Espresso-Based Drinks: Espresso vs Americano vs Cappuccino vs Latte vs Lungo vs Ristretto vs Macchiato

Some of us may remember a simpler time when the only choice we had to make regarding our coffee order was black or with milk and how many sugars?

Well, change is good, but it’s also intimidating, and choosing between the wide variety of coffee concoctions available these days is no easy feat. Things have only become more complicated now that Costa and Starbucks have taken to creating complicated, tall cups of all sorts of wondrous flavors.

We go through abject panic when we walk into a coffee shop and see the great and grand menus high up on the wall, devastatingly diverse and completely tantalizing. We have even taken to Googling which drinks are available and memorizing the choices before we even head to the nearest café.

That’s why a list of what each kind of coffee entails is so important, and we are hopeful that you will have an easier time navigating this vast coffee labyrinth we’ve gotten ourselves into once you have a greater understanding of what each cup has to offer and what best suits your preferences.

The Espresso

An espresso is a concentrated shot of coffee that comes packed with an unmatched blast of flavor. In a sip or two, this drink will put the spring back in your step!

This little delight is made in a machine that forces hot water through finely-ground coffee beans. The resulting beverage is then finished off with a light later of ‘crema’, which is a delectable foam that that is produced when bubbles combine with the soluble oils of the coffee and rise to the top. It is this foamy layer that creates the rich aftertaste that coffee lovers look for.

The production process for espressos is no different than for regular coffee. It’s the same plant that is grown to be processed and roasted into beans.

The difference comes into the treatment of the beans and how finely they are ground. Espresso beans are made to be finer and are packed together tightly. The shot of espresso that this process results in can be used to make a variety of beverages, including a cappuccino or Americano.

Espressos originated in Italy and remain a favorite there. It is frequently made and served straight, with no additions, in a tiny demitasse cup.

The one ounce shot of espresso gives an intense energy boost, but espressos can also be served as a double shot. Lungo or long espressos can be made by the addition of more water as well. Espressos are great for any time of the day but are especially good for getting you out of the post-sleep daze in the morning. They are also a good option as a dessert after a delicious meal.

Although espresso servings are petite, they are meant to be sipped rather than gulped down. The idea is to slowly savor the rich and full flavor through small sips of the drink.

It is a delightful beverage to have plain, but some people enjoy a dash of sugar or sweetener to reduce the bitterness. A nice addition to an espresso is a small, sweet biscuit on the side for dipping.

The Americano

Simply put, an Americano is the lovechild of 50% water and 50% espresso, or one-third of an espresso mixed with two-thirds of water. You’ll often find that cafés and popular chains make use of more water rather than less, as the average customer tends to find the espresso flavor a tad overwhelming.

This also explains why many customers go for lattes or cappuccinos, as the mixture of some diary and foam greatly reduces the sharp espresso taste and makes it significantly more palatable.

The Americano skips on the milk, however. This needs to be added after the fact if the drinker so wishes but, at the time of ordering the drink, the milk generally needs to be requested.

Americanos are delicious when hot, but they make a great iced drink as well. The process of making an iced Americano isn’t very different from making a hot beverage. All it takes is the addition of some ice cubes and cold water.

The Age-Old Debate

It is generally dictated that one ought not to mention the war when it comes to the steps in making Americanos. This might sound absurd since an Americano is simply made of two ingredients – water and espresso. But believe it or not, coffee lovers foam at the mouth when it comes to which ingredient should come first. So, don’t ask whether it should be espresso-then-water or water-then-espresso unless you want chaos to ensue. You may think that the order makes no difference, but the flavor of the crema is, in fact, impacted depending on which process you choose. At the end of the day, you might as well try both and see what you prefer.

The Cappuccino

The cappuccino gained popularity in the First and Second World Wars. The drink is nothing more than one or two shots of espresso topped with steamed milk and a light cloud of foam for a delicate finish. Americans tend to go for the double shot more often than not, and this drink is ideal for those who prefer a stronger coffee flavor. Cappuccinos tend to use less milk but more foam, meaning that they are more bitter and rich than the average latte. The perfect cappuccino should have a 1-to-1 ratio of liquid to foam, and the coffee professionals will know the precise ratio based on the weight of the resulting cup.

The cappuccino also comes with some versatility, as a small shift in volume and ingredients will create something that feels new each time. If you love an extra dash of diary, you can use cream instead of steamed milk, and there are a multitude of flavored syrups and tasty spices to add to your cup for some variety. A fan favorite is cinnamon.

The History of the Cappuccino

The word ‘cappuccino’ originates from the word ‘Capuchin’, due to the drink’s resemblance to the brown habits worn by the Capuchin friars. The crema on the cappuccino is produced when milk is slowly added to the espresso, thereby lightening it into a caramel color.

Beginning in the eighteenth century as a drink called a ‘Kapunziner” in Vienna, the original beverage was a delicious amalgam of whipped cream and various spices. Later, around the time of the First World War, this recipe was adopted in Austrian cafes and, later, became popular all over the world. The growing popularity of this drink has never stopped, and it remains a must-have in any restaurant.

