Navigating Gourmet Coffee Drinks
From Flat White To Nitro Cold Brew: Your Guide To Gourmet Coffee Drinks
Step into a Maui coffee shop and you may be dizzied by the plethora of choices. Gone are the days when a cup of java was just a cup of java, as cafés around the globe cater to a number of tastes.
To simplify the process—and to get that buzzy beverage in your hand as soon as possible—we’ve broken down the gourmet coffee drinks most frequently offered:
Love your coffee rich and dark? An Americano may be the ticket. Similar to black coffee, an Americano consists of a shot of Espresso that is diluted in hot water. Clean and pleasant, it has all the crisp acids and low bitter notes of traditional coffee but with a robust, Espresso flavor.
As for its name: It’s believed that Americanos came into being when U.S. soldiers, stationed in Italy, would water down the strong Espressos they were given to get a taste of the traditionally-brewed coffee they relished back home.
Its name intrigues, and its flavor delivers. An Affogato, traditionally known as “affogato al caffe,” is an Italian, coffee-based treat that’s surged in popularity at gourmet places across the United States (and beyond). Depending on where you order it from, it typically consists of a scoop of vanilla ice cream or gelato that’s submerged in a shot of hot Espresso. Buon appetito, indeed.
Café au Lait
The French-originated Café au Lait is prepared using strong brewed (or French Pressed) coffee that’s capped with steamed milk. It differs from a Latte, in that a Latte uses Espresso; it also supplies a creamier taste and a more mellow mood.
What could be considered the more refined sister to the classic Latte (see below), a Cappuccino—which rose to fame during the World Wars—calls upon a shot of Espresso, steamed milk, and foam. Unlike a Latte, which contains more steamed milk and a lighter layer of foam, a well-made Cappuccino possesses a balanced distribution of Espresso, steamed milk, and foamed milk.
One of the trendiest coffee drinks around, a Cold Brew Coffee is made by steeping coffee beans for a substantial amount of time—as in 6-36 hours—before being served, usually over ice. (Note that the amount of time it’s steeped determines its strength.) Its popularity is due to the super-smooth, less acidic flavor it offers, as well as the killer amount of caffeine it provides. Curious about the difference between an iced coffee and a Cold Brew? An iced coffee is prepared by brewing coffee to extract the java’s flavor, which is then poured over ice. This gives it a gentler taste and a thinner body than its Cold Brew cousin.
Cortados got their start in the Basque region of Spain, where coffee connoisseurs would “cortar” (or cut) Espresso with steamed milk. Different from other gourmet coffee drinks, such as Cappuccinos and Lattes, a Cortado doesn’t feature “flair” like foam or froth. Rather, it’s appreciated for its simplicity and smoothness, and is customarily served in small cups.
Meaning “double” in Italian, a Doppio consists of two shots of Espresso, which are commonly extracted using a double handle and a basket.
It may not have the most tantalizing title, but a Drip Coffee is the perfect solution for those who savor the flavor, texture, and consistency of traditionally brewed coffee, and is made by letting boiling water drip through finely-ground coffee beans. Because the process takes longer than standard brewed coffee, it tends to impart a more vibrant taste.
An Espresso isn’t just the foundation of a number of gourmet coffee drinks—it’s a drink in itself. While ostensibly similar to brewed coffee, Espresso differs wildly. Coffee beans designated for Espresso are roasted longer than standard coffee to create a hearty flavor.
What’s more, Espresso beans are ground down to a fine texture, and an Espresso itself is made by forcing hot water through these tightly-packed grounds. This extraction process creates a “layered” beverage in which there’s a shot at the bottom topped with crema, a small layer of (non-dairy, pure Espresso) foam.
Birthed in Australia in the 1980s, the Flat White rose to prominence in the U.S. in 2013, when the Aussie version of the Latte began popping up at cafés across the country. To many, a Flat White is only marginally different from a Latte or a Cappuccino—it, too, calls upon steamed milk—but to aficionados, there’s a world of difference. With a Flat White, “the star of the show is a very specific stratum of the steamed milk, the luscious microfoam that lies between the steamed milk below and the big bubbles of stiff foam above when a barista riles up a pitcher of milk with a steam wand,” Michael Y. Park writes in bon appetit. “This microfoam, which has the sleek, smooth look of latex paint, is poured—not spooned—from a height into a double espresso, ensuring a whole cup full of silky, milky coffee goodness that’s kind of like a stronger latte or a wetter, hotter cappuccino, but is also not quite either.” The impact? A full-bodied but creamy drink without all the fluff.
