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Espresso Lover’s Drink Guide | What is an espresso, latte, cappuccino, ristretto?

Espresso Drink Lover's Guide

A massive 83% of American adults drink coffee.

The high-octane rush of a well prepared cup of espresso has captivated coffee sippers everywhere.

While Europeans have long enjoyed the steamy goodness of espresso shots, the at-home trend is still fairly young in America’s coffee market.

Coffee drinkers can see the derivations from classic drip-coffee with long European names as a little intimidating, especially without the familiar sight of a Starbucks barista.

Those who do enjoy espresso based drinks made at home likely aren’t even 100% sure what the differences are between their drink of choice and some of the others with long Italian names. I know I couldn’t name the ingredients and preparation methods for all of them.

The truth is that espresso is a wonderful way to perk up a dreary day and there is a whole host of different espresso-based drinks to explore. The hidden advantage to pure espresso shots is the caffeine content per volume of liquid is higher than regular drip coffee. It also tastes pretty great.

Because of the brewing process (water forced under pressure through finely ground coffee beans), espresso drips out richly, providing an aromatic, viscous liquid full of flavor, and even a little extra caffeine.

Standard Espresso Styles

The concentration shift from regular coffee makes the difference when it comes to bioavailability and absorption. But what does this mean for the individual drinker? A faster, stronger sensation.

This method of preparation has blossomed into a huge catalogue of really tasty drinks.

We’ve profiled the full range of espresso-based beverages to provide a little extra background on what you’re ordering when you step into your favorite local cafe or if you’re looking to expand your repertoire at home.

Ristretto

Ristretto – Quick and effective

The ristretto is what is referred to as a “short-shot.” It captures the essence of the beginning of an extraction. Less water is used in the process, but this does not mean less flavor.

Ristretto is a dark, rich drink, and while it contains less caffeine than a full extraction, taking a pure shot will lead to a stronger sensation, given the relative ratios.

Espresso

Espresso Normale – The traditional shot

This is the classic espresso shot formulation; extremely popular in Italy, it provides a quick and powerful extraction. The key to the normale is that the drip negates over-extraction. This avoids some of the potential bitterness of the lungo; making this drink perfect for a pure shot, and still high in caffeine content for popular, sweet, and creamy mixed drinks.

This avoids some of the potential bitterness of the lungo; making this drink perfect for a pure shot, and still high in caffeine content for popular, sweet, and creamy mixed drinks.

Lungo

Lungo/Café Allongé – The full extraction

The Lungo, which is Italian for “long” is the opposite of the ristretto. The drink is still a pure espresso, however, it uses twice the amount of water of a regular shot. Often confused with the caffè americano, the lungo is a beast of its own.

The longer extraction captures the entirety of coffee, while still offering concentration; considering that it contains the most caffeine out of all of the extractions, it is usually used in mixed-drinks, derived from pure espresso.

Espresso Drink Variations

Cappuccino

Cappuccino – The classic favorite

The cappuccino has grown famous as an Italian drink, made with espresso, a layer of milk, and a layer of steamed milk-foam. The drink is a quick fix of freshness infused with caffeine that does not sit too harshly on the taste buds. This drink is well known for the combination of taste and beauty.

A decisive factor in the cappuccino’s popularity is aesthetic presentability. Served in a porcelain cup, the foam richly rises above the rim.

Caffe Latte

Caffè Latte / Café Au Lait / Grand Crème – Half-and-half pleasure

Known by its many European name varations, which all literally mean “milk coffee,” Americans simply call this drink the latte. Traditionally, in the formulation of this drink, steamed milk is poured into a shot of espresso, with just a little foam. Although, in America, the drink has been known to include a larger layer of foamed milk, but not as much as the cappuccino.

Often times, the mix of espresso and milk foam on top of the drink is formed into art, depending on the skill of the barista.

CaffeMacchiato

Caffè Macchiato – A darker sensation

This drink is an espresso-milk combination that focuses on maintaining the purity of the brewing bean’s rich flavor.

