Coffee 101 - Types, Differences & How-To

April 29, 2019 17 min read

Coffee is one of the world’s most consumed beverages, and there are millions of cups consumed every day in coffee shops, homes and coffee franchises. There are many people who can’t see their day starting without a cup of coffee, and it’s the daily perk-up for millions of people all over the world.

It’s more than just ordering “a cup of coffee”. There are more varieties of coffee than you can imagine, and ordering a simple latte is just the tip of the iceberg as far as what coffee has to offer.

If you’re just starting out on your journey to great coffee, there are many different types out there to try and if you consider yourself somewhat of a coffee expert already, then you might be surprised to find out that there’s plenty more that you can learn about. We even threw in a coffee-based dessert that’s the perfect combination of ice cream and coffee.  

Here are all of the essential information that you could ever want about coffee, the different types available, how they’re made and where they come from. 

Different Varieties of Coffee 

Most people have heard of cappuccino and latte varieties of coffee before, but when it comes to worldwide coffees there’s a whole world out there that most people have never explored. There are enough coffee types out there to drink a different cup every single day of the month and still have options left over and with just a little bit of knowledge, you can become a real coffee connoisseur overnight.

Which type of coffee you choose depends on taste, preference, and usually strength. Some types of coffee are considered milder than others, and single shot espresso will contain a little more caffeine than a cappuccino if you don’t order decaf, that is.

Drip Coffee

Drip coffee is one of the most popular ways of brewing coffee, and you’ll find drip coffee in almost every single coffee shop and restaurant throughout the world. Sometimes it’s referred to as brewed coffee, although there are plenty of restaurants and shops that don’t make any distinction on their menu and just refer to the drink as a coffee. 

It first became popular back in the 1950s, where it served as a great alternative to other brewed forms of coffee that might have made the brew too strong for some. 

Making drip coffee is simple: Almost-boiling water is slowly dripped over ground coffee beans, which are usually placed in a coffee filter. This is done with the help of a drip coffee machine. If someone refers to their coffee machine as just a coffee maker, then this is likely the brew method they're referencing. Mr Coffee, Cuisinart, and Keurig are common coffee maker brands within this brew type.

Drip coffee is preferred by many because of the fact that it truly manages to bring out the unique flavor of the individual coffee, and because it gives you a lot more control over the strength – like with many things out there, the slower process creates the better end product, and drip coffee should never be rushed.

The alternative to drip coffee is referred to as pour over coffee, and there are subtle differences in the flavor of both that can undoubtedly be noticed by an experienced coffee-drinker.

Also achieved a lot of popularity in Japan, where it’s referred to as Kyoto-style drip coffee. Another variety is generally known as Indian filter coffee, where it’s sometimes mixed with chicory for a unique taste.

The trick to making an excellent drip coffee is to take your time and to ensure the beans have been ground to the right consistency. Most people drinking drip coffee tend to buy pre-ground beans, however. Buying pre-ground beans ensures your bean grind quality is consistent. The issue with pre-ground coffee beans is that the coffee is typically stale. Coffee beans begin to peak in flavor between days 3-14 after being roasted. Pre-ground coffee beans are usually months old leaving you with a coffee flavor that doesn't highlight the coffee bean's unique taste and flavors. An easy way to avoid this dilemma would be to grind your own beans with your own coffee grinder

French Press Coffee

French press coffee is also one of the most popular varieties of coffee, with many homes have a French press in the kitchen for making the perfect brew. Sometimes you’ll see this listed on the menu as plunger coffee.

If you’ve never seen a French press before, you’ll know it as the (usually) glass jug with a plunger that allows you to add your ground coffee to the mix, pour over boiling water and slowly press the plunger down to produce the wonderful cup of coffee. This produces a different taste than drip coffee. French press coffee is usually better suited for medium and darker roasted beans.

If you want to make an excellent French press coffee, the trick is to get a coarser bean grind and the mixture of coffee to water just right. Making French press coffee often requires a slightly coarser mix than other types like slow-drip coffee, although too fine of a coffee bean grind and the coffee might come out overly bitter.

