11 Signs Your Coffee Order Is Going To Be Completely Wrong

If you're a seasoned coffee drinker who grabs a cup of joe daily for a morning pick-me-up, you'll already know that there's nothing more heartbreaking than receiving a completely wrong coffee order, especially if you're in a rush and only realise after the fact.

Annoying as it is, baristas can make mistakes for various reasons. The role is more challenging than you may think, and the life of a barista comes with many issues and things your barista wishes you knew.

Your barista could be stressed, performing the role of two people at once, be new to the job, or simply confused by how you ordered your highly customized drink. Whatever the reason, various signs will hint to you that the coffee you're about to receive isn't going to match the expectations of the coffee you ordered. With this knowledge, you may be able to point out to the barista that something may be going array, helping you get the drink that you originally asked and paid for.

Here's a look at some things you should look out for to soften the blow and mentally prepare you for a completely wrong coffee drink.

1. The barista grabs a different-sized cup for the drink you ordered

There are many different types of coffee that you can order, and a lot of factors can influence the size that your drink should be served in. There's actually a huge between the sizes used for various drinks, and it's worth being aware of what the norm is so that you can spot any issues.

Drinks such as a macchiato should be served in a smaller cup than a cappuccino, whereas a latte or a mocha should be served in a cup larger than this.

If you order a flat white, which should be served in a medium cup, and the barista grabs for a larger 8 oz option, they're likely preparing a completely different drink to what you ordered.

If the drink is correct but served in a cup larger than it should be, you could be left with more empty space. This cools down coffee quicker, as there's more surface area for the heat to dissipate, leaving you with lukewarm coffee. That said, there are many reasons why your coffee may get cold quicker, such as the color of the coffee. A dark roast coffee will lose heat quicker than a light roast. 

Of course, the sizes of drinks can get more confusing if you start ordering tall or grande versions of coffee. That said, being this specific with the size of cup you want when ordering makes it less likely that the coffee will be wrong.

2. The coffee price doesn't match up

If you're one of the 6% of all Americans who orders coffee every day, as per Drive Research, then it's likely that you're ordering the same coffee regularly and thus know how much you should have to pay for your favourite order. This means that you should start to be suspicious if the price you have to pay doesn't match what you expected. Although this price rise can be explained because coffee prices can skyrocket, the price difference may also suggest that your drink order has gone wrong.

If you customize your drink with extra syrups or shots or other modifications, paying a lower price than expected may mean that the barista missed a portion of your order, leading to your drink not tasting how it should because it's missing a vital component. Your price can also be different if they sold you a large version of the coffee when you asked for a regular size, or you could be paying more because the barista is using a different type of coffee bean.

Many coffee shops may try to upsell their more expensive roasts and blends when you order your drink. The two main types of coffee beans, Robusta and Arabica, are drastically different in price, with robusta beans being around 40-50% cheaper than Arabica, explaining this difference in cost.

3. The cafe is super busy

As coffee gets more popular, coffee shops and cafes get busier. As a customer, you may not particularly enjoy the long line in front of you as you order, and it's likely that the barista doesn't either. 

During a rush period, baristas may be expected to make between 200 and 350 cups of coffee in just an hour or two, according to former coffee roaster manager Lily Dominguez in an interview with Perfect Daily Grind. That equates to roughly 30-50 seconds for each coffee, demonstrating the pressure your barista may be under.

As you can expect, this can be a stressful time for the workers, and the more stressed you are, the more likely you are to make mistakes. In fact, in most workspaces, stress is the biggest contributor to poor performance. This is true in hospitality jobs like working in a café in addition to office careers and can get the better of even the most experienced workers.

To minimize the chances of mistakes, visit your local coffee shop outside of the peak times, which for Starbucks are said to be between 7 am to 9 am and again at around 3 pm, especially during the weekend. At times such as 11 am or just after lunchtime, the barista will have more time to take your order and make your coffee with greater care.

4. The steam wands are super loud

Steam wands are a vital part of any coffee shop, heating the milk going into your cup of coffee. Although your mind may imagine the loud hiss of the steam wands being a fundamental aspect of the coffee shop soundscape, a loud steam wand can be a sign that your coffee will be wrong or that it will suck.

The wands shouldn't make a loud noise if you've ordered regular cow's milk with your coffee. If they are, it means that not enough air is going into the milk, which can scald the milk and make it less foamy. This can result in a poor quality cup of coffee that will just taste off and not as nice as it should be.

In addition, a loud steam wand can also be a sign that the wrong kind of milk is being used in your drink. This is because plant-based milk, such as soy or almond milk, will make the steam wands hiss louder. So if you've ordered cow's milk and hear loud steam wands, it may suggest that your coffee is being made with the wrong kind of milk, altering the flavour tones of your coffee. Each type of milk alternative should be steamed a little bit differently for the best results.

5. The barista looks confused as you order

If you're met with a confused look and cock of the head from your barista as you order your coffee, it may be an early indication that you're order is going to come out wrong.

There are a few reasons why a barista may look confused, and although a lack of experience can be one factor, the issue may be how you're ordering your coffee. The terminology around coffee is like its own different language, and you could be ordering your favourite drink wrong without knowing it. For example, many people aren't aware that a frappe and a frappuccino are different, not to mention that many people who customize their drinks with extra shots of syrups may be doing so in a weird way, such as asking for extra caramel to make a drink sweeter when in fact it's vanilla shots that affect the sweetness.

