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Different types of coffee Explained

An in-depth guide explaining the different types of coffee, their history and how to make them

Different types of coffee visualised in a coffee chart

There are so many different types of coffee it's easy to see why one could become confused. Should you order a latte or a cappuccino? Does it matter when you order your favourite coffee? This guide will explain the differences between types of coffees which are made with espresso. Next time you will know exactly what coffee to order and why.

Have you noticed that each coffee shop has its own coffee drinks on the menu? What exactly is a flat white and why some coffee shops serve cortado? What is the difference between a mocha and a macchiato and really, is there a difference between a latte and a cappuccino?

I remember my parents used to simply drink "coffee". Turns out, there are many ways of brewing your coffee and nowadays, people absolutely espresso-based drinks which have taken over your local's menu. We are here to help you understand what are the differences between types of coffee.

Different types of coffee Explained - Contents

Coffee types comparison chart

Our coffee comparison chart is meant to quickly illustrate what every espresso-based coffee contain. We will now explain each of them in detail to really understand the differences in types of coffee.

Different types of coffee visualised in a coffee chart

What Are Espresso Based Drinks?

Espresso based drinks are coffees which share three ingredients: espresso, steamed milk and foam milk. The differences between these brews are the proportion of ingredients allocated to each beverage.

Even though these drinks share these common three ingredients, the resulting taste of the beverage will be different. You can also customise your coffee and add toppings like ground chocolate on the cappuccino, or whiskey in an Irish coffee. Some coffees can be stronger with double or even triple espressos. So when you go into your local coffee shop and you see "small, medium or large" make sure to check how many espresso shots go into your beverage.

Here are the different types of coffees and the proportion of each ingredient.

What Is Espresso

Espresso is a coffee-making method which has its origins in Italy. To make espresso you need a small amount of nearly boiling water forced under pressure through ground coffee beans. You can get an espresso made with a variety of coffee beans and roasts. What makes an espresso stand out is the fact that it has a thicker consistency and has a foamy cream on top. Because of the pressurised brewing process, espresso is a lot more concentrated.

Throughout the years, espresso became the base for all sort of types of coffee like latte, cappuccinos, macchiato, mocha or flat white. The actual caffeine content of any coffee drinks varies based on size, bean origin and roast method. Although espresso has a lot more caffeine per unit volume than most coffee beverages, remember that a small serving of espresso has less caffeine content than a regular cup of coffee.

To make espresso you will need an espresso machine. It is believed that Angelo Moriondo, from Turin, created the first espresso machine in 1884. Nowadays, you can get an espresso pretty much anywhere. You can even get affordable espresso machines in your own home.

To make espresso you just need one single shot of espresso in a cup. That's all, nothing else added.

The illustration of an espresso cup and its contents

The length of one espresso shot can be ristretto (or stretto) (reduced), normale or standard (normal), or lungo (long). Proportions will vary and the volume of the crema will also be different depending on the measurements used. For example, a ristretto is usually half of a volume of normale and lungo is double the normale volume.

Tip: Ristretto, normale and lungo are not the same shot with different ml of water or stopped at different times. This may result in under or over-extracted coffee. Instead, the grind of the coffee must be adjusted. Finer ground for ristretto and coarser ground for lungo. This is what helps the target volume be achieved.

What is Doppio?

A Doppio is a double espresso in a cup. No other ingredient is added to it. To create a double espresso all you need is two shots of espresso.

illustration of a doppio espresso and its contents

What is an Americano?

I used to love drinking Americano back in university. There was something really exciting about sipping on a looong coffee while studying for my degree. A long coffee or an Americano is just hot water which has a shot of espresso.

To make an Americano, you must pour the hot water first. Fill two-thirds of a cup with hot water and add one shot of espresso over the hot water.

an illustration of an americano cup of coffee with its contents

What is a Cappuccino?

