Coffee-Based Beverages: Roses of Many Varieties

You’ve heard that a “rose by any other name smells just as sweet.” Coffee and espresso offer just as many varieties as roses – each with their particular fragrance, texture, and composition.

Coffee Based Beverages-Roses of Many Varities |

Specialty Coffees

In the United States and Canada, coffee used to come with two options: cream or sugar. Now, even chain restaurants carry a dizzying number of different choices, from lattes to cappuccinos, espressos, and mochas.

Want to crack the code? Here’s a guide to the most common specialty coffee drinks. 

Espressos and Americanos = Black

Espresso coffee comes in “shots,” small 1.5-oz. portions of extremely strong coffee brewed produced under pressure.Many people think of espresso as the “essence” of coffee, layering all of the rich, complex flavors found in the beans into one intense mouthful.

Espresso is usually drunk quickly, not sipped, and freshly pulled shots have a layer of small, light colored bubbles called the “crema” on top. Believe it or not, espresso can easily be brewed at home.  

Want something a little closer to your standard American drip coffee? No matter where you are in the world, if you ask for an “Americano,” you’ll get a couple shots of espresso diluted with hot water to fill a regular coffee cup.

This might taste watery if you’re used to espresso, but compared to drip coffee, an Americano may actually seem quite strong.

Keep in mind, a 2-oz. shot of espresso contains less caffeine than an 8-oz cup of drip coffee (even though it tastes stronger), so you might need more shots in your Americano to get the buzz you’re used to.

Cappuccinos, Lattes, and Macchiatos = Milk

This family of drinks combines espresso with steamed milk and foam in different proportions for a rich, smooth accompaniment to your morning routine.

A properly prepared cappuccino follows a ratio of thirds: 1/3 espresso, 1/3 steamed milk, and 1/3 milk foam on top (really enthusiastic and talented baristas often decorate this foam with fancy patterns).

Lattes have a much higher proportion of steamed milk with very little foam on top, making them an easy beverage to enjoy if you’re not a fan of the strong taste of espresso.

Espresso macchiatos, on the other hand, are traditionally the strongest of these three drinks, with only a touch of foam dotting the top of the espresso. The macchiatos served in many chain coffee shops also include extra milk or other flavors though, so be sure to clarify what you’re looking for when you order.

Mochas (and Flavored Lattes) = Milk + Sugar + Chocolate (or Other Flavors)

Traditional mocha coffees are made like cappuccinos, with a shot of high-quality chocolate syrup mixed into the coffee.

Most American coffee chains, however, brew them more like lattes made with chocolate milk – still delicious, but not quite as strong as the original version.

Variations like s’mores, peppermint, and gingerbread flavored mochas pop up everywhere during the holiday season, so if you need some sugar and caffeine to keep you going during a marathon shopping trip, try one of these drinks.

Not much of the original coffee flavor or character comes through all the flavoring, so if you’re just entering the world of specialty espresso drinks (and you normally take your coffee with milk and sugar), start with one of these.

And remember, American coffee chains pride themselves on customer service, so if you want a flavored coffee with a little more character, just ask them to reduce the amount of flavoring – and don’t forget to tip your barista!

So tell us… What’s your favorite specialty coffee drink?


About Mike Quinn

Mike Quinn spent 20 years in the US Army and traveled extensively all over the world. As part of his military service, Mike sampled coffee and tea from all virtually every geographic region, from the beans from the plantation of an El Salvadorian Army Colonel to "Chi" in Iraq to Turkish Coffee in the Turkish Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan. He spent nearly a decade in the Republic of Korea where he was exposed to all forms of traditional teas. Mike formerly owned and operated Cup And Brew, an online espresso and coffee equipment retail operation.

9 thoughts on “Coffee-Based Beverages: Roses of Many Varieties”

  1. Mike a lot of coffee posts, and it’s not even Monday!
    I pretty much always brew my coffee at home, but when the girl does talk me into a fancy coffee house I just get the house blend black, or with a splash if milk depending on my mood.
    I always just say that’s what I like, but truth is I am a little intimidated by all the drinks.
    I didn’t realize it’s actually pretty simple! Thanks for clearing that up. Getting an Americano next time I am out.

    • I’d recommend heading to a café that is NOT a chain join (even better if they are a roaster as well) and ordering black or straight espresso until you find what you like. A good deal of the foo foo drinks are made to cover up the off taste of stale beans.

      That being said, I’m not a hipster “purist” who insists that all drinks must be black or unflavored to be worth considering.

  2. I like a cappuccino with a bit of cinnamon sprinkled on top. I love the foam which makes the espresso taste a bit “lighter” to me. If I were to add a flavor to a coffee drink, I might do white chocolate, toffee nut, or even pumpkin spice in the fall. A good macchiato is also lovely!

  3. My favourite coffee is either a large, straight cappucino for when I need refreshment or a double-shot hazelnut latte as a treat. I find a mocha with a shot of syrup and some whipped cream makes a fantastic dessert too.

  4. Mocha any day 🙂 …plus its easier to make, still, I wouldn’t mind indulging in a cup of cappuccino, latte or macchiato once in awhile, someone made me fear espresso hence, I’ve never thought of indulging in… she said it sort of makes one extra-jittery and high…is this true?

  5. I enjoy them all. I usually take my daily coffee with extra cream and sugar, but I’ve been known to indulge in a macchiato on occasion. For the most part, though, I will order a cappuccino or latte. One day I will have an espresso maker at home, and then I will be able to play around with the proportions, as well as flavor shots and toppings.

  6. Hi Mike, great post. I am especially happy that you laid out the differences between lattes, cappuccinos and macchiatos in plain English – I always get mixed up when trying to explain the ratios to people.

    I would usually go for a latte if I were to have a coffee in a cafe, because it takes some skill to get the ratio correct and the baristas often produce some beautiful foam art. However the best speciality coffee I have ever had was in Vienna – they have a “Vienna coffee” which is a couple of shots of espresso in a glass mug topped with a massive scoop of sweetened whipped cream. Not like canned whipped cream either, hand mixed so it is thick and lustrous. Really bad for you, but just delicious.

  7. This is such a cool post, it was a great way to simplify basically the whole menu, I wish that they would add this on coffee shops, lol.
    I think that my favorite specialty would probably be milk based and sometimes, with a little bit of chocolate, but not too much, the perfect mixture for the coldest days that now are arriving.
    Thanks for sharing :).

  8. Well if you would have told me a couple of years ago that I would be drinking more espressos and mocha and lattes, then I would not have believed you, but here I am. I have always been a black coffee person, and I still prefer that in the morning to wake me up and get me going, but I have to say that later on in the day it is nice to have one of these more fancy beverages. They are a bit pricey though, which I do not like, but in the summer they are really nice when the black coffee is harder to drink. Good stuff, and thanks for sharing.


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