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Beginner’s Guide To The Different Types Of Coffee Drinks (and Espresso Drinks!)

Have you ever walked into a coffee shop and thought, “What the heck should I order?” You’re not the only one who’s been puzzled by all the different types of coffee drinks available today.

Sure, you can always order a black coffee or an Americano, but sometimes you want something different. That’s where it can get confusing.

For instance, do you know the difference between a macchiato and a latte macchiato? Do you know the espresso to milk ratio in a cortado?

These may seem like details far too small to worry about, but when you’re looking for the perfect drink, they can make all the difference.

If you spend a little time learning more about the typical offerings on a coffee shop menu, you’ll be able to pick out the type of drink you want.

You’ll also be able to order customizations to your drinks and effectively communicate your wants to the barista.

We’ll be covering the most common drinks (and a few more uncommon ones), so while this is by no means an exhaustive list of all of the different types of coffee drinks, it will help you find your way around a coffee shop menu.

What You Should Know

Before we get into the nitty gritty details of what makes each coffee beverage unique, there are a few foundational ideas you need to keep in mind.

First, let’s talk about what exactly a “coffee drink” means, how it’s different from plain old coffee, and which elements make up various coffee drinks.

Most coffee drinks are made the same way, and once you understand that, you’ll be ready to study the list of types of coffee drinks.

Coffee Vs. Espresso

This is a crucial distinction to make when talking about types of coffee drinks. You may have heard the term espresso before, but in case you haven’t, here’s a short espresso 101 overview.

Espresso (not expresso) is basically super concentrated coffee. Hot water is forced through tightly packed grounds over the course of 25-35 seconds.

This produces a short, flavor-packed shot of coffee, and the result is espresso.

Because espresso is so strong, it’s often mixed with milk in various forms. These drinks are referred to as espresso beverages because they use espresso as the base of the drink.

There are coffee drinks that use regular coffee, such as the cafe au lait, but most of the time, you’ll be ordering either black coffee (it tastes better black, trust us) or an espresso beverage.

That’s why most of this list will be focused on espresso beverages.

Elements of an Espresso Beverage

There are a few elements that make up an espresso beverage: the amount/type of espresso and the amount/type of milk.

Most smaller drinks (8 oz. or smaller) will use one shot of espresso. Larger drinks (12 oz. and larger) will use a double shot, and some big drinks may even use a triple shot!

This doesn’t mean that larger drinks are more powerful. In other words, more shots of espresso doesn’t necessarily mean more strength.

The ratios are the same, so a small drink with one shot and a larger drink with two shots will usually taste similar. (For a stronger drink, order an extra shot, not a larger size.)

In addition, the way the espresso is made will change the taste of the final beverage. There are two main methods of making (or pulling) an espresso shot.

One is the common method of letting the coffee brew for 25-35 seconds.

There are also ristretto shots, which are shots that are brewed for less time. This results in a sweeter, stronger shot.

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Milk also plays an important role, as the vast majority of espresso beverages are made with milk.

The more milk a drink has, the sweeter the taste will be. So if you’re not accustomed to the bold taste of espresso, you’ll want milk drinks.

Makes sense, right?

Well, the way the milk is prepared is just as important. Milk can be heated, steamed, foamed/frothed, or both, and the preparation method will drastically change the type of coffee drink.

Heating the milk just makes it warmer, but while steaming/foaming/frothing it changes the texture. Frothed milk is what produces nice latte art.

Even more specifically, micro-foam is foamed milk with tiny bubbles. This creates a tighter, creamier texture instead of an airy texture.

Milk is added to both coffee and espresso, and as you can imagine, there are tons of types of coffee drinks as a result.

Let’s look at the most popular coffee and espresso beverages.

Coffee Beverages

Cafe au lait

This is the most popular coffee-based beverage besides regular old black coffee. Even if you’re familiar with a cafe au lait, you might not know its history and development.

Originally, a cafe au lait was made by adding heated milk to black coffee at a 1:1 ratio (equal parts coffee and milk). This is still how it’s made in many places all over the world.

However, many other coffee shops have altered the recipe, using steamed milk instead of simply heated milk.

Starbucks has arguably had a big part in this by offering a cafe misto, their name for a cafe au lait using steamed milk.

