Many of us have a tough time starting our days, or getting through them, without some kind of coffee drink. With boutique coffee houses and nationwide specialty chains becoming common fixtures, the selection of beverages, that is available to sate coffee cravings, is immense. However, reading the average menu at a coffee bar can be daunting. With so many coffee drinks available, it is helpful to have a better understanding of how all of the different espresso based options differ from one another. With the following list, you will be expertly ordering from that coffee shop menu the next time you feel a caffeine craving.


Traditionally taken at breakfast with some pastry, this popular Italian coffee drink is made with equal parts espresso, steamed milk and frothed milk. Cinnamon, nutmeg or chocolate shavings can be added to the top for flavor and decoration. The name cappuccino comes from the drink’s resemblance to the Capuchin friars, who wear brown habits and have a ring of brown hair on their heads. In Europe and specialty coffee houses in the United States, cappuccino is served in 5-6 fluid ounce portions. Commercial coffee chains, however, typically offer servings of 12 fluid ounces or larger.

Café Latte

This popular Italian breakfast drink is made by combining espresso with steamed milk. Ideally there should be a three to one ratio of milk to espresso. Sometimes, baristas top the drink with a little foamed milk and add a sprinkling of cinnamon, nutmeg or chocolate. The name café latte, literally, means coffee with milk, so tourists in Italy, who abbreviate their orders to just "latte", will be served a glass of plain milk. A variation of the latte, the ever popular café mocha is just a latte with chocolate powder or chocolate syrup.


This is just a single shot of espresso with six to eight ounces of hot water added. The strength is similar to that of regular coffee, but the flavor is different. The popular for story for the origin of the drink’s name is that it comes from the preferred drink of American soldiers in Europe, during World War II. They would add water to the available espresso, so it approximated the coffee they were used to at home. This weakened form of espresso was, therefore, named for the Americans who favored it. Traditionally, the term Americano is only properly used to refer to the drink when the espresso is poured in first, and the water is added on top of it. Adding espresso to water results in a drink called a “long black”.

Café’ Macchiato

A café macchiato is 80% espresso and 20% milk. It is made by taking a single shot of espresso and adding the small amount of milk. A dollop of foam is placed on the top, and sometimes it is topped with a little chocolate powder. In Italy, it is popular to add a teaspoon of sugar before drinking this beverage. The name means “marked” and originally distinguished this drink from a regular espresso, since this one was marked with foam to show it had milk in it. A similar, but distinct, drink is the latte macchiatio, which is layered drink. A latte macchiato is made by adding the espresso to the milk, rather than the milk to espresso, as is done in making the regular macchiato. In addition, latte macchiatos contain more foam than hot milk and only a half shot espresso rather than a full shot.

Ordering Like a Pro

Now that you have a better idea of how each of these coffee drinks is made, you will have an easier time ordering, even from a menu that is, woefully, devoid of explanations. And you may have discovered a drink on this list that sounds like something you want to try. In the end, all of these drinks are just different mixtures of milk and espresso with very fancy names.