I know at least five people in my life (myself included) who have walked into Starbucks with little to no idea what the menu said. While there are plenty people out there who know the differences between all types of coffee, there are many who don't. We're here to break down the different types and help you learn the difference between the most popular ones so you can order coffee with ease!
There are three main coffee bean differences, each with their own distinctive characteristics. These two are the top two used in coffees that we know and love today:
Arabica beans are preferred by a lot of people because these have a sweeter taste. They're flavorful and have been described as being more sugary than, say robusta beans. Arabica beans also grow slower than other beans, which means that when they're harvested they give off a more distinct flavor. One of the biggest differences between Arabica and Robusta is that Arabica has half the amount of caffeine.
Robusta falls second to Arabica when it comes to taste (for some anyhow) because of its high caffeine content. The higher content gives these beans a bitter taste, though the beans retain their flavor even when you add milk or cream to your coffee. What really sucks is that Robusta doesn't necessarily taste bad if you find a good quality bean. In fact, good Robusta is said to taste better than Arabica, but you'll have some trouble finding good quality Robusta since the beans are basically only used now in instant coffee and are seen as cost-cutting beans.
There is one other coffee bean type, though.
Liberica beans are very rare nowadays and it's really only a luxury available in California. There are other places that enjoy these beans such as the Phillippines and Indonesia, but for the most part, you're not going to see these everywhere like you do Robusta and Arabica. The taste is heavy too and tends to have a dark chocolate taste to it. A lot of people actually say that this doesn't even taste like coffee...
Now that we got the beans out of the way let's focus on all the different types of drinks out there! There are a lot, I know, but we'll break down some of the basics for ya. Refer to our guide for the differing caffeine levels for the average cup of coffee.
This one is pretty standard but here are some quick facts for you in case you've never tried one!
If you're anything like me, you may or may not have ordered this drink one time, thinking it would be a cool thing to try, and then got a rude awakening when you drank a very powerful shot of caffeine. Allegedly...
But, for those of you wondering what an espresso is, it's a shot of caffeine through the process of shooting hot water through ground coffee beans. The flavor is a strong shot of caffeine that hasn't been tampered with by adding milk or cream or sugar.
You can also add another shot if you'd like and that type of espresso is simply called a double espresso (or "doppio").
It's important to know about this little guy because a lot of your favorite drinks involve putting a bit of espresso into them!
Lattes aren't super complicated -- even if the art is. All they are is just a shot of espresso with steamed milk on top and then topped with milk foam. There are a lot of variations, though. You may have heard people order drinks like the cappuccino or macchiato and while they're technically different drinks, they do share a lot of similarities to the latte.
Technically speaking, the cappuccino and the latte use the exact same ingredients but the ratios are different. A cappuccino uses 1/3 espresso, 1/3 steamed milk, and 1/3 foamed milk. They are sometimes topped with chocolate powder or cinnamon. Now, depending on where you go, you might not get a dusting of chocolate powder. If you were to get a cappuccino from Italy, it would come without any chocolate. Though, if you were to order one in New Zealand or of the UK you more than likely would. Cappuccinos in the States vary from place to place.
The macchiato is, like a latte and cappuccino, compromised of the same ingredients but in different quantities. The macchiato comes with a espresso and foamed milk on top, which makes it one of the stronger options. A lot of people see the macchiato as an espresso with a bit of milk in it. In fact, in Italian "macchiato" means "spotted!"
If you don't really know where to start or you don't like the taste of coffee, you should try out the cafe mocha. This drink is espresso topped with hot chocolate and then whipped cream! Sure, you have the coffee taste in there, but you have a lot of other yummy things to help balance it out.
There are different ways to make this too. Instead of hot chocolate, you can add in a few pumps of chocolate sauce and you can swap out the whipped cream with steamed milk. You can also top it with chocolate powder.
An Americano is a watered down version of the espresso. There are two ways that you can make this: you can pour water overtop a made espresso shot or vice versa. Some people don't like pouring water onto the shot because it tends to break up the espresso, but if you don't mind that happening then feel free to do it this way.
Ristretto is a type of espresso shot that uses only a portion of the water used for actual espressos. It's a stronger flavor given that there isn't as much water, but it's also less caffeinated than an espresso. This is because less water flows through the grounds thereby giving less caffeine.
This is nearly the exact same as a cappuccino. It's made with all the same ingredients, but a flat white doesn't have any foamed milk or chocolate on top. There are varying definitions of what a flat white is exactly. Many people believe that a flat white is made with microfoam and there are actually articles written about the flat white to describe the arduous process of making the beverage.
This drink is the Americanized version of the latte. It's made with half and half instead of steamed milk. It consists of three layers: espresso, half and half, and then it's topped with foamed milk. Due to the change in ingredients, it's been known to hold more calories and fat than traditional lattes.
Saving the best for last, we've officially reached what is the dessert of coffees. It's a really easy recipe and is often consumed during the warmer months of the year. All that's done here is plopping one scoop of ice cream inside a shot (or two) of espresso.
If you're interested in learning more about the different kinds of coffee be sure to check out the infographic that Huffington Post created, which includes a whopping 38 coffee types.