Coffee Menus Explained - Quick Guide

Coffee Menus Explained - Quick Guide

Struggling to wrap your head around the coffees on your favourite coffee shop drinks menu?
Here's our quick guide to coffee menus to help you choose your perfect drink - and maybe even explore different types of coffee that are on offer at your local caffeine establishment.
Most coffees start with espresso at their base no matter if they're long, short, milky or black.
Below is a guide to all espresso-based drinks seen on menus in your favourite local coffee shop.

Espresso (not Expresso)

A bold, short (small) and rich coffee - Espresso may seem like a bit of an obvious place to start, but it's a great gauge for the quality of coffee brewed and really showcases the skills of the barista who makes it. Briefly put - an Espresso is a small, strong black coffee, with good examples of espressos having a beautiful orange crema on top. An espresso is generally a coffee that has a 1:2 brew ratio, e.g. the barista uses an 18g dose (ground coffee) to extract a 36g yield (wet coffee) and when done correctly, boasts all the goodness that coffee beans have to offer without any bitterness or nasty tastes.


When translated from Italian to English, Ristretto means - restricted. it's a shorter shot than an normal espresso and is achieved using less brewing water to the same amount of ground coffee, yet the coffee grind is finer so that the brew time is long enough to pull out all the necessary aromatics for a delicious coffee. These were very popular in Italy when I visited the east coast a few years ago.


You don't see many of these on menus nowadays as they were considered to be an unfashionable drink but Lungos or 'long' coffee have made a come back in recent years. To brew you use an espresso machine but with two or three times the amount of water to the same weight of coffee to make a much longer drink – this often resulted in very bitter coffee but with the advent of lighter roasted coffee, you can now get a complex and balanced cup when done right.


This takes its name traditionally from 'marking' an espresso with milk foam but it takes a slightly more modern approach nowadays by being served an espresso topped up with foamed milk. Adding a twist to the story - Starbucks has confused this even more by having a caramel macchiato on
their menu which is in fact a latte that is 'marked' by caramel syrup. Confusing!!


There are a few stories floating about regarding the origins of cappuccino, the most reliable being that it was a Viennese drink in the 19th century and was small brewed coffee mixed with milk or cream until it turned the same colour as the capuchin monks' robes. The most common recipe for the modern cappuccino is 1:2:2 espresso:milk: foam. If done right the cappuccino can be the head of the
family in regards to taste, with the beautifully textured, sweet milk enhancing a well-extracted shot of espresso.


This drink is one that did not originate in Italy. When espresso was embraced by the rest of the world it was a bitter and intense drink that many struggled with, so hot milk was added to make the drink sweeter and less bitter. Typically there is much more milk in lattes than there is cappuccinos so it makes the coffee flavour much less intense and more accessible for most consumers. Be careful if you
order one in Italy – if you don't order a 'Caffe Latte' and just ask for a 'latte' you will most likely just end up with a glass of milk.

Flat white

Seen as the 'hipsters' choice and trivialised by the McDonalds ads this Australian originated coffee became popular in Europe in the 90's. They were birthed from the idea that an Italian cappuccino with a large foamy head of milk often rising high above the rim of the coffee cup was seen as cup of mostly air and foam so frustrated consumers started asking for a cup of flat, white
coffee. This drink came into its own when barista began to focus on quality more and producing much better milk texture, creating and rebranding this into something short, sweet and delicious.


History suggests that American soldiers that based in Italy in world war 2 found
espressos to be too strong and asked for water to be added to resemble the coffee that they were used to drinking back home, hence the name Americano. This drink is traditionally served black but modern iterations mean that this is sold with a splash of cold milk as a white coffee by modern retailers.


To finish on we have a coffee that holds its origins in Spain and not Italy. This is a slightly longer brewed 30ml espresso topped up with an equal measure of steamed milk traditionally served in a glass. Now you have a comprehensive guide to espresso-based coffees that are on display in your local coffee shop, like most things not as complicated as they may at first seem.

Now you have a comprehensive guide to the espresso-based coffees that are on display in your local coffee shop, like most things not as complicated as they may at first seem.