Understanding Different Coffee Drinks - Part 1

If you're like us, you've probably had this experience: You walk into a trendy-looking coffee shop. The speakers are blasting music with bombastic bass, the friendly barista with an arm full of tattoos is rushing around behind the counter, and no less than three bearded men in beanies are clanging away on their laptops. You realize a bit too late that its your turn to order. Quickly glancing at the menu over the cashier's head, you find yourself paralyzed with fear. There are a list of drinks, and you don't know what any of them mean. Sure, you've heard of a latte and a cappuccino, but what's the difference? Flat White? Macchiato? What are these?

Don't worry! Because we've experienced this, as well, we know the best way to help you navigate the complicated world of coffee drinks. Below is a helpful breakdown of the different coffee drinks you are most likely to encounter. We hope that with this information, you can feel comfortable exploring the delicious world of coffee!

The  Basics

No matter if you walk into a trendy third-wave shop or the cozy cafe and bookshop that's been in your neighborhood for decades, these coffee drinks should be on the menu.


Contrary to popular belief, espresso is not a type of coffee bean, but rather a method of extracting coffee. It is made by forcing pressurized hot water through finely-ground coffee using an espresso machine to produce a highly-concentrated, thick liquid topped with a layer of "crema," which is a layer of brown foam of air bubbles mixing with the soluble oils of finely ground coffee.

Espresso shots can be made using different ratios of water to coffee. For example, a typical shot of espresso is 1 ounce, with a double being 2 ounces and so on. Most American coffee shops pour a double shot for their milk-based drinks.

The amount of coffee grounds in a proper shot of espresso is a matter of debate. Italian espresso culture calls for less coffee per shot than American espresso culture (around 7-10 grams versus 15-20).


Known primarily for the beautiful milk art that coats the top of the drink, the latte is simply a combination of espresso and steamed milk. It is the most popular drink in the UK and third-most popular in American coffee shops, where it was introduced to Americans in Seattle.

The drink itself is typically larger than a cappuccino at around 10 to 12 ounces. The milk is steamed long enough to create "microfoam" and then poured on top of the espresso shot. This creates a drink with the espresso mixed in with a layer of steamed milk and an even smaller layer of foam, which is where the amazing-looking latte art happens. The latte itself is rich and creamy. 


The cappuccino is similar to a latte, but is about half the volume (6 ounces). It also evenly layers the espresso, steamed milk, and foam, whereas the latte has more steamed milk than foam or espresso. There is also a difference in taste, with a cappuccino having a more distinct espresso flavor since it is using less milk. It also has a luxurious, velvety texture. 

Drip Coffee

Surprisingly, drip coffee is not very common in Europe but is a staple of most American coffee shops. Whereas a latte, cappuccino and most other coffee drinks are espresso-based, drip or filtered coffee is simply the process of pouring water on top of ground coffee and allowing it to drip through a filter. The resulting flavor is less concentrated than a shot of espresso and more subtle in flavor. 


Check back soon for Part 2 where we delve into some of the more unique coffee drinks!


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