Ever been confused by the names of coffee you see on cafe menus? This guide is here to help you demystify those baffling terms and make your next coffee order a breeze.
Types of Coffee Beans
Coffee is a beverage brewed from roasted coffee beans. The taste of your coffee is affected by a variety of factors; the origins of your coffee, species of coffee tree, altitude at which the coffee tree is grown, how the coffee fruit is processed after harvesting, how the coffee beans are roasted, grind size, brewing temperature, timing, pressure and much more…
Let’s start from the basics. The two most common coffee species are Arabica and Robusta, here’re their differences:
Arabica coffee beans are usually served in specialty coffee cafes and are tend to be seen as a higher quality coffee.
They tend to be more expensive than Robusta because they are relatively more difficult to cultivate and takes longer to mature. Arabica coffee plants require stringent growth conditions that include a tighter range of temperature, soil moisture, shade, altitude and more. They may also be more susceptible to pests and vulnerable to pesticides.
In terms of taste, Arabica coffee tends to be smoother, sweeter and offers a wider range of flavor notes as compared to Robusta.
Robusta coffee beans are commonly used to brew the robust but popular Nanyang kopi.
They are relatively cheaper to harvest and can be grown in a larger quantity at a lower altitude. Hence, the production quantity of Robusta coffee is way higher than that of Arabica.
Its taste is harsher, stronger and more bitter.
Robusta coffee contains more caffeine than Arabica coffee and is also used to make instant coffee.
If you’ve been shopping for your own coffee beans, you may have also heard of:
Liberica coffee originates from Liberia in West Africa and are not as commonly available.
The Liberica coffee plants are relatively larger than Arabica and Robusta. They are more resistant to coffee leaf rust, are easier to grow than Arabica and are now also commonly being grown in South East Asia. However, their production quantity is way below Robusta, hence they are less common in the market.
Taste wise, Liberica coffee is woody, smoky and bitter, hence they never really took off in the retail market. However, work has been done on the species to explore if new flavors can be produced.
You may find kopi blends containing Liberica in Singapore, these are usually sold at a premium (although there isn’t much of a flavor advantage in my opinion).
Now that we’ve gone through the types of coffee beans, let’s get into the different types of coffee drinks:
Types of Hot Coffee Drinks
Brewed from ground coffee with hot water, Black Coffee is the simplest, no-frills coffee drink available. And you get to experience the full range of flavors from the coffee beans, when its done right.
That said, if you tried to order black coffee in a café , you might still get overwhelmed by the following choices:
Americano is made by brewing espresso which is then diluted with water. This allows the barista to mix the espresso and water well, but leaves no crema on the top of the drink.
Long black is made by pouring or brewing espresso over a cup of hot water. This leaves the aromatic crema intact.
Ever wondered what’s the difference between a long black and an americano? We explore their differences here.
Espresso is a concentrated shot of coffee that is used as the base of many other coffee drinks from Americano to Café Lattes. A well extracted espresso should be sweet and delivers the acidity and complexity of the coffee beans used.
It is usually brewed using an espresso machine where hot water is pushed through a puck of finely ground coffee at high pressure.
According to the World Barista Championships, espresso is a 30mL (+/- 5mL) beverage made from ground coffee poured from one side of a double portafilter in one continuous extraction of about 20-30 seconds. It is extracted at brewing pressure between 8.5 to 9.5 bars at a temperature between 90.5 – 96 degrees Celsius.
Lungo is a long espresso, where the espresso extraction usually goes beyond 40 seconds. As they are overextracted, expect a watery and bitter drink, which some coffee drinkers seem to like.
A Doppio is a double shot espresso. Most specialty cafes in Singapore do not use this term, even if some of them serve doppios as a default.
Ristretto means “restricted” in Italian and hence is of a lesser volume compared to an espresso. It is generally sweeter, more concentrated and more intense in flavor compared to an espresso.
However, the actual definition is debatable among baristas.
Probably the most popular coffee drink on a café menu, the café latte is usually made with 1 part espresso, 2 parts steamed, silky frothed milk finished with a latte art. Our version is served in an 8oz cup.
Café lattes can also be served with different flavorings from hazelnut to spiced pumpkins.
