Do you know the difference between Arabica and Robusta, light shade from dark roast, and cappuccino from latte? Learn how to become your own barista or just navigate the coffee shop menu with this complete guide to coffee and coffee drink types.
You only have to walk into a fancy coffee shop to realize that coffee has evolved tremendously. The names, the techniques, the combinations — it can all be a little obscure, complicated and even overwhelming.
So, especially if you’re trying to recreate a gourmet coffeehouse experience at home, it’s helpful to have a deeper understanding of what’s in your cup. That’s why we take a deep dive into different types of coffee, from beans and roasts to classic drinks and inventive recipes.
Types of coffee beans:
Arabica, the most commonly used and widely available type of coffee bean, accounts for 60 percent of the world’s coffee production. Originating hundreds of years ago in the highlands of Ethiopia and probably spread to 7th-century Arabia (hence the name), it is actually quite fragile and difficult to grow — meaning that its prevalence does not necessarily affect commodity prices. Quality Arabica, often sold under gourmet brands, is smooth and complex, with a noticeable lack of bitterness.
The second most popular grain, Robusta, is hearty and disease-resistant (which also explains its name). They originated in sub-Saharan Africa, which continues to be a major producer, along with Indonesia. The more economically priced instant coffee is usually 100 percent Robusta. Beans with high caffeine content can have a harsher and more bitter quality, so they are also often found in blends, especially in Vietnam.
Rarely found in markets in North America and Europe (which account for only two percent of the world’s coffee supply), Liberica is almost exclusively produced in Malaysia and is especially popular in the Philippines. It is known for its volatile flavor; sometimes smoky and woody, sometimes floral, with a rather pungent aftertaste.
Types of Coffee Roasting:
Just as there are different types of coffee, there are also different types of roast that have a noticeable effect on the end result of your coffee. Light roast is high in acidity and caffeine, nutty brown medium roast has a balanced flavor, aroma and acidity, dark roast is rich and heavy, low in caffeine and slightly spicy flavor, very dark roast is bitter, smoky and burnt, with the lowest caffeine content of all.
The most common way to make traditional black coffee: medium-ground coffee is added to a brew basket and passed through the machine.
A more refined way to make a stronger drink, where boiling water is slowly poured over a fine grind set in a filter basket that drips into a cup.
Pressurized hot water passes through a filter containing finely ground dark roasted beans. The strength produces a particularly concentrated shot.
Coarsely ground coffee is steeped in room temperature water for an extended period of time, resulting in a low acidity, high caffeine beverage that is great for drinking cold.
You can buy specially designed coffee makers for cold brewing or use a French press
Types of coffee drinks:
Espresso vs. black coffee
Both black coffee and espresso are made by steeping the beans in hot water, so what’s the difference between the two then? As explained above, espresso is made from finely ground, very dark beans that are passed through a pressurized machine. It produces only one highly concentrated serving at a time. Black coffee is simpler and more modest: hot water is dripped over the ground beans to produce low to medium concentrations of coffee and caffeine.
But espresso and black coffee are most often the building blocks for drinks. Indeed, the combination of coffee and espresso (as well as steamed milk or foamed milk) is used to make a wide variety of coffee drinks, such as the following:
Cappuccino vs. latte.
They are both mild and creamy, but the difference between a cappuccino and a latte depends a lot on the proportions. A distinctly layered cappuccino has an even distribution of steamed milk, foamed milk, and espresso, while a latte is heavy with steamed milk (which is mixed with espresso rather than layered on top) and has a light foam.
An alternative to regular black drip coffee, the Americano consists of a portion of espresso diluted with hot water.
In equal parts espresso and steamed milk. Milk balances out the harsh bitterness of espresso.
If you like your coffee high in caffeine, this is just the coffee drink you need. Named for its ability to give your system a quick start, it’s a full cup of coffee with the addition of a shot of espresso.
Essentially a cappuccino, with notes of cocoa and cream from boiled milk.
Mix three parts foam with one part espresso, and you get a macchiato. It’s not as creamy and soft as a cappuccino, but it’s also not as strong as a regular espresso.
Flat white is a double shot of espresso with steamed milk. Australia imported this espresso-based drink to American coffee shops, and it became a hit with drinkers who like the rich taste of cappuccino but not the fancy froth.
The fancy name for a simple drink is French for «coffee with milk» — caf au lait — a cup of brewed coffee with warm milk.
Irish coffee is more of a cocktail than a coffee drink, a combination of coffee, sugar, cream and whiskey.
Types of iced coffee drinks
Add ice to brewed black coffee, and you have the basics of cold coffee. And just like that, you can decide if you want to add milk, sugar or cream.
Cold coffee is made, as the name implies, from cold or cool water, not hot water. To get the best flavor, coffee is grinded in a steep grind for 4 to 48 hours. The longer the grind is steeped, the stronger the drink will be. At the end of the steeping process, you can add cream, milk or sugar and drink it over ice. Or you can even reheat it for hot tea.
Like iced coffee, this drink is made by pouring portions of espresso over ice. You can flavor or sweeten it however you want. And almost every kind of hot espresso drink can be made as an iced version, as in this recipe for macchiato with ice and caramel.
Nitro coffee, popular in the trendiest coffee establishments today, is a frothy, cold coffee drink made by «charging» cold coffee with nitrogen. It, too, is poured from a nitro tap, very similar to beer, which may explain why the end result is very similar to a certain Irish beer.
Starbucks made it famous (and owns the trademark name), but the term frappuccino has come to refer to a specific type of coffee drink: an iced mixed drink of coffee, cream and other flavorings. There is also usually whipped cream.
International Coffee Recipes
Now that you’ve learned the basics of coffee, you can expand your horizons even further with caffeinated blends from around the world.
Try whipping up a glass of Dalgona Coffee, a popular South Korean frothy instant coffee drink. There’s also Creole Coffee, a New Orleans-style treat with the addition of chicory balanced with molasses and cream; Turkish Coffee, in which ground, milk and sugar are boiled together in a pot; Thai Coffee, infused with cardamom and topped with condensed milk; and Italian Affogato with cold coffee, something between an afternoon drink and a light dessert, with a cold brew (or hot espresso) with an ice cream scoop.