Oh sweet cappuccinos, how I love you. Nowadays, I always buy a cappuccino. A cappuccino is made by pouring an espresso shot into a cup, then top it with steamed milk and foam in an equal ration. You should sprinkle ground chocolate on top of the foam, although I specifically ask all barista to omit this step for me.

The reason why I love cappuccinos is because of their delicious, creamier taste. I adore milk foam too, as it creates a softer flavour when the espresso passes through it.

During the winter months, you will find cappuccinos topped with cinnamon powder or nutmeg on the top for a most festive taste.

Tip: in Italy, a cappuccino is a breakfast drink which shouldn't be ordered after 12 pm. Although don't worry, you will still get your brew if you order it at any time of the day.

To make cappuccino, extract one shot of espresso in a cup. Add steamed milk and 3 cm of foamed milk. Sprinkle chocolate or cinnamon on top.

To make vegan cappuccino, simply replace the milk with a plant-based alternative. We recommend oat milk as it yields the creamiest result in our experience.

an illustration of a cappuccino and its contents

What is Latte?

A latte is relatively similar to a cappuccino, although the ratio of espresso, steamed milk and milk foam is different. A latte should be served in a tumbler glass, although it is now more common to see it a regular coffee mug.

To create the perfect latte extract one shot of espresso, then pour steamed milk over. The latte should have a minimal amount of milk foam on top, used to create "latte art".

Latte is the Italian word for milk and in Italy, this beverage means milk coffee. However, a latte is a lot more than just coffee with milk on top. The steamed milk is the star attraction in a latte with just a tad bit of foam on the top. Many coffee shops in the world train their baristas to create some of the most incredible latte art you can imagine. There are restaurants in Tokyo which specialise in designing beautiful coffee.

an illustration to the latte in a cup including its contents

What is a Mocha?

A mocha is a cross between a cappuccino and a hot chocolate. If you have a sweet tooth, then this is probably your best bet. You can find a mocha in a super simple form which is a shot of espresso topped with hot chocolate. But the more sophisticated mocha has a shot of espresso, a small part of hot chocolate (or hot chocolate syrup), topped with steamed milk and milk foam.

The idea behind a mocha is to have an extraordinarily extravagant drink. Hot chocolate should be silky and smooth and combined with the sweetness of the milk and the bitterness of the espresso, you have the perfect, most indulgent beverage.

But mocha as a name can be a little confusing. Mocha coffee is not the same as mocha coffee beans. Mocha beans come from a place called Mocha in Yemen. The funny thing is that Mocha beans are known to have a hint of chocolate.

Either way, a mocha can be done with delicious chocolate powder or syrup or can become a gorgeous white mocha, made with white chocolate instead.

To make the perfect mocha, extract one shot of espresso into a cup. Add one spoon of chocolate powder into the espresso and mix. Top it up with steamed milk and around 3 cm of milk foam. If you like, you can sprinkle chocolate powder on top. Yum!

An illustration of a mocha with its contents

What is Cortado?

The first time I encountered "cortado" on a coffee shop menu I was super confused. I was well versed in differences between latte and cappuccino, but a cortado? What that might be?

The reason why I was confused? Well, Cortado is not an Italian word, but Spanish! A cortado is a beverage made with one shot of espresso mixed with a roughly equal amount of steamed milk.

The important part to remember is that a cortado has steamed milk and not frothy or texturised in any way like in many Italian coffees.

You will find a cortado in many places in Spain, Portugal and Cuba. And if anyone asks, a cortado is the past participle of the Spanish verb "cortar" which means to cut. In this context, a cortado is used in the sense of diluting (cutting the drink with something). This is because the milk reduces the acidity of the coffee.

An illustration of the cortado coffee and its contents

What is a Flat White?

A flat white is made pretty much like a cortado, just with a lot more steamed milk on top. To recreate the perfect flat white, just add an espresso into a cup and add steamed milk over it. No milk foam, no toppings. Flat whites are popular in Australia and New Zealand so expect to see them on the menu during your trip abroad.