What’s great about French press coffee, and why many people happen to prefer it, is the fact that it’s an easy and quick way to make an excellent cup of coffee. You also don’t need coffee filters to make a French press coffee, just an actual French press brewer.

There are plenty of varieties out there, from larger French presses to portable ones that you can add to your travel kit when you’re on the go and still want to have the perfect cup.

The trick to making excellent French press coffee? Grind size and consistency, as well as water to coffee ratio, and pressing down slowly rather than fast and hard. The most common recommendation french press ratio is 15 parts water to 1 part coffee. So if you want a 450ml cup of coffee, you would need 30 grams of ground coffee.

Pour Over Coffee 

Pour over coffee is a popular brewing type of coffee for when you have a little bit more time to spare and when you’re looking for a slow and deliberate brew that often provides a more nuanced and more robust cup of coffee than traditional methods of making coffee such as French press or drip coffee. This is my default go-to brew method when I'm not drinking espresso. I tend to use a Hario V60 or Kalita Wave, depending on the coffee. The V60 does a better job at highlighting certain notes on light roast coffees but harder to perfect, while the Kalita Wave is easier to get a consistently good cup of coffee with slightly less highlighted notes than the V60.

The pour over name of this brew method refers to the way in which water is slowly hand-poured over the ground coffee beans and allowed to run through the brewer, like a V60 or Kalita Wave. This is a common brew method for someone only seeking one or two cups of coffee rather than a large pot.

The common recommendations for the water temperature in this brew method are from 200-205 degrees Fahrenheit. Since I tend to prefer lighter roast coffees, like Ethiopians, I find my pour over brews do better with a lower temperature around 190 degrees. I also use the 4:6 brewing method

Percolated coffee

Percolated coffee is what people are talking about when they “put on a pot of coffee”. The majority of percolators out there allow you to make a few cups of coffee at once, and the brew is kept warm in the meantime.

Percolators are different from drip coffee makers because they pass water through the coffee grinds multiple times, which often leads to over-extracted coffee. Overextracted coffee is what produces bitter tasting coffee.

With a percolator, you are going to get a strong and robust but bitter tasting coffee due to the combination of consistent boiling water and the length of time water is in contact with the coffee grinds. 

Some percolated coffee machines are made to be portable and are commonly found while camping, but the majority of them fit on a countertop and don’t take up much space.

Turkish Coffee

If you consider yourself a hardcore lover of coffee, then experiencing a real Turkish coffee can be considered one of the essential cups that you have to try. Turkish coffee is famous all over the world, and the first thing that you should know about Turkish coffee is that it’s one of the most unique and strongest brews that you’ll experience. Simply, it’s coffee with a kick and it’s unforgettable.

What makes Turkish coffee special and different is the fact that it’s more than just a taste or flavor. It’s considered a whole experience, and there’s an entire ritual associated with brewing a few cups of this one.

The beans that go into Turkish coffee are usually roasted and ground fresh before every single cup is made, and Turkish coffee is steeped over warm water to produce the perfect brew. Yes, this is partially why Turkish coffee comes out so strong. 

Many times desserts and other foods will accompany the proper Turkish coffee ritual, including the classic Turkish Delight and a range of different cakes and pastries are usually served alongside it. Traditionally, Turkish coffee is had black.

Cold Brew Coffee

The hottest (get it?) new trend in coffee! The first thing that you’ll notice about cold brew coffee is the fact that the process of making it happens a little differently than with your traditional slow drip or pour over coffee brew methods. The majority of people imagine that the flavor can only be extracted from coffee by using heat, but not a lot of people know that this isn’t true at all. Instead, cold brew coffee is a way to extract the same rich taste from coffee grounds without having to use heat. 

Cold brew coffee is made in much the same way as pourover coffee, but instead of using heat to extract the taste from the beans, cold or room temperature water is used instead resulting in an entirely different taste.

If you’ve never had it before, you should know that cold brew coffee is most often served cold – and can also often be used as a base for coffee-flavored products such as cakes and cupcakes. It can also become the base for great ice cream and coffee blends, or just a regular iced cold brew coffee.

For the record, cold brew coffee is not just hot-brewed coffee that you let cool down.

