So many coffees... what the hell do I order???...

As the title says - there’s so many coffee drinks out there, but which one is right for you?!!?? Flat White, Americano, Espresso, Cappuccino, Cortado???

Before we start, a couple of pointers.

One: don’t commit. All of the coffee variants below are delicious in their own way. You don’t have a favourite son or daughter do you? (ahem)… so why have a favourite coffee? Each one has it’s own unique way to make the espresso base delicious (more on that in point two below), so tart around a little and sample different coffees at different times depending on your mood.

Two: With the exception of filter coffee, most coffees you order in a cafe are prepared using espresso as its base (see the very bottom layer of each cup in the diagram). What is espresso? Well, put very simply it’s a small amount of freshly ground coffee, packed in to a basket in a holder (called a portafilter - see photo below) placed in a coffee machine and then a small amount of 90 degree centigrade water is forced through the coffee in the basket using pressure. This small amount of very strong coffee ends up in the cup. Typically around 40-50mls when using a double shot (approx 18-19 grams of ground coffee).

Portafilter containing a filter basket with finely ground coffee. We’re ready to make some delicious espresso!

Portafilter containing a filter basket with finely ground coffee. We’re ready to make some delicious espresso!


Okay, so you have the espresso poured. What next?

Well - we add either nothing (for straight up espresso), water for an Americano or steamed milk for all the other drinks. See diagram below:

coffee drinks.jpg

Let’s take each drink in turn!

1) Espresso

Espresso is where we add nothing and keep it pure! This is the most intense flavoured coffee drink (positive attribute) but it’s also the shortest lived (sad face)! Well brewed espresso will have the perfect balance of acidity and sweetness. Poorly made espresso will taste either sour or bitter. A very fine balancing act is required on the part of the barista to tame these elements, and the result is obvious and can’t be hidden by diluting with water (Americano) or milk (milk based drinks).

2) Espresso Macchiato

This is the espresso (per 1 above) but topped off with milk foam. This is the milk drink with the least amount of milk and only a tablespoon or so of foam (not microfoam - see below) is added. This milk cuts through any potential bitterness of the espresso and should probably be ordered over straight espresso if you don’t think the espresso will be perfectly made ;)

3) Espresso Con Panna

This is probably the least ordered drink in cafes in Western Europe, with preferences leading towards Macchiato and Flat Whites. It’s still a popular one in the likes of Vienna and Budapest. Espresso + Cream!

4) Cafe Latte

From one of the least ordered, to one of the most ordered in Western Europe! Again, as per all drinks, espresso is at the base and we then add milk. You will however note that there are two layers of milk on the latte. Both “steamed milk'“ and “milk foam.” It is the differing amounts of each that differentiate a latte from a cappuccino (not the addition of chocolate that most people think is the case)! Steamed milk has very fine bubbles in it - “micro foam” above this the “foam” layers above have much larger bubbles and are lighter in texture. A latte should always be made predominately from “steamed milk” and a cappuccino “milk foam.” The easiest way to test which is which is to lift them. The latte will always weigh more than the cappuccino. Now you’ll hopefully appreciate why when you order a cappuccino the barista asks “do you want chocolate on that.”?! Chocolate is not the differentiating factor - it is the texturing of the milk!

5) Flat White

A relatively recent phemomena which Australia and New Zealand constantly battle it out to assert the fact that they invented it!

Whilst some baristas and coffee drinkers will overly complicate what they are, it’s really quite simple. They are smaller in size that lattes (typically 6 or 8 ounces in total vs 12 ounces for a latte) and the milk is textured in a way that makes it 100% microfoam without the larger bubbled “foam” layer. Stronger and silkier is how it’s best described and why it’s so darned popular. Many Flat White drinkers find that the amount of milk in a typical latte dilute the flavour of coffee from the espresso too much.

6) Cafe Breve

It’s very uncommon in Europe, but it’s bigger in the U.S. Just think latte but made with “half and half.” What’s “half and half”? It’s half whole milk, half heavy cream! Decadent!!!

7) Cappuccino

You’ll know by now it’s nothing to do with the addition of chocolate (this is a bit of a bastardised Western practice that went against the origins of cappuccino which came from Italy). It’s simply steamed milk with less microfoam and more “foam” added to espresso. Typically it’s enjoyed as the first coffee in the morning in Italy after which it’s espressos all the way (as milk is deemed not good for the digestion in later parts of the day).

8) Mocha

Commonly referred to gateway drug, this is sure to ease the non coffee drinkers easily in to the world of caffeine! It’s fairly simply made by combining high quality chocolate with the espresso base and then adding the milk to either latte or cappuccino compositions. It’s usually then topped off with sprinkled chocolate. Delicious when done using high quality high cocoa content chocolate.

9) Americano

This is simply espresso with the addition of hot water. Obviously a huge seller and generally comes in three sizes; 6, 8 or 12 ounces. Several big chain coffee stores offer it in 16 ounce sizes which, in our opinion, way over dilutes the taste of coffee. We find the sweet spot in terms of flavour concentration and length of beverage enjoyment is 8 ounces. Named “Americano” after U.S. troops stationed in Italy diluted the strong espresso with water due to it’s overly strong taste for their palate.

Richard Finney