The mystifying world of coffee lingo decrypted.
Updated: Apr 29, 2019
Have you ever felt a little overwhelmed or perhaps just fed up with the weird and wonderful terms some people use when ordering their coffees? As a barista of over 15 years experience, I can tell you many people aren't really sure what they want when it comes to ordering their favourite caffeination medium.
Well, were here to help, with a quick run down on the various coffee varieties you might come across in your favourite hipster espresso bar. Bear in mind, that the art of the barista is as much art as practical trade. Add to this the cultural variations that change between countries and also across styles, means that there might be some differences. Most notably, different coffee preparation methods will yield different coffee in the cup but may have similar terms. Such is the case with 'Americano' (see below). It is also of note that Australian espresso shots are generally larger than Italian espresso shots for example, as milk based coffees are the norm here while frequent espresso shots are far more common in Italy where you can walk up to an espresso bar for a quick hit at a cheaper price than a sit-down cappuccino.
In Australia, the vast majority of coffee is based on the humble espresso. While the term espresso may mean different things to different people, at its core, an espresso is the building block of almost all your coffee beverages.
Espresso / Short Black: usually refers to a single shot of coffee poured under very specific pressure, at a very specific temperature, for a specific time and to a given ratio of water volume to coffee weight. For this reason, a true espresso can only be made with the aid of a coffee machine. The specific ratios can vary between 2:1 up to 3:1 – that is 60ml of water through 20g of ground coffee for 24-30 seconds creates 2 x 24ml shots, or one 48ml double shot. Some cafes might use larger baskets up to 22g or even 24g, and some may be smaller. But as a rough guide, this is a common pour.
Double espresso (doppio in Italian): As above, but the full 50ml shot.
Ristretto: While the espresso has been determined over many years of practice to yield the best balance of flavours to showcase the oils inherent in the coffee bean, some prefer the flavours extracted only from the first half of the pour. I must admit, especially with quality single-origin beans, the ristretto is my favourite coffee. Again, specifics can vary but a ristretto will generally mean that only half the amount of water is forced through the same quantity of coffee as for an espresso, that is, a ratio of 1:1 or 1.5:1. If you get a barista who truly cares about her coffee, then they should adjust the grind size and tamper pressure of the grounds to ensure that the smaller shot is still poured for 24-30 seconds. A pour which is too fast will often be too sour and lack body. A single shot ristretto should for example yield a 15-20ml shot from 20g of coffee.
Long Black (often now called an Americano): Single espresso shot poured into a 'cup' of hot water. Usually around 200 to 250ml of hot water. A good long black should still show a healthy crema which is why the espresso shot should be poured into the hot water and not the other way around. The hot water should also be slightly cooler than the espresso shot which comes out at around 90-92 degrees Celsius. Boiling water should NEVER touch your coffee! Even worse, if you see your 'barista' (read: untrained coffee machine operator) make your long black by pouring the full 250ml of water through the coffee basket, then RUN! This will completely kill the coffee and leave you with a burnt, bitter and lifeless beverage. As hinted at above, the term Americano is becoming more frequent in Australia and refers to a long black. In truth, the Americano should mean filter or 'pour over' coffee using those old-school coffee pots or newer pour-over methods. Some speciality coffee shops will make this distinction.
As stated above, pretty much all coffee from a decent cafe will be based on the espresso. While there are some very weird and wonderful, as well as very specific recipes for the various milk based coffee, over the years the distinction has become less separated, especially in Australia.
Cappuccino: single espresso base with milk steamed to the point of frothy peaks combined with a hint of chocolate powder. Traditionally, a cappuccino might have a higher ratio of milk to coffee than other milk coffees, however today the difference is mostly in the size and shape of the cup. In a take-away environment, the ratio will be the same.
Latte: single espresso base with milk steamed to foam, but not so far as to create those annoying, frothy peaks.
Flat white: very similar to a latte only with minimum amount of foam. Debate rages across the Ditch as to where this is an Australian or New Zealand creation. Regardless, the humble flat white is a product of a no-nonsense culture who enjoy a good coffee without all that mucking about with frothy milk. The problem arises when the very act of heating the milk with steam will induce some foam. I have had customers return their flat whites claiming too much foam, however this is usually the product of a lifetime of instant coffee.
Piccolo Latte (similar to and often interchangeable with Cortado): as with a latte only instead of around 200-250ml of milk, only with around 30ml of milk. Should be served in a small, espresso cup.
Macchiato: a single espresso shot with just a teaspoon or two of milk foam on top.
Other common styles:
Iced coffee: espresso shot poured over ice to immediately cool it. Can be served with milk or black.
Cold Brew: very different from iced coffee, cold brew is prepared by either steeping coffee in water at room temperature for several hours, or slowly dripping room-temperature water through filtered coffee for some hour, then refrigerated This produces a coffee which tastes milder and sweeter than iced coffee, but still with high amounts of caffeine.
Nitro-Cold Brew: As with cold brew, the coffee is then infused under pressure with nitrogen gas. This creates an even sweeter flavour with a creamy mouth-feel – similar in texture to Guiness.
This list is by no means exhaustive and different cities will often have their own variations that can be either different to, or just named differently from other styles. Such interesting and experimental coffee variants as the 'Magic' for example (I'm looking at you Melbourne!).
What is your favourite coffee to drink?