The Latte

Like the other drinks on this list, a latte starts out as one to two shots of espresso. To create the latte itself, a few ounces of steamed milk is added to reduce the bitterness of the drink and create a light and creamy texture. Light foam is added to the top of the beverage to create a satisfying combination of flavors and textures, and there is usually a ratio of 1-to-2 when it comes to the steamed milk and espresso proportions.

The latte has become well-loved globally in the last two decades, and its preparation has been subtly altered and developed from place to place. Some shops create interesting flavors by adding vanilla and hazelnut to the mix, making the latte a sweet treat as opposed to just a coffee. Lattes generally come in 10 to 12 ounces, with a third of that amount being espresso and two-thirds being steamed milk. Different baristas may alter the ratio slightly, but the drink will always end off with a delightful cloud of foam at the top.

The milk-to-coffee ratio in this drink makes it ideal for those who don’t like a very bitter coffee taste but still want the boost of energy that a shot of espresso will give you. Those with a sweet tooth will love the various additions of flavored syrups and spices, which elevates this drink to a tasty treat for adults.

The Lungo

As you can see, the list keeps going on. There is an abundance of drinks that stem from the simple espresso, and things only continue to become more interesting and complicated as new coffee inventions gain popularity.

One out of the many inventions that originate from the simple espresso shot is the lungo, the name of which comes from the Italian word for ‘long’. This is an apt description for this drink, as it tends to be prepared in a longer time than it takes for a regular espresso shot, and the volume of water used is double that of a regular espresso.

The lungo is mainly considered ‘longer’ on account of the greater amount of water used to pull the espresso shot. Generally, 30 liters of water are used to slowly pull an espresso shot for 18 to 30 seconds. For a lungo, as much as a minute is needed to adequately pull.

The increased amount of water inevitably results in a larger shot than normal, and the resulting drink is generally the size of a double shot of espresso or ‘doppio’.

Many home espresso machines have pre-programmed settings for making a lungo, and Nespresso has come out with lungo pods designed for this exact purpose. Machines that do not have this setting will simply need to be adjusted so that the pull time is made longer.

Other than the amount of water and the time used for the pull, all the other elements in a lungo are fairly standard. The same temperature and amount of ground are used for the lungo, and all that needs to change is the water amount and time it takes for the flavor to be extracted.

The Ristretto

Ristretto is another aptly named concoction, as the name stems from the Italian word for ‘restricted’. This is most suitable for a particularly short espresso shot, which occurs because the barista pulls only the first half of a full-length shot. Just as is the case for the lungo, the elements used in a ristretto are all the same as for a regular espresso. One makes use of finely ground coffee beans and the same water temperature. The only difference is that only half the amount of water used in an espresso is used for the ristretto extraction.

As a result, one is left with a more saturated coffee shot with a richer and more pronounced taste. Ristrettos are often considered to be more bold and sweet than regular espressos and, perhaps surprisingly, significantly less bitter.

It is actually the extraction method of a ristretto that increases the overall sweetness of the drink. Using less water greatly alters the brewing process, and the chemical changes resulting from quicker or slower dissolution make a remarkable flavor impact. Slight changes to the temperature and timing of the pull will impact the flavor more than you’d expect.

In the case of the ristretto, the use of less water and a quicker pull at a particular temperature actually ceases the brewing process before the bitterness within the beans is extracted.

The Macchiato

The espresso macchiato came about as a means of getting an espresso boost even in the afternoons, and in the form of a decadent and moderate drink. Whereas, more traditionally, espresso-based drinks like the cappuccino were designed for the morning pick-me-up, the macchiato gives coffee lovers an excuse to get their fix at any time of the day.

The macchiato is somewhat of a hybrid between the strong espresso and the milker and more delicate cappuccino. Its strength and bitterness falls somewhere in between these two drinks, and the addition of chocolate adds to the overall richness of this delightful treat.

The name of this beverage comes from the Italian word for ‘marked’ or ‘stained’. Both latte macchiatos and espresso macchiatos stain one element of the drink with the other, such as the combination of the milk and the espresso. Because the point is to ‘stain’ the drink, rather than completely diluted, as in the case of a cappuccino, the macchiato should be made up of one element in majority with only a slight addition of the other.

In Italy, this drink is simple called a caffe macchiato, because this version of the drink is the original. The milk, in the original version, stains the espresso rather than the other way around.

The purpose of this dash of milk is to slightly lessen the bitterness of the espresso, making the drink more palatable and diluted. It tends to be closer to the espresso than some of the milk-based drinks on this list, so you’ll still get that bold coffee flavor nonetheless.

The macchiato is prepared with a normal shot of espresso that is pulled as if no alteration was to follow. Thereafter, however, a tablespoon or two of steam milk are added, and the drink is topped off with light, creamy foam. For aesthetic purposes, these beverages are often displayed in a glass or ceramic demitasse cup.

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