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A Dozen Basic Drinks that Everyone Should Know

A Dozen Basic Drinks that Everyone Should Know

In this article, we explain a dozen drinks that should be the basic repertoire of any barista. These are the fundamental and essential drinks of the trade, and none of them are difficult to master, once you have mastered espresso itself. We have separated these drinks into three categories: those that don’t use milk; those that use milk; and those that don’t use espresso (i.e., hot-milk drinks).

Before attempting to make any of the drinks using milk, you should know how to steam milk, you should know how to froth milk, and you should understand the difference. If you’re not sure whether you do, read our article on “Frothing and Steaming Milk.” You should also have a feel for how different milks (skim, 2%, whole, soy) will respond to frothing.

Pure Espresso Drinks without Milk

These are (both) the most straightforward drinks, and also the most difficult to master. Since these are the drinks that your other drinks will be based on, these are the most important drinks. As a barista, the key to these drinks is to have all of your equipment properly calibrated, and to be able to tamp the coffee grounds correctly and consistently.

The Espresso

This is the basis for all other drinks. Espresso should be 1 ounce of water extracted through a puck of coffee (made by properly tamping ¼ ounce of ground coffee) in 30 seconds using 9 bars (or more) of pressure. This is the primary drink that is the basis for all of the others. You should master this first.

It takes some technical work to get everything right for uniform extraction (the grind, the dose, the tamp, the volumetric programming, and the time measurement), but once you measure these out and get your equipment calibrated, you should be able to make excellent espresso consistently.

The coffee should be ground so that the extraction takes 30 seconds; no more, and not much less. Read our articles on proper tamping, and the one on adjusting your grinder to understand the conditions that will lead to a good extraction. Read our article on programming your espresso machine to learn two techniques for setting the machine to give you exactly one ounce.

The finished espresso should be a deep black color, and should have a golden brown layer of foam floating on the surface. This foam is called “crema.” The crema should not have bubbles or dark streaks in it. It should be a uniform golden-brown film.

The espresso should be strong and intense, but it should not be bitter. In fact, the intrinsic taste of coffee is slightly sweet, at least for Arabica. It there are significant bitter undertones in your espresso, or if the espresso is on the weak side, then (at least) one of several things is wrong. See our other articles to debug your espresso extraction process.

Espresso should be extracted into an espresso cup, called a “demitasse,” which has a 2.5 ounce capacity. Serve the demitasse on a saucer with an espresso spoon next to it. Espresso spoons are about 4.5” long. The spoon is used to stir sweetener (sugar) into the espresso if you happen to like it that way.

The Doppio

Doppio means “double” in Italian. A “Doppio” is just a double Espresso. The coffee and the water used will be double. The extraction will still take 30 seconds. For a Doppio, load the double group handle (made for two Espressos) with a double dose of ground coffee (½ ounce).

Tamp it exactly as for Espresso, and this time push the Doppio button on your espresso machine to extract 2 ounces of water through the coffee puck. The extraction should not take more than 30 seconds, and it should not take much less.

If you have read our article on calibrating your coffee grinder, you might have wondered why we used the Doppio to time the shot instead of a regular Espresso. The reason is that when we had programmed shot volumes into our automatic espresso machine (see our article on this), we measured the shots either by volume (using a graduated cylinder) or by weight (with a postal scale).

Since the error in the measurement is a constant (for argument’s sake, let’s assume that in each measurement, we could have been off by 0.1 ounce), if we use the Doppio instead of the Espresso to calibrate the grind for a 30-second extraction, the calibration is twice as accurate. That is, we could be off by 0.1 ounce in 2 ounces (which is a 5% error), instead of 0.1 ounce in 1 