Coffee houses have become wildly popular in the past ten years. Their popularity is based not only in drip coffee but the variety of espresso drinks offered. People often stick to their standard coffee or latte because they do not understand what the difference is between coffee and espresso and/or what goes into the various espresso drinks.
To begin with, coffee and espresso share a lot of similarities: they are both made from coffee beans; they are ground; and they both require hot water. Coffee, however, is prepared with a larger volume of hot water than espresso. Espresso requires less water, pressure and is prepared with a finer grind. Espresso has a higher caffeine content and a far stronger taste. Because of this, the bold taste of espresso is often curbed with hot water, steamed milk and flavors in a number of different drinks.
The most basic espresso drink is the espresso shot. Espresso shots are 1 to 1.25 ounces (30-37 milliliters) and a double espresso is 2-2.5 ounces (59-74 milliliters). The shot is taken alone. Two common variations of the espresso shot are the espresso con panna and the espresso macchiato. The espresso con panna is a double shot of espresso finished with whip cream. The espresso con macchiato is a double espresso shot finished with a spoonful of foam.
An Americano is a drink with an espresso base and additional hot water. Depending on the coffee house and the size of the drink, depends on the number of espresso shots in the drink. Let’s assume though for all of these drinks that the espresso is 20-25% of the drink and the remaining liquid constitutes the remaining 75-80% of the drink. An Americano, therefore, is 20-25% espresso and 75-80% hot water. Again, depending on the shop, the temperature of the additional liquid may vary, but usually drinks are served between 120˚- 180˚. An Americano can pretty easily substitute a drip coffee as they both constitute ground beans diluted by water.
Next in the line of espresso drinks is the cappuccino. There are two ways to prepare cappuccinos: dry and wet. A dry cappuccino is made with milk steamed in such a way that it becomes foamy. The foam then becomes the majority of the drink and is punctuated by a shot or shots of espresso through the top of the drink. Dry cappuccinos are light to the touch due to the amount of air infused in the foam; most of their weight is derived from the espresso. A wet cappuccino is similar but in addition to having espresso, the milk is served as a combination of foam and steamed milk. It is a heavier drink and very similar to the latte.
The difference between a latte and a wet cappuccino is that a latte is almost exclusively steamed milk and espresso. Depending on the barista, a small amount of foam may be added to the top of this drink, but technically it is steamed milk and espresso. Lattes may be the most popular espresso drinks, and are often made with minor variations. The two most popular latte variations are the vanilla latte and the mocha latte. A vanilla latte is simply a latte with vanilla syrup added. A mocha latte is a latte with chocolate syrup added, and depending on the customer, whip cream as well. Coffee houses stock non-fat milk, milk and half and half. Therefore, any of the aforementioned espresso drinks with milk can be made with non-fat milk, regular milk or half and half. Drinks made with half and half are frequently referred to as breve (pronounced brev-eh). So, the proper way to order a half and half latte is to request a breve latte.
This article includes some of the more popular drinks available at coffee houses. With the boom in coffee houses nationally, many more coffee and espresso based drinks are being offered and it is safe to assume that more will develop in the future.