It's nice, easy and delicious.

An illustration of a flat white coffee with its contents

What is Macchiato?

One of my favourite lunch drinks, the delicious macchiato. A macchiato is essentially an espresso with the tiniest dollop of milk foam over it. In Italian, macchiato means stained or spotted, and this is exactly what we are doing to the espresso here: we are staining it with a little milk foam.

The origin of the name is really quite interesting. It comes from baristas needing to show the waiters the difference between an espresso and an espresso with a little milk in it. So the latter was especially marked which became the macchiato.

This idea can also be seen in places in Portugal where the name for the drink café pintado means coffee with a drop. It's the same as a macchiato.

You can ask for a macchiato which is a single espresso with a dollop of milk foam or a double macchiato which is a doppio (double espresso) with a dollop of milk foam. Just note that different baristas will have their own way of doing the macchiato. You will find some who add a dollop of steamed milk and a dollop of milk foam. It's all down to the training and individual preference.

An illustration of a macchiato with its contents

What is Con Panna?

Now, this is my personal indulgent drink. And you know what is great about this drink? You can make it, fully vegan, at home. So what is Con Panna? Panna means cream in Italian so espresso con panna means espresso with cream.

If you read this from the USA, you might know it as café Vienne. In France and in the United Kingdom it's called café Viennois. In Northern Europe, however, Wiener Melange is about a completely different drink which is made with espresso, topped with foamed milk and whipped cream on top.

In Vienna, a Con Panna is called Franziskaner, although, during our trip to Vienna, we found that ordering a Wiener Melange sometimes meant just espresso with whipped cream.

A Con Panna is a more old fashioned way of having coffee than a latte or a cappuccino. This drink is still very popular and whether you name it "Con Panna" or café Viennois you will most certainly enjoy it.

To recreate your favourite Con Panna, extract a shot of espresso into a cup, then add whipped cream on top.

An illustration of espresso con panna and its contents

What is Affogato?

An affogato is a dessert coffee that is best served during the summer. It's usually ordered after dinner as a combination of espresso and ice cream. To make an affogato, add one scoop of (vanilla) ice cream into a tumbler glass and pour a single or double espresso over the ice cream.

Affogato is Italian for drowned. The idea is that you drown a scoop of vanilla ice cream with a shot of espresso. There are some other variations of this dessert, which include a shot of liqueur too.

In Italy, an affogato is most certainly a dessert, although you will find some restaurants and coffee shops outside of Italy which categorise it as a beverage. Some places will use different types of ice-cream flavours too, although the original way of making it is with vanilla ice cream.

The affogato is meant to be enjoyed with a spoon before everything melts.

An illustration of an affogato and its contents

What is Irish coffee?

Probably not something you can order during your lunch break at work, an Irish Coffee contains espresso, whiskey and cream. It's a delightful and cheerful and basically classed more of a cocktail than a coffee beverage. Irish coffee is drunk through the cream.

There are different ways of making the recipe although the traditional way is as follows: 8 cl of espresso, 4 cl of whiskey, 3 cl fresh cream and 1 tsp of brown sugar.

There are many variations of the coffee cocktails which have been around for at least 100 years. All sort of shots of liqueurs were added to the coffee all with different names like "Gloria" in 19th century France or Kaisermelange, Maria Theresia and Biedermeier-Kaffee in Vienna.

Where Irish Coffee really comes from, nobody knows. There are documents which state that this modern recipe was developed in the 1950s. Others who say that Irish Coffee was invented by one Joseph Jackson during World War II who made the drink in an effort to keep his comrades awake.

Either way, this is an excellent cocktail prevalent on many bar menus. Sit back, relax and sip a delicious combo of espresso and whiskey through a thick layer of indulgent whipped cream.

An illustration of an Irish coffee and its contents

Did you find our guide on different types of coffee useful? Is there any coffee we should include in the list? Let us know in the comments section below.

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