Demystifying the Coffee Menu: A Breakdown of Espresso Drinks
Latte… Cappuccino… Macchiato… Sometimes figuring out what’s on a coffee menu can be confusing! A lot of the common coffee drinks we enjoy today have changed over time, with each generation and culture putting their own spin on coffee classics. We figured we’d give a little background on some of the most popular café drinks and teach you the traditional recipes. What is so fun about coffee drinks is the ability for them to be customizable - take these recipes and make them our own.
This concentrated beverage is the base for a ton of other coffee classics. Its roots are in Italy in the late 1800’s but innovations in technology and the growing coffee culture has brought the drinks all over the world. You can even make espresso in your own kitchen! Espresso, by definition, is brewed with almost-boiling water that is forced through finely ground coffee beans with PRESSURE. The pressure is what makes this beverage so rich and full of flavor. Any level of roast can be made into espresso… even light roast. Our Espresso Jimbo is a medium/dark roast that we designed to taste great with this brew method and added to milk, like many espressos are!
Typically, the espresso is just 1-2 oz and served in a small demitasse, but they’re made with as much coffee as you’d use for a full brewed cup. This is the reason for the higher caffeine levels and the rich heavy body.
The story goes, American soldiers stationed in Italy during World War II weren’t huge fans of the strong espressos that were being served. Water was added to make the drink more like American coffee and the Americano was born. Espresso is added to hot water to dilute it to the strength of brewed coffee. You still get the delicious flavor of espresso, but you have more beverage to sip as you go about your morning routine. A good ratio is about 2 ounces of espresso to every 4-10 ounces of water. You can add milk or sugar just like you would with your regular daily brew or drink it black.
In the US, macchiato is often paired with caramel, but originally an Espresso Macchiato was served as a variation on the traditional shot. Macchiato means “stained” or “marked”, espresso is topped with milk and is marked with white foam. This originally helped baristas show the servers the difference between cups of espresso and espresso with milk. Usually you’d expect this drink to be small, 1-2oz of espresso plus another ounce of milk/foam on top.
The variation of caramel macchiato is a totally different experience. These drinks are very popular in cafes around the country, but they look more like a flavored caramel latte. The drinks usually starts with vanilla syrup then hot or cold milk that is topped with a floating layer of espresso. The whole thing is topped off with lots of caramel sauce. In comparison to the small espresso macchiato, this drink would be much larger, sweeter and milkier at around 12+ ounces.
Some of the most common espresso beverages include steamed milk and foam. A cappuccino is once again from Italy. It starts with espresso that is combined with steamed milk and foam. A good ratio is 1/3 espresso, 1/3 warm milk, 1/3 microfoam. This drink is a great balance of espresso’s heavy body with the milk's light foam.
The caffe latte is made with the same ingredients as the cappuccino, but the ratio of milk and foam can be a little different. The drink starts with espresso, steamed milk is added with just a small layer of foam on top, maybe about ¼- ½ inch. The espresso is mixed with more milk, giving it a milder and sweeter flavor. People tend to use this as a base for drinks like a mocha (adding chocolate) or other flavored lattes like vanilla or caramel.
Hopefully this gives a bit more insight on what exactly is listed on your local café’s menu board. This can also help you make your favorite espresso drinks at home. More and more people are brewing coffee at home and learning how to use new methods and tools. Check out our series on how to make a latte at home HERE: Enjoying a Latte at Home Part 1 | Enjoying a Latte at Home Part 2 . If you’re already making espresso at home, be sure to try our Espresso Jimbo!