Thus, the drink is just slightly “marked” by a bit of frothed milk poured into a double shot of espresso, settling either just under the crema, or slightly over. This drink offers the most espresso out of any of the mixes. The idea is that the milk is a compliment and isn’t dominating the espresso.

Latte Macchiato

Latte Macchiato – The other Macchiato

Often confused with the caffè macchiato, this is a much lighter, less intense variation. In addition to the flavor differences, the espresso is to be poured into milk (usually just 1/2 a shot), unlike the caffè macchiato (which features a full to double shot with steamed milk poured in).

This drink is usually layered, which you can see when served in a glass cup. Typically, the steamed milk is the bottom layer, followed by the espresso and then a thin layer of foam on top. This leads to a much lighter, less buzzy beverage – an easy sipper.

Americano

Caffè Americano – Black and hot

The recipe for an Americano combines espresso with hot water. Although the drink may seem like a regular drip-coffee, the difference is displayed in the flavor of the finish.

Rumor holds that the drink was named in World War II, as American infantry tried to balance the rich strength of Italian Espresso to match domestic expectations.

Flat White

Flat white – A drink from down-under

Originating in Australia, the flat white has grown to be a global favorite. The drink involves a mixture of steamed milk and double shot of espresso, much like a latte, however, the ratio of milk to espresso is smaller and there is a VERY thin layer of micro-foam on top.

Although the drink is not well-known in Europe, it has been picked up by some serious brands in the U.S.

Breve

Breve – The creamy concoction

The breve features a mixture of steamed milk and cream (aka half and half) added to espresso and topped with a little foam, producing a beverage with a little less buzz, but very smooth and soft drinkability.

Espresso Con Panna

Espresso Con Panna / Café Viennois – A historic touch

This is a storied cup, popular throughout Europe and the United Kingdom. This beauty of a beverage is usually made from a non-ristretto shot of espresso, with a layer of thick whipped cream topping and sometimes, a dusting of cinnamon.

Although it is historically served in a demitasse cup, modern variations feature latte cups for extra cream. Yum!

Flavored Variations

Marrochino

Caffè Marocchino – A touch of cocoa

This drink is very similar to the cappuccino, however, it is enhanced in flavor by a bit of cocoa dusted on top, making for a tasty bitter-sweetness.

Mocha

Mocha – Chocolate lover’s fave

Similar to the latte, this drink features all the usual ingredients, a shot of espresso, a bit of steamed milk, plus the notable addition of chocolate syrup. The beverage is often finished with an optional layer of whipped cream, dusted with a little cocoa.

Eggnog Latte

Eggnog latte – A seasonal sensation

The Eggnog latte is traditionally served in winter to balance with the dreary outer atmosphere. It is full of flavor, made with nutmeg, streamed milk, and eggnog, providing a spicy touch.

Cafe Miel

Café miel – A French fix

Perhaps the most flavored of all of the aforementioned beverages, the cafe miel features an espresso shot flavored with a bit of milk, enhanced with overtones of honey and cinnamon.

Bombon

Café bombón – An Asian Twist

This interesting fusion combines espresso in a 1:1 ratio with condensed milk. This combination provides for a uniquely sweet flavor that is impossible to achieve otherwise. Usually topped with foam, the drink is poured into a clear glass to highlight the contrast in its ingredients.

Conclusion

I hope this guide helps you branch out and experiment with some new combinations and maybe find a new favorite! I know I get stuck in the same pattern of endless lattes and Americanos, but after working on this piece, I’ve started mixing macchiatos into my morning rituals.

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About the Author Michael York

I am a die-hard espresso fan. I love every form of the drink from straight espresso shots to lattes and cappuccinos. I currently use a Breville BES870XL Barista, it is an awesome machine. BUT, my dream machine is definitely an Italian Quickmill Andreja. Those bad boys make badass espresso. I love answering your questions, leave a comment or question below!

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