The Art of the Espresso
With the vast popularity of espresso and coffeehouses these days, it can be hard to keep track of the distinctions between the many types of espresso coffees.
Baristas and coffee enthusiasts often have their own spin on their favourite type of coffee drinks, and it can even vary based on the different regions of the world. Between the many voices discussing these delicious beverages, misconceptions are abundant which is why Vittoria Coffee wants to give a quick but comprehensive update on the espresso.
What's in a Great Espresso?
A good espresso has a distinctive flavour between natural sugars, bitterness and acidity ultimately resulting in a rich golden crema. With the right settings, environment & preparation, the espresso machine effectively aerates the oily compounds in the coffee.
So, what's in an espresso? All types of coffee begin with an espresso as a base. Espresso has less caffeine than instant coffee. However, it's more concentrated, so a double shot offers a strong caffeine kick for its small volume.
A traditional shot of espresso is made from 7g of ground coffee, however modern dosages have almost tripled. A standard shot in Australia usual varies between 20-22g while in the UK and USA baristas tend to offer 18-20g per extraction. Note that portion sizes don't affect the strength of your coffee.
An Australian espresso is noticeably larger because our cafes tend to use more water. The general standard input-to-output ratio is 1:2, but within Australia the norm is 1:2.2 and 1:2.3. Many baristas use a more diluted 1:2.5 ratio, putting 22g of grounds in the basket and getting 55g of drinkable coffee. Others prefer a stronger ratio of 1:1.5, or 22g in and 33g output.
The duration of an extraction also differs between baristas, cafes, and regions. A typical extraction in Australia is between 26 and 35 seconds while American coffeehouses tend to use shorter extractions of approximately 24 and 33 seconds.
Ideal Espresso Brewing Temperatures
The temperature of the water plays a critical role in the quality of an espresso. You'll want a temperature between 88 and 94ºC. Even with this range, half a degree can alter the balance of flavour compounds. If the water temperature is to hot it can draw the acids out while a temperature lower than 88 degrees produces a less intense, slightly sour taste.
The main thing to consider when you set the temperature is the roast of your beans. Light roasts call for high temperatures, because the sweet and rounded aromas are harder to get. Since they don't have the potential unwanted compounds of dark roasts, temperatures of 93.5 and up are generally best. Colder extractions often end up with a sour and hollow taste. That's a good starting point for medium-roasted beans too.
Going higher gives you a sweeter, more complex aroma. However, it may also bring out unwanted bitterness and astringency. Lowering the temperature reduces these elements, but you may also lose the sweetness and character depending on the grounds. For heavily roasted coffees, they turn out the best in the 88 to 94ºC range.
Regular Types of Espresso Coffees
So, let’s take a closer look at each of the common espresso types.
Doppio, also known as a double espresso, simply means a double-shot. However, this is often the standard size in modern coffeehouses.
Ristretto is even more concentrated than an ordinary espresso, with a single shot being around 15-18mL. The shot is cut short which creates an espresso that is less bitter.
Lungo, which means “long”, is almost the opposite. It contains twice as much water as a regular espresso but the same amount of coffee. A serving is usually around 150ml or a 1:3 ratio. It gets its name because it takes longer to extract which may take up to a minute. You may be expecting a weaker flavour from these types of espresso coffees, but they actually get a quite intense aroma from the longer infusion process. Despite the similar name, it’s not the same as a long black. A typical modern long black contains a double espresso or double ristretto with 100ml of additional water.
To make an Americano, you pour hot water first, followed by a weaker coffee shot. American soldiers stationed in Italy during WW2 weren’t big fans of espresso, so they used water to dilute and destroy the crema and get something more similar to American-style drip coffee. That’s why they call it an Americano.
The Milky Type of Coffee Drinks
Milk goes hand in hand with espresso. The many different milky espresso drinks may not seem all that different, but the contents and processes differ, and coffee enthusiasts can tell.
