What Types of Coffee Drinks Are There


Have you ever walked into a coffee shop and been overwhelmed just looking at the menu? What’s the difference between a cappuccino and a latte? What the heck is a cortado?

It may seem a bit overwhelming with all the different options. Once you learn the difference between a few of the staple beverages, however, you’ll be well-prepared to order like a pro – and even make your own drinks at home.

We’re here to help you know the difference between a cup of coffee and an Americano so you can try all kinds of different coffee drinks and find your favorites.

Before we get into all the different coffee drinks, I strongly encourage you to check out our article, Easy Ways to Level Up Your Home Barista Game. This will show you how to make all of these drinks and equipment you’ll need. Even if you don’t have an espresso machine!

How to make better coffee at home

Coffee vs. Espresso Drinks

One of the first things to know when ordering or making coffee is the difference between coffee and espresso.

Many people think that coffee and espresso are made from different beans. This is not true, however.

They’re made from the same beans – the difference is just how the beans are ground, and the drink is prepared.

Brewed coffee is typically ground anywhere from very coarse to medium. The more “coarse” the grounds are, the larger the individual grounds will be.

How coarse the grinds are depended on the brewing method. An automatic or pour-over brew method will typically use a medium grind. However, the grinds will be much larger with a French press because the beans steep longer in the water, and the filter is not as fine.

Shows all the different type of coffee beans around the world

When making brewed coffee, water is typically poured over beans that sit in a filter, creating that dreamy drink we all love so much.

Espresso, meanwhile, is made with an extremely fine ground coffee bean. The grounds are packed together in what’s called a portafilter. Then, water is pushed through the grounds with pressure.

This creates a rich, smooth, and bold-flavored drink. It’s more syrupy, whereas regular coffee has more of a watery texture.

Drip Coffee

A classic “drip coffee” is made with a brewer that automatically pours water over grounds in a filter. As the water pours over the beans, through the filter, and drips into a carafe below, that’s how you get your coffee.

If you order a “regular coffee,” this is probably the beverage you’re getting. With this method, coffee shops can make a large quantity of coffee quickly.

Pour Over Coffee

Pour over coffee method

A “pour over” is plain coffee – just made with a different method of brewing. Rather than having the water automatically drip down over the beans and into a machine, water is hand-poured in a circular motion over the grounds.

It’s usually made a cup at a time – meaning it takes longer to brew. It creates a very fresh, often lighter flavor profile. This is a great drink to order if you’re looking to expand your coffee palette and try to explore identifying different notes.

Espresso Shot

Drink espresso after dinner

If you’re looking for a quick caffeine boost, an espresso shot is the way to go. This drink is rich, strong, and smooth.

You can order as many as you like – although we don’t recommend doing more than a double or triple shot at once as you may feel jittery. Espresso shots may appear on a menu with different names depending on how many shots come in the order.

A “solo” is a single shot of espresso and yields around 1 oz. A “doppio” is a double shot and will give around two ounces of espresso. This is the standard at most places. A “triple” means three shots, while a “quad” refers to four shots.

You can order a plain double-shot, or get it over ice if you prefer a cold afternoon pick-me-up.

Latte

latte art explained

A latte is one of the most standard coffee drinks. It’s made with espresso and steamed milk and will have a light layer of foam on top.

Most shops will make this drink with either whole milk, or 2%. It’s a creamy and smooth drink.

If a shop has syrups, you can add flavor to a latte to add a bit of sweetness. Many people, however, enjoy a plain latte as the milk takes some of the edge off the espresso. The milk balances the profile of the drink nicely.

You can also order this drink iced – so it would just be made with espresso shots, milk, and ice.

We take a deep dive into the world of Lattes in our article, The Latte Explained.

Cappuccino

Cappuccino

A cappuccino, like a latte, is made with espresso and steamed milk. Cappuccinos differ, however, as there is more foam in the drink, and it’s usually a thicker consistency than the fine foam on a latte.

Think of the rule of thirds with a cappuccino. It’s typically ⅓ espresso, ⅓ steamed milk, and ⅓ foam – served in a 6 oz cup.

However, some shops may make more enormous drinks, so this can vary.

If you want more foam than milk, you can ask for a “dry” cappuccino. This means that you’ll get more foam than milk. It’s one of my favorite drinks, as I enjoy more foam with the espresso.

