Okay, so you’ve finally entered the holy world of espresso and espresso drinks. You’re no longer content with the watery drip coffee at your local diner, nor are you exactly expert enough to know your way around the espresso machine. You want to branch out. You want to delve into the world of the espresso drinks. And yet, you have no idea what the difference is between even the most basic espresso drinks. No problem.
The three basic espresso drinks are straight espresso, caffe latte, and a cappuccino. Straight espresso is pretty self-explanatory; it’s the last two that seem to cause the most undue confusion. There is a very simple reason for the confusion. As an experiment try going to your local McStarbucks and order both a cappuccino and a latte. Chances are your teenage would-be barista will give you two pitiful cardboard cups that look, feel, and taste identical. They are both cups filled with substandard espresso and then topped with a ridiculous amount of foam. This is because Americans don’t know the distinction between the two drinks, so they really can’t complain when they are given the improper drink.
In the American vernacular a latte and a cappuccino is essentially the same drink, i.e. it’s espresso with some foamed milk on top. Why must we live in this land devoid of subtlety? In their true form the latte and the cappuccino are both unique entities. A latte, in short, is a double shot of espresso topped with steamed, i.e. not frothed, milk. It is related to the French cafÃ?Â© au lait, the Spanish cafÃ?Â© con leche, and the German Milchkaffee. It’s coffee milk. Delicious. Simple, and a great breakfast treat.
A cappuccino is a different beast. The cappuccino is a study in thirds. You have one third espresso, one third steamed milk, and finally one third foamed milk. When you get your drink it should have a nice “cap” of foam. The liquid portion of the drink should taste stronger than a latte, but remain evenly balanced.
It’s also important to note that most Italians would not dare drink either a latte or a cappuccino after noon. They are both considered breakfast drinks. The thought of a big steamy latte after dinner just doesn’t figure into the Italian coffee paradigm.
So, the next time you saddle up to a coffee bar pay attention to how they make their cappuccinos and lattes. Don’t be afraid to be a “picky” customer by asking them to make the drinks correctly. It’s your money right? You should be able to get what you are paying for.