Think you know your latte from your flat white? Your lungo from your Americano? The similarities between many of our favourite coffee drinks can often make it hard to tell them apart.
If you’re a coffee newbie, or you just need a refresher, you’re sure to find our comprehensive list of coffee types worth a read.
What are the different coffee drinks?
To understand the different types of coffee drinks, we have to take a look at how they’re prepared. Some items on a coffee menu might be obvious, but for others, you need a little more technical information.
Difference in coffee drinks: black
There are many ways of getting coffee out of a bean, but we can group them into four main extraction methods: pressure immersion, filtration, and boiling. Each of these methods will bring out different characteristics of the coffee such as flavor and mouthfeel, as well as changing the levels of caffeine (1).
The most famous black coffee is probably the espresso. While it is just another way of brewing coffee using pressure, its use as a base for other drinks means it has developed into a category all on its own.
Difference between coffees: milk
For the most part, milk drinks start with a shot of espresso. So what sets all these drinks apart is how much milk or foam is added. Most countries around the world have their own version of the milk coffee, so there is often more than one name for the same drink, or even more than one way of making the same coffee.
The exact definition of what constitutes a flat white or a cappuccino has changed over the decades and the drinks still vary greatly depending on where in the world you order themFive Senses Coffee
While we’ve tried our best to be accurate here, you’ll probably find that your latte is another person’s café au lait.
Other types of coffee
After you consider the brewing method and the amount of milk you’re adding, what else can you do with a coffee? Serve it cold, mix in some other flavors or even turn it into a dessert.
Here we’ve only looked at different things to do with your coffee. If you want to do a deep dive into the different kinds of beans, read our guide on what specialty coffee is.
The Complete List of the Different Types of Coffee
You asked: we did the research. After more cups of coffee than we want to admit to, we’ve compiled a comprehensive guide to brewing and serving coffee. How many have you tried?
This classic coffee maker uses the immersion method of brewing. This means that the grounds are completely immersed in hot water until the desired strength has been achieved.
The basic premise is that hot water is slowly poured over grounds that sit in a filter, which extracts the coffee as it passes through. But within this category (which is technically filtration) you’ll find plenty of variations, with different coffee makers like the Hario V60 and Chemex. We’ve also compiled a list of pour over coffee makers.
America’s favourite coffee maker is essentially an automated pour over, with the machine slowly adding the water to the grounds. While coffee aficionados have traditionally shunned drip machines, they’re now making a return to cafes as part of the “batch brew” trend (2).
Also known as the stovetop espresso maker, the Moka pot uses pressure brewing to create a strong and aromatic coffee. These coffee makers are still popular due to their low cost and ease of use.
This coffee maker is unique in that it can combine elements of both pressure and immersion brewing, depending on how you use it. It’s a favorite among coffee nerds, as there are seemingly endless ways to tweak your brew (3).
Also known as a siphon, this is a slightly complex brewing method that uses a two-part brewer. Water is heated in the lower chamber to create a vacuum, pushing water up through the grounds in the top chamber. The brewed coffee descends when the heat is removed.
This coffee that has already been brewed and then dehydrated, creating granules that completely dissolve in water. The coffee it makes is subpar, but it’s often used in baking.
Espresso black coffees
While a true espresso can only come from an espresso machine, it doesn’t mean there’s only one way to make it. The single shot of espresso is the standard, but by adjusting the ratio of grounds to water in the brewing princess, new drinks have evolved.
A standard espresso is made with a ratio of around 1:1.5-1:2.5 grounds to water. A good espresso will have a thick texture, a layer of crema, and a balance of bitterness, acidity and sweetness (4).
Also known as a doppio, this is simply two shots of espresso, meaning twice the grounds and twice the water.
Try this if you want something with a stronger taste than an espresso. It’s the same amount of coffee grounds, but with less water used for the brew, making it a ratio of 1:1.
Essentially the opposite of ristretto. A lungo uses the same amount of grounds as an espresso but is brewed with more water for a ratio of 1:3.
This should not be confused with a lungo, but often is. It requires pulling a shot of espresso as normal, then topping up the cup with hot water.
An espresso shot topped up with regular coffee, usually from a drip coffee maker. For when you’re in need of a serious caffeine hit.
Also known as a cafecito, this is a popular way of drinking coffee in Cuba. A few drops of espresso are whipped with sugar to create a fluffy espuma, which is then mixed in with the rest of the shot.
The Italian breakfast drink that became a cafe staple. The standard recipe is one part espresso, one part steamed milk, one part foam. Topped with powdered chocolate, of course.
Dial down the foam on a cappuccino and you have a latte. It’s one part espresso, two parts steamed milk, with around 1cm of foam. It’s often served in a glass instead of a cup.
Still confused? Read our guide to the differences between latte vs cappuccino.
Very similar to a latte but without the foam. It’s often made with either a ristretto or a double shot of espresso, so the taste is less milky. The drink is said to have originated in Australia, but plenty of New Zealanders would dispute this (5).
An espresso macchiato starts with a shot of espresso, which is topped by a dash of foam or steamed milk.
Whether it’s made with milk or milk foam, the macchiato is a drink dominated by espresso.Perfect Daily Grind
This shouldn’t be confused with a latte macchiato, which is simply a way of making a latte so that all the layers are visible.