Originating from Australia, the flat white is made with a shot of espresso and milk with little to almost no froth. Some cafes serve the flat white with lesser milk than café lattes.
Compared to café lattes, cappuccinos are made with a shot of espresso and milk with significantly more foam which gives it a thicker mouthfeel. In some cafés, cappuccinos are served with a dash of chocolate or cinnamon powder.
Macchiato means “stained” or “marked” in Italian, it is a shot of espresso with a drop of foamed milk.
It is also referred to as an espresso macchiato.
Café au Lait
Black coffee with warm milk at a 1:1 ratio. These are common in Italian cafes. Café au Lait has less milk compare to a Café latte.
Piccolo latte is a mini latte usually served in a 3 – 4oz cup. (comparatively café lattes are served in an 8 oz cup) It is made with a shot of espresso mixed with warm frothed milk, usually finished with a tiny latte art. It tastes stronger than a regular café latte.
Cortado means “cut“ in Spanish and generally a cortado is made with a shot of espresso topped with steamed milk which is used to “cut” through the intensity and acidity of the coffee.
However, how much milk should be in a cortado remains highly debatable among baristas and there are many different interpretations across different countries and cafes.
You might want to ask your barista about their interpretation, before making your order.
Also referred to as Mocha Latte or just Mocha, Café Mocha is made with a shot of espresso, chocolate and warm frothed milk. It may be served in an 8 or 12 oz cup. Depending on the café, chocolate syrup, cocoa powder or even artisanal chocolate may be used.
Depending on the café, this could refer to batch brewed coffee from a drip coffee machine or a handbrewed coffee brewed using a pourover method. In Singapore, it usually refers to the latter, is more expensive and features a range of single origin coffee beans for a flavorful experience.
Coffee without the caffeine (and some flavor profiles). Coffee beans contain caffeine, however there are decaffeination techniques that allow us to remove most of the caffeine. Decaf coffee is made from decaffeinated coffee beans.
The above should help you order most drinks in any café. For the sake of making this list more comprehensive, I’ll include the following hot coffee drinks as well. Who knows, they might just pique your curiosity:
Irish coffee is made with black coffee and a shot of whiskey, finished with a blob of whipped cream, served hot. Most recipes call for the addition of sugar to taste.
Drip coffee with a shot of espresso for dreary days where you need an extra kick from your coffee. Not recommended for those who are prone to heart palpitations.
A hot coffee drink from Portugal that resembles a café latte, but with more milk and served in a tall glass. It is said to be brewed with 1 part espresso to 3 parts steamed milk.
Types of Cold Coffee Drinks
Now, moving over to the iced section of the menu, here’re the different types of cold coffee drinks:
Cold black coffee served with ice. In specialty coffee cafés, these are usually made by diluting a double shot espresso in iced water. Great option for those hot, stuffy afternoon breaks.
A café latte served cold with ice, usually served with a double shot espresso to ensure that the coffee flavor can stand out against the milk and ice. Again, depending on the café, this may or may not be served with frothed milk. Frothing milk brings out sweetness from the lactose and provides a thicker mouthfeel, which would contribute to your drinking experience.
Cold Brew coffees regained massive popularity during the pandemic. They are made by steeping ground coffee in water for 12 to 24 hours and can be served black or with milk. Due to the brewing method, cold brew coffees then to be smoother, less harsh and less bitter, however they also lack the range of flavors you’d get in an espresso or pourover coffee.
Here’re 3 ways you can brew your own cold brew at home.
Nitro Cold Brew
Brewed coffee infused with nitrogen, served with a head of foam that resembles stout. These are served using a Nitro tap, like beers, and are usually served without milk. They have a frothy consistency.
An ice blended sweetened coffee drink served with whipped cream. The Frappuccino is trademarked by Starbucks, but there may be smaller coffeeshops selling a similar drink labelled as “frappes”.
A shot of espresso (or doppio) poured over a scoop of ice cream, usually vanilla.
A Europrean coffee drink made with black coffee, lemon and sugar syrup, usually served cold. Imagine the “iced lemon tea” in a Hong Kong styled cha chan teng, except with a coffee base.
Did I miss any type of coffee?
I hope the list above had been useful. If there’re drink names that should have made the list, let me know in the comments below! ☕