How to Make (Most) Espresso Based Coffee Drinks

How to Make (Most) Espresso Based Coffee Drinks

I learned to make espresso at my grandmother’s elbow, using a stovetop moka pot and fresh-ground coffee beans. She made cappuccino by topping espresso with whipped evaporated milk and crusted the top with a sprinkle of superfine sugar. While the confession would probably draw gasps of horror from dedicated coffee snobs, I still love coffee made this way. Over the years, though, I have learned how to make espresso in other ways, and how to make most of the espresso drinks that you’ll find at a fancy coffee shop. Here’s some of what I’ve learned about making espresso coffee drinks in your own kitchen.

The Basics

Needless to say, the best tasting coffee drinks start with superb coffee. The best coffee is made with freshly roasted coffee, ground just before you brew it. Did you know that ground coffee loses an appreciable amount of its flavor in just an hour? Do yourself a favor and invest in a good coffee grinder. And roasted coffee starts losing its flavor within a week of roasting – so if you’ve been digging on the coffee you buy from those fancy displays at the supermarket, do yourself another favor and order a pound of coffee from a specialty roaster on the internet. Most of them ship within 1-2 days of roasting. You’ll be amazed at the difference in the flavor.

Okay. Enough with the lecturing. Let’s assume that you have an espresso machine and you know how to use it. Each of these drinks start with a fresh shot of espresso. Where you go from there depends on what you want to make.

Straight Espresso is just what it sounds like – a shot of espresso straight up, no additions and no distraction. It’s the most commonly ordered coffee drink in Italy, home of real espresso. Just draw the shot of espresso directly into a prewarmed demitasse and serve immediately.

There are four variations on the Straight Shot:

Ristretto, a short shot, which is the preferred shot in Europe. It’s a shot of espresso that’s stopped at 3/4 of an ounce, which extracts only the best qualities of the coffee bean and leaves behind the bitter oils.

Single, a 1 ounce shot of espresso

Lungo, a long shot, which is a 1.5 ounce shot of espresso

– Double, is literally a double. It’s a 2 ounce shot of espresso made with twice the coffee in the portafilter basket.

The Americano is what you’ll get in most coffee bars if you order American coffee. Rather than making a cup of drip coffee, or pouring it from a pot, the barista will draw a full-strength shot of espresso, then add enough hot water to fill a regular size coffee cup. You’ll get regular strength American-style coffee, but smoother than drip coffee.

The Espresso Macchiato is a shot of espresso marked – which is what macchiato means – on top with a dab of foamed milk. You can also get the reverse, a Latte Macchiato, which is a demitasse full of foamed milk dabbed on top with a tiny bit of espresso.

Espresso Con Panna is an espresso served with a small dollop of whipped cream instead of foamed milk. This is the espresso that I grew up drinking, though the whipped cream was economy-style, made with evaporated milk for full volume.

Cappuccino is one of the most popular espresso drinks in the U.S., even though what most people drink when they order cappuccino isn’t really cappuccino. When the milk for cappuccino is properly frothed, it’s thick, velvety and wet, and slips into the espresso to mix with the rich coffee. It is the most difficult espresso drink to make, mostly because there’s a trick to frothing the milk properly, which deserves its very own article. To put it simply, cappuccino is a shot of espresso topped with steamed milk complete with foam.

A Latte is the way that most Americans prefer their espresso, and is quite easy to prepare. Start with a single shot of espresso in a 6-8 ounce cup. Pour in steamed milk, but hold back the foam with a spoon to allow only the milk into the cup until it is 3/4ths full. Top off with a couple of spoonfuls of the foamed milk. If you’re making a larger latte, start with a double shot of espresso.