When I say "coffee cake" ...
... you think
(A) it's a cake made with coffee (or espresso)
(B) it's a cake meant to be served and eaten with coffee
I've always associated "coffee cake" with (A), but more and more nowadays I've come across people and menus where it's (B).
Is there one settled meaning, and how in the world does one discern the difference on, say, a menu?
Coffee Cake is B...normally I think of sour cream coffee cake that has cinnamon and sugar and possible nuts.
(A) is usually a type of cake like Espresso Cheesecake etc.
It is (B).
I learned that definitively the day I met my Helsinki born husband and he asked me if I would like a piece of "coffee bread".
A coffee cake is part of a small meal, like afternoon tea. It isn't usually listed as a choice on a menu. If there is a menu for meals and it lists choices for dessert, possibly with flavors (straberry, vanilla, etc.), that's a clue.
actually (C) - childhood flashback to plastic packages of Drake's and boxes of Entenmann's...which technically fall under (B)...and there must be a crunchy, sugary strusel topping involved and preferably sour cream in the batter.
(A) would never cross my mind upon simply hearing the words "coffee cake."
My vote is for B. But if you've grown up around a lot of Chinese bakeries, I can see why you would think A.