These days we have a lot of ways to stay caffeinated. From cappuccinos to coffee, mochas to macchiatos, what’s really the difference between all these brews? Unless you’re a skilled barista or an all-around coffee aficionado, knowing the difference between drinks on a menu can be challenging. You’ll likely stick with one or two out of habit or comfort, but there might just be something you’d like more if you knew what it actually was. Love strong coffee? Go for the macchiato. Don’t like foam? A latte is your best bet.
The difference between the most popular coffee house drinks usually lies in the cup’s ratios of espresso, milk and foam. Coffee foam is technically just steamed milk, but it’s been gently whipped to add air and give it that frothy texture.
Mike Witherel, owner of Coffee Buddha in the North Hills of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania says, “We do our best to educate without hopefully coming across as pretentious. I learned on a classic style and I appreciate the classic style drinks, so we try to do things with the correct ratio.”
Starbucks and other national chains have altered the age-old cup sizes and content ratios leaving consumers to expect a certain drink to look and taste one way, while traditionally it’s another.
“The commercial places, and no disrespect to them, but they sort of create their own drinks using the names of the classic drink,” says Witherel.
For example, the Caramel Macchiato at Starbucks is actually by definition more of a latte. It has steamed milk, and it’s typically 12 or 16 ounces.
“It’s confusing, and if I don’t explain that to someone they sometimes get a surprised look when they’re expecting a nice drink they can drink for a half hour instead of a two ounce drink,” says Witherel.
Witherel helped decode what other classic ratios coffee drinkers should expect at a traditional coffee house: