Espresso 201: Espresso Based Drinks


In Espresso 101, we learned the basics about espresso, the espresso machine, what to look for in good espresso and tips for making espresso at home. Now that we have the key ingredient in most specialty drinks mastered, we can start in on creating those specialty drinks.

Have you ever walked into a coffee shop and looked at the menu as if it was a different language? Or you may be a coffee expert and know how to interpret the menu but see other customers around you confused.

There is no need for confusion. Most specialty drinks have similar components but in different proportions. So we will start with common choices when making a drink:

  • Size – most coffee shops have a 12, 16 and 20 ounce drink to choose from. Beware: most coffee shops also have their own cute names for these common sizes.
  • Coffee – regular or decaffeinated
  • Milk – non fat, 1%, whole or soy are common selections
  • Sugar – a lot of specialty drinks have syrup or flavoring to make them sweet and you are able to order these drinks in a sugar-free syrup (as available) or half sweet.
  • Other – once in the other category, you may be getting picky but keep in mind this is your drink and you are the one getting to enjoy it! Customize it all you want – try extra hot, extra foam, heavy on the whip cream, drizzle on top or anything else your brain can imagine!

So now that the basics of the menu are understood let’s dive into the common specialty drinks you’ll see on the menu. Hopefully it will inspire you to be creative the next time you order in a restaurant or make a coffee at home!

Espresso – If you order straight espresso, expect to get a very small cup with 1 to 2 ounces (referred to as shots) of very strong coffee. This is highly concentrated coffee and has a very strong taste.

Variations of Espresso:

  • Espresso Macchiato – foamed milk spooned over the espresso
  • Espresso Con Panna – a glorified macchiato with a layer of whipped cream instead of foamed milk served over the espresso
  • Espresso Breve – heated Half & Half milk served over the espresso

Americano – the term Americano hints at the American version of espresso – it is simply espresso diluted with boiling water.  Americanos offer the full smooth flavor of espresso without such a strong taste.

Americano Misto – a misto is simply espresso, half hot water, half steamed milk. It is a hybrid between an Americano and a Latte. Of course, you can add your own sugar or add a flavored syrup to make the drink a little more gourmet.

Cappuccino – consist of espresso, half steamed milk and half foamed milk. If you pick up your cappuccino and the cup seems empty, don’t worry, that’s the foam! Because only half of the cup has milk, the drink is stronger than a Latte.

Latte – has a lot less foam than a cappuccino – only half an inch or so at the top – and the rest steamed milk. Because it is so milky, lattes are not as strong as cappuccinos. Lattes commonly have syrups and flavors added, such as vanilla, caramel or hazelnut.

Mocha – like a hot chocolate with espresso added. The key ingredients are espresso, steamed milk, chocolate syrup and of course whipped cream on the top.

Mocchacino – if you have ever ordered a mocha without the whipped cream, it’s likely you’ve had a mocchacino. This drink is topped with a peak of milk foam rather than the whipped cream.

Now that you know the basics, you can be brave, and order something new off the menu. Or, you can use your espresso making skills and brew up a specialty drink in your own kitchen!


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