Do you have a go-to espresso drink that you order every time you go to a coffee shop? Have you ever wanted to try something new, but you just don’t know what to order?
Coffee Shop menus can be very confusing, especially if the shop gets too cutesy with their drink names and drink sizes. All of this confusion potentially keeps many people from discovering a drink they would really enjoy.
Let’s see if we can clear up some of that confusion. Most espresso drinks can be classified into three basic categories, although there are minor nuances which differentiate some of the very specific ones. The main three categories are Espresso, Latte, and Cappuccino.
Pull those shots! Most coffee shops in America serve a double shot of espresso. Espresso shots are pulled either long or short. A double short shot is the standard for most hot espresso beverages, largely due to the fact that the extraction time used for a short shot yields the best flavor, without bringing out the more bitter attributes of the coffee.
The simplest form in which espresso is served is just a straight up shot of espresso. At Sourdough Cuppa Joe, we serve a double long and a double short if someone orders espresso. Straight espresso is usually more of an acquired taste for most people. Sometimes cutting the espresso with a little milk or cream makes it more palatable for the drinker.
A couple of typical variations include the Americano and the Red Eye.
The Americano is an espresso beverage consisting of espresso shots poured through hot water from the espresso machine. Cafe Americano literally means “American Coffee”. There is some degree of uncertainty about where the drink originated. However, there is sufficient evidence to suggest that American G.I.s in Italy during World War II would order espresso diluted with water to approximate the coffee that they were used to having back home.
An Americano has a similar strength to brewed coffee; however, the flavor is quite different. Espresso has a more full-bodied flavor than that of brewed coffee. Espresso also retains the oils which are filtered out by paper filters in other brewing methods. These differences give the Americano a flavor all its own.
Want to make an Americano at home? You’ll need a burr grinder and an espresso maker. Get a Baratza Burr Grinder to grind your espresso. Then, get a ROK Presso Manual Espresso Maker and pull some shots!
Another drink, similar to the Americano but substituting brewed coffee for the water, is the Red Eye. This super-strong, super-caffeinated beverage is just what some people like to get their day started. This is my personal favorite!
The strength can be altered by changing the coffee to espresso ratio. More coffee than espresso makes a coffee-leaning drink which has more boldness than your average cup. Less coffee, and you have a very stout cup which leans more to the espresso side of the flavor profile.
Assuming you already have a way to brew coffee, you can supplement your caffeinating arsenal with the burr grinder and espresso maker above and you’re in the Red Eye business.
Here, we are referring a cappuccino in the traditional sense. This drink’s ingredients are divided into thirds. A traditional cappuccino is one third espresso, one third steamed milk, and one third milk foam. These ingredients are layered in the mug or cup in that order, from bottom to top.
Cappuccinos can be served “dry”. This just means that more than one third of the milk portion of the drink is milk foam. So a dry cappuccino has the same amount of espresso as a normal one, but more of the milk is foam and less is steamed milk. This yields a drink in which the espresso passes through the (more than normal amount of) milk foam effortlessly, and the drink will taste stronger than a traditional cappuccino.
The term Cappuccino has become (outside of the coffee shop world) synonymous with a very sweet, barely tastes like coffee drink which is served from vending machines and mixing machines in gas stations across America. This is a very different drink than the traditional cappuccino served in a coffee shop. This causes confusion sometimes, when people make their first order at a coffee shop and they are used to this kind of so-called “cappuccino”. Talk about a wake-up call!
Of course, Cappuccinos can be flavored by adding flavored syrups to them. There are a few well-known names when it comes to how coffee shops flavor your espresso beverages. At Sourdough Cuppa Joe, we use Monin syrups for our flavored drinks, and Ghirardelli sauces for our mochas and caramel drinks.
Probably the most commonly ordered drink, as a class of espresso based beverages, in America is the Latte. A Latte is made by pouring steamed milk into freshly-pulled espresso shots. Steamed milk differs from frothed milk in texture. The amount of air in steamed milk is considerably lower. The resulting liquid is a satiny smooth-textured milk which has an even dispersement of microfoam. Microfoam is the term used to describe the tiny air bubbles created when steaming milk, giving it its texture.
The regular, unflavored Latte is just that – steamed milk poured into espresso. However, in America most lattes are ordered with added flavor. Flavor choices are seemingly endless. Companies like Monin have created a myriad of choices ranging from classic flavors to very specific ones, like Toasted Marshmallow.
Variations on the classic Latte include the drinks listed below.
A Mocha consists of freshly pulled espresso combined with Chocolate Sauce with steamed milk poured through. Mochas can be topped with optional whipped cream. Making your own whipped cream using a Cream Whipper adds to the quality and specialty feel of the drink, and is also more cost effective than using store bought whipped cream in a can. We also drizzle ours with chocolate sauce for a specialty feel. If you really want to appeal to the visual sense, add some shaved chocolate on top of the whipped cream!
White Mochas are made the same way, just substituting White Chocolate Sauce in for the Chocolate Sauce.
Breve Lattes are made with steamed heavy cream instead of whole milk (the default milk used for lattes). This also offers an option that is low in carbohydrates and high in fat. This goes well with many diets considered popular today.
A Cortado is a latte with much less steamed milk. It is defined as having equal parts of espresso and steamed milk. This makes for a stronger, more coffee-centered latte. Cortados are generally ordered without additional flavors, since part of the benefit is a more coffee-centered experience.
Not to be confused with the Americanized “Caramel Macchiato”, a traditional macchiato is made up of two or more double shots of espresso with a very small amount of steamed milk poured into it. Macchiato literally means “Milk-Stained” (espresso). This is a very different drink than the Americanized Caramel Macchiato, so if that is what you are used to, don’t expect a traditional Macchiato from a coffee shop to taste anything like it.
Caramel Macchiato (Americanized)
Now, the Caramel Macchiato is much more like a latte than a traditional Macchiato. It differs from a flavored latte in that the ingredients are layered in the cup and purposefully not stirred together by the barista. This drink offers a unique experience if left layered by the drinker, which has become a standard drink for many here in America.
While this is far from an exhaustive discussion of all of the possible espresso drinks offered at coffee shops across America, this list covers the basic drinks which are the building blocks for nearly all others. Hopefully this knowledge will empower you to make an educated decision on your next visit to a coffee shop.