From Bean Business Basics

When you enter an espresso bar, the multitude of drink choices can be overwhelming. What exactly is a latté, and how does it differ from a cappuccino? The following primer will give you a good understanding of basic espresso bar beverages and make you a pro when ordering–even in Italy!

The Straight Shot
The straight shot is the foundation of every espresso beverage, and it is the most commonly consumed coffee beverage in Italy. The straight shot is the only true way to judge the quality and consistency of a blend of espresso coffee. A good coffee, when extracted as a straight shot, will produce a smooth yet complex taste, providing a satisfying experience. The volume, extraction time, and golden crema (a dense golden brown layer of frothed coffee oils that float on top of a properly extracted espresso) are the keys to good espresso.

The two variations of the straight shot are the long shot or lungo, extracted to a volume of one and one-half ounces, and the short shot or ristretto (which means restricted), extracted to a volume of three-quarters of an ounce. The short restricted pour magnifies the essence of the coffee, and the ristretto is the manner in which a shot of espresso is usually served in Europe. Also, because less water has passed through the coffee grounds, the chance of any bitter elements being extracted is minimized.

The straight shot you order should be extracted directly into a warmed demitasse cup and served immediately. The demitasse cup should be pre-heated on top of the espresso machine or filled with hot water to keep the straight shot warm and prolong the crema. A straight shot in a "to-go" cup will cool quickly and should be drunk immediately.

The Espresso Macchiato
The Espresso Macchiato starts with a shot of espresso and is also served in a demitasse. The only difference between a straight shot and an Espresso Macchiato is a small amount of foamed milk spooned over the shot (typically one heaping teaspoon). Macchiato in Italian means "marked," which describes this beverage–espresso marked with foam.

The Espresso Con Panna
This is a variation of the macchiato substituting whipped cream in place of the foamed milk. Translated, con panna means "with cream."

The Caffé Americano
The Caffé Americano is a single or double shot of espresso combined with hot water out of the espresso machine to produce a drink similar to American brewed coffee. This method produces a smoother and fresher cup of coffee than conventional brewing. Because this cup of coffee is served immediately after brewing, it may be much hotter than brewed coffee that has been poured into a thermal pot, or placed on a warming burner. Be sure to ask for a double paper cup to prevent your hands for being burned by the hot coffee prepared using this method.

The Cappuccino
Most cappuccinos in Italy are consumed primarily in the morning. In the United States, it is a popular drink at all times of the day. Rumor has it that the name cappuccino was derived from the chocolate brown color of the Capuchin monks’ robes.

The cappuccino is without a doubt the most difficult drink to prepare properly. Cold milk is essential, as is expertise in the foaming process. What is often served in the United States is an espresso with dry, tasteless foam spooned on top. These misprepared beverages will often look as if they have a column of meringue floating on top. Properly prepared, authentic cappuccino is produced with a velvety, wet foam, mixed with the coffee upon the pour to create a harmony of the two flavors. Because of the larger volume of foam, it will be a lighter weight drink than the latté, which we will discuss next. Contrary to many products being marketed presently, there is no such thing as an iced cappuccino. Foam is the essential element of this beverage, and it is impossible to produce iced foam. In reality these drinks are iced lattés.

The Caffé Latté
This is the drink that Seattle made famous. It is similar to the cappuccino with much less foam and more steamed milk. A latté can be made by holding back the foam with a spoon while pouring the frothed milk from the steaming pitcher. The drink is topped at the conclusion of the pour with a small amount of foam (approximately 30%). This drink can be served over ice. It is not necessary to steam the milk first for the preparation of an iced latté. The espresso can be combined with the milk, poured directly from its carton. Latté in Italian means milk. Caffé latté, of course, refers to the addition of coffee to the milk.

The Caffé Mocha
A variation of the caffé latté is the caffé mocha. This is basically the same drink as the latté with either powdered or chocolate syrup added at the beginning of the drink preparation. It is important that chocolate is first added to the hot shot of espresso, and stirred well enough to thoroughly blend the two flavors together. The procedure should be the same with iced mochas, with the ice added after the coffee and chocolate have been blended. The steamed or cold milk can then be added to the espresso-chocolate mixture to complete the drink. Mochas are usually topped with whipped cream.

Flavor-Based Drinks
The foundation of these beverages is, once again, the caffé latté. Almost any gourmet-flavored syrup can be added. Some of the more popular flavors are: vanilla, Irish creme, almond, hazelnut, and caramel. Some fruit flavors such as orange and raspberry also work well. Syrup can also be added to chocolate and the espresso to make a flavored mocha. When adding flavors to the beverage, they should be combined with the hot espresso and stirred. The milk can then be added to the flavored espresso and stirred again. All of these drinks taste great over ice.

From Bean Business Basics, a pulication of Bellissimo Coffee InfoGroup, a company dedicated to providing high quality educational materials, personalized business consulting and custom media production for the specialty coffee industry. Bellissimo can be reached at

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