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My knowledge says coffee is uncountable unless it's used in such a context like 'a cup of coffee' or 'a blend of Argentinian and Brazilian coffees' which are one of the best delicious things in the world. However, I encountered the first sentence below and found the second one later.

I stopped to buy a coffee this morning from the BBC

A coffee can make you forgetful again from the BBC

Luckily, it's explained on the usingenglish.com forums:

The phrase "a coffee" is sometimes used as shorthand for "a cup of coffee".

But, as a double-checker I want to ask you whether it's correct to write 'a coffee' to express 'a cup of coffee' and if it is correct in which type of writing is it OK to use (plain writing, academic writing, informal writing, etc.)?

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    It's very commonly used, but you probably wouldn't find it in formal writing. (Your 'usingenglish' link doesn't work for me.) Aug 17, 2022 at 18:40
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    My knowledge says coffe is uncountable unless it's used in such a context like 'a cup of coffee' - that's still an uncountable use. Only cup is being counted there.
    – stangdon
    Aug 17, 2022 at 20:03
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    great spot stangdon; yes this is a duplicate @Mari-Lou A, thank you!
    – user138449
    Aug 17, 2022 at 20:47
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    Slightly more correct, "a coffee" is sometimes shorthand for "a serving of coffee", especially in contexts where a serving is not equal to a cup. For example, in catering, "two regular coffees and one decaf" probably would mean two dispensers of regular coffe, and one dispenser of decaf, as nobody orders single cups of coffee in catering scenarios.
    – Edwin Buck
    Aug 17, 2022 at 20:58

4 Answers 4

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Yes. You can use the word "coffee" to refer to a cup of coffee. See definition 2 in the link provided. It is quite common to hear it used this way in everyday speech, or to see it in everyday writing like news articles, because it is quicker to say or write "two coffees" than "two cups of coffee", for example.

It is less formal than saying "cup of coffee", but not much less so. Still, if you're concerned with not sounding too casual, you won't offend anybody by sticking with "cup of coffee" if that is your preference.

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Yes, much in the way a person can request "a water".

The counting is not because one can count the liquid; but, because in the context of the rest of the sentence, it is clear they mean "coffee for one person." If they wanted coffee for two people, they would request "two coffees." The idea is that they are simply shortening the form of "a serving of coffee" to "a coffee".

The waiter might bring a single mug of coffee, or a mug and a pot (if one coffee comes with free refills), or some other amount of coffee; but, they will be delivering one "serving". If two people drink the coffee, they will expect you to have changed your order to "two coffees".

In catering scenarios, "a coffee" might even include a very large dispenser, as the "a" is "one serving" in the context of how coffee is delivered.

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I am old, and in the 1970s I used to hate people saying 'a coffee' when they were talking about a cup, mug, etc, of coffee. I thought it was very casual and informal. I don't mind it so much now. It is very informal and is best restricted to informal writing. Other names of drinks, formally uncountable, that may be used in this way, include beer and most spirits/liquors (e.g. whisky, gin, rum, tequila) but saying 'a wine' is not very usual, and 'a tea' is less usual than 'a cup of tea' in the UK.

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  • well, I'm 24 but I think I'd prefer a cuppa tea.
    – user138449
    Aug 17, 2022 at 20:49
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Lynne Murphy says in The Prodigal Tongue, chapter 6:

Americans meet other Americans for coffee. If they want to count how many coffees, they generally add a countable noun, like cup: two cups of coffee. Brits might meet for a coffee. But we all meet for a beer or two after work. The patterns of difference are incomplete and illogical.

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    As an American, I don't think I'd find someone asking for or going for "a coffee" remarkable at all. Maybe there are regional differences in the US though.
    – The Photon
    Aug 17, 2022 at 21:04