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Everything You Need to Know About Your Favorite Espresso Drinks

Coffee is a pretty simple and familiar concept to grasp; roasted coffee beans are finely ground and brought to life with hot water, and are then dripped to create your coffee drink.

However, when you start adding espresso shots, milk and steam to the mix, it can be a bit overwhelming to the uninitiated coffee drinker. Just imagine, you’re next in line at the café and you’re still looking at the menu trying to decipher all the strange coffee and espresso drink names while the barista stares you down from the register.

Here’s a beginner’s guide to some popular espresso drinks, so that you can be confident in what you want to order at the café:

What is espresso?

There is no magical espresso bean. The magic lies in how the coffee is prepared, with pressure and hot water fine coffee grounds are extracted using an espresso machine. The end result is a concentrated shot of espresso, which can be drank as an espresso shot or combined with milk to create a different kind of espresso drink.

Related: Poly Places: Bello Mundo

But what about a latte? Mocha? Macchiato? Cappuccino?


Lattes are popular espresso drinks. They involve combining steamed milk and shots of espresso, creating a milky drink with a small amount of foam on top where a barista can create some latte art.


A mocha is also a milk and espresso drink, but with chocolate added to create a delicious bitter-sweet flavor.


Here’s the tricky one. Depending on which country or  which coffee shop you order a macchiato in, the drink can be different.

Macchiatos are traditionally a shot of espresso and small amount of steamed milk and foam, which gives it a bold coffee taste. I have heard macchiatos are the traditional drink of choice for Italian coffee drinkers.

Related: 12 Thoughts You’ve Had Waiting in the UU Starbucks Line


The key to a cappuccino is the foam. Cappuccinos are steamed milk and espresso shots topped with a thick layer of froth. Therefore, the resulting drink will be equal proportions of espresso, steamed milk and foam. So, if you’re in the mood for a delicious and foamy drink, order a cappuccino!

Now you know the differences between all these amazing drinks. So the next time you’re in the local café getting your caffeine-fix, give your order with confidence!

Meghan is a third year Anthropology and Geography major at Cal Poly.
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