Another thing that can affect the chances of getting the wrong drink is how you customize it. Although a few alterations are usually fine, some workers can get overwhelmed and, according to Business Insider, a bit fed up when making what they deem to be ridiculous orders. Learning the correct way to order your drink and being sure that you've got the right name for the item you want will help you minimize the risk of things going wrong.

6. The coffee is taking a long time to be made

Some drinks, such as a simple filter coffee, are much easier to make than other alternatives that may need to be blended with ice and topped with whipped cream. As a result of this, it's common for certain drinks to take longer than others and for some drinks to be prioritized over another. You can use this estimated creation time to determine if you'll get the wrong drink or not. For example, if you've ordered a simple drink, like a latte or cappuccino, but are waiting a long time, this can indicate something wrong with your drink.

Of course, if the café is busy, then this increase in wait time can be somewhat explained. However, if it's pretty empty and you're still waiting, it can indicate that you're being prepared the wrong order, or it may suggest that the barista needs help remembering or making your order.

According to Velopresso, on average, it should take a well-experienced barista around 1.1 to 1.5 minutes to make a single coffee outside of peak times, depending on the machine being used to brew the shots and steam the milk. This means that if you're waiting more than a few minutes, then something may be up.

7. You're ordering after 10 am

Most coffee shops, such as Starbucks, experience a massive rush of people in the morning, typically ending at around 10 a.m. This means that most focus and effort is spent on these few early hours of the day, meaning that you could get the wrong or worse quality coffee if you order after this rush period, depending on what you get.

Places like Starbucks have various types of drip coffee, such as blonde, decaf and other speciality roasts that need to be dumped and brewed fresh every 30 minutes. Although their classic Pike Place roast is brewed all day, some others aren't after this 10 a.m. rush. This means that if you order one of these speciality roasts after 10 a.m., you may be served a stale brew that has been sitting around all day, drastically decreasing the quality of the coffee.

Although it is best practice for a barista to throw out the old roast and brew you a fresh pot when you order it, some don't have the heart to throw the remaining out after 30 minutes, leaving it until someone else orders the same thing. This is just one of the many secrets coffee chains don't want you to know.

8. You're not asked what milk you want

Typically, when ordering a coffee, it will be up to you to let the barista know if you want any milk alternatives, such as soy or coconut milk. That said, it can easily be forgotten, and if you don't say it, you should expect the barista to ask you what milk you want, just to be sure.

However, it's common for a barista to assume that you want regular cow's milk if you don't specify, so if they don't ask, this could lead you to getting a drink that's completely wrong from what you expected. You can get multiple different types of milk alternatives, and many of them can influence the drink's flavor and how it tastes. 

Some milk is better than others when paired with coffee, so it's important to know which milk best suits your drink so that you can specify when you order and ensure that your drink is correct and tastes amazing. As a general rule, the more fat milk contains, the creamier it will be when steamed, so use this to determine if you want whole milk, skimmed, or a fatty milk alternative.

9. Espresso shots are left out for a long time

When things get busy in a coffee shop, baristas may try to cut a few corners so the queue can go down quickly. One tactic you might see is the staff creating and lining up multiple espresso shots that can be added to different drinks as and when.

Although this can speed up the process, it can lead to poor-quality coffee. This is because espresso shots are fragile and can "die" and go stale if left out for over five minutes. This can cause the coffee to taste horrid and be wrong when compared to what you expected.

For the best cup of coffee, the expresso must be added to the rest of the drink as soon as it's finished pouring. This makes it taste the best and is a sign that the baristas know what they're doing and care about the quality of the coffee they're making. This is just one of the many bad habits that Starbucks employees can fall into, and it provides an insight into what it's really like to work at Starbucks. This is one of many tricks baristas follow to be faster and better, as others include warming the cups and organizing the towels.

10. The barista is new

Working in a coffee shop as a barista or till operator is a popular role, especially for younger people entering the world of employment for the first time. Statista states that over 890,000 people worked in the coffee and snack shop sector in 2021, rising to around 920,830 in 2022.

As this number rises, it means that there are more new barista's entering the field needing to be trained. Because these people are less experienced, they're at greater risk of getting your drink order wrong as they're still trying to figure out how everything works.

You may be able to spot a new barista based on the apron they're wearing or other indicators in their uniform. They'll usually have a different color apron than the rest of the team, indicating to the staff that they're new. For example, most Starbucks employees wear green aprons, meaning they're standard baristas, but you can also get servers in black aprons, which indicate they're masters.

If a trainee barista is serving you, try to keep your drink simple and be patient with them as they work to get it prepared. Don't be scared to say something if things are wrong once you receive your drink, as many coffee shops are more than happy to remake any faulty orders. Just try not to be rude or mean about it. In fact, if you're rude, some baristas may purposely mess with your drink.

11. There are a few out of place baristas

In an ideal world, a coffee shop would have a team of baristas focused only on making coffee and then have other shop workers clearing tables and restocking. In reality, most major coffee shops and restaurants are understaffed in the U.S., according to CNBC, meaning that baristas have to perform other tasks, which could take their focus away from creating a good cup of coffee for you.

In less-busy periods, there's nothing wrong with having a barista complete menial tasks to help the store tick over. However, if things are busy and you see a barista pottering about instead of getting busy behind the counter with the coffee making, it may imply that someone is taking the slack, having to match the coffee output of two people. Of course, mistakes are far more likely in those situations, and you may also experience a longer wait time for your drink.

A well-staffed and properly organized coffee shop where everyone and everything is in place is more likely to produce fantastic coffee. If your regular cafe always seems mismanaged with baristas everywhere but behind the counter, it might be time to find a new favorite.