Today, if you order a cafe au lait, you’ll likely get equal parts coffee and steamed milk.

In terms of the sensation, it’ll be fairly similar to drinking an espresso beverage, but the taste will be much different.

A cafe au lait is great if you regularly take cream and sugar in your coffee or if you like espresso beverages but want a drink that lasts a little longer or has a different kind of taste.

It is also possible to customize the cafe au lait by changing the type of milk. You can request a non-dairy milk or even half-and-half.

Egg coffee

You read that correctly––egg coffee. Vietnam is attributed with creating this unique drink, and it’s gained popularity recently.

To give you an idea of the taste, this concoction is often described as liquid tiramisu.

So if the idea of cracking some eggs into your morning coffee grosses you out a bit, give it a try––you might be surprised.

First, special coffee is made in a unique brewing device called a phin. A dark roast coffee is used, and often Robusta beans will be used instead of the lighter Arabica variety.

Next, take egg yolks, sugar, and sweetened condensed milk. (You can also use some vanilla extract.) This is whipped or beaten until it becomes a batter-like cream.

Finally, the coffee and cream are mixed.

You can watch Vietnamese egg coffee being made in this video:

Ca phe sua da

Another Vietnamese coffee drink, ca phe sua da is quite similar to egg coffee. It uses the darker, more bitter Robusta beans in tandem with sweetened condensed milk.

However, this is an iced drink.

It also uses the phin, which is still an obscure brewing device outside of southeast Asia.

Many people are drawn to ca phe sua da because they consider it exotic, but they stay because of the memorably bittersweet taste.

Here’s a guide to making authentic ca phe sua da if you feel like giving it a try. It’s becoming more popular in coffee shops, but it’s available everywhere in Vietnam.

Espresso Beverages

Doppio

You might hear this term thrown around.

It’s simply the term for a double shot of espresso, usually served in a demitasse cup.

<Americano

An Americano is a single or double shot of espresso with hot water poured on top. This creates a beverage with a flavor profile similar to black coffee, but it’s generally more intense.

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If the water is poured first and the espresso added on top, it’s called a long black.

(Confusingly, adding espresso shots to the top of a drink is macchiato-style, referencing the latte macchiato.)

Black eye, red eye, etc.

A drink with “eye” in its name is usually a combination of brewed coffee and espresso. While there are general guidelines, some coffee shops do each drink a little differently.

The general consensus is that a red eye is coffee with one shot of espresso, and a black eye is coffee with two shots of espresso.

It gets more confusing, though. Some Starbucks secret menu lists have the green eye , which is coffee with three shots of espresso.

The name isn’t common, but you could order this at any coffee shop.

There are other names that float around, too. For example, some shops and people say that a black eye is actually called a shot in the dark.

And the term “depth charge” is used to reference both red eyes and black eyes, although Caribou Coffee trademarked it as its official name for a red eye.

Espresso macchiato

If you’ve ever ordered something like a caramel macchiato from Starbucks, you have not ordered an espresso macchiato. (The Starbucks type of drink is a latte macchiato.)

An espresso macchiato is one of the strongest espresso drinks you can order. It consists of a shot of espresso and a tiny dash of foamed milk.

That’s it!

In Italian, where the espresso macchiato originated, “macchiato” translates to “spotted” or “stained.”

The idea is that the espresso is marked with a small amount of milk to help tame the strong taste of the espresso shot.

Flat white

The flat white is a coffee shop staple (although there’s a debate about its name––more on that in a minute).

The generally accepted definition of a flat white is a double shot of espresso topped with micro-foamed milk.

That said, there are many, many variations of the drink, and coffee lovers all over the world argue about what a flat white is.

Some people say the shots should be ristretto shots, and others debate over the texture and amount of milk.

But if you order a flat white in most coffee shops, you’ll get two shots and micro-foamed milk. It’s quite similar to a smaller version of a latte.

Now onto the name debate. Depending on who you ask, a flat white is the same thing as a cortado, but others say they’re different.

And some people will insist that you’re talking about a Gibraltar.

What gives? Well, if you want to read the whole story, give it a Google. In short, flat whites and cortados are the same thing most of the time.

The Gibraltar is a specific type of glass, and flat whites/cortados are generally served in these glasses instead of mugs.

