Confused by coffee? Read this!


coffeeA few years back, I took an octogenarian friend out to a local café as a birthday treat. When I asked her what kind of coffee she would like to go with her cake, she looked at the blackboard above the counter with its long list of flat whites, long blacks, lattes, and cappuccinos, and whispered “I don’t know what’s what. You order for me.” Unfortunately, since then, so many new ‘versions’ of coffee have been added to the average café blackboard, that I’m now the one who’s confused! With that in mind, I set out to educate myself about 3 of the more obscure of them.

The Macchiato

This one is for those who usually enjoy a pure short black espresso in the morning but just feel like a little more of a comfort drink in the afternoon (the traditional time for enjoying macchiato). It’s served in a demitasse cup (that’s usually the smallest cup in a café – one that holds around 70-100 mls or a third of a standard cup) and it comprises a single (or double, if you prefer) shot of espresso and about 1-2 teaspoons of foamed milk poured or spooned on top. Macchiato, an Italian word, literally means ‘marked’ or ‘stained’, which is exactly what happens when the milk goes it – its stains the espresso. Can you order a long macchiato you ask? Yes, you can! It’s simply a double shot of espresso on top of hot water, and with a tablespoon of milk foam on top. We don’t often find latte macchiato in Kiwi cafes, but if you do, don’t be dazzled. Latte macchiato is simply a reversal of its cousin – the milk goes in first followed by the ‘stain’ of espresso. There, that wasn’t so difficult after all, was it!

The Ristretto

Coffee connoisseurs listen up – this one may be your cup of tea (or should we say coffee!). This teeny-tiny coffee is just a 20-30ml shot, depending on how the café likes to serve it. It should take just 25-30 seconds to pull. The advantage of a ristretto – if it’s made well – is that it avoids any chance of over-extraction so you shouldn’t experience the bitterness that sometimes arises with a longer pull. The flavours should be more concentrated and slightly sweeter than those of a short black. Alas, most New Zealand cafes don’t go in for ristretto cups (the one exception we know of to date is Mazagram in Dunedin’s Moray Place) so your ristretto (which in Italian means ‘restricted’) is likely to come in a demitasse cup. Given the tiny nature of the coffee compared to the size of these cups, coffee drinkers who like their brew on the hot side may be disappointed as their ristretto is likely to cool down too soon.

The Americano  

This is one of the simplest to remember – and it also offers the greatest number of personal variations. An Americano is simply a double shot of espresso, topped up with water. Depending on individual cafes, it may be served in a tulip, latte or mug size. The option of enjoying it with a dash of heated (or cold) milk is up to you. Think of an Americano as a more sophisticated alternative to drip-coffee.