Types of Coffee & the Difference Between Them


One thing I’m often asked by people who’re just in the process of discovering speciality coffee in the UK, as many people are, is about the difference between the various coffee types, for instance Americano vs. filter coffee, Latte vs. cappuccino, flat white vs. Macchiato and so on. 

I’ve told the story here before about being stood behind a guy who ordered an espresso and then looked at it with a confused expression on his face, as what he actually wanted was an Americano, and he thought they were the same thing based I think on the fact that it’s made with Espresso. This really made me laugh, but I suspect it was quite embarrassing for him, and hopefully this post will help save some people from embarrassment ;-). 

Some of the different coffee drinks and how they are supposed to be made are contentious subjects, not all Baristas agree 100% on what goes into each coffee drink, and there’s no rule book that I’m aware of which says flat white has to be made with double shot, Cortado has to be made with Ristretto and so on, so the statements I’m making here about what makes up each different coffee are not hard and fast rules, they’re just the standard or traditional method of producing each different coffee drink.

The difference between Espresso based drinks and brewed coffee drinks. 

First of all I thought it would be a good idea to start off by distinguishing between the coffees that are made with Espresso at the base, and those that aren’t. It may seem like I’m being pedantic, but although you may be able to make something which looks similar to latte with cafetiere coffee for instance, that isn’t a latte, it’s a milky coffee. 

By the way, I do realise that Espresso is also a brewing method, but usually when people refer to “brewed” they are referring to the brewing methods other than espresso, such as filter and cafetiere. 

I was at a cafe’ a while ago, and while they weren’t advertising that they were a speciality coffee shop, they had coffee drinks on their menu that had me looking around for their espresso machine, so I was a bit confused to only see an electric drip filter machine. When I asked then how do they make their Latte and Cappuccino that they had on their menu, they replied that they were just milky coffees. OK then… I don’t think I was the only person to enquire about this, as the next time I walked by and popped my head in to look at the menu, they had taken Latte and Cappuccino off the menu, and replaced it with ‘milky coffee’. 

Not that I complained by the way, I wouldn’t do that, I don’t mind what people put on their menus, I just asked the question – and to be fair the filter coffee that I had at this cafe’ was actually very nice, so I didn’t have anything to complain about. If I’d ordered a cappuccino though and was served a milky filter coffee, I would have given it back! 😉 

Espresso based drinks:

Single Espresso: A single shot of Espresso served on its own. 

Double Espresso: A double shot of Espresso served on its own. 

Ristretto: An extra intense shot of Espresso in which the water flow is restricted (which is what Ristretto means, in Italian), same amount of coffee, less water. 

Latte: A shot of Espresso mixed with steamed milk.  This is a milky coffee, with a foam on the top, a higher ratio of milk to coffee than with cappuccino.

Cappuccino: A shot of Espresso mixed with steamed milk. The coffee in a cappuccino is less milky than with a latte, there is less milk used and more of the milk that is used is on the top as foam, so once you get past that layer of foam, the coffee underneath is a stronger less milky coffee than with latte. 

Flat White: This can depend on who you ask, and it’s a bit of a bone of contention, but as far as I’m concerned a true flat white is similar to a Cappuccino but is made with a double shot of espresso, and has more of the milk integrated within the coffee as microfoam than as foam on the top. There is some foam on the top of a flat white, but generally not as much as with a cappuccino. Whereas with a cappuccino you get through a thick foam to reveal a thinner more water based coffee under it, with a flat white there is less foam and when you get through it the coffee underneath is a thicker more textured coffee than with cappuccino. 

Macchiato: This means ‘marked’ in Italian, and it is a shot of espresso with a small amount of steamed milk poured in, which makes a white mark on top of the espresso, hence the name. 

Latte Macchiato: This is a coffee made by pouring a shot of espresso into steamed milk. In this case it is the espresso making the mark in the milk rather than the other way round. If you get it right, you can see the layers from the side of the cup, if you use a glass cup that is, with foam on top, a dark layer of Espresso, and then milk below. My son likes these, and I occasionally get the layers, but often cock it up ;-). 

