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We’ve all been there. You’re craving something delicious and caffeinated, but after stepping into the coffee shop you’re at a loss. Menus galore, all of them brightly colored. Some of them chalked. Someone, somewhere decided that coffee shop menus need to be hand-written in colored chalk. I don’t know who this person is but they need to be shot. It only adds to the confusion.
There are drink types. Lists and lists of what you could have. Simple names. Fancy names. Funny names. But where are the helpful guides that explain just what a “flapamocha macapacaphina” is?
Here’s an explanation of basic coffee drinks.
Shot-in-the-Dark: a shot of espresso added to a regular brewed cup of coffee. For those who like their coffee intense.
Espresso: simply shots of espresso. After an espresso shot is “pulled” from the machine, it expires in 30 seconds. What I mean by this is that the heat causes the flavor of the espresso to become more and more bitter with each passing second. A freshly-pulled shot will primarily be a light caramel-color that darkens from the bottom-up. By 30 seconds the entire shot will have turned black.
Timing is important. When ordering straight-up espresso if must be drunk immediately. This means waiting at the coffee bar expectantly, so that as soon as the shots are pulled they can immediately be drunk. Adding sugar does not stop the process, and since doing so takes time, by the time you drink the espresso it will be extremely bitter. Adding another liquid such as milk or water –even a small splash–does, so if you do not want to drink your espresso immediately and straight, ask the barista to add a bit of milk.
Many people insist espresso is too strong to be drunk straight. The problem is that by “strong” they mean “bitter.” Good espresso, made correctly and drunk in a timely fashion is delicious. It has depth and breadth of flavor. You can actually taste the nuttiness and various delicate flavors of the bean.
Observe the difference between a good shot of espresso and an expired shot of espresso:
There are several variations on espresso for those who cannot drink it straight.
Espresso Macchiato: contains espresso and a dollop of milk foam. The espresso shot is pulled directly into an espresso cup and the dollop of foam is immediately added. This prevents the shot from expiring.
Espresso con Panna: consists of espresso and a dollop of whipped cream. Similar to above, only whipped cream is immediately added instead of foam.
Americano: an Americano is made with shots of espresso and water. It is the most similar drink to brewed coffee. The espresso gives it a stronger coffee flavor, yet in my opinion the drink tastes more watery than brewed coffee.
The advantage to this drink is cost. It is the cheapest drink next to brewed coffee. If you are strapped for cash but want a latte, the easiest thing to do is order an americano with just a splash of water. You can add milk from the coffee shop’s condiments bar. If you want a flavored latte, merely order an americano with a splash of water and a shot of flavor, then add milk to taste.
The disadvantage to this method is that the drink will be cold. This works best in summer, when an iced drink is desired anyway. Merely order an americano over ice. The barista will pour the espresso shots directly over the ice, melting and slightly diluting the strong coffee flavor.
Latte: a latte is steamed milk and shots of espresso. The fat content and type of milk will affect the taste of the drink. e.g. whole milk vs. fat-free milk vs. soy milk.
Starbucks has traditionally used whole as their stock milk. This means if you order and do not specify which type of milk you want they would use whole. I believe this has changed more recently. During Christmas break I went to Starbucks as they asked if I preferred whole or non-fat.
If you are calorie-conscious at all, I recommend asking what the stock milk is at your favorite shop. Because lattes are simply milk and espresso, and each espresso shot is roughly one liquid ounce, a 16oz unflavored latte will contain 14oz of milk. That’s a lot of milk. Thus, if you frequently order milk-based coffee drinks the fat percent can make a surprising difference.
Lattes are the most popular and versatile drink. they are very simple to change up – all you need is a shot of flavored syrup.
Breve: the only difference between a latte and a breve is that instead of milk, half-and-half is used. To each his own, but the calorie content is astronomical.
Mocha: a mocha is steamed milk, espresso and chocolate syrup. For all intents and purposes, a mocha is a latte with chocolate. The quality of the chocolate syrup that is used is very important to the overall taste of the drink. Never get a mocha from a shop that uses chocolate-flavored syrup. The absolute best-tasting syrup is Ghirardelli. It mixes well with the milk, giving the drink a great flavor and smooth texture.
Cappuccino: a cappuccino is steamed milk and espresso. The difference between a latte and a cappuccino is the amount of foam in the steamed milk. A “dry” cappuccino is shots of espresso poured over foamed milk. Quality foam is the consistency of marshmallow fluff.
I personally dislike this drink because I hate the taste of milk foam. It is more tolerable when flavored, but if I’m seeking a marshmallow-fluff experience, I’ll go buy a jar and grab a spoon.
