A Beginner’s Guide To The Most Common Coffee Drinks
Visit any hip, independent coffee shop nowadays – you know the sort: they’ve probably got a chalkboard out front that has something like, “better latte than never” or “drink espresso so you’re not depresso” scrawled on it – and you’re going to be bombarded with options.
Yes, the outside will be all pared-back and brutalist with a nice Sans Serif font but, inside, you’ll find an anaconda-ing queue of tetchy, under-caffeinated people and an extensive list of different coffee drinks that reads like an Italian cryptic crossword. There’ll be Lattes, Flat Whites, Cortados, Americanos, Espressos, Cappuccinnos, Mochas, and more. Trying to parse that glut of options can be overwhelming, to say the least. So much so that you might often find yourself panicking and fumbling for the first coffee drink that you read or simply copying the order of the person in front of you. That’s obviously not ideal and can really interrupt the zen of your morning coffee routine.
So whether you’re a black Americano-and-make-it-snappy kind of person or a big fan of a sugary sweet Orange Mocha Frappucino, this beginner’s guide to all the most common coffee drinks will tell you all about the styles of coffee that you’re going to encounter out in the wild.
The Espresso, comprised of a single shot of highly concentrated coffee that you can take down in one or two gulps, is the most basic (and potent) style of coffee drink available. An Espresso is made by forcing almost-boiling water through finely-ground coffee beans; typically through one of those big, loud and steam punk-looking espresso machines that you’ll find in coffee shops just about everywhere. It’s small, intense and the best way to get caffeine into your system tout de suite while also giving you a pure and unadulterated taste of the beans themselves.
Drink it if: you need a coffee, and you need it now.
A Doppio is a double shot of coffee that’s twice as strong as an Espresso. Ordering a Doppio instead of an Espresso is the coffee equivalent of getting a double vodka coke instead of a single when you’re out on the town. Hopefully with fewer bad decisions made afterwards.
Drink it if: you’re very, very hungover.
The Americano is a simple, honest, and straightforward style of coffee that consists of nothing but a strong espresso base and hot water. The name is thought to have originated during World War II after American soldiers stationed in Italy were forced to water down their Espressos to make their coffee rations last longer. The typical Espresso-to-water ratio in an Americano today is about 1:3, so while it’ll definitely give you a decent caffeine buzz, it’ll also last much longer than a quick shot of Espresso.
Drink it if: you really like the taste of black coffee.
A Caffè Latte is an über popular coffee drink made with Espresso and steamed milk. Silky and smooth, the Latte is the default coffee drink for many people and often comes topped with a layer of cloudy froth. The way that the creaminess of the steamed milk counteracts against the bitterness of the Espresso is what makes the Latte such an easy drinker. That being said, the Latte’s accessibility is also one of its most harped upon flaws; coffee purists complain that the amount of milk used masks the natural flavour of the beans. Which I guess just goes to show that you really can’t please everyone.
Drink it if: you’re a fan of hot, milky coffee.
A Mocha is the kind of cute and cuddly beverage baby you’d get if a coffee and hot chocolate loved each very, very much and had some steamy unprotected sex. Originating as a variant of the Latte, the Mocha is essentially a combination of espresso and steamed milk with the addition of chocolate flavouring (usually cocoa powder) and a sweetener (usually sugar). It’s the perfect drink for anyone with a sweet tooth that still wants to get reasonably caffeinated before 12pm.
Drink it if: you’re more of a hot chocolate than coffee kind of person.
This Spanish-style coffee contains an equal amount of Espresso and steamed milk. The latter cuts through the acidity and bitterness of the former like a well-honed knife but doesn't muffle the coffee flavour with a dairy muzzle. The Espresso and the steamed milk work in happy harmony in a Cortado and what you’re left with is a short and unfussy drink where you can taste the flavour and aroma of the coffee beans that have been used without getting knocked over the head with a bitter wallop.
Drink it if: you want a strong coffee that still has a nice balance to it.
The Flat White is an Antipodean born and bred coffee drink that consists of a decent amount of Espresso, occasionally veering into double-shot Doppio territory, that’s topped with a generous slathering of microfoam (finely textured milk). Think of it like a squashed latte with less milk and more coffee. The frothy texture of the milk is what separates the Flat White from a Cortado and gives it a slightly richer and more velvety mouthfeel. It’s one of the most popular coffee drinks around. Because it's great.
Drink it if: you want the best of both worlds. Like Hannah Montana.
As its name would suggest, an Iced Coffee is a coffee drink in which a shot (or two) of Espresso is served over ice, usually with some cold milk (or dairy alternative) and syrup for added sweetness. The benefit of an iced coffee is that you don’t have to wait for it to cool down before drinking. It’s also more than capable of cooling you off on a hot summer’s day.
Drink it if: you’re hot and tired.
A Cappuccino is a coffee drink composed of a single espresso shot and microfoam. It’s typically smaller in overall volume than a Latte and has a thicker, fluffier layer of microfoam on top than a Flat White. It’s not a rare occurrence for a Cappuccino to come topped with a cheeky sprinkle of cocoa powder and many cafés will serve it that way. They’re exactly what you’d want to be drinking with a really good pastry on the cobbled streets of Italy.
Drink it if: you’re in the mood for froth and flavour.
A Caffè Macchiato, or just Macchiato for short, is an espresso-based coffee drink that has a small amount of foamed milk thrown into the mix for good measure. The Espresso is by far the most dominant flavour of the drink with the milk merely adding a bit of texture on top. The Macchiato is basically an Espresso that’s been kissed by someone that’s just drank a Latte and still has half the froth hanging about in their moustache. Any versions of a Macchiato that douse the Espresso in milk are pretenders, MOB.
Drink it if: you want a coffee that’s here for a good time, not a long time.
Although it’s got a rather Italian-sounding name, the Frappé is actually a Greek coffee drink made from instant coffee, water, sugar, and milk. It’s quick, easy, and delicious in the same way that love-less sex is. It’s also slightly hollow and lacking in substance in a similar fashion. There’s a time and a place for a Frappé but if it’s a hot summer’s day and you’re looking for a sweet and sugary pick-me-up? There’s not much better.
Drink it if: you need an instant, icy hit of sugar and caffeine.
A Lungo (which is literally Italian for “long”) is drink that contains the same amount of ground coffee as a normal Espresso shot but uses twice the water. If an Espresso is a Charmander and an Americano is a Charizard then the Lungo sits happily in the middle as the Charmeleon of the coffee world. Unlike an Americano, however, the water in a Lungo is added during rather than after the brewing process. This gives the drinker a deeper, more coffee-y flavour.
Drink it if: you want to sip on some strong coffee.