Note: Make sure you know what you’re ordering when it comes to Macchiato vs Latte Macchiato, if you ask for a Macchiato but what you were expecting was a Latte Macchiato, you’ll get a similar shock to that of the fella stood in front of me in the cafe who thought he was ordering an Americano when he asked for an Espresso ;-).

It’s also worth noting that many coffee shops don’t offer Latte Macchiato, most will offer standard Latte, and standard Macchiato, in the UK anyway.

Cortado / Piccolo / Gibraltar: These are similar to Macchiatto but the difference being that they’re usually made with a ristretto shot. The difference between the three names of drinks is mainly to do with what its served in, Cortado and Gibraltar were named after the glassware that they were first served in. Most people would see a Macchiato in a Cortado glass as a Cortado, although most Baristas seem to agree that Cortado and Gibraltar should be made with ristretto. 

Americano: A shot of espresso with hot water added to it. 

Long Black: A a shot of espresso added to hot water. Note that the only difference between an Americano and long black is that with an Americano the Barista would usually add the espresso first and then the water, and with long black the espresso is added last in order to preserve more of the crema. 

Mochachino: A cappuccino with chocolate added. 

Chocachino: This isn’t actually a coffee drink but I thought I’d include it just to point out that the difference between Mocachino and Chocachino is that Chocachino is made using chocolate instead of coffee, whereas a mocachino is made using coffeee and chocolate.

Brewed Coffee Drinks:

Filter coffee: Coffee which is made by putting the ground coffee beans into a filter, water is added and coffee drips into the cup or jug. There are pourover filter brewers such as the V60, Kalita wave & Chemex, and there are electric filter coffee machines

Cold brew: Cold brew coffee brewers are filter brewers which are designed to be done over a longer period of time using cold water. Cold brew is becoming popular, I can’t really take to it, I like my coffee hot – but each to their own.

Cafetiere / french press coffee: One of the most widespread brewing methods, coffee is made by adding coarsely ground coffee beans into the cafetiere and adding hot water, then plunging the filter after a brew time of usually somewhere between 2-4 minutes, although there are some methods which use a much longer brewing time.

Stove pot / Moka pot coffee:  This is a device that you put on a stove, and steam pressure creates the extraction, to produce an Espresso style coffee. If you don’t have an espresso machine and you want to make espresso at home, then this is a great option. Technically it’s not classed as true espresso as the pressure isn’t high enough, but it’s a very good alternative if you don’t have an espresso machine. 

Café au lait: Obviously this translates from French to coffee with milk, Cafe’ au lait served in French cafe’s is a stunning drink, and difficult to replicate at home to exactly the same degree, but essentially it’s around a 50/50 mix of strong coffee (filter or cafetiere) and hot milk. 

Instant coffeeCoffee which is brewed in large volumes and then dried either by freeze drying or spray drying. Instant coffee doesn’t have a great reputation in the speciality coffee circles, as it’s usually made with the cheapest beans, and usually contains a high percentage of robusta, but to be fair there are some higher quality brands of instant out there, and it is cheap and accessible – and this coffee blogger wouldn’t have been introduced to coffee at such a young age if it wasn’t for instant, so I’m not a hater of instant at all, although I prefer not to drink it.

Hybrid Brewers:

These are newer brew methods which can’t be put into one of the above categories, they can’t really be classed as filter methods, they do filter but they also extract under pressure, and they’re also a full immersion brew processes similar to cafetiere, which is why I’m calling them Hybrid brewers.

Aeropress Aeropress is a great brewer, it’s very simple to use, it’s very quick, and the resulting coffee can be outstanding. Depending on how much water you decide to add, you can make espresso style coffee with Aeropress, or bigger cups of clean, strong and perfectly extracted coffee. Aeropress was my main brewing method in the day time in the office, until I came across The Oomph.

The OomphThis is a brewer and a travel cup in one, you add the coffee, add the water, plunge and go. As with Aeropress, it’s a full immersion extraction method, it also uses pressure, and the resulting coffee is fantastic, as is the fact that you can just pick up the brewer and go, and it keeps your coffee warm for a long time.

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