Many years ago we walked into a coffee shop and asked for coffee. Our only other requests were whether we wanted it black, with milk and/or sugar. Today when we ask for coffee we might give an alien the impression that we are a sophisticated group with multi-lingual talents, but the truth is that many people still don’t know what the differences are in five of the most commonly asked for coffees.
Let’s begin with Espresso because not only is it one of the most popular coffee drinks, it is also used in making three of the others named below. Espresso should start with a darker roast of beans with chocolaty or caramel undertones. If you cannot identify this on your own, don’t worry. There are many brands specifically blended for espresso.
To make Espresso you will generally need an espresso machine because very specific conditions are required for it to come out well. I say generally because there are those who say it is possible to use a French Press, but those that dispute this are firm and great in number. You can also use a Moka Pot which is a stove top espresso coffee maker.
The conditions needed to make espresso include “tamping” the coffee, which means to force or pack the coffee down firmly by repeated blows with a tool called a tamper, specific temperatures, pressure and extraction times. A great espresso system can solve all of these issues for you.
Cappuccino is made with espresso, hot milk, cinnamon, nutmeg and topped with a dollop of frothed milk (or whipped cream in some shops). One of my favorite restaurant haunts, Marinara’s in Valley Stream, New York, serves this beautifully in a glass displaying the separate layers of espresso, milk and frothed milk with a Biscotti cookie and a light shake of confectioner’s sugar on the side--beautiful presentation and deliciously smooth cappuccino.
A Latte, or Café Latte as it should be called in order to distinguish it from its new cousins, the Tea Lattes, is made with espresso and both steamed milk and milk foam. Also keep in mind that if you are traveling to Italy and you ask for a latte minus the café or coffee in front, you may just receive a glass of milk.
An Americano is espresso with hot water added. It is said, as noted on About.com, that “The Americano was supposedly invented by European baristas for American G.I.’s during World War II to replicate Americans’ preferred drip-style coffee.”
Café Au Lait:
A Cafe Au Lait is of French origin, made with equal parts of coffee and hot milk and is not made with Espresso.
Now, the next time you go into your favorite coffee shop, you will be able to venture beyond your usual order with confidence.
Espresso by coffeeresearch.org, explains the complexities involved in making your espresso great.