Coffee purists may pinch their noses at the whole concept of the Frappuccino, but they were once the biggest thing to hit the coffee store scene, bringing in $2 billion in sales in 2012 alone. While they’ve fallen out of favor in recent years, the Starbucks-trademarked drink is a “portmanteau” of a frappe (or milkshake) and a Cappuccino. It consists of a coffee or cream (coffee-free) base that’s blended with ice and classically topped with spices and whipped cream.
As Portugal’s signature drink, a Galao is a milder, creamier version of a Latte, containing roughly twice as much milk. Served in a tall glass, it’s an excellent choice when you want a less caffeine-heavy drink on a chilly afternoon.
True: You may not find Irish Coffee on the blackboard of your favorite local coffee shop—but you may spot it on the menu the next time you’re at a bar. Consisting of black coffee, whiskey, and sugar, it’s usually crowned with whipped cream—and goes down well whether you’re in Dublin or Honolulu.
Undoubtedly one of the most popular coffee drinks in existence, a Latte is comprised of a shot of Espresso, steamed milk, and a touch of foam. Variations on the classic are prevalent, from Vanilla Lattes to Pumpkin Spice Lattes, but one of our favorite twists on the morning beverage is the Breve Latte, wherein milk is replaced with half-and-half (or breve). Rich and decadent, it calls to mind the creamiest of desserts.
A Lungo (or Italian for “long”) sounds much like its name: It’s a long-pull Espresso—and the longer the pull, the more caffeine. Boasting a more subdued taste than a traditional Espresso, it nonetheless has a slightly bitter flavor—delightful for some but not so much for others.
Believed to be the happy medium between a Cappuccino and a Doppio, a Macchiato features Espresso with a small amount of foam on top. (Macchiato translates to “stained” or “spotted” in Italian, and is considered to pack a lighter punch than an Espresso but more of a strike than, say, a Cappuccino.) Countless variations on this timeless drink exist, but perhaps the most popular is the Caramel Macchiato.
The term “Mocha” has its roots in the 17th century, when the prevailing coffee, out of Yemen, had a distinct, chocolate taste. In its modern iteration, a Mocha (also called a Mocha Latte) is the chocolate and coffee-lover’s version of heaven, featuring frothy steamed milk, Espresso, and chocolate syrup or powder. For those who can’t get enough cocoa, order yours with whipped cream and chocolate shavings.
Nitro Cold Brew
Think of it as the Guinness of gourmet coffee drinks. A Nitro Cold Brew is essentially a Cold Brew Coffee that’s infused with nitrogen bubbles, which give the beverage a foamy texture and a thick “head” (or top). Served unsweetened and without ice—so as not to dilute its foamy crown—it’s best enjoyed without sugar or creamer, as the beans used in this concoction are naturally sweeter.
Pour Over coffee is java at its most basic. Created with a cup, a filter, and a funnel, it delivers a cup of joe that is both full-flavored and delicate, rendering it the ideal choice when you want something pure and palatable.
Stumble into a coffee shop in the early morning hours, and you may feel like the Red Eye on the menu. You might also want to order it: A Red Eye prompts a major kick by featuring brewed coffee with a shot of Espresso. Many coffee enthusiasts rave that it contains the best of both worlds—coffee and Espresso—while few could argue that the amount of caffeine it has (159mg) will power you through the day. Don’t see it on the menu? Red Eyes are also known as Hammerheads, Mondos, Sludge Cups, Train Wrecks, and, in the Pacific Northwest, A Shot in the Dark.
Craving the taste of an Espresso but don’t want the bitter aftertaste it can contain? Consider a Ristretto. This Espresso shot uses less hot water, which creates a milder, sweeter flavor. Use it to replace standard Espresso in any one of the Espresso-based drinks listed above, or simply enjoy it solo—and say cheers to all of coffee’s creative and delicious variations.
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