Okay, so you’ve got your coffee (or tea), now what?
If you just want to make a regular cup of joe, or a regular cup of tea, you’re set! But if you’re looking to make some of the other drinks from the menu of your favorite caffeinated beverage retailer, you’ve got a few more things to acquire. Namely:
Milk: If you want to make lattes, cappuccinos, mochas, macchiatos, or cafe au lait, you’re gonna need some milk. What kind is up to you. I use whole milk because I try to stick with minimally-processed ingredients when I can. You may prefer lowfat or nonfat, or you may go in the opposite direction and use half-and-half or heavy cream. There’s also lots of non-dairy options available. Soy milk, almond milk, rice milk, any of these can be used to make espresso drinks.
There’s a caveat here, though. If you’re using a steam wand to make foam for your drink, like if you want to make a nice big cappuccino, some of these foam better than others. Soy milk, for example, is very hard to get good lasting foam out of. Whole milk is pretty good for making nice thick foam. So if you’re dairy-free but really dig your cappuccinos and macchiatos, you may need some practice to get the kind of drink you want.
Flavorings: These are for flavored lattes (vanilla latte, hazelnut latte, etc) or chocolate-based drinks (mochas). If you have a preferred drink at your local beverage vendor, take a look at how they make it or just ask. Do they use clear syrup from a pump bottle? Thick chocolatey syrup? Flavored powder?
The clear syrups in the pump bottles are what a lot of non-chocolate drinks are made with. Most coffee places will have at least vanilla and hazelnut, with other possible flavors including mint, almond, raspberry, and even plain “classic” syrup. These are all basically flavored sugar water (or unflavored, in the case of classic). You can find them at some grocery stores, some import stores like Cost Plus, and often you can buy them at coffee shops. At Starbucks, for example, you can buy the exact same bottles they’re using behind the counter (this may surprise your barista, as few people buy them so many baristas are unaware that they’re actually for sale). Special seasonal syrups may or may not be for sale, but it’s always worth asking. They’re generally not very expensive, and one bottle makes a lot of drinks.
Chocolate is usually either powdered or in a thick syrup similar to Nestle Quik. In fact, the thick syrups used at a lot of coffee shops are often mixed from powders (if the shop suddenly smells like brownies, they may be mixing this up). They may or may not sell the exact same chocolate they use to make the drinks, but chocolate is available pretty much everywhere as hot chocolate mix, chocolate milk mix, chocolate chips, etc. Keep in mind that chocolate in larger solid forms like chips or bars will need to be put into quite hot liquid if you want it to melt properly. Be sure to stir it well!
Some drinks are made from a thickish flavoring syrup that doesn’t fit into one of those categories. These are often proprietary syrups that may not be available for purchase. If you ask and are told you can’t buy it, you’ll have to wing it. You may be able to find a similar flavor for sale elsewhere, or you may be able to approximate the taste using other ingredients. Condensed milk makes a great base for this.
Whipped cream: People love their whipped cream. This can go on top of pretty much any drink, and is the non-coffee ingredient in a caffe con panna. Many coffee shops make it from scratch with heavy whipping cream, vanilla syrup, and a nitrous oxide “charger”. If you have the equipment for this, go for it — it’s fast and easy and so delicious. If you don’t have the specialized canisters and chargers, but do have some time, you can make whipped cream by, well, whipping the hell out of some cream. Recipes for this are available online and in some books.
The other, more common option, is to buy premade whipped cream. This is available at your grocery store in spray cans or tubs, with various brands. Just choose what you like, since this is a garnish where taste is the only really important quality.
Sauce toppings: These can be either garnishes (such as a chocolate drizzle on a mocha) or a key ingredient (like the caramel on a caramel macchiato). They may be tricky to find for sale, but check your local grocery store wherever ice cream toppings are kept. The fewer artificial flavorings the better, in my experience. If you want the sauce to flavor the whole drink (again, like the caramel macchiato), you will need to mix the hell out of it, especially if you’re making a cold drink.
Sprinkles: Some people are really into these little details. Once again, check the ice cream topping section. Or you can sprinkle your drink with a spice like nutmeg. Some drinks have a special proprietary sprinkle on top — these may be tough to find.