A Guide to Espresso Beverages
By Caroline King
If you’ve ever walked into a coffee shop and felt overwhelmed by the sheer number of drink options, you’re definitely not alone. The variety can feel daunting if you’re not familiar with all the different espresso beverages on the menu. You may have found yourself wondering what the difference between a latte and a cappuccino is, what makes an Americano different from a regular black coffee, or how your barista managed to create that swirly, intricate design on top of your drink. For those looking for a crash course in espresso based drinks, we’ve compiled a guide to some of the most common beverages you’ll find on a café menu.
The latte is a classic espresso drink, for our recipe, we combine two shots of espresso with ten ounces of steamed milk (for a medium sized drink). The milk is steamed slowly, incorporating air very gently to create a smooth, silky texture and bring out the natural sweetness of the milk. Latte milk has a thin layer of “microfoam”, a glossy layer of aerated milk that can be poured into designs for latte art. The microfoam, when steamed correctly, forms a striking contrast with the darker espresso, making a drink that is both delicious and beautiful. An Australian/New Zealand variation on the latte that has become increasingly popular in America is the flat white, which is similar to a latte but smaller in volume. A medium latte has a total volume of 12 oz, whereas a flat white contains less milk and therefore results in a total volume of 8 oz.
A cappuccino is similar to a latte in that it includes the same two ingredients, espresso and steamed milk. The difference between the two drinks is that cappuccino milk is steamed differently, with a heavier incorporation of air that results in a thicker foam. Any time you steam milk you end up with some liquid milk and some foam, and the proportion of foam to milk is determined by how much air you incorporate when you’re steaming. Since you incorporate more air for cappuccino milk, the proportion of foam to liquid milk in a cappuccino is higher than it is for a latte, so the result is a foamier beverage. Cappuccinos can be either “wet”, with more liquid and less foam, or “dry”, with less liquid and more foam. We prefer to make our cappuccinos on the dry side, while maintaining the perfect texture and being sure not to burn the milk. This classic style of cappuccino distinguishes them more clearly from a latte and is truer to the traditional Italian beverage.
Though this term is commonly associated with the Caramel Macchiato (which is really simply a caramel and vanilla latte), a true macchiato is a small amount of foamed milk and espresso. The word “macchiato” comes from the Italian word for “marked” or “stained”. The name originally stems from the practice of “marking” an espresso with a dollop of foam or milk so that waiters serving coffee to tables could tell the difference between a regular espresso and an espresso with a little bit of milk in it. The macchiato is therefore made by pulling a shot of espresso and adding a tiny bit of foam on top.
One of the more popular espresso based beverages is the cortado. Cortado or "cut" in spanish similar to a macchiato in that it is a short beverage, only about 4 oz of liquid. However, whereas the milk in a macchiato is foamed like a cappuccino, the milk in a cortado has a microfoam texture like a latte and serves to balance the acidity of the coffee. The drink is served in a 4 oz Gibraltar glass, and it is finished with a small design of latte art. If you aren’t ready to drink straight espresso but you don’t want a super milky drink, the cortado is the perfect middle ground.
The mocha is a latte made with a scoop of fresh chocolate, making a sweet, silky, indulgent beverage. Our mochas are made with a dark chocolate ganache prepared for us by Prep and Pastry. The ganache provides for an extra rich and flavorful drink without being too sweet. Other variations on the flavored latte, such as our salted caramel latte or vanilla latte, follow the same recipe as the mocha, replacing the chocolate ganache with another one of our Prep and Pastry house-made syrups. If you like your coffee decadent and comforting, this one is for you.
The americano is similar to a brewed black coffee, but it’s made with espresso and hot water. An Americano allows you to taste the unique flavors highlighted by the espresso brewing method, but in a more diluted, easy-sipping form than a straight shot of espresso. Requesting that our barista add less water will make the espresso flavor more intense, while requesting more water makes for a smoother, mellower beverage.
Finally, the doppio or "doppio espresso" is espresso in its purest, unaltered form. The doppio or "double" is a double shot of espresso, pulled directly into a demitasse and accompanied by a small chaser of sparkling water. An espresso is a much more concentrated form of coffee than a regular brewed cup, so it packs a punch of both flavor and caffeine. While the espresso contains less caffeine than a cup of drip coffee, it technically has more caffeine per oz of liquid. Because it isn’t diluted with any other liquid, a doppio allows you to appreciate the subtleties of the coffee and savor its unique flavor profile. If you want to drink coffee like the pros, a pure espresso is the way to go.
These are just a few of the many espresso drinks available at most coffee shops. We hope this helps de-mystify the menu a bit for you, but the best way to become more familiar with the options is by trying them out yourself!