Columbus Coffee Guide: Espresso. What's what?

Staff Writer
Columbus Monthly

We've all been in that position at one time or another: The barista looks expectantly over the counter as we're mumbling, "What's the difference between a macchiato and a cappuccino?" "Is the latte the one with the foamed milk?" "What's a cubano?"

There's good reason for the confusion. Definitions can be tricky. Some coffee shops prepare drinks by traditional (often European) standards, although many customers may be familiar with drinks based on how national chains prepare them.

Espresso drinks revolve around two things: coffee and milk. The variety lies in the ratio between the two, says Mick Evans of One Line Coffee. But if you like coming prepared, follow this primer:

Espresso:The base for most coffee drinks. Hot water is forced quickly through finely ground coffee. The heat and quick extraction make it richer and more bittersweet than brewed coffee.*

Espresso Normale: A regular shot of espresso is called an Espresso Normale, which means the espresso is brewed with water in a 1:2 ratio, Evans explains.

Espresso Ristretto: If you want to get really technical, you can ask for an Espresso Ristretto: espresso brewed in a 1:1 ratio with water.

Cappuccino: Typically espresso and milk in a 1:2 ratio, cappuccino can be confusing among coffee drinkers. Traditionally a cappuccino is a 6-ounce beverage created using the rule of thirds: one third espresso, one third hot milk, one third textured milk (not the Starbucks-esque 20-ounce drinks with lots of foam).

Cappuccino fun fact: The drink is named after Capuchin friars who wore brown and white robes. The flat white is similar to the cappuccino, reducing the amount of milk slightly and using foamed milk. It hails from Australia and New Zealand.

Latte: Espresso and steamed milk in a ratio of one part espresso to four or five parts milk. The milk coffee or cafe au lait originated in Europe, although its neutral base has allowed it to become "a vessel for Starbucks to use syrup," Fenstermacher jokes. Replacing the milk with half-and-half results in a drink sometimes referred to as a breve.

Cubano: Espresso brewed while dissolving raw sugar in the espresso basket; the hot water caramelizes the sugar as it brews. Most coffee shops, however, will mix in sugar after pulling the shot. This saves the trouble of cleaning sticky sugar out of the basket after every use.

Macchiato: A shot of espresso topped with a small amount of foamed milk

Americano: Espresso cut with hot water. It came about during World War II when American soldiers stationed in Europe watered down the local brew, espresso.

Cortado: Similar to a cappuccino, espresso is cut with hot milk. It's often served in a 4-ounce glass Gibraltar cup.

Fun fact: Even though most espresso machines are programmed, we still say a barista "pulls" a shot. That's because pre-computerized espresso machines used a lever attached to a piston, with which the barista manually forces the hot water through the grounds. Only two Columbus coffee shops currently use lever machines: Upper Cup Coffee in Olde Towne East and Hemingway's Coffee Nook at Columbus Commons.