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Types of Coffee

The world of coffee is diverse and exciting!  The are two base types of coffee: drip coffee and espresso.  With those two ingredients, people have crafted a huge array of unique and different beverages.

Coffee in its most basic form is what you will find in homes and offices all over the world.  In fact, coffee is the world’s second most traded commodity behind oil.  Coffee is made by taking beans from the Coffea plant, drying them, and then roasting them at high temperatures.  The resulting drink is dark in color and very bitter.  There are different methods of making regular coffee, but by far the most common is by drip.  Coffee is ground, placed on a filter, and has hot water run through it.  The water running through the filter picks up the oils and flavors from the coffee as it travels, leaving the grounds behind.  Coffee preparation can have some variety however.  The French press is a popular brewing method that involves letting the grounds steep in water, and then straining out the grounds.  There are also ways of preparing coffee without hot water, such as the popular new “cold brew” method.


Espresso is coffee in its purest and most undiluted form.  To make espresso, nearly boil hot water is forced through finely ground coffee beans.  Espresso is used as the primary ingredient for a huge variety of coffee beverages.  In fact, most of the drinks you see on the menu in a coffee shop are espresso based.  While espresso took of in America in the 1950’s espresso has been a common sight in Europe since the 1800’s.  Modern café culture began in Italy in the 1900’s with the rise of “espresso bars.”  All modern coffee shops owe their design and heritage to these shops.

A cappuccino is a espresso and milk based beverage.  The cappuccino is one of the earliest examples of such a beverage, and is responsible for the popularity of the milk-and-espresso combination around the world.  A cappuccino consists of one third espresso, a third hot milk, and a third milk foam.  This drink is very popular in Europe, and is the drink most commonly associated with cafes.

A latte is a variant of the cappuccino.  Popularized by Starbucks in Seattle, the latte is one of the most common drinks in American coffee shops.  Consisting of equal parts espresso and milk, a latte distinguishes itself from cappuccino by containing less foam.  In America, it is commonly served flavored with different flavorings such as chocolate or vanilla.  Vanilla lattes, or the mocha are all variations of this.

The macchiato is one of the most misunderstood drinks in American coffee circles.  The macchiato consists of espresso, and only a splash of milk.  In Italian, macchiato means “spotted,” denoting that it is a drink with just a spot of milk.  However, one of the most popular beverages at Starbucks is the Caramel Macchiato, which is simply a caramel latte.  Because of this many Americans get a genuine macchiato confused with the latte version.

Like it’s namesake, and an Americano is a distinctly American invention.  Consisting of espresso and water, the Americano has similar composition and caffeine content to regular drip coffee, but a distinctly different flavor.  Urban legends state that the Americano was invented by American G.I.’s in France during World War II.  Unfamiliar with European coffee, they would dilute their espresso with water to approximate the amount of coffee they would drink at home.  One of the coffee monstrosities created by those seeking caffeine is the red eye.  The red eye is essentially an American, but instead of water, drip coffee is used.  The resulting sludge has a debatably morose flavor, but unfettered amounts of caffeine.  The drink was supposedly created by pilots on “red eye” flights that needed a boost to stay awake.

Cafe au Lait

While this drink is under the espresso drinks, it technically is not an espresso-based drink.  The Caf Au Lait is essentially a latte, produced with drip coffee instead of espresso.  The concoction is made with either typical drip coffee, or pressed coffee.  It’s essentially like a latte, but lighter on flavor.  The Caf Au Lait suffers from the same problem as the macchiato however.  In American circles the Car Au Lait is exclusively made with drip coffee, while in the world over, espresso is sometimes used.