The menu for espresso drinks can be confusing if you don't work at a coffee shop. Until I bought my own espresso machine and started experimenting at home, I didn't know the difference between a latte and a cappuccino or how to make either one. After a year of owning my machine and after taking a couple of classes, here are the 5 basic drinks I feel every espresso lover should be familiar with: Americano, Macchiato, Cappuccino, Caffè Latte, & Flat White.
First, it's important to know the one thing each of these drinks has in common - espresso. Espresso is a way of brewing coffee by forcing a small amount of hot water through freshly ground beans. In other words, espresso is brewed by pressure, whereas drip coffee is brewed without pressure.
Americano 5:1 Hot Water to Espresso
An Americano is similar in strength to drip coffee, but different in flavor. The term "Americano" was coined in Europe when traveling Americans preferred to have their espresso diluted and stretched for a larger cup. A Long Black is a similar drink, which is espresso added to hot water (the reverse of an Americano).
Macchiato 4:1 Espresso to Frothed Milk
The term "macchiato" means "marked" with just a dollop of froth on top of the espresso. This drink is served in a small cup and can also be referred to as an Espresso Macchiato or Caffè Macchiato.
Cappuccino 1:1:1 Frothed Milk to Steamed Milk to Espresso
A cappuccino has equal parts espresso, steamed milk, and froth (or foam). It's common for the foam on top to be sprinkled with chocolate shavings, sugar, or cinnamon, because the Cappuccino is a popular dessert in many countries.
Caffè Latte 3:1 Steamed Milk to Espresso
A latte has a very thin layer of smooth froth on top, much less than a cappuccino. A talented barista should be able to make latte art by creating either a rosetta or heart, for example.
Flat White 3:1 Steamed Milk to Espresso (with zero froth)
With a Flat White, the smooth froth is held back with a knife or a spoon so that only the creamy, steamed milk mixes in with the espresso.
To get the best tasting espresso drink, it's important to use fresh-roasted coffee beans. Any origin of coffee can be used to brew espresso, but I prefer to buy "espresso roasted" beans. To learn about fresh-roasted beans and why they are important for quality and flavor, check out a previous blog - Fresh Coffee: Fresh Roasted.