Coffee for Beginners – Guide to different types of coffee

We have all been there at some point — staring at a wall of coffee drink options with fancy Italian names, not knowing what to choose. New and exciting taste sensations await your ultimate selection, before finally submitting to “Uh, I dunno, I will just have a cappuccino; it worked before.”

Today I am sharing with you a simple guide that explains the most common coffee terms and types to help you find your way around a coffee shop menu. (Long post alert)

First things first

Before we get into the details of what makes each coffee drink unique, there are a few foundational terms you need to know.

We will first look at what the difference is between regular coffee (filter coffee, drip coffee or pour-over coffee as you might know it) and espresso (which makes up the base of most coffee drinks). Then we will discuss the different elements found in coffee drinks, which will lay the foundation for explaining the various options that you get to choose from at coffee shops.

Coffee vs. Espresso

There is a fundamental distinction between the types of coffee drinks we get. One of the most important distinctions that need to be made is that of regular coffee (aka filter coffee, drip coffee or pour-over) and Espresso.

The main difference between Espresso and regular coffee is not the type of bean used, but in the way it is made.

Espresso is basically super strong black coffee that has a unique brewing method. It’s is made by forcing hot water through tightly packed, finely ground coffee beans. This results in a small, intense, flavour-packed shot of coffee.

Regular coffee is prepared by putting more coarsely-ground beans in a filter. Nearly-boiling water is then poured over it, which filters through the unit into a pot or mug. This method usually makes use of a coffeemaker, filter, or French press. This results in a good cuppa coffee, ready to drink.

Coffee drinks are primarily made with espresso as the base, and mixing it with milk in various forms.

There are some coffee drinks that use regular coffee as its base, such as the cafe au lait, however, black coffee is the most popular order.

Elements of Coffee Drinks

The different types of coffee drinks you get are dependent on two main elements: the amount/type of espresso and the amount/type milk that are mixed in different ratios.

The types of espresso are varied by the amount of coffee used and the volume of the drink. These are:

Single shot: This is equivalent to 30ml (about 1 ounce) of liquid extracted from 7 grams of grounded coffee beans under high brewing pressure and temperature.

Ristretto: Here the same 7 grams of grounded coffee beans are used. However, extraction is stopped once you have about 23ml (3/4 ounces) of espresso liquid. This is also known as the “short’ shot.

Lungo: Again the same 7 grams of grounded coffee beans are used. But extraction is stopped only when you have 45ml (1.5 ounces) of espresso in the cup. Because more liquid espresso is produced, this is also known as a “long” shot.

Double shot: A double is different. It is produced with 14g of beans instead of 7g. The amount of liquid espresso extracted is also double the amount of a single shot at 60ml (2 ounces). Another name this goes by is Doppio, meaning double.

In addition, the size of the drink will also play a role. For example, smaller drinks (250 ml or smaller) will be made using one shot of espresso, while larger drinks (350ml or larger) will be made using a double shot.

This doesn’t always mean that drinks with more shots of espresso are stronger. Whether you order a small or large of the same drink, the taste will stay the same as the same ratio is used.

Milk, on the other hand, plays an important role in the taste and texture of the coffee drink. The more milk a drink has, the sweeter the taste will be.

The preparation method of milk is just as important. Milk can be heated, steamed, foamed/frothed, or both. While heating will only make the drink warmer, frothing it will result in the beautiful latte art we see in some of the drinks.

Now that you know what makes up the base of most types of coffee drinks, let’s look at some of the most popular ones.

Regular Coffee-based Drinks

Cafe au lait

Let’s start with Cafe au lait. This is the most popular coffee-based drink besides regular old black coffee. This drink is made from equal parts coffee (Filter or pour-over) and milk (either steamed or heated).

If you are someone who likes to drink your coffee with cream and sugar, then cafe au lait is a great choice. It is also easy to exchange the type of milk if you rather prefer low-fat milk or non-dairy milk.

Espresso-based Drinks


An Americano is made of a single shot of espresso topped with hot water. The ratio is usually 1:2 (1 part espresso and 2 parts hot water). This creates a coffee drink that is almost like regular black coffee, but the taste is generally more intense.


A macchiato consists of a double shot of espresso with a dot of foamed milk. That’s it! The dot of milk is just enough to break the intense taste of espresso.

Cafe Noisette

A cafe noisette is made from a double shot of espresso topped with a dash of steamed milk in the ratio of 2:1 (i.e. two parts espresso and one part steamed milk). The word noisette is a French word that literally means hazelnut coffee. The espresso with a dot of hot milk gives it a hazelnut colour, hence the name.


Cappuccino is probably one of the most well-known espresso-based drinks. This drink consists of a double shot of espresso, a little bit of steamed milk, and a lot of milk foam. Some coffee shops will also give you the option of adding some whipped cream on top.


Another popular espresso drink is the Latte. It is made up of a single or double shot of espresso, steamed milk, and milk foam, made up in the ratio of 1:1:1 (i.e. equal parts of everything).

This would be a good drink to start with if you are not used to the strong taste of espresso, as this is one of the milkiest drinks available.

Some coffee shops like to add flavoured syrups to lattes, creating some unique drinks


Mocha is almost like a latte, but it has a chocolate flavour to it. The most popular way to make this drink is to use a shot of espresso, chocolate syrup, steamed milk, and foam.

Some coffee shops will even go out of their way and add whipped cream with some chocolate shavings on top.

Flat white

The flat white is usually made with a double shot of espresso topped with steamed milk and/or micro-foamed milk (usually in the ratio 2:4). There is some debate that the flat white is similar to the latte, however, the flat white is not as milky as the latte, and the foam is an extremely thin layer.


It can be quite intimidating to be confronted with so many options. But what it all comes down to is that most types of coffee drinks are just variations on a theme. Once you grasp this concept, making an order of coffee becomes a lot easier.

There are so many options to choose from, I encourage you to try everything. You’ll never know what you’ll end up loving!

Here is a useful guide to help you understand the different types of coffee.

Tell us about your favourite drink by sharing them in the comments below!


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