I don’t drink coffee. I know, right? You’re thinking, “How can you work at a café and not drink coffee? How do you go through every day without caffeine pumping through your system? Something must be wrong with you.” I assure you, dear reader, I survive just fine without my daily dose of coffee. And I’ve learned quite a bit about coffee now that I make it on a regular basis and I want to share my plethora of knowledge for our customers who, like me, aren’t big on coffee and may feel a bit lost trying to order something new. Sure we don’t have nearly as many options as Starbucks, but it can still be a little intimidating if you don’t know what you want. Fear not, for I am here to help you navigate all of these strange, Italian words.
Let’s get one thing straight: there is no “x” in the word “espresso.” Now that we’ve got that out of the way let’s talk about what espresso is. A common misconception is that espresso is a dark or bitter roast, but the truth is that espresso is referring to the method in which the coffee is prepared. “Espresso” comes from the Italian for “pressed out.” To make espresso, finely ground coffee is tightly packed into a portafilter, then hot water is forced through the grounds. The result is an intense, concentrated amount of coffee. Basically, espresso is the “hard liquor” of coffee. It is called a “shot,” after all.
Remember that espresso shot we just talked about? Now we’re going to add a few ounces of steamed milk to it to make a latte! The word “latte” is the shortened form of the Italian “caffé latté” meaning “milk coffee.” If you want espresso, but need something to help minimize the bitterness of it, a latte is the way to go. If your barista is creative and willing to go the extra mile, you may even see some nice latte art.
Cappuccinos find their origins in a Viennese drink from the 1700s known as a Kapuziner (the name comes from the color of the robes of Capuchin monks). While the name comes from Vienna, it was the Italians who invented cappuccino around the time espresso machines became popular in the early 1900s. Traditionally, cappuccinos were basically tiny lattes, only about five ounces. It wasn’t until after WWII that the modern cappuccino arrived. If you walk into a café today and order a cappuccino, what you will receive is a drink that is one-third espresso, one-third steamed milk, and one-third milk foam. I think a lot of people don’t realize that’s what they’re ordering when they ask for a cappuccino; I know my own family didn’t until I explained it to them!
A lot of people are sometimes surprised to find out that a macchiato is served in a small espresso shot cup. This is probably because Starbucks has implanted a different idea of what a macchiato is in people’s minds that is completely different than what a macchiato actually is. The word “macchiato” is Italian for marked. An Italian macchiato is a shot (or two) of espresso with the slightest bit of steamed milk that “marks” the top.
Americano comes from the Italian “caffé Americano” meaning American coffee. The term is said to have originated during WWII when the American G.I.s stationed in Italy tried Italian espresso. Saying that it was too strong, they asked for the espresso to be diluted with hot water, making it more similar to what they were used to. Thus the Americano was born. Order an Americano today and you’ll receive a shot or two of espresso filled the rest of the way with hot water.
While mocha can refer to a type of bean from Mocha, Yemen, we’re going to talk about the chocolate-flavored espresso drink. In this case, mocha is not synonymous with chocolate, but rather, mocha refers to the mixture of chocolate and coffee flavors. A mocha is essentially a latte with some form of chocolate flavoring added, usually either cocoa powder or a syrup. You can also think of a mocha as a hot chocolate with espresso added if you want to. Depending on where you order, they may serve your mocha with a dollop of whipped cream on top.
And now you are armed with the knowledge to go to your favorite coffee shop (definitely us, right?) and confidently approach the register and order with pride.