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Know Your Espresso: A Guide to Speciality Coffee Drinks

Know Your Espresso: A Guide to Speciality Coffee Drinks

The evolution of coffee culture over the last 20 years has been immense, and it wasn’t too long ago that your only options were regular and decaf. If you wanted a speciality coffee like an espresso or a cappuccino, you had to go to a fancy Italian restaurant and order it with your dessert.

Fast forward to today and the types of different speciality coffee drinks you can order, even at a regular suburban cafe, are vast. However, the differences between the various espresso-based drinks are often unknown or misunderstood.  It’s hard to keep track of what keeps a Long Black from being an Americano, when they’re both made of espresso and hot water.  When is a Latte really a Macchiato? And at what point does you stop referring to the chocolate flavoured sugar bomb you can get from Starbucks every morning as coffee?

If you’re the sort of person who’s never quite sure what you want when you get to your favourite coffee place, or if you find yourself disappointed with the drinks you’re getting, it might just be that you don’t know what you’re ordering.

The next time you find yourself undecided over your decision at the counter, refer to this handy little guide. If this still doesn’t help you figure out what you want, just look at what other people are buying and go with the most popular drink.

Specialty coffee drinks:

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This is the basic building block of all the drinks to follow. And just like all those drinks, espresso is defined more by the process of making it rather than its ingredients. You can use any type of bean for espresso—the phrase “espresso bean” only tells you that it’s been roasted for a longer period of time, resulting in darker colours and a more oily surface. The resulting bean is finely ground and then packed tight before near-boiling water and steam are forced through during the brewing process. The drink itself is thicker and darker than coffee, with the oils creating a creamy surface (known as the “crema”).


The legend around this drink’s origin centres on US soldiers’ watering down their espressos to mimic the coffee they were used to back home. The Americano consists of a single shot of espresso with enough hot water added to make an eight-ounce cup of coffee.

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Long Black

This is an American turned upside down, which makes sense since it’s a popular drink in Australia and New Zealand. Here, the hot water is added to the cup first, and then two shots of espresso are added. Pouring the espresso into the water, rather than the other way around, ensures that crema stays on the top, where it has more impact on flavour. Long Black afficionados will tell you the result is a complex and tasty drink that hits several notes an Americano simply can’t—which is a nice way of deflecting attention from the fact that they need their espresso watered down, too.


Equal parts espresso, steamed milk, and milk froth. The trick is to pour the warm milk into the espresso and hold the foam back till the end. The cap of foam is said to have insulating properties that keeps the rest of the drink warmer, longer.

Flat White

In Australia, Flat White is practically synonymous with “coffee.” It’s a variation on cappuccino; after the milk is steamed, the froth at the top layer is folded back into the milk at the bottom to create a thicker, but non-frothy, texture that’s then poured into the espresso.


Because of Starbucks, there are literally millions of people who think a macchiato has caramel syrup in it. That’s just not the case. A macchiato another cappuccino variation, except without the steamed milk. Only the milk froth goes into it—a small amount at that—and it’s added to the cup before the espresso.


A latte is like a cappuccino—espresso and steamed milk—but the foam is held back.

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A mocha is a variation on the latte, itself a variation on the cappuccino. Here the difference is the addition of chocolate syrup to the espresso and steamed milk.

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