Cafe au lait
The recipe for a cafe au lait depends where you order it. In the drink’s home of France, it’s an espresso shot topped with warm (not hot) milk. In the US it’s served as steamed milk added to strong filter coffee, rather than espresso, making this an easy drink to make at home.
At its most basic, this is a cafe latte with the addition of chocolate flavoring – usually as powder or syrup. But some cafes will serve this as a more dessert-style drink with additions like whipped cream, shaved chocolate, or even marshmallows.
This is Spain’s answer to the latte or café au lait. It’s a shot of espresso served with an equal amount of steamed milk, and no froth. It’s sometimes known as a Gibraltar when served in a specific style of glass tumbler (6).
A latte with an American twist. Start with one part espresso, then add two parts steamed half-and-half, and top with a small amount of foam.
Despite meaning “small” in Italian, the piccolo isn’t just a little version of a latte. This Australian-invented drink uses a ristretto base instead of an espresso, topped with milk to only 3-4oz total – so you’ll find it much stronger in taste than a latte.
Ready to brew? Check out our guide to frothing milk at home.
Iced and cold coffees
For most of us, coffee is a drink best served hot. But on a warm day, one of these cold coffee drinks can provide a refreshing alternative, with the same great coffee taste.
This is the only brewing method that doesn’t require heat. To make cold brew you simply add coarsely ground coffee to cold water and leave to steep overnight – no special equipment needed.
Not to be confused with cold brew, iced coffee is a way of serving the drink rather than a brewing method. It consists of cooled, brewed coffee added to a tall glass of ice with milk and sweetener.
This Greek drink comes in two variations: the freddo espresso and the freddo cappuccino. Hot espresso is blended with a few ice cubes in a drink mixer, which cools the drink without crushing the ice. For the cappuccino version, cold milk is shaken until foamy and layered over the top.
The original recipe for this now famous drink consisted of coffee concentrate blended with ice and milk. The name is actually trademarked by Starbusck and now includes any blended ice drink – including those without coffee.
An invention that emerged from third wave coffee, this drink involves infusing cold brew coffee with nitrogen (7). The result is a foamy drink that has the look and texture of Guinness, and is usually served from a draft tap.
Japanese iced coffee
The Japanese technique of making iced coffee avoids having to wait for your coffee to cool down. Instead, regular pour over coffee is made directly over a glass of ice.
Mixed coffee drinks
Milk and sugar are the most common things to add to a coffee, but there’s no shortage of drinks you can discover when you get creative with your ingredients.
An espresso shot poured over a scoop of ice cream. Is it a drink or is it a dessert? You decide.
The original recipe calls for strong coffee mixed with a Irish whiskey and brown sugar, topped with lightly whipped cream. Sometimes the term is used to refer to any coffee with alcohol.
A blend of brewed coffee, grass-fed butter and MCT-oil. It was originally conceived as a breakfast alternative for followers of a low-carb, high-fat diet, but the jury is out over the supposed health benefits (8).
Less common coffee styles
We say less common, but obviously, in some parts of the world, these are the regular coffee styles. You just probably won’t find them at your local cafe.
Using a small pot known as a cezve, powder-fine coffee is boiled together with water and sugar for a very strong, thick brew. Try it at home with our Turkish coffee recipe.
This is a pour over method using a metal coffee maker known as a phin. It’s often brewed over ice and condensed milk to make a Vietnamese iced coffee.
Hopefully this list has given you an insight into just how many different ways there are to serve our favorite beverage. Of course, these are just the most popular recipes – head to any country, or even a new city, and you’ll find countless variations to explore.
- Crema Coffee Garage’s Caffeine Content Study. Crema Coffee Garage. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://cremacoffeegarage.com.au/caffeine-study
- Batch Brew Fundamentals. Five Senses Coffee. (2019, November 11). Retrieved from https://www.fivesenses.com.au/blog/batch-brew-fundamentals/
- The Art of Aeropress: Make 10 Kinds of Coffee Like Pro Baristas. Handground. (2018, August 8). Retrieved from https://handground.com/grind/66-recipes-for-amazing-aeropress-coffee
- What Makes an Excellent Espresso? Urnex. (2017, September 28). Retrieved from https://urnex.com/blog/what-makes-an-excellent-espresso/
- Izadi, E. (2019, May 3). The disputed history of the flat white, the coffee drink Starbucks just introduced in North America. The Washington Post. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2015/01/07/the-disputed-history-of-the-flat-white-the-coffee-drink-starbucks-just-introduced-in-north-america/
- Peleg, O. (2018, June 25). So, What’s The Difference Between A Flat White, A Cortado And A Cappuccino? LAist. Retrieved from https://laist.com/news/food/coffee-breakdown
- Nitro Cold Brew is the Best Thing to Happen to Coffee Since Ice. Men’s Journal. (2017, December 4). Retrieved from https://www.mensjournal.com/food-drink/nitro-cold-brew-is-the-best-thing-to-happen-to-coffee-since-ice-w432050/
- Byrne, C. (2020, April 13). What Is Bulletproof Coffee and Is It Healthy? EatingWell. Retrieved from https://www.eatingwell.com/article/7797774/what-is-bulletproof-coffee-and-is-it-healthy/
Coffee expert and industry insider, I’ve dedicated years to mastering the art and science of coffee making. From scrutinizing particle fineness to evaluating burr shapes, I delve into the minutiae that elevate coffee from good to exceptional. Whether it’s a complex pour-over or a robust espresso, my insights cater to those who don’t just drink coffee, but experience it.