Types of coffee
Faced with a list of different types of coffee in your local cafe it can be difficult to know what to choose. As coffee culture takes hold the list seems to get longer every time you visit. We’re here to help.
Your Guide to different coffee drinks
We’ve compiled a guide to the main different types of coffee you’re likely to encounter. If you want to know about the difference between coffees, then read through the whole guide paying particular attention to expresso as this is the coffee that forms the basis of many other types of coffee.
If you’re short on time, click on the links below and jump to the coffee you’re interested in.
Remember though that even though there are lots of different types of coffee drinks the flavour depends just as much on the coffee beans used as it does the manner in which the coffee is served. If you want to read more about different types of coffee bean then read our coffee bean guide.
If you’ve ever seen steam in a coffee shop then it’s because they’re making an expresso. The expresso is to coffee what a fine whiskey is to alcohol. It’s all about the concentration of flavour, it’s no coincidence that expresso comes in shots; just like whiskey, tequila and a whole host of other drinks.
Expresso is made using an expresso machine that drives pressurised water through finely ground coffee into a small cup. This produces a small of highly concentrated coffee. A single expresso is usually about 1 fluid ounce or 30ml. This is a surprisingly small amount which is why most people opt for a double expresso, this uses about 14g of coffee and produces 2 fluid ounces of coffee.
A well brewed shot of expresso should have a thin layer golden brown foam on top, this is called the crema and is an essential mark to any good expresso.
Expresso is also the basis of other types of coffee such as café latte, cappuccino, flat white, and americano. It’s worth remembering that although there are differences between coffees the expresso is often a common feature.
The cappuccino is for many people the first non-instant coffee they try. It has a beautiful froth on top that many people sprinkle on chocolate or cinnamon to give extra flavour and aroma. Many people when talking about a frothy coffee usually mean a cappuccino.
There are three fundamental parts to a cappuccino; expresso, hot milk, and foam (froth). Traditionally a barista would mix all three in equal proportions, that is a third expresso, a third hot milk, and a third froth.
Our tastes have changed though and now you are much more likely to be served a cappuccino which is a lot milkier with the coffee being only about a fifth (20%) of the mixture.
Of all the types of coffee this is perhaps the most popular.
Often just referred to as a latte this is the ultimate milky coffee, latte actually means milk in Italian. In simple terms it is a combination of an expresso with hot milk.
For those of us that find an expresso a little too much this can be a perfect introduction to real coffee. The hot milk works to reduce the ferocious flavour of a neat expresso.
Although there are many different types of coffee the distinction between a cappuccino and café latte has become blurred over time. The key difference is that a cappuccino should have a substantial froth on top whereas this should be a lot smaller, virtually non-existent, for a café latte. The ratio of expresso to hot milk was always a key point of difference between the two coffees with café latte having more milk than a cappuccino. However, over time the two have converged somewhat and in many high street coffee chains it can be difficult to distinguish between the two in terms of taste.
Of all the types of coffee drinks in this guide this is by far the newest. It seems incredible that it was only in 2010 that Costa added it to its menu, McDonald’s were much later to the game introducing it in early 2018 to its UK restaurants.
Not only is it the newest coffee in our guide it is also perhaps the most difficult to define. When McDonalds introduced it in 2018 they acknowledged this with a tongue-in-cheek advert poking fun at the more pretentious side of coffee culture before defining a flat white as ‘like a stronger latte but with less milk’.
A good way think about a flat white is as a small café latte where some of the milk has been replaced by coffee. Or put another way it is about a third expresso and two thirds lightly steamed milk. In contrast to a cappuccino it has only a very slim layer of forth on the top.
It seems the flat white is now everywhere and, of all the types of coffee, is becoming the coffee of choice for many people. If coffee drinkers start with either cappuccino’s or latte’s it is often the flat white they move on to. Because the ratio of expresso coffee to milk is higher than either the cappuccino or café latte it means the flavour of the coffee is much easier to taste.
Of all the types of coffee drinks the Americano is the easiest to describe. It is simply an expresso diluted with hot water. The rumour is American soliders in Europe during the second world war found expresso too strong and by asking for hot water to be added created the americano.
How much water you use to dilute the coffee is very much up to you. I have heard it to be as little as 1:1, personally I prefer at least 2 measures of hot water for every measure of expresso. Although it may have a similar strength to filter coffee its taste can be very different.
Many people drink americano black. However just as many like it with milk. Asking for an Americano in a café you may well be asked if you would like it with milk, and whether you would like hot milk. Some people like the milk on the side as it allows them to decide how strong they want their coffee to be.
The issue of hot milk is interesting as it is not just about keeping your coffee warm for as long as possible. The hot milk in the side is often steamed which gives a slightly different taste than if cold milk was added to the coffee.
The macchiato is another type of coffee drink based upon an expresso. The key difference between all the coffees that use expresso as the core component is usually the amount of milk – the macchiato is no exception. Of all the types of coffee in this guide the macchiato is the closest to an expresso.
Of all the coffees in this guide the Macchiato is the one with the least milk added. It is essentially an expresso with splash of steamed milk. How much milk is added is largely down to taste but is usually enough to take the edge of the expresso but ensuring it doesn’t become a flat white.
Strictly speaking, and particularly if you were in Italy, a Macchiato is an expresso with 1 or 2 teaspoons of milk foam placed carefully on top. In many coffee shops however you can expect as much as little as half to be expresso with the remainder being lightly steamed milk.
A Macchiato may also be called a caffe macchiato or an expresso macchiato.
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Nearly all the types of coffee included in this guide have the expresso as the core coffee component. As we mentioned above an expresso is made with highly pressurised water and finely ground coffee.
The filter coffee uses a different process for making coffee. At its most basic level water is allowed to filter through ground coffee into a pot underneath. There is no pressurised water, pump, or vacuum involved – it is just gravity that pulls the water through the ground coffee into the pot.
Of course it’s not quite as simple as you first image! Although the basic principle is the same there are lots of different ways that water (hot or cold) can be filtered through coffee. The most common though is likely to be the electric filter coffee machine like in the picture above.
Nearly every single type of coffee has three basic ingrediants; coffee, water, and water. A mocha adds a fourth – dark chocolate (or milk chocolate if you prefer). Basically a mocha is a cross between a hot chocolate and a cappuccino.
Whereas most of the coffees listed here can be made with a variety of types of coffee beans the mocha is usually made with mocha coffee beans from Yemen.
Expresso made with mocha coffee beans has a natural chocolate flavour. To a double shot of mocha expresso is added hot chocolate and steamed milk.
There is very little froth on a mocha compared to a cappuccino.