On the flip side, if you prefer less foam than a traditional cappuccino – but still want more foam than a latte – you can order a “wet cappuccino.”

Although you can order an iced latte, don’t try and order an iced cappuccino.

Because iced drinks aren’t made with foam (unless you’re at Starbucks, where they blend cold milk to create foam), any version of an iced beverage with espresso and milk is simply an iced latte.

Flat White

micro foam flat white

A flat white is similar to a latte or cappuccino as it’s made with espresso and steamed milk. However, what gives it the “flat” in the name is how the foam is made.

When steaming the milk, it’s made with what’s called “microfoam.” This means the bubbles are very fine – much different from the big bubbles you’d get in a cappuccino. The foam layer on top of the espresso and milk is very light, and it has a glossy texture.

Red Eye

A “red-eye” is the drink for those in need of extreme caffeine. You can make a red-eye coffee with a cup of brewed coffee and a shot of espresso.

This is an extremely bold, flavorful drink. You get the richness of both the espresso and coffee, which means this beverage has a firm flavor profile. It’s definitely not for the weak of heart, as it will give you a caffeine boost.

Black Eye

Black cup of coffee

If you’re looking for a drink that will hit you in the face and wake you up, a “black eye” is the way to go.

It’s a coffee with a double shot of espresso – so you’re sure to get hit with a kick of caffeine.

Americano

An Americano is similar to coffee – but made with espresso. It’s shots of espresso made with water. You can order it either hot or iced.

Americano is a great drink when you want the rich flavor of espresso without drinking it all at once in a shot. The water balances some of the bold notes, making it a little less bold to sip on.

If you’ve never had an Americano, don’t sleep on it. It’s become one of my favorites lately. 

Macchiato

macchiato

A macchiato is made with shots of espresso and a tiny bit of steamed milk. It’s perfect if you love espresso but want just a tiny bit of something to take the boldness off the shots.

This drink has a light layer of foam and is the perfect drink to sip on in the afternoon.

Cortado

Similar to a latte, a cortado is made with espresso and steamed milk. However, the ratio of espresso to milk is 1:1 – meaning it should have equal parts of both.

It will not traditionally have much foam – just a light layer on top form when the milk is steamed.

Cortado is another excellent afternoon drink to sip on while you’re taking a break or while you’re reading in a shop on a lazy Sunday.

Café Au Lait

If you prefer a cup of coffee that’s a little less bold, a café au lait is the drink for you.

Rather than a cup of coffee with a splash of milk, this drink is made with equal parts coffee and steamed milk.

It won’t typically contain much foam. The sweetness of the milk balances wonderfully with the rich coffee, making a perfectly mild drink for you to sip on and enjoy.

Cold Brew

Cold brew coffee

If you prefer to drink your coffee cold and bold, cold brew is the way to go.

It’s made with coarsely ground beans. The beans are put in a filter in a container of water and left to steep overnight. Although the length of time the beans will brew varies, it’s usually a minimum of eight hours – and up to 24.

After being left to brew in the cold water, the filter is removed, leaving an extremely strong, rich flavored coffee.

Cold-brew can also be made using a “drip” machine. This is where water mixed with coffee grounds drips very slowly through a filter and a pot below. This also takes several hours – and results in a very full-bodied and flavorful drink.

Iced Coffee

Iced coffee is exactly how it sounds – brewed coffee that’s been chilled and put over ice. It’s great to add a splash of milk or simple syrup if you prefer a bit of something sweet.

Iced coffee is the perfect drink to enjoy in the summer and will keep you both cool and caffeinated.

iced coffee homemade

Different Coffee Add-ins

If you love coffee but prefer a bit milder flavor – or simply want a little something sweet in your drink – you can absolutely add different things to change up the taste.

A splash of milk will take off a little of the boldness in a cup of coffee and add a nice balance to any coffee drink. Some shops may do this for you behind the counter, or they may have milk pitchers to add the milk yourself.

If you prefer something a little sweet, you can add a packet or a shake of sugar. This will blend nicely with the different notes in the cup – whether they’re fruity or nutty.

We recommend using brown sugar or raw sugar, as they often provide the best balance with a cup of coffee.

