What The Heck is a Cappuccino?

black mug filled with latte

How To Order Drinks From an Espresso Menu

Coffee houses and espresso bars have popped up throughout the world. To the novice coffee drinker, the typical espresso menu is filled with unfamiliar words such as cappuccino, dopio, machiatto, breve, and italian espresso coffee.

What is Espresso?

Espresso is the fragrant (and caffeinated) result of forcing pressurized hot water through finely ground coffee beans. The ground coffee is placed in a filter basket from where the espresso “shot” is “pulled”.

A correctly prepared espresso shot is made of three parts – the “crema” or light brown foamy topping, the “body” or middle layer that is slightly darker than the crema, and the “base” or “heart”, which is the dark brown bottom layer of an espresso.

Espresso is usually served in 1 or 2 oz. shots or used as a base for gourmet coffee drinks.

Espresso-based drinks can be divided into two categories – straight espresso and espresso mixed with other liquid such as milk.

Straight Espresso Drinks

Straight espresso drinks are espresso and not much else. These drinks are for the hard-core espresso enthusiast, as the full flavor (and bitterness) of espresso will be very evident.

  • Espresso – a single shot (1 oz) of espresso
  • Dopio – a double shot (2 oz) of espresso
  • Ristretto – a normal espresso shot that is only pulled to 1/2 oz, making it a little less bitter and more flavorful than a normal espresso shot
  • Espresso Machiatto – espresso with a dollop of milk foam on top
  • Espresso Cubano – espresso that is pulled into a cup with a little sugar, allowing the espresso to mix with the sugar as it is pulled
  • White – White coffee can mean either a brewed coffee with some form of whitener such as milk or, in United States, an espresso shot made with coffee beans that have been roasted until they are yellow instead of the normal, longer roasting process that produces brown or black beans. Espresso made with white coffee is highly caffeinated.

Lattes and Cappuccinos

Lattes and cappuccinos are espresso mixed with steamed milk. The style used when steaming the milk determines the type of drink. Additionally, different types of milk (such as soy) may be used in place of regular milk.

  • Latte – An espresso latte is the standard drink of the espresso industry. It is made with espresso and steamed milk. Lattes are sometimes incorrectly referred to as coffee lattes.
  • Cappuccino – This is similar to a latte except a smaller amount of steamed milk is added and a thick layer of milk foam is placed on top of the drink, resulting in a stronger espresso taste than a latte.
  • Breve – a latte made with cream (or half-n-half) instead of milk
  • Flavored Latte – Flavored lattes (or cappuccinos or breves) are espresso and flavoring (such as vanilla or caramel) mixed with steamed milk. The most popular flavored lattes are vanilla drinks and caramel drinks.
  • Caramel Macchiato – One common version of this drink is a latte with caramel and vanilla flavoring and steamed milk. The steamed milk should be slightly more foamy than a latte but less foamy than a cappuccino. The espresso is poured on top of the milk and flavoring, then a drizzle of caramel is applied.
  • Mocha – a flavored latte made with espresso and chocolate
  • Frappe – an iced coffee drink with a layer of milk foam on top, but the contemporary meaning is a blended espresso drink
  • Cafe Au Lait – This drink is traditionally prepared similar to a latte using brewed coffee but many coffee houses now use espresso.

Iced Lattes and Frozen Coffee Drinks

An iced latte or a frozen coffee drink are actually parts of a subset of lattes and cappuccinos. For example, an iced latte is simply espresso mixed with cold milk and ice. An iced cappuccino is simply espresso mixed with cold milk and ice with a thick layer of milk foam. A blended mocha is a mocha blended with milk and ice.

Other Terms Used When Ordering Espresso Drinks

Every espresso drink can be modified in many ways, allowing for a variety of personalized drinks. Some of the terms used for this purpose are:

  • Skinny – a drink prepared with non-fat or skim milk
  • Wet or Dry – When ordering a cappuccino, many people specify whether the drink should be “wet” or “dry”. A dry cappuccino has a substantial amount of foam whereas a wet cappuccino has very little foam.
  • Decaf – decaffeinated espresso
  • Split Shot – an espresso shot that is half decaf and half regular
  • Double – a drink prepared with two shots of espresso instead of one
  • Shot in the Dark or Depth Charge – brewed or drip coffee with a shot of espresso added

The versatility of espresso makes it adaptable to even the most finicky consumer. The unique taste of a properly prepared espresso drink is impossible to describe – it must be experienced.

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