I never really drank espresso before a year ago. I didn’t know the difference between quality espresso drinks and the coffee from a Keurig. So, naturally, I decided to work at a local coffee shop in the hopes of being a barista. Logical, right? Yeah, definitely not.
I quickly discovered that I was not alone in this befuddlement. Even dedicated coffee lovers sometimes have a hard time distinguishing between cortado and flat whites—and that’s why I made this list. I’m here to explain the daunting espresso drinks that I now know by heart, to help you to venture away from your daily latte habit.
1. Espresso Shot
Who doesn’t love shots? (A lot of people.) But this kind of shot is straight espresso, which most people find incredibly strong and bitter. It takes a while to develop the acquired taste for a straight espresso shot.
Traditional espresso machines pour double shots, so this (and the drinks listed below) are usually made with double or quad shots. But, some cafés like to be fancy and split their shots to make them into odd numbers. Wild, I know.
If you haven’t heard of a latte, you’re either living under a rock or are way too much of a hipster for this crowd favorite. Iced or hot, the milk-to-espresso ratio is 4:1, so if you don’t like the bitter taste of espresso, this is the drink for you.
The key to this drink is that the milk is aerated so that there’s some foam chilling on top of the steamed milk. This is my favorite drink because I love sipping on the sweet layer of foam that won’t burn your tongue in the lovely way that hot coffee tends to do.
If you want to mix up your drink order on a hot day away from cold brew or iced coffee, but don’t want to get too wild, then an americano is the drink for you. Fun fact: this drink is the reason I almost lost a hand. Gotta love accidentally pouring scalding hot water all over yourself. Yes, the life of a barista is life on the edge.
If you like strong espresso, but you’re not on the “shots” level yet (it’s okay, you’ll get there), try a cortado. The milk-to-espresso ratio is about 1:1, and the milk is steamed so that there is little to no foam. Plus, you sound pretty dope ordering it if you have a good Spanish accent.
6. Flat White
The drink from down under. Think mini latte with a similar level of steam in your milk, with a milk-to-espresso ratio closer to 3:1. Yum, right? Perfect if you’re looking for a latte but need to down it a little faster. Drink a flat white and be on your way.
A traditional macchiato is not the same thing as the drink Starbucks invented (sorry, Starbucks lovers, but they do have their faults). A real macchiato is a shot of espresso topped with a blip of milk foam, similar to the top of a cappuccino. And, if you weren’t aware, blip is the correct term for a couple of spoonfuls. Yes, it’s very technical barista-speak.
8. Red Eye
Rough morning? Just want your normal coffee but don’t want to down four cups of it? Go with a red eye. Good ol’ coffee with a shot of espresso to top it off. Although it will make your coffee taste a little more bitter. If you’re looking for extra strong coffee, iced or hot, this is the way to go.
Ice cream or gelato topped with a shot of espresso. My suggestion is to go for caramel or chocolate flavored ice cream because it tastes like a sweeter, dessert version of a flavored latte. In other words, it’s a caffeinated dessert. I know, it doesn’t get much better.
Now, let me help you out with some fun facts and pro tips: matcha and chai lattes don’t have espresso. They’re actually just called lattes because they’re mixed with milk in a similar way. Please don’t tell people these drinks are actually lattes.
If you’re trying to impress that cute barista, or just want to satisfy your taste buds in the early morning (or late at night, I don’t judge), ask for something a little more adventurous and continue on your espresso journey. Stay caffeinated, my friends.