Many beginner coffee drinkers are stumped the first time they walk into a coffee bar and look at the menu. What are cappuccinos and macchiatos? Is there a difference between a cafÃ© au lait and a cafÃ© latte? What exactly is espresso, and how does it differ from regular coffee? Understanding a few basic terms can help you determine what coffee drinks you like (and how to order them with confidence).
What Is Espresso?
Espresso is the base for many coffee drinks, although many coffee drinkers prefer it on its own. An espresso is made by quickly forcing hot water through very finely ground dark roast coffee beans. Espresso is very dark and strong, with 1/2 the water and twice the coffee grounds as normal drip coffee. You may notice a thin layer of foam (called “crema”) on the surface of the coffee; this is a sign of a good-quality espresso.
In addition to being served on its own, espresso is an essential component of many good coffee drinks.
Popular Coffee Drinks
Gourmet coffee houses serve a wide variety of coffee drinks. Some of the most popular drinks with coffee are:
- CafÃ© Americano: A shot of espresso diluted with water. Americano is stronger than regular drip coffee but lighter than straight espresso.
- CafÃ© au lait: A coffee drink made with equal parts regular drip coffee (not espresso) and steamed milk.
- CafÃ© latte: A single shot of espresso mixed with steamed milk.
- CafÃ© macchiato: A shot of espresso topped with frothed milk. A proper macchiato should have an espresso-to-milk ratio of about 80:20.
- Cappuccino coffee: A coffee drink made with equal parts espresso, steamed milk and frothed milk. Sometimes cappuccino is served with powdered chocolate or cinnamon sprinkled on top. A dry cappuccino is made without steamed milk, and with only a little bit of frothed milk.
- Espresso con panna: A single shot of espresso topped with whipped cream.
- Hammerhead: Also known as a “shot in the dark,” a hammerhead is a caffeine double-whammy: a shot of espresso served in a regular-sized coffee cup and topped with regular drip coffee.
- Mocha: A cappuccino or latte with a shot of chocolate syrup added.
- Ristretto: An extra-strong shot of espresso made by using 1/2 the amount of water (but the same amount of brewing time) as a regular espresso.
- Steamer: A popular non-coffee drink served at many coffee houses, made with steamed milk and a flavor shot such as peppermint or vanilla.