7 Espresso Drinks Defined (Plus How to Order Your Next Espresso Like a Pro)

Espresso Machine
Espresso Machine
Image Credit @portolacoffee/Instagram

Coffee. For many, it is essential to maintaining productivity and basic function. For a true jolt of energy, we turn to espresso. It is the one-ounce wonder that serves as the foundation to countless caffeinated beverages that propel us through our days. However, there is far more to the world of espresso than just lattes and cappuccinos. In fact, the world of espresso can be as complex (and elitist) as the world of wine. What’s the difference between a macchiato and a cappuccino, and what is a cortado anyway? We’ve compiled a list of the seven most common espresso drinks so you can nail the lingo and order like a pro. Hint: never use the words Frappuccino, Dunkaccino, or Mochaccino…unless you’re ordering your coffee through a drive-thru window.

1. Espresso

Let’s start with the basics. An espresso is typically a one-ounce serving of concentrated coffee, also known as a shot. It is made with very finely ground coffee beans. A machine forces pressurized hot water through the beans, creating a potent dose of dark liquid topped with crema, which is a light froth of air bubbles formed by the pressurization and the oils in the beans. A thicker crema indicates a finer quality of bean. The shot is served in a two to four-ounce cup, called a demitasse. It may look cute, but its contents are strong. The espresso is the most concentrated (and often bitter) beverage you can buy.

2. Americano

If you enjoy the taste of pure espresso but want to take your time sipping your beverage, try an Americano. This drink combines a shot of espresso with hot water, traditionally served in a six-ounce cup. The strong espresso taste is slightly diluted with the water, but if you want more of a jolt, ask for a double shot of espresso (also called a Doppio).

3. Macchiato

We’re getting into milk territory now. Still extremely concentrated, this drink cuts the intense flavor of the espresso by adding the tiniest amount of texturized milk. A single or double espresso is ‘marked’ by a dollop of pure foam, made from steaming milk into a frothy cloud. Like an espresso, the potent beverage is served in a demitasse. Note: certain chain coffee shops (particularly those with a green label) serve macchiatos with steamed milk and generous pumps of syrups and drizzles. If you’re ordering from one of these establishments, be sure to specify espresso macchiato to receive this drink in its purest, unsweetened form.

4. Cortado

Originally from Spain, the cortado is similar to a cafe au lait, but smaller and therefore more concentrated. The drink is made with equal parts espresso and steamed milk, no foam. The milk “cuts” the bitterness and acidity of the espresso while still delivering a boost of caffeine in a relatively small beverage (about four ounces).

Latte Art
Image Credit @portolacoffee/Instagram

5. Cappuccino

Finally, something familiar. A true cappuccino contains equal parts espresso, steamed milk, and foam. Unlike the monstrous twelve to sixteen-ounce paper cups it is served in at large scale coffee chains, a cappuccino should only be three to six ounces (depending on the number of espresso shots). To make this beverage, the barista combines a 1:1 ratio of espresso and steamed milk, then tops it with a layer of light foam. Many coffee shops have increased the amount of steamed milk and foam; be sure to specify a 1:1:1 ratio for the most authentic cappuccino experience.

6. Flat White

There is a lot of confusion surrounding this unique beverage. Some say it is a small latte, others think of it as a cappuccino without foam. It is neither. The defining characteristic of this drink is the microfoam. Milk is heated to the point where tiny bubbles form, but not to the point of creating the stiff peaks that top lattes and cappuccinos. An equal amount of this microfoam (about two ounces) is poured into a double shot of espresso, blending together seamlessly. A flat white should not be marked; the milk and espresso are integrated completely.

7. Latte

We all think we know what a latte is, but even some baristas can get it wrong. A pure latte is the most mild of the unsweetened espresso drinks. It combines a 2:1 ratio of milk to espresso. Steamed milk is poured into the espresso and topped with a thin layer of silky foam. No whipped cream is involved. Ever. A latte is the creative barista’s artistic canvas. Snap a photo of the gorgeous latte art then enjoy every sip. 

Find Tanya on Instagram and The Vegan Potluck Podcast. 

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