It is easy to forget, for a native speaker, that the lingo of coffee can be complex and confusing. Try explaining to a freshly arrived tourist that they can’t just order ‘a coffee’, before leading them through the Byzantine laws and sub-clauses of the modern coffee menu, if you need to be reminded. Furthermore, each café is free to make their own decisions about what these different coffee words mean, and the common definitions shift over time and from place to place. In this article I won’t be diving into the history of these drinks, or attempting to explain how we got where we are now. Instead, I’ll aim to provide a practical guide to the state of the Australian specialty menu as it is now, and what it might look like in the future.
The simplest drink to prepare, an espresso is a single shot of coffee, usually served in a small demitasse cup. The term short black is used interchangeably with espresso, although I have heard of people adding extra hot water when a short black is ordered. Recently, cafes have started to experiment with the cups the espresso is served in. An espresso served in a wider cup or glass allows more aroma to reach the drinker, whilst serving the espresso in a room-temperature, or even chilled, cup will drop the temperature of the coffee faster and create a different sensory experience.
The long black is usually a double espresso, poured over hot water. The espresso is traditionally poured directly on to the water, although this is primarily for aesthetic reasons (to keep the crema intact, ) and you could make an argument that it tastes better all mixed in. The ratio of coffee to water varies, but I think somewhere in the 1:1 to 1:2 range tastes delicious. It is really important to get the temperature of the water right. Just like your milk coffees, long blacks should be at a drinkable temperature when first prepared, I don’t want to burn my tongue anymore!
Let’s get this out of the way: they’re basically all the same. While that might hurt to hear, it’s the truth. We’ll talk about why soon, but first let’s look at the ‘differences’. flat whites, lattes and capps are generally comprised of a single shot of espresso, topped up with steamed milk, served in a cup 150ml-200ml in size, although your mileage may vary. In most cases, lattes will be served in a slightly larger glass, while the capp and flat white are in the same ceramic cup. The cappuccino (usually) gets a dusting of chocolate powder too. The last difference is in the foam level, with the flat white sitting at around 1/2cm of foam, the latte at 1cm and the capp at 1.5cm, but again, this will vary wildly between cafes and baristas.
So, all three of these drinks boil down to espresso mixed with about the same amount of milk. Granted, the amount of foam will affect both the textural experience and strength of the drink (more foam equals less milk equals more strength.)The difference is often minimal, however and anyway, is there a ‘best’ amount of foam? What amount of foam is the most delicious? I want that one.
You’ve probably heard that Macchiato means ‘stained’ in Italian, and this is true. At its simplest, a macchiato is a single espresso with a small amount of milk and a ‘stain’ or ‘spot’ of foam on top of the coffee. Of course, it’s not really so simple, there are actually many variations on this drink, which seems to fluctuate wildly according to location. Some common varieties are the ‘short macc topped up’, which is a single espresso in a demitasse topped up with milk; the ‘long macc traditional’, which is a double espresso in a latte glass with a dash of milk and foam; and the ‘long macc topped up’, which is the same drink, topped up.
Piccolos are lattes made with less milk. They’re either identical to a short macc topped up, or in their own, slightly larger than an espresso cup but smaller than a latte glass, cup.
A babyccino order can be an irritation to many baristas, however a perfectly made babyccino can be a thing of beauty, and bring a lot of joy to our smallest customers. The babycino should be almost entirely foam because babies get enough milk in their day to day. The foam should be dense and at a cool temperature, with a light dusting of chocolate. Syrup in the bottom is cheating and can lead to sugar-related meltdowns later in the day.