When it's freezing outside -- as it has been lately -- few things are as soothing as sitting down to a hot cup of coffee. Less soothing, though, is trying to decode the swirl of coffee lingo out there, used to describe the seemingly endless variety of coffee drinks that are available, as well as the many different types of beans, roasts and preparation methods. For those who have trouble telling a cafe au lait from a cafe latte, we offer a "primer" covering the basics of the beloved bean -- and all the derivatives thereof.
A dark, strong coffee made by forcing steam through finely ground, specially blended, Italian-roast coffee. Served in a demitasse cup. A double is two shots of espresso with the normal amount of all other ingredients in your coffee drink.
Espresso cut with hot water to fill an American-size cup. Usually made from equal portions of espresso and boiling water, resulting in a stronger version of brewed coffee. This term was originally intended as a sort of insult to Americans who wanted their espresso diluted.
A single shot of espresso with foamy, steamed milk. A caffe latte should have approximately a 3-to-1 ratio of milk to coffee. Usually served in a tall glass mug.
Cafe au Lait
Traditionally a French drink. Similar to a cafe latte, except it is generally made with brewed coffee instead of espresso, in a ratio of 1-to-1 milk to coffee, with sugar added to taste. Or espresso combined with a liberal amount of foamy, steamed milk, usually served in a tall glass mug.
A shot of espresso, served in a demitasse cup, topped with steamed milk of a velvety, smooth texture. Essentially a way of serving espresso with a dollop of foam on top. The ratio is approximately 4-to-1 coffee to milk. Many Italians drop a teaspoon of sugar in this drink.
Macchiato means "marked" in Italian.
Espresso, chocolate syrup and steamed milk, often topped with whipped cream and cocoa powder or chocolate shavings. Basically like a cafe latte with chocolate.
Cappuccino gets its name from the Italian order of Catholic Capuchin monks, whose hooded robes resemble the drink's cap of foam in shape and color. The frothed milk from the top of the steaming pitcher is spooned on top to "cap" the cappuccino and retain heat. The proportion of espresso to steamed and frothed milk for cappuccino is usually 1/3 espresso, 1/3 steamed milk and 1/3 frothed milk on top.
A coffee slush, blending iced coffee, milk, flavorings and ice.
Heating green coffee beans to eliminate most of their moisture and initiate chemical reactions that change the composition of the coffee, resulting in its flavor and aroma. Varietal is the term for a coffee from a particular geographic region. Sumatra, Kenya, Costa Rica or Java are varietals. Soil, climate and cultivation methods affect the taste of coffee. Blend is the term for the mixture of two or more varietals of beans. Each roasting company has a slightly different perspective on where it draws the lines between roasts, and some roasters use different names. Some common terms:
Light brown and dry; still toasted grain with distinct sour acidy tones
Medium light brown; the traditional norm for the eastern United States
Medium brown; good to taste varietal character of a bean; the norm in the western U.S.
- Full City
Dark brown with some oil; full development; good for varietal character; a bit bittersweet
Very dark brown; with oily surface; pungent in flavor and aroma; burned undertones
Very dark brown; nearly black and very shiny; charcoal tones dominate; flat
Here are preparation methods for a variety of coffee drinks:
The most common form of coffee served in the United States. This method essentially pours near-boiling water over medium-coarse coffee grounds to produce coffee. Probably the easiest way of making coffee.
A brewing method that extracts the heart of the coffee bean. It was invented in Italy. A pump-driven machine forces hot water through fine grounds at around nine atmospheres of pressure. It should take between 18 to 23 seconds to extract a good shot. This will produce from 3/4 to one ounce of liquid -- a sweet, thick, rich and smooth shot of espresso. This form of brewing produces a thin layer of creamy, dark-beige froth on the coffee's surface. Comes from the Latin word "expressere," which means "to press out."
A device for making coffee in which ground coffee is steeped in water. The grounds are then removed from the coffee by means of a filter plunger, which presses the grounds to the bottom of the pot. Also referred to as a plunger pot.
Percolators work by taking coffee and reheating it and throwing it over the grounds repeatedly.
The buildup of steam in a lower bowl of a vacuum pot forces water up into a funnel, where it mixes with ground coffee.
Mocha-cinnamon cafe au lait
2 cups low-fat (2 percent) milk
3 cinnamon sticks
20 whole cloves
5 ounces imported milk chocolate, chopped
2 ounces bittersweet (not unsweetened) or semisweet chocolate, chopped
3 cups freshly brewed, strong coffee
3 tablespoons golden brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup chilled whipping cream
Combine milk, cinnamon sticks and whole cloves in medium saucepan. Bring to a simmer. Remove from heat. Add both chocolates and whisk until melted. Cover and let stand 15 minutes to allow flavors to blend.
Bring milk mixture to simmer. Add coffee, 2 tablespoons sugar and 1 teaspoon vanilla; stir over medium-low heat until flavors blend (do not boil), about 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, beat cream, pinch of nutmeg, 1 tablespoon sugar and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla in small bowl until soft peaks form.
Strain cappuccino; ladle into mugs. Top with cream. Sprinkle with more nutmeg.
Source: Bon Appetit, January 1997
Cafe au lait
6 cups steaming-hot milk
3 cups hot brewed strong coffee (preferably New Orleans-style with chicory)
Blend milk in 2 batches in a blender until frothy (use caution when blending hot liquids). Divide coffee among 6 large cups and top off with hot milk.
Source: Gourmet, February 2003.
3 cups milk
3 cups freshly brewed espresso
Sugar to taste
Cinnamon (for dusting)
With the steam pipe of an espresso machine, steam the milk. Pour the espresso into coffee cups. Add the milk and sugar and dust the coffee with the cinnamon.
Source: Gourmet, September 1984.