Espresso

Ah, the real OG. There are thousands of types of espresso available on the market, and the real coffee connoisseur in all of us won’t be able to stop until we’ve tasted as many of them as possible.

Usually, espresso is offered in a single shot and double shot and this depends on just how strong you like your coffee.

Espresso is known as one of the stronger and fuller-bodied ways to have your coffee and due to the strength of your average espresso, espresso usually comes in one ounce for a single shot or two ounces for a double shot.

Espresso forms the base of many different coffees, including lattes and cappuccinos. In both cases, it all starts with a shot of espresso.

If you want to make espresso at home, you’ll usually need an espresso machine and these days they don’t have to be these large, expensive machines that take up an entire counter. Just like most types of technology, espresso makers have become smaller and a lot more accessible. Nowadays you can even find portable espresso makers for getting your fix on the move.

Why is the espresso machine necessary at all, and why can’t you just have a pourover coffee instead? Espresso is traditionally made by shooting a high-pressure water jet straight through finely ground coffee beans instead of through a slow drip.

Espresso can also be cooled down and used as a base for a great iced coffee, like an iced Americano.

If you find that caffeinated espresso is too strong for your tastes, you’ll be glad to know that it’s also available in decaffeinated form like the majority of coffees mentioned in this article.

 

Caffe Americano

When it comes to experiencing the variety of coffees that are at your disposal, we can almost go as far as to say that you haven’t had a proper coffee until you’ve had a real Caffe Americano. It’s more than just a term that translates to “American coffee” - it’s a coffee that comes with an entire world of history, and gives you a wonderfully flavored brew.

Americano coffee is available in most parts of the world, usually a few options down from the cappuccino and espresso on the menu.

The original story about why the coffee carries the name that it does is said to come from World War II, where soldiers brewed the strong Italian coffees they were given with water in order to create something unique and a little less strong, closer to the coffees that the soldiers might have been used to at home.

If you want to brew your own Caffe Americano at home, it starts with brewing a single or double shot of espresso and then adding warm water. This gives it the strength and flavor of your traditional espresso but without as big of a bite. 

Once the Americano coffee has been made, there are a few different ingredients that can be added to it for an even more unique taste. Sometimes people like to add vanilla syrup to their Americano, others prefer to sprinkle over some cinnamon but neither of these steps is necessary if you’d like to make a traditional Americano coffee.

Usually, Americano coffee gets served in a long, tall mug – cream, milk and sugar optional. 

Doppio

While it sounds fancy, Doppio is just a new take on an old tradition and where espresso coffees are normally ordered as a single, a “doppio” means double in Italian, and starts off with a double-shot of espresso. 

Again, it might sound fancy, but a doppio is just another way of saying double espresso. It happens to be one of the most popular ways of ordering an espresso, and a double-shot (or doppio) is considered the standard way of ordering one unless you state that you’re looking for single-shot instead in many cafes. 

Like the majority of different coffees mentioned in this article, even a doppio is available in decaf if you happen to be someone who loves the taste of coffee, but finds themselves a little more sensitive to the ingredients.

Ristretto

Ristretto is an Italian word meaning “short”, and you’ll find this shortened version of espresso in the majority of places that serve good coffee. The whole idea behind a ristretto is to produce a smaller, stronger tasting coffee.

Making a ristretto starts the same way as you would have made your traditional espresso, although when you’re making a ristretto it’s made with half the amount of water that you would have added to your espresso.

Making a ristretto is exactly like an espresso, with the only crucial factors being a reduction in the amount of water that it’s made from. 

Cappuccino 

If you want to make a cappuccino, it all starts with a single (or sometimes double) shot of espresso. After the 1/3 parts espresso, it's 1/3 milk and 1/3 foam.

The official Barista definitions state that the level of foam for a qualifying cappuccino should be “at least 1cm”. In most parts of the world, a cappuccino is made with a third of espresso, milk and foam – add more milk, and it turns into a latte. 

Cappuccinos can often times be served with a variety of extras. Sometimes chocolate powder, cinnamon or even special shaded sugars are added to the top of the cream to give it a special taste and a lot of the art you’ll see made with coffees are usually cappuccinos or lattes. 

