Differences Between Coffee Beverages

An unmistakable thrill of drinking coffee is the countless ways it can be prepared. There may be no greater beverage for those whose spice of life is variety.

With a splash of milk.

Here are a variety of coffee drinks explained. Peruse boiled-down notes on the key distinctions between different types of coffee beverages.

Latte

The leader of the pack: the latte.

The latte uses steamed milk with espresso using a 1:3 ratio, with the milk steamed at a temperature producing foam that rests on top. That foam is created by the expansion of fats in the milk, caused by high-pressure steam. (This is why low-fat milk do not produce the same premium foam result as whole milk. It’s worth keeping in mind when considering how to make any of the different coffee drinks.)

The latte is best for—aside from anyone who just enjoys a latte, of course—the person who is new to coffee and still adjusting to its bitterness. Lattes allow a chance to sample and savor the bite of a coffee while being decidedly less overwhelmed. It’s also an ideal way for light-roast coffee drinkers to broaden their horizons into dark-roast territory, as most lattes will use a darker roast espresso bean that complements the creaminess of the milk.

It’s also an easy drink to add syrup to and sip on for an extended period of time.

Cappuccino

A classic among different types of coffee drinks, a cappuccino is not dissimilar to a latte, but is a much more espresso-concentrated version. The ratio of milk to espresso is usually closer to 1:1 or 1:2, with a bit of foam. Though, it’s common to order either a “dry” or “wet” cappuccino. The difference is that a dry cappuccino will have more foam but less milk, and a wet one will be a bit more milky and closer to a latte.

Macchiato

Contrary to what commercial shops would have you believe, the macchiato, among different types of coffee drinks, actually has more in common with espresso than a latte. It’s like an espresso shot that’s approximately 2 ounces of espresso and a splash of milk—which is to say, this will mostly taste like espresso, but with a slight milky tinge to make it more palatable for those who don’t like their espresso at full strength. It’s usually slightly sweet and served in a demitasse, like an espresso shot.

Note: As this is a fairly espresso-heavy drink, you’ll want to make sure you’re using a premium espresso bean for the best quality flavor.

Cortado

This Spanish espresso drink is essentially espresso with warm, texturized milk and a higher milk-to-espresso ratio. It’s typically served in a small glass either glass or metal and sits somewhere between a cappuccino and a macchiato, but with a fuller body.

Flat White

Though it has recently caught on in the United States, the flat white is most popular in Australia and New Zealand. This coffee beverage is best enjoyed by latte and wet cappuccino lovers; its ratio is essentially the same, but with a textured milk body, accomplished thanks to milk that’s steamed just right to provide a micro-foaming effect that, when delicately poured over espresso, blends to create a velvety texture.

Café Au Lait

Among the different kinds of coffee drinks, the French café au lait is one of the more misunderstood. The café au lait is not just coffee with milk added; rather, the milk is scalded and then added to the coffee. To make at home: try picking out a more robust bean, like a Sumatran, and warm whole milk in a saucepan on low heat; whisk, and then pour on top of your coffee. No need to blend.

Breve

The breve is ideal for the coffee drinker who wants a bit more of a cream taste than milk can provide. How? By adding—you got it—cream to the espresso and milk. This drink is akin to a cappuccino made with half and half, with sugar sometimes added to make it more of a treat.

Maybe you’ve been a life-long latte lover. Or you’ve branched out into a good breve every so often, or sipped on a café au lait from time to time. There’s always room to try something new — especially when it comes to different types of coffee based beverages!