Too much choice over what should be good solo
"Could I please have a grande, sugar-free, soy, extra hot, caramel mocha with whipped cream and an extra shot?"
It's understandable how and why an espresso virgin might feel confused upon his or her first encounter with a modern coffee shop. Just when you think you've got the local chain's menu down, you hear what sounds like a foreign language from the bloke in front of you.
I'm not going to reinvent the wheel here; there are plenty of coffee resources out there which document just what every espresso drink is and what they contain. My intention is merely to simplify those lists a little, breaking them down into the basic drink components: straight espresso, milk based, and drinks which often straddle the two (enhanced). This is by no means an extensive list.
Espresso drinks, simplified: a classification guide
I like it strong! Straight espresso drinks with no milk.
Often claimed to be "too much" or bitter to taste, these drinks are for the true espresso lover. These are the drinks which involve ground espresso beans and water, with no other ingredient aside from the loving care and expertise of the barista who serves your drink.
- Single Shot: equal to about 30ml (1 ounce) of espresso
- Double Shot: equal to about 60ml (2 ounces) of espresso
- Ristretto (short): espresso equal to about 75% of a normal shot (above), using the same amount of coffee but brewed in the same amount of time as a regular shot. The water flow is restricted in order to achieve this.
- Lungo (long): the opposite of a ristretto, if you will, with around a minimum of 50% more volume in the espresso (using the same amount of coffee). More water is let through in order to achieve this.
- Americano: Perfect for the filter coffee enthusiast who wants to give espresso a shot (ha, ha pun intended), an americano is simply espresso with hot water added.
I like it milky smooth! Milk based espresso drinks.
These are the drinks about which everyone outside of Italy and parts of Europe talk. In fact, many in North America and the UK often seem to think of espresso as being synonymous with these drinks.
- Cappuccino: A beverage of thirds made with ⅓ espresso, ⅓ steamed milk, and ⅓ milk foam.
- Café Latte: made outside of Italy with approximately (this can be argued) ⅓ espresso and ⅔ steamed milk (with a fraction of the steamed milk a creamy foam on top). The extra milk makes this drink milder in taste than the cappuccino. In Italy a latte is generally a drink which is far more mild and perhaps not even made with espresso.
- Flat White: Very similar to the above latte, but with little or no foamed milk on top.
- Mocha: Also very similar to a latte, but with added chocolate syrup or powder.
- Breve: Essentially a latte made with half and half (light cream) rather than milk. Very rich and quite American.
Think of these as espresso with something a little extra. It's still a straight shot, with dairy or other ingredients to tone and/or complement the coffee.
- Espresso con Panna: espresso with a dollop of whipped cream on top.
- Macchiato: translates as "stained," so is simply espresso lightly topped with very little milk foam or milk.
- Corretto: espresso "corrected" (spiked!) with a shot of liquor.
Clearing up Confused Terms and a primer on extras
Macchiato vs Macchiato: In Starbucks and many chains the machiato is a giant milky drink crafted for people who desire diabetes. Order a macchiato in a more specialised coffee house, however, and you'll be most likely served a completely different beverage. What starbucks serves is a version of the Latte Macchiato, which is essentially a latte with a twist: instead of pouring the milk into a cup with espresso, the espresso is poured into a cup with milk (version emphasised because I don't know if Starbucks actually makes their drink this way). The Café Macchiato, on the other hand, is simply neat espresso with a dollop of milk or milk foam.
Flavours: hazelnut, caramel, peppermint, and a thousand others. Good or bad? This is a choice down to the mind of the individual consuming the coffee, but in my opinion flavourings often exist to mask bad espresso. Why would you need all the flavours, super-sizes, and extras if you simply had a barista who could make a sublime cup of coffee? Find good coffee and suddenly those extras become unnecessary.
Milk variety: the less fat the easier it is to foam the milk, but full fat milk is completely doable and honestly better. Soy milk is also an option, but can be tricky to foam. Bonsoy brand, however, can be worked in a manner very similar to whole milk (if you've ever had a soy latte and hated it, try Bonsoy next time).
Variety doesn't have to be difficult
I believe a lot of people don't try espresso simply because it's easier to drink a cup of "normal coffee" than battle with a new language. If/when you decide to give espresso a go, think of the drinks in terms of their ingredients. Don't like milk? Ignore lattes and cappuccinos. Can't handle it black? Then you'll want to try those milky drinks. Want to try espresso but afraid it might be too much on its own? Try con panna!
Whatever you do, just find a good barista. Try some good espresso. Please?
All posts in this series
- There’s No “X” in “Espresso” and Other Tales of Coffee Woe
- What Espresso Isn’t: A Primer
- Ingredients For Successful Espresso
- The Coffee Shop Menu, Simplified