Caramel Macchioto: this is the sweetest and my favorite drink, especially iced. It has layered flavor: Vanilla flavored syrup joins the steamed milk. The the espresso is added. Caramel is drizzled over the top of the foamed milk, and slowly sinks through the foam, dragging hints of espresso down through the drink. It is a taste experience.
I especially enjoy it iced, as ice is added to the vanilla syrup and milk. The espresso shots on top melt the ice slightly, and the caramel sinks between the ice cubes. It’s flavor you can see in a clear cup, and it’s fun to watch the colors swirl as your drink it.
It’s really something you have to see to understand:
If you ever order a caramel macchioto and it does not look like the above picture, your barista made it incorrectly. And yes, it’s worth going back into the shop to insist they do it properly – it tastes completely different layered than when it’s mixed. Even in the coffee capital (Seattle) I’ve had to stubbornly insist and occasionally explain how this drink is made correctly.
Personally, I like to mix it up sometimes and add a different flavor instead of vanilla. Cookie Dough adds another dimension, for instance, without traveling too far away from the original drink.
So there you have it … basic coffee drinks.
There are several things you can do to these basic drinks to change the taste. The ratio of their ingredients will affect the taste, and adding either a simple or mix of flavor shots can turn it into an entirely different drink.
When I worked for Tully’s Coffee in Seattle a lot of customers who wanted to move beyond a simple, dare I say it–mundane–latté often added a shot of vanilla-flavored syrup. And that was it. Vanilla.
Honestly, I’ve never understood their mentality. Every coffee shop has a variety of flavors, if one is good, why stop there?
I demand a layered-flavor experience from my lattés. For example, one of my favorite drinks is a caramel sauce, cinnamon syrup latte with ristretto shots (more on favorite drinks later.) The caramel provides a smooth, sweet background taste that nicely compliments and rounds out the slight spice of cinnamon.
Believe it when I tell you that the quality of syrup greatly affects the over quality of taste. For this reason I have comprised a beginner’s guide to flavored syrups.
Price: $7.49 for a 750 mL bottle (3/4th of a liter) of a Classic Flavor, $7.99 for other types of syrup
DaVinci syrups are far and away my favorite.
In my experience, you get the most bang for your buck & flavor from a pump. For a 12oz latté only one pump of syrup is needed, two for a 16oz, and three for 20oz.
They offer four types of syrup: classic, fruit innovations, sugar-free and all natural in over 120 flavors. They are certified kosher and are made with only pure cane sugar (sugar free with splenda.)
Nutritional Information: a 2Tbs single serving contains 80 calories and 19 carbs.
Price: $7.99 for a 750 mL bottle
Monin offers over 80 different flavors.
Simply put, Torani syrups are decent, but not as good as DaVinci.
Price: $ 7.50 for a 750 mL glass bottle
Monin offers approximately 120 syrup flavors. They have the largest selection of sugar-free syrups, with 15 different flavors. Most companies offer just six.
Their website also has a recipe index, with a lot of fun ideas.
Unfortunately, the strength of the flavor is extremely weak. In a 12 oz latte up to four pumps of syrup must be used. That’s 4x the amount of a DaVinci syrup! Such a large amount increases the overall calorie count of a drink.
In my opinion, Monin syrups would best be used for cocktails or mixed drinks to add a light flavor, instead of in a coffee drink.
The GeDunk here at GCC uses Monin syrups. It’s hugely regrettable.
$10.95 for a one liter bottle
Starbucks flavors their drinks with their own product. I’ve never worked with this syrup by itself, so I cannot give it an accurate personal rating.
I clicked on the vanilla syrup (classic flavor) and the page displayed the following information:
|View all 137 reviews|
|• Rated 352 times by customers who
purchased this item
• 137 out of 352 customers
• Recommended by 97% of Reviewers
• Value: 90% rated it a good value
Nutritional Information: 1 oz contains 56 calories, 14 carbs, and 14 g of sugar.
Frankly, I don’t know if I trust that rating because I’ve found that people who love Starbucks love it unconditionally. I am curious about the syrup’s quality, however, and if I get the chance (aka, a free or very cheap bottle) would welcome the chance to try it.
It was 1:42 p.m. My 17 oz. Bodun Kenya French press slipped off the tin of cookies I was carrying and crashed to the ground. A chunk of glass tumbled across the carpet and landed about a foot away.
It was like I had carelessly hit a friend with my car. I choked back an immediate sob.
That’s when I realized just how much this kitchen appliance meant to me.
So welcome to a blog dedicated to coffee. You’re in for a treat, whether or not you drink it.
And if anyone is wondering, I upgraded to a 34oz. press, same brand and model. There are many reasons to appreciate Amazon, one of them being free two-day shipping.