What on earth does it all mean? The word cappuccino translates to “small Capuchin”, and it refers to the color of robes worn by Capuchin monks – the coffee, brewed close to the color of the robes when done, got the name cappuccino when this type of coffee brew was first introduced.

Latte

 

In some parts of the world, you might see a latte referred to as a grand crème or cafe au lait – which literally translates to “coffee with milk.” If you’re ordering this drink in Italy, make sure that you don’t get lost in translation. Saying latte only refers to milk, while ordering a “cafe latte” lets the restaurant know that you’re looking for coffee with milk instead of only milk.

Lattes are usually served in larger glasses than other coffees and are traditionally brewed to be less strong tasting than most. You should know that a latte is pretty close to a cappuccino but the main difference between the two is the fact that a latte is made with a greater ratio of foam and milk to espresso.

A latte is traditionally served with steamed milk foam instead of cream. Lattes should be 1:3, with 1 part espresso to 3 parts milk.

Also, for a traditional latte, the espresso is made first and the milk added to it later on. If you do this the other way around, you’re instead creating a macchiato which is a coffee that gets topped off with espresso once the foam layer has been added, creating a trickle-down of flavor throughout the milk foam.    

Flat White

A flat white is a coffee that achieved special popularity in Australia and New Zealand due to the fact that coffees had to be brewed a little differently due to the milk used to make coffee at the time wouldn’t foam. 

The trick with making a flat white coffee lies in how the foam is made! Instead of being the usual milk foam with a frothy consistency, a flat white instead has a layer of foam over an espresso and the foam is meant to be “velvety” and smooth instead of frothy, with a slight layer that forms over the coffee.   

Macchiato  

A macchiato is basically only a standard espresso with a shot of milk on top.

The word macchiato translates to “marked” in Italian, and the shot of foamed milk on top is the “mark” being talked about. 

When ordering a macchiato in a restaurant, you can also choose to order it “upside down.” What this means is that the drink gets poured into the foam, rather than the foam on top of the drink. This is one of those personal preference things, and it depends on just how you like your coffee.

Cortado

The Cortado is a traditional coffee drink that’s traditionally found in Spain and Italy, although has started to achieve more popularity in coffee shops all over the world. If you’re ordering a cortado, you’re ordering an espresso that’s been “cut” with milk – and yes, the word “cortado” is Spanish for cut.

Like with a huge amount of the coffee brews that have been mentioned on this list, if you want to make a cortado you’ll have to start off with a regular espresso. The defining characteristic of a cortado is the fact that it’s been cut with milk most commonly in the form of foam that has been stirred through.

Sometimes, a cortado is traditionally made by using something sweeter such as condensed or evaporated milk instead of the traditional milk. This became common in times where fresh milk wasn’t available to add to coffee, and it’s one of the naturally sweeter types of coffees you can drink because of this. 

A cortado can also be called a Gibraltar, but only when served in a specially proportioned Gibraltar glass.  

Affogato

Affogato is something that you’ll traditionally find in Italian coffee shops and restaurants, although it’s become progressively more popular in many other parts of the world. 

The affogato is more than just a coffee: Instead, the affogato is considered a dessert with coffee as a base.

An affogato contains two ingredients: Ice cream, which is usually traditional Italian gelato with poured espresso on top. When we say covered, we really do mean covered since affogato is the Italian word for drowned, and once you’ve seen it this is a pretty good description of what will end up in your mug. Ice cream drowning in brewed coffee!

When traditionally made, an affogato is made with vanilla ice cream and a strong shot of espresso. Sometimes this can be ordered as a single or double espresso shot, although the best is usually to specify which.

Since its introduction, you can find a lot of variation on the basic traditional recipe. There are plenty of things that can be added to an affogato, including biscotti, various types of syrup, and even cocoa powder or caramel.  

 

Irish Coffee

 

While there are a thousand different origin stories for the Irish coffee, it's likely to have had its origins (or at the very least found most of its popularity) in Ireland and from there, it was brought to further popularity in the United States. Some sources say that it was writer Stanton Delaplane who brought the idea and recipe over.

The most popular origin story for the Irish coffee says that it achieved most of its initial popularity in the United States at the Buena Vista cafe in San Francisco. 

