me a swift death with that suggestion, so we will pretend I never pondered that thought.

As a final note for espresso consumption, Mr. Malta Coffee Man also emphasized to me that espresso must always be consumed with a glass of water. Now the pitchers of water on the counters of cafés make sense as part of the culture versus provided to hydrate tired bicyclists. I’ll give a shout out to my favourite coffee place in London, Locomotive Espresso at the corner of Colborne and Pall Mall Street. This place would own all of my line of credit funds if I happened to live closer.



I don’t hold it against the Starbucks barista for not knowing what our gentleman meant while working at our McDonald’s version of a café. Don’t get me wrong about Starbucks either – she holds a wonderful place in my heart for providing me with (1) caffeine and (2) a place to study where it is very unlikely that I will nap. This foray into international coffee consumption has once again brought about quite the travel itch, and all of you wonderful souls will now know how to order an espresso while off on your majestic adventures this summer! Happy traveling and great coffee to all!

1 Comments For This Post

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