Firstly, the temperature of steamed milk affects the flavour. Getting it right for your grounds and milk lets you maximise the taste. The hotter the milk, the less defined the flavour, especially when drank while still hot. Temperatures of 70ºC and higher can burn your tongue. At 80ºC, the milk will boil, and then it's ruined. Staying between 60 and 65 degrees ensures good steaming, flavour, and feel.
Simple Espresso Drinks with Milk
Adding a splash of ordinary milk to espresso gives you a "café noisette", which is French for "hazelnut coffee" and refers to the beverage's colour.
A flat white consists of one part espresso and two parts steamed milk. It's not always frothy like coffee drinks tend to be. Originally, the point of a flat white was that you don't have to stir or scoop the foam, and you won't get foam stuck on your face. So, it's another result of Australian's wanting something bigger and more practical. However, modern baristas often add up to half a centimetre of foam, which makes it creamier.
But, what is a cappuccino that makes it not a latte? And what is a magic coffee? Let's look closer at these elaborate types of espresso coffees.
Caffé Latte Definition
The quintessential milky espresso drink, a latte is perhaps the most important to master. It's no secret that latte means "milk" in Italian, but what's the exact latte definition?
While exact recipes differ, the general concept is an espresso shot with steamed milk and a centimetre of froth on top.
Essentially, café au lait is the same thing with a French name. However, both can appear on the same menu with slight differences. In these cases, the café au lait may contain sugar. If you want a shorter, stronger latte, that's a piccolo latte. The exact piccolo latte definition may vary slightly, but it often comes in a regular espresso cup, much like a short macchiato.
Now you're probably wondering: What does macchiato mean? It's another Italian word, meaning "stain" or "mark". This can refer to two things. In an Espresso Macchiato, there's a dash of fluffy milk floating in the coffee. In a Latte Macchiato, steamed milk makes up the majority of the drink, but there's a "stain" of espresso or ristretto.
The question that usually follows is "What is a long macchiato?" Since big servings are the preference here, this Australian specialty consists of a double espresso latte diluted with additional milk or water. Exact ratios differ, as it's not a traditional coffee drink. You may also find various other forms of macchiato, where the "mark" consists of flavoured syrup or similar additions. However, these don't fall under the proper latte definition.
The Classic Cappuccino
You may also wonder: What is a cappuccino in its authentic form?
Cappuccino is one of the most popular types of espresso coffees and consists of a shot of espresso with a mix of steamed and frothy milk on top. When you’ve extracted your shot, add an equal amount of steamed milk, and then put around 1.5 centimetres of foam on top while it’s wet.
The thick, foamy layer helps insulate the heat so the coffee stays warm longer. It’s also the source of the name, because it makes the coffee drink look somewhat like a monk of the Capuchin order. If you use half-and-half instead of proper milk, you get a “breve”. What is a cappuccino with chocolate called? That would be a mochaccino, but you’ll often find chocolate sprinkles on top of a regular cappuccino.
The Fabled Magic Coffee
Magic Coffee is an Australian specialty, and the exact definition of what makes a Magic Coffee is a disputed topic. However, the general idea is this:
You begin with a double ristretto in a five-ounce cup, and then you add steamed milk until it fills the cup. Since many cafés use bigger cups, you’ll often get a three-quarters-full magic coffee. Oftentimes, there’s a half-centimetre layer of foam on top
What is a magic coffee popular for? For one, the milk is usually a lower temperature than the typical latte. Therefore, you can drink your magic coffee immediately, which makes it ideal for commuters and other busy people.
That should be every answer you need for the “what is a white coffee?” question.
The Bottom Line
From one café to the next, and between one city and another, recipes may differ slightly. The average size and ratio aren’t always what they used to be. Especially when it comes to the more recent additions to the menu.
Regardless, sticking with the tried-and-true methods is the best place to start. You can experiment from there, but always keep the basics in mind.
Remember these guidelines, and you’ll pull delicious coffee drinks every time.