Every day, baristas make coffee drinks that are innovative and challenge the palate; still, nothing beats a classic coffee beverage. While most variations are simply techniques for blending espresso and cream or milk, the wide variety of coffee beverages today can be tricky to navigate.
The Americano is an Italian drink referred to as the ‘American coffee.’ Americano is espresso and hot water made to be about the same strength and amount as a normal cup of drip coffee, but the process gives it a stronger, more intense flavor. Simply put, it is a shot of espresso diluted with hot water. Depending on where you order, an Americano contains anywhere from a third of a cup to half of a cup of espresso. The rest is filled with water, which can be hot or iced, according to preference.
Café au Lait
This French method of serving coffee is smooth and satisfying, with the perfect ratio of rich milk to coffee. A step up from coffee and cream, café au lait directly translates as ‘coffee with milk’ and consists of equal parts hot coffee and hot or steamed milk. Steaming the milk brings an element of sweetness as well as a rich and velvety texture to the freshly brewed coffee. The traditional French café au lait is prepared and served in a bowl with a wider mouth to facilitate preparation, cool the drink down faster, and to dunk pastries in.
Simply espresso and steamed milk with a dash of froth on top, the latte is the base of many flavored coffee drinks. Espresso-based but not too strong, a true latte will be made up of one or two shots of espresso and can be made with any dairy or non-dairy milk. With its subtle coffee taste and creamy flavoring, the latte is a beverage that is loved all over the world.
A typical cappuccino is one-third espresso, one-third hot milk, and one-third milk foam. This drink offers many variations such as cream instead of foamed milk, and common flavoring options including cinnamon, chocolate, vanilla and hazelnut. A cappuccino is different to a latte because it requires foamed milk as well as steamed milk. A timeless classic, the cappuccino is a great coffee drink to break up the afternoon.
Similar to lattes and cappuccinos, macchiatos are an Italian coffee staple made with espresso and milk. Macchiatos are simply a shot of espresso with a frothed layer of milk along the top. The name macchiato means ‘stained’ or ‘marked’ in Italian in reference to the espresso being ‘marked’ with milk. In Italy macchiatos are often made with one shot of espresso and topped with a small amount of foam; however, here in the United States, most coffee shops will make it with two shots of espresso instead of one. The taste of a traditional macchiato has a bold and rich undertone mellowed out by the creaminess of the milk and is the perfect espresso drink for those who want a stronger hit of caffeine.
A cortado is basically a one-to-one ratio of espresso and steamed milk—one doubleshot of espresso and 2 ounces of milk. The word cortado comes from the word ‘cortar,’ which is the Spanish verb meaning ‘to cut,’ as the espresso is typically cut with milk. The beauty of the cortado is how the milk cuts the bitterness of the espresso and reduces the acidity while pulling out the sweet notes and still allowing the flavors to shine. It’s traditional to use dairy milk in a cortado, but many non-dairy milks steam well and can be used to make dairy-free versions. While this drink contains milk that has been steamed, the cortado doesn’t have as much milk foam or froth as other Italian coffee beverages.
Flat white coffee consists of steamed milk and microfoam poured over one or two shots of espresso. The microfoam is steamed milk infused with air, creating a smooth and velvety texture and creamy taste. It’s similar to a latte and cappuccino, but has a thinner layer of foam on top.
The breve is a flat white with a twist. The base is still an ounce of espresso. Instead of using steamed milk, caffe breve uses three ounces of steamed half-and-half. The beverage also has a small topping of milk foam. Some breves come with two ounces each of milk foam and steamed half-and-half for every espresso shot.
Red eye coffee is a drink that combines drip coffee with one or two shots of espresso.
Cold brew is similar to iced coffee but not the same. Cold brew is coffee that is brewed with cold water instead of hot water and over a much longer period of time. Ground coffee is steeped in cold or room-temperature water for 12 to 18 hours, or even longer. The grounds are then strained and chilled before serving it either as-is, over ice, or diluted with water. Cold-brewing extracts the flavor along with the caffeine from the coffee beans, which yields a strong, flavorful, richer, and smoother concentrated coffee with character.
From espresso-based drinks to coffees served with steamed milk or foam—making a cup of coffee isn’t as simple as it seems.