Deciphering the Coffeehouse Menu's Espresso Drinks

How to Order Espresso Drinks

Girl drinking coffee
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If you're new to espresso, the abundance of options and jargon on your local coffee house menu may be overwhelming. This guide will help you place espresso orders with confidence and explore the exciting world of espresso. Learn about all of the drinks you can make from this single, strong shot of coffee.

What Is Espresso?

Espresso (ess-PRESS-oh) is a full-flavored, concentrated form of coffee that is served in shots. Espresso is made by forcing pressurized, hot water through very finely ground coffee beans. This process is called pulling a shot.

Unlike most coffees, espressos have crema, a flavorful, aromatic, reddish-brown froth made when air bubbles combine with fine-ground coffee's soluble oils. The strong presence of crema indicates a quality, well-ground coffee and a skilled barista (professional coffee maker).

Crema and espresso's quick extraction process give espresso a long full-flavor aftertaste and lower caffeine content than drip content.

  • Each shot of espresso is about 1 ounce.
  • Many shops choose to only offer double espressos (two shots, also called a doppio) for quality control issues.
  • Other coffeehouses also offer single shots and lungos (long extractions).

Regardless of the size, espressos are usually poured into a demitasse (a small, 2- to 4-ounce cup).

deciphering espresso drinks illustration
Illustration: © The Spruce, 2018

Ways to Order Espresso

Use these terms for the most common espresso-only drinks:

  • Shot: One serving of espresso (about 1 ounce) prepared at normal strength.
  • Doppio (DOH-pee-OH): Doppio is Italian for double and it means that you want a double shot of espresso. It's the standard espresso size in many coffeehouses.
  • Caffé Americano: A shot of espresso combined with enough hot water to fill a 6-ounce cup. The Americano was supposedly invented by European baristas for American soldiers during World War II to replicate Americans' preferred drip-style coffee. It's popular on its own after dinner in Italy. In the U.S., many consume it with milk and/or sugar throughout the day.
  • Lungo (LOON-goh): A "long" pull (extraction) of espresso made with the same amount of finely ground coffee and twice the water of a normal shot. A single serving is about 2 ounces. It may sound similar to a Café Americano, but its unique processing results in a different flavor. It has less of a strong taste because it is made with more water. It also has more bitterness because the extraction process takes longer and pulls more bitterness out of the grounds. If over-extracted, they taste bitter and metallic.
  • Red Eye: A cup of filtered coffee with one shot of espresso. It's sometimes called a "Hammerhead" or "Shot in the Dark." Variations include the "Black Eye," which is made with two shots of espresso and the "Dead Eye," which is made with three shots.
  • Ristretto (ree-STREH-toe): A smaller, more concentrated serving of espresso. A ristretto has a more intense flavor and body, and less bitterness. It may be ordered as a single (about 0.75 ounces) or a double (about 1.5 ounces).

What Is a Caffé Latte?

Caffé latte (kah-FAY LAH-tay) recipes vary widely. A general definition of this popular drink is a double espresso in the base of a preheated mug or cup, topped with steamed milk to fill, and garnished with froth or latte art.

Latte means "milk" in Italian, so generally, the milk flavor is more dominant in this beverage than other espresso-based beverages. A 2-to-1 ratio of milk to espresso is common.

While the Italian word for coffee is caffé, you will also see the French and Spanish café. Luckily, they are pronounced similarly: (kah-FAY).

Popular Variations of the Caffé Latte

Use these terms to order your espresso with milk. 

  • Café au Lait or Café con Leche: The phrases au lait (oh LEY) and con leche (kon LECH-ey) mean "with milk" in French and Spanish (respectively). These drinks are variations on the Italian caffé latte. The milk remains in the same 2-to-1 ratio. Sugar may be added and is usually automatically included in a café con leche. 
  • Caffé Mocha or Mocha Latte (kah-FAY MOH-kuh): In the coffee shop, mocha often refers to chocolate and the café mocha (or mocha latte) is a very popular drink. It is a variant of café latte made with white, milk, or dark chocolate syrup and milk or powder. It is often topped with whipped cream, chocolate syrup, or other sweet additives. 
  • Flavored Latte: A café latte with flavoring syrup or powder added. Popular flavors include vanilla, peppermint, Irish crème, caramel, cinnamon, almond, hazelnut, toffee, buttered rum, orange, and raspberry. Flavored lattes may be topped with whipped cream or other toppings.

What Is a Cappuccino?

A traditional Italian cappuccino (KAH-poo-CHEE-noh) is a single espresso shot topped with equal parts steamed and frothed milk (in a ratio of 1-to-1-to-1). It is served in a 4- to 6-ounce preheated bowl-shaped cup.

Many in the American market have adapted this recipe, incorporating more steamed and frothed milk, while keeping the espresso quantities the same unless otherwise specified. The foam that tops a cappuccino acts as a natural insulator, keeping the drink warmer longer. 

More Espresso and Milk Drinks

You will also see these terms and can use them to order your favorites:

  • Breve (BREV-ay): A breve is an espresso-based drink that's made like a cappuccino, but with half-and-half instead of milk. Breve has come to mean any espresso with half-and-half in lieu of milk, regardless of the proportions and whether or not it's foamed.
  • Café Noisette ( NWAH-zett): A café noisette is an espresso with a small amount of milk added. The resulting color is that of a noisette, French for "hazelnut." The milk is not steamed or frothed, making it different than a cappuccino.
  • Espresso con Panna (kon PAAN-nah): Espresso topped with whipped cream.
  • Espresso Macchiato (MOCK-e-AH-toe): A single or double espresso topped with a dollop of heated, texturized milk and (usually) served in a small cup. Macchiato means "mark" or "stain." In this case, the mark is a dollop of milk on top of the espresso.
  • Latte Macchiato: Also known as a "long macchiato," this drink is primarily made of steamed milk. A latte macchiato is milk "marked" with a half-shot (or less) of espresso. American variations include caramel macchiatos (and the like) with a caramel (or other ingredients) as the "mark."
  • Flat WhiteA shot of espresso with a double shot of steamed milk. Unlike most steamed milk coffee drinks, it is "wet," so it has little or no foam and a smooth, velvety texture.