Many shops will also have what’s called “simple syrup.” This is essentially just sugar, water, and a small bit of vanilla cooked together to make a naturally sweet syrup.

Although simple, this syrup is sweet, and even just a dash adds a delicious touch of sweetness to any drink.

Milk Substitutes in Your Coffee

Whether you have a dairy intolerance or prefer to have non-milk alternatives, you can order nearly any drink with a substitution.

Most shops will offer a mix of different non-dairy options you can substitute for your coffee – but how do you know which one is best?

While you can substitute nearly any non-dairy option for milk in any coffee or espresso beverage, some will most closely mimic the natural texture and flavor.

Almond and macadamia nut milk, for example, tend to be a bit more watery. This is great if you’re adding a splash of something in your coffee or ordering a drink with little to no foam – like a café au lait.

However, if you’re ordering a latte or a cappuccino, oat milk is one of the best alternatives. 

The creamy texture builds – and holds – foam the best. This will give you the drink that’s most similar to a regular dairy milk drink.

oat milk in coffee

Because it has a higher fat content, coconut milk also foams well. It does have a very distinct flavor, however, which makes it not as favorable for some.

No matter your preference, you can safely order any available non-dairy alternative in lieu of milk. Your barista will be happy to swap with whatever they have on hand.

How to Order Your Own Coffee Drink

how to order inside of a cafe
One of My Local Coffee Shops

When ordering a coffee drink at a shop, decide first if you want a hot or iced beverage. Then, take a look at the menu – or on the counter – to see if there’s different size of drinks. Often, shops will have cup sizes on display so you can see the drinks on display.

Some drinks, like a doppio espresso, a cortado, or even sometimes a cappuccino, will only come in one size. Baristas are happy to help if you’re unsure.

Decide what drink you’re going to order. Then, keep in mind if you want the drink with any milk substitutes or add-ins. Order the glass of coffee in this order.

For example, if you want just a cup of coffee with a tiny amount of oat milk, you could order “a small cup of coffee with room for a splash of oat milk.” By asking for room for milk, this will cover your bases if the barista will add it in – or if you’ll add it yourself later.

This way of ordering makes it easy, so the barista first knows what kind of cup to grab to make your drink – whether it’s hot or iced and the size and then they can start building it from there. 

Don’t stress too much, however. Just make sure you get all the specifications so the barista can be sure you get the drink your heart desires!

Coffee Drinks to Make At Home

You can make any coffee drink you desire at home. All it depends on is having the right equipment. Although you may need an espresso machine to make a cappuccino or a macchiato at home, you can make many different drinks with a few pieces of equipment.

With a coffee grinder, you can specialize the grind of your beans and make a multitude of different drinks. With a coarse grind of beans and a container to hold water and filters, you can make your own cold brew.

With a coffee brewer, you can make regular brewed coffee and iced coffee.

Although you might think that you can only get foamy milk at a coffee shop where they have professional espresso machines, that’s not the case. With a milk frother, you can create frothy milk that’s perfect to top off coffee drinks.

If you’re looking to dive into the world of espresso, an espresso machine can open up your at-home coffee menu.

Try your hand at these drinks: 

  • Café au lait Au Lait
    • To make this drink, you’ll need:
      • A coffee brewer – whether it’s a drip machine, a pour-over, or French press
      • A milk frother or steamer to give the milk a tiny bit of texture
  • Cold Brew
    • A coffee grinder for coarse beans or pre-bought coarse beans
    • A filter for cold brew beans
    • A container to brew the cold brew in
  • Americano
    • A grinder to make sure your beans are as fresh as possible
    • An espresso machine
    • A kettle for hot water
  • Macchiato
    • A grinder to make sure your beans are as fresh as possible
    • An espresso machine
    • A milk frother or steamer
  • Cappuccino
    • A grinder to make sure your beans are as fresh as possible
    • An espresso machine
    • A milk steamer (better than a frother because you can control the foam more and make big bubbles!)

No matter how familiar you are with the different kinds of drinks, you’re sure to enjoy trying all the coffee beverages out there. Whether you make them yourself or order them at the shop, trying new beverages is the best way to branch out and see what you might like that you didn’t know about before.

We hope you’re able to sample some new coffee drinks and find new favorites! 

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