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What’s the Difference Between a Latte, Macchiato, and Other Coffee Drinks?

Two lattes surrounded by coffee beans topped with beautiful crema art..

Ordering coffee can sometimes be intimidating—especially if you don’t know your lattes from your mochas. That’s why we’ve created this handy coffee glossary. Armed with these definitions, you’ll never be at a loss for what to order again!

From simple espresso variations and lattes, to mochas you never knew existed, we’ve got ’em all! Whether you like your coffee strong and bitter, or smooth with some sweet notes, there’s a perfect version out there with your name on it.

So, let’s untangle this coffee conundrum once and for all and get you ordering fancy coffee like a pro!

What’s the Buzz on Fancy Coffee Drinks?

Various coffee and espresso drinks taken in an aerial view image.

These days, coffee shops are literally everywhere. If you live in a major city, it can sometimes seem like there’s one on every corner.

When it comes to high-quality ingredients and unique recipes, the smaller, locally-owned cafes definitely have the edge. They also usually offer seasonal drinks and skilled baristas, who provide exceptional customer service and expertly crafted beverages.

Whether you’re looking for a place to work on that screenplay, or you just need to escape from home for an hour or two, your local coffee shop is likely the perfect solution.

In the digital age, having a brick-and-mortar location you can go to whenever you need a break is fantastic. Coffee shops not only offer that escape, but also top-notch, fresh, full-bodied coffee selections.

The only minor problem is the menu. It often looks like an endless list of elaborate, confusingly named beverages. Knowing what’s what is a bit of a learning curve. So, let’s get down to it, and help you make sense of all these different caffeinated goodies.

Coffee-Ordering Basics

Two baristas working in tandem to create some delicious coffee drinks at a coffee shop.

If you feel intimidated staring at that long list of complex coffee concoctions, you’re definitely not alone. Heck, there are some we still don’t know how to pronounce. However, ordering coffee is really a learn-as-you-go undertaking.

Let’s start with an essential ingredient that’s used in quite a few fancy coffee cocktails: espresso.  Espresso is a concentrated, finely ground coffee that’s brewed under high pressure and in near-boiling water.

It’s either sipped as a one- or two-ounce shot or used as a base for several other drinks you’ll find on cafe menus. From lattes and macchiatos to mochas, you name it, there’s probably a shot of espresso in it.

You’ll notice some of our descriptions below use the word “pull” or “pulling.” This describes when hot, pressurized water is forced through fine coffee grounds and poured (or pulled) into a cup.

The amount of time it takes to “pull” an espresso results in different flavors. For example, a variation of espresso like Lungo takes a bit longer and uses more water to pull.

Whether you enjoy bold, strong coffee or sweetly flavored, there are plenty of options. The way a barista prepares it and the ingredients he or she uses all significantly affect the outcome. Once you know which types fall into your favorite flavor palette, try them all out over time. You’ll likely stumble upon a new fave and might even find yourself wanting to make espresso at home!

Popular Coffee Beverages

Different types of coffee dirnks displayed in an overhead shot image.

Of course, whenever you’re in doubt, the barista behind the counter should be able to help you figure out what to order. Still, this glossary of coffees should give you a solid head start:

  • Espresso: A concentrated subset of coffee made by shooting highly pressurized and very hot water through fine-ground, evenly packed coffee beans. Espresso sometimes called a “short black,” is served in a one-ounce serving that is pulled using approximately 30 milliliters of water for 20-30 seconds.
  • Doppio: Also referred to as a double espresso, it’s two ounces or two shots of espresso, typically served in a demitasse.
  • Ristretto: A high-quality, shorter shot of espresso, made from finely ground beans and less water, resulting in a more concentrated, sweeter-flavored small shot.
  • Lungo: This espresso variation means “long” in Italian. The name refers to the amount of time (up to one minute) it takes to “pull” this version. The volume resembles a doppio, however, the flavor isn’t quite as strong. It is a bit more bitter due to the increased amount of water.
  • Americano: One shot of espresso added to about three ounces of hot water.
  • Long black: Two shots of espresso added to about three ounces of hot water.
  • Macchiato: Espresso and steamed milk. These are more robust than a latte, however, due to the amount of milk added. Traditionally, they’re served with one shot of espresso and 1-2 tablespoons of steamed milk. Today, though, especially in the United States, these have a very milk-forward flavor and are commonly loaded with other flavors, like caramel.
  • Red eye: One shot of espresso in a standard cup of brewed coffee.
  • Black eye: Two shots of espresso in a standard cup of brewed coffee.
  • Cappuccino: A lusciously smooth, rich drink that starts with 1-2 shots of espresso, followed by steamed milk. Frothed milk and sprinkled cocoa powder are often used as a topper.
  • Caffé mocha: This is like a hot chocolate on steroids. It’s made with one shot of espresso, chocolate syrup, and steamed milk. It’s commonly topped with whipped cream or foam.
  • Café latte: “Latte” is Italian for milk, so it’ll come as no surprise that this drink is comprised of one shot of espresso, about eight ounces of steamed milk, and a centimeter of foam. For sweeter options, there are several variations, including caramel, vanilla, and the ever-popular pumpkin spice. In the U.S., most just order a latte, and it’s understood that they really want a café latte.
  • Café au lait: French for “coffee with milk,” this drink is exactly that—one part brewed coffee, and one part steamed milk. It’s traditionally brewed with a French press.
  • Cold brew: This cold coffee is made by steeping coarsely ground beans in cold or room-temperature water for about 12-24 hours. This creates a sweeter, smoother brew than iced coffee.
  • Iced coffee: Brewed coffee that’s cooled and served over ice.
  • Frappé: One shot of espresso blended with ice cubes, milk, and sugar. It’s like a coffee-infused milkshake, and it’s often flavored with chocolate or caramel syrups.
  • Caffè marocchino: This layered beverage consists of powdered dark chocolate, espresso, and foamed milk. Some variations dust the cup with cocoa powder first, while others dust the foam. Some versions also use hot chocolate for more of a mocha touch.
  • Flat white: One shot of espresso, combined with four ounces of steamed milk. When done just right, it should boast a smooth, creamy texture without any froth. This is done by using the milk from the bottom of a steamer jug, rather than the top.
  • Manilo: Similar to a flat white, it consists of espresso and a very small amount (usually, around three ounces) of steamed milk.
  • Affogato: A lovely marbled coffee dessert made by pouring hot, fresh espresso over a scoop of vanilla ice cream or gelato. It’s often spruced up with shaved chocolate or nuts.

Talk about a list of delicious drinks! Now, you’ll never be stumped at the coffee shop counter again. We’d love to hear which of these sparked your interest and, in the meantime, enjoy drinking your way down this delicious list!

Now that you know the difference between a cappuccino and a frappé, you’ll know just what to order at the local cafe. And if you want to start concocting your own delicious brews at home, we can help with that, too!

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