A mama’s guide to the different drinks made with espresso; which one is right for you?
Whether you’re trying to work out what sort of coffee machine to get for home or you simply want to cut out the confused stares next time you’re ordering in a café, here’s a run down of the espresso drink family.
Firstly, what is espresso?
Before we get into the nitty gritty of types of espresso drinks, let’s nail exactly what espresso is.
Espresso (ess-PRESS-oh) is a full-flavoured type of coffee, originating from Italy.
It can be made from fresh coffee grinds or from a capsule or pod of fine coffee grinds. You “pull a shot” of espresso which is forcing pressurised near-boiling water through the coffee for a highly concentrated brew.
Unlikely most drip or filter coffees, an espresso is finished with a golden foamy top, known as crema. The presence of crema is a good sign you’ve pulled a quality shot!
Generally speaking, a “shot of espresso” is one ounce (30mls) and takes 18 to 22 seconds to pull.
There are different variations on straight espresso drinks – even before we do anything fancy like adding milk!
- Ristretto – is a super strong and short espresso shot, slightly less water than a single espresso shot, about 25ml/0.75oz and extracts slightly quicker (under 20 seconds)
- Doppio – name given to a double shot or 2oz pour but its at full strength (many coffee houses will pour a double as standard, your proportions of other ingredients will then double)
- Lungo – same process as a single shot but more hot water has gone through the grinds giving a 1.5oz shot from the same amount of coffee – also known as a long shot. It’s not as strong as a single shot and more bitter because the extraction process takes longer – 25 to 40 seconds depending on your espresso machine)
The taste of an espresso can vary significantly depending on the type of coffee, the roast, the quality of the grind and the technique used to brew it.
Commercial coffee houses and cafes will have a large machine that finely grinds the coffee beans and pressurisers to make the espresso shot, then a steaming wand for the milk component.
A domestic espresso machine may use fresh beans, coffee grinds or capsules/pods – we explain these home espresso machines in more detail below.
Now that we’ve established what an espresso shot is – you’ll see why it’s such an important foundation to so specialty coffee drinks.
Read on for all the different espresso drink variations – plus we’ve thrown in some cocktail ideas for you at the end!
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Types of Drinks with Espresso
Let’s take a deep dive into the different types of coffees that use espresso as the core ingredient (we’ll discuss the difference in milks below!)
Proportions given below are all based on single shot of espresso; if you want a larger drink, simply multiple out the quantities!
You can also add sugar or sweetener to any of the drinks below to suit your taste – don’t let any coffee purest tell you otherwise, it’s your cuppa mama!
A single short shot of espresso. Most would argue the purest way to drink your espresso as nothing is added – let the flavour of the coffee do all the talking.
As it is so rich you may also like to drink a ristretto with a glass of sparkling water.
Is this the king (or queen?) of milk espresso drinks?
A latte or café latte is a double shot of espresso topped with steamed milk and a foamy finish from the steaming process. When pouring the milk, hold back the foam until the end and layer on top, approximately 1/2 inch.
Lattes are famously used for exquisite “latte art” and are also popular for having sweet syrups added such as hazelnut, caramel, cinnamon and vanilla.
You can find our more about lattes in our guide to latte (it also has a delicious recipe to make it at home!)
A cappuccino is shot of espresso with steamed milk and a thicker layer of foam – usually proportioned to a third each. Quite often a cappuccino is topped with a sprinkle of drinking chocolate.
To be clear, there are two types of mocha!
Mocha coffee is made from mocha beans (which have a chocolatie taste), however most coffee drinkers when referring to a mocha mean a chocolate coffee – also called Caffé mocha or mocha latte.
There are several variations and interpretations of the mocha latte, but generally taken to be the same as a standard latte plus dark chocolate syrup is added.
We have an interesting guide on the history of mocha and how you can make it at home in this article: what is mocha? Which answers all your mocha questions!
Your mocha could also be topped with added extras such as whipped cream or chocolate syrup – I mean if you’re going to be naughty, be really naughty, right?
This is a light, less milky version of the latte. It is usually made with equal parts of espresso and steamed milk, the espresso is poured first then the milk is layered on top. It’s also known as a caffè macchiato or an espresso macchiato.
It can be confused with a “latte macchiato” – this is espresso added to frothed milk as a layered drink.
A flat white is often mistaken for a latte but your proportions are different, as is the finish. You will add less steamed milk, making the flat white a stronger coffee drink and only a very then layer of microfoam on top.
A cortado is similarly often mistaken for either flat white or a macchiato, it’s all in the subtle ration differences! This Spanish espresso drink is made from equal parts espresso and steamed milk without the foam.
Skip the milk, an Americano is an espresso with hot water; the proportion is usually 1 part espresso to 6 parts water but everyone will have their preference. The hot water softens the flavour of the espresso making it a more sippable drink and less bitter than a straight espresso shot, very similar to drip filter coffee.
Milk for espresso
So when it comes to choosing which sort of espresso suits you best, you may want to consider the type of milk that goes with espresso. Typically we’re talking about cows milk but their a plenty of non-dairy alternatives if you want to enjoy your Espresso with milk.
- Whole Milk/Full Fat Milk – produces the best results for steaming and drinks with a velvety foam texture finish.
- 2% Milk/Low Fat Milk – All different names for this depending on where you’re from in the world, but essentially the difference from whole milk is that it tends to be less sweet and loses some of its body compared to whole milk when steamed.
- Skinny Milk/0% Milk – On it’s own may be a little watery but mixed with coffee can really do the trick. It actually retains some of it’s sweetness and will froth better then low fat milk with a drier, denser foam so allow for this in your preparation.
- Plant-based milks – each has its’ own interactions when frothed and streamed, we explain these in a lot more detail over here.
How do I make espresso at home?
The key to making espresso at home is having the right equipment. There are big variations in the types of machines that can make espresso coffee. Some are “all in one” fully automated units whilst others may prefer separate pieces of equipment in their kitchen for different purposes – grinding, pressurising and steaming.
There are three primary ways a coffee machine can make espresso for you at home:
- A machine that takes the coffee beans and turns them into coffee grinds, then extracts the shot
- A machine that takes ready-made coffee grinds and makes them into your espresso shot
- A Nespresso or Keurig machine that takes pre-packaged pods or capsules of coffee grinds and makes them into your espresso shot
For milky espresso drinkers you will then need to decide; do you want the frothing/steaming function built in, or will you use a separate kitchen device for making your milky layers?
Undoubtedly bench space and budget will considerable play into your espresso machine buying too!
You can head over to our review of the best latte espresso machines to get a better feel of the right machine to fit your needs at home.
The fun doesn’t end with your morning coffee! Espresso shots can also be used to liven up your evening cocktails or cheeky afternoon coffee too! Why no give these recipes a try:
Want to learn more about coffee? We help you deciphering the coffee jargon and make your own perfect brews at home over on the Coffee Connoisseurs section of our website – happy brewing mamas!