The espresso menu at a specialty cafe can sometimes be confusing. Coffee drinks are simple. Mostly utilizing just two ingredients, coffee and milk, and sometimes involving a sweetener like a flavored syrup. But how can just two ingredients result in nearly a dozen unique beverage creations? That is where the difference in volume, texture, and milk to espresso ratio all come into play. So let's talk about the ins and outs of a common espresso menu at a specialty and demystify these unique beverages.
- Espresso: Espresso is the foundation of most specialty coffee drinks. It's a concentrated shot of coffee brewed by forcing hot, pressurized water through finely-ground coffee beans inside a small metal basket called a portafilter. The result is a strong, dense, and full-bodied coffee with a layer of crema on top, which is a creamy foam. Brewing a coffee as espresso can extract flavors otherwise not detectable in standard filter coffee. A standard double shot of espresso is about 2 oz in total volume.
- Macchiato: A macchiato, often known as an espresso macchiato, is a simple coffee drink consisting of a shot of espresso "marked" with a small amount of steamed milk. The milk curbs the strength of the espresso slightly to make it more approachable. A macchiato is about 3 oz in total volume and drastically different than a "caramel macchiato" from Starbucks, which is essentially a caramel latte.
- Cortado: A Cortado is similar to a macchiato but contains a slightly larger amount of steamed milk. It's made by combining equal parts espresso and steamed milk, resulting in a smoother and more balanced coffee. A Cortado is 4 oz in total volume and typically served in a Gibraltar glass.
- Cappuccino: A Cappuccino is a classic Italian coffee drink that has changed in its traditional European preparation since being adopted by specialty cafes. Traditionally, am cappuccino was a 6 oz beverage with equal parts espresso, steamed milk, and dry milk foam. Although in most specialty cafes, the difference between a latte and a cappuccino is a change in volume, not texture. Most cafes serve what is closer to a Flat White as a cappuccino. A 6 oz beverage that is 2 oz of espresso and 4 oz of steamed milk with consistent microfoam texture.
- Latte: A latte is a one of the most popular espresso and milk drinks. Its made with a double shot of espresso and a generous amount of steamed milk. It has a milder coffee taste compared to cappuccino due to the larger milk-to-espresso ratio. A latte is typically 10-12 oz in total volume, with 2 oz of espresso and the rest being microfoamed milk.
- Americano: An Americano is a simple coffee drink made by adding hot water to a double shot of espresso. It provides a similar strength to regular coffee but retains the distinct flavor of espresso. The barista is essentially diluting espresso with water to achieve a beverage with the strength of normal American filter coffee.
- Mocha: A mocha is a combination of espresso, steamed milk, chocolate syrup or cocoa powder. It is prepared the same as a latte with the addition of chocolate. It is for some reason one of the flavored lattes that has its own instinct name versus something like "vanilla latte or caramel latte".
- Matcha Latte: Matcha is a traditional Japanese green tea that is made from entire green tea leaves that are ground into a fine powder before being dissolved in hot water in the size of a shot. Matcha has a strong, grassy, vegetal flavor. It is typically served as a Matcha latte in cafes, where the shot of matcha replaces espresso before being steamed milk is added. It is sometimes sweetened with simple syrup or honey to balance the earthiness of the tea.
- Chai Latte: Chai lattes are another common tea-based drink served in specialty cafes. A chai latte usually uses a chai tea concentrate that is made of black tea and various herbs and spices such as cloves, cardamom, cinnamon, and ginger. This sweet and spicy concentrate is then combined with milk and steamed together. Some people order a "Dirty" chai latte, which is a Chai latte with a shot of espresso inside.
- London Fog: The London Fog is tea based drink that has become increasingly popular over the last few years. It is comprised of strongly brewed Earl Grey tea, vanilla simple syrup, and steamed milk.
I hope this cleared up any confusion and will help make ordering your next drink at your local cafe a little less daunting. And if you want to impress your barista, order a cortado!