So, what is an Irish coffee?

As usual, making your traditional Irish coffee begins with making an espresso (though sometimes a ristretto instead). From there, sugar is stirred into this mix to taste, and then this is topped with off with your choice of whiskey, then finally topped with cream. Usually, the Irish coffee doesn’t get stirred before it gets to the table, allowing the layers to remain separate.

Traditionally, Irish coffee is served piping hot, but it’s also found in iced varieties.  

Mocha             

A mocha latte (also sometimes referred to just as a Mocha) makes for one of the most popular coffee-based desserts in the world! A mocha latte is a latte with chocolate added to it. A mocha can sometimes be just a chocolate-flavored latte. 

But the mocha can also be a different type of coffee, although it’s not common. Mocha beans are a specific type of coffee bean that is generally cultivated in Yemen and the mocha coffee bean provides a stronger, slightly more acidic type of coffee flavor. Just in case you were wondering, the word Mocha refers to the area in which they are grown.

When you’re ordering a mocha at a restaurant there's a very high probability it's just a chocolate latte, but it never hurts to ask.

Chicory: It’s Not Coffee

Coffee, realcoffee, is made from coffee beans that are harvested, dried and roasted, then ground and brewed. You’ll also see some coffees on the market that are listed as being made from chicory and a lot of people don’t know that the chicory plant isn’t related to the coffee bean at all.

Instead, chicory is a plant part of the dandelion family. 

Remember Decaf, Too

There are two big reasons why people usually choose to drink coffee. The first is the taste, and the second is the feeling. But there are many people out there who can’t consume caffeine or are unusually sensitive to the ingredient, usually due to health conditions that affect the heart or kidneys. If this describes you, then you could switch to decaf. Most types of coffee that we’ll tell you about in this article can also be found in decaf variety. Be aware, that decaffeinated coffee beans can sometimes deliver a different taste than their caffeinated coffee bean versions.

Other Coffee Bean Products

Coffee isn’t just coffee. You can buy a variety of different products, usually from the same companies that provide mixtures of coffee beans: This includes whole coffee beans for home grinding and brewing, to ground and instant varieties of coffee. A lot of manufacturers are launching other bean-based products such as chocolate-covered coffee beans or chocolate containing coffee. Some even take it a step further and offer coffee-infused products like cupcakes and cake mix.

Milk and Sugar?

Some coffee experts will tell you that coffee shouldn’t be had with milk or sugar just like most herbal teas, while others prefer their coffee with either or both. There’s no hard science for how you like your coffee. Enjoying coffee is an intimate, personal experience and you should drink it however you most enjoy it. Personally, I never use sugar in any of my coffees or espressos and if I have to use milk, I use macadamia nut milk instead of dairy milk. Milkadamia is my favorite. 

Why do some people prefer hot or cold milk? Depending on the actual brew method used during the making of the coffee, temperature variables can significantly alter the taste of the coffee. From iced Japanese coffee to a normal Italian espresso, this is again all personal preference. 

Coffee creamers are generally recommended to be avoided, however.

Lactose Intolerance?

Lactose intolerant? There’s no reason why you should be missing out on all of the great types of coffees that are mentioned in this article. In fact, if you’re lactose intolerant the most important thing that you’ll have to keep in mind is just to substitute a milk-alternative when we’re talking about milk, foam or cream and there are luckily several different types available on the market that work just as well.

For foam, oat milk and macadamia nut milk are the first recommended options, and they’ll still allow you to experience great coffee brews without any of the adverse effects that come with making use of milk if you’re lactose intolerant.

If you experience any adverse effects from drinking coffee and switching to decaffeinated doesn’t sort it out, you might have to consider the fact that you could be lactose intolerant. Switch over to an alternative to milk and see if the condition changes.

Coconut milk, almond milk, and soy milk are also highly recommended and popular. Coconut milk is on the sweeter and creamier end, while almond milk is a bit more watery and nutty in flavor. Oat milk can often be a happy middle ground if properly made. Often times, oat milk can be gritty due to mistakes during the milking process. We strongly recommend Oatly for oat milk. 

 


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