Cappuccino

An extremely common drink, the cappuccino is actually a widely misunderstood drink.

You might think that the instant coffee you get at work or gas stations is a “cappuccino.” The name has been appropriated for many kinds of uses, but a real cappuccino has a specific recipe.

Heck, even the cappuccinos some coffee shops offer aren’t exactly cappuccinos. To make matters worse, coffee experts disagree on what a cappuccino really is.

Most often, a cappuccino consists of a double shot of espresso, a little bit of steamed milk, and a lot of milk foam.

Generally, there will be a little less than half the entire cup (about 40%) filled with foam.

There will be variations for different coffee shops, so if you’re in doubt, ask a barista how their shop makes a cappuccino.

Latte

Now we arrive at perhaps the most popular espresso drink and one of the most versatile.

To start off with, a latte is a single or double shot of espresso, steamed milk, and milk foam, usually making up a 1:1:1 ratio (equal parts of everything).

Again, there will be some differences here, but the 1:1:1 ratio is the rule of thumb for lattes.

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If you’re brand new to espresso beverages, a latte is one of the best ways to ease yourself into the world of espresso.

It’s one of the milkiest drinks available, so the strong taste of espresso will be tamed.

Lattes are also wonderful for adding flavored syrups, and some coffee shops take this to a new level and produce some unique lattes.

This is common in smaller coffee shops, so if you’re looking for a one-of-a-kind latte, hit up your local mom-and-pop coffee joint.

Latte macchiato

The latte macchiato is what most people think of when they hear “macchiato.”

The espresso macchiato described above is the traditional macchiato, while the latte macchiato refers to the fact that the espresso shots are poured on top, which is referred to as macchiato-style.

Think of it as a regular latte but with the shots poured on top. You get much more of the espresso flavor, making it a stronger beverage.

Starbucks has almost singlehandedly popularized this drink.

Their caramel macchiato is a super popular drink, and most people assume that it’s the definitive, “true” macchiato.

The coffee giant also added a latte macchiato to its menu in 2016. It’s basically the same as the caramel macchiato but not nearly as dessert-like.

Mocha

Think of the mocha as a chocolate-infused latte. It’s great if you want the latte drinking experience but a different kind of flavor.

Most coffee shops, like Café Grumpy in New York City, make the drink using espresso, chocolate sauce, steamed milk, and milk foam (in that order).

Other coffee shops may use semisweet chocolate or cacao to make the drink.

You’ll often find whipped cream on top and maybe even chocolate shavings on top of it all.

Iced Coffee Drinks

Iced coffee beverages are quite similar to their warmer counterparts. Instead of steaming the milk, it’s poured in cold, and ice is added.

Aside from that, the drinks are almost identical in recipes.

Let’s take a quick look at some iced coffee drinks.

Iced Coffee

You might think iced coffee is just black coffee with some ice cubes, but it’s not. The coffee is brewed double strength because the ice will dilute it.

A popular type of iced coffee is known as Japanese iced coffee, which involves making a pour over using twice the amount of coffee.

The dripper is placed on top of a server with ice (totaling half the end weight of the cup).

But perhaps the most popular type of iced coffee is cold brew.

This is a long steep method in which the water and grounds mingle (either at room temperature or in a refrigerator) for 12-24 hours.

Typically, a French press like the Bodum Brazil is used to make cold brew. This produces a much smoother, less acidic cup of coffee, but as a result, some of the flavors may be muted.

Iced Espresso Beverages

Iced espresso beverages may or may not be made with twice the amount of coffee, depending on the shop.

While you can get any espresso drink iced, some of the more popular choices are the latte and mocha.

There’s one exception: the cappuccino, which can only really be served hot.

Even though both Starbucks and Tim Hortons sell an iced cappuccino, it’s not a good idea, something coffee experts tend to agree on.

Why?

The cappuccino depends on its hot foam to make it a cappuccino. When you pour hot foam over cold milk, well…you can imagine.

Final Word

The amount of options you encounter at a coffee shop can be intimidating. But when it comes down to it, most types of coffee drinks are just variations on a theme.

Once you understand that, ordering coffee becomes much less stressful.

There are lots of different coffee drinks out there, and we encourage you to try them all. You’ll never know what you’ll end up loving!

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