Coffee decoded: A handy dandy guide to espresso drinks

Gone are the days where the only questions asked in a coffee shop are whether you would like regular or decaf and if you want room for cream. There are so many espresso drinks to choose from that it can be overwhelming, especially when the names all sound like they should only be said in France or Italy. Today’s Brewponent is here to eliminate that coffee shop anxiety and make sure you can make an educated decision so you get exactly what you want, every time.

Coffee and Espresso:

Usually when someone says they just want a coffee, that means regularly brewed, drip coffee that they may or may not choose to add some cream to. An espresso however, is just a 30 ml shot of straight espresso, so it will likely come in a very small cup that can be finished in a sip or two.


The next step up from just a straight espresso shot is another small drink, the macchiato, which means spotted or stained. In this drink, the espresso is “stained” with foam. There are espresso shots and then the rest of it is foamed milk. However, Starbucks seems to have their own version of this drink that doesn’t fit the traditional description, so don’t be confused by them.


Take it up another notch and you’ve got a cappuccino. This drink is made up of one-third espresso, one-third steamed milk and one-third foam. This results in a deliciously creamy texture, making this one of the most popular coffee drinks. Sometimes it is sprinkled with cocoa powder for an extra special touch.


Continuing to add more milk, we get to the latte. This is probably the most commonly ordered espresso out there. It is generally two shots of espresso, and the rest is steamed milk. Simple but delicious, and of course you can always add flavor if you so desire.

Flat White:

This is what some people call an “Australian Latte.” The only difference between a flat white and a latte is that there is a thin layer of foam, which in reality hardly changes it at all unless you are a serious coffee snob. The good news is when you order a flat white and know what that means, it really sounds like you know your stuff.


A mocha is basically a latte that is taken to the next level with a bit of chocolate. Espresso, steamed milk and chocolate are blended together to make a sweeter drink that will both wake you up and serve as a nice treat.


This is usually my go-to drink because it is almost as cheap as just getting a drip coffee, but it is a little fancier. It is just espresso shots mixed with water — but it tastes bold, not watery. You can add flavor to make it a little sweeter, and it is a nice option for people who can’t drink or don’t like milk.

Iced Coffee:

Typically, an iced coffee means you will get a cup of drip coffee poured over ice, with an espresso shot or two mixed in so that the flavor isn’t diluted by the ice. Of course, all coffee drinks can be made iced, which is great for summertime (or in my opinion, all year round).

This isn’t comprehensive, as every coffeehouse has their own quirks, and there are numerous ways to customize and create almost any drink you could imagine, but with this basic knowledge you’ll never be stuck consulting Google in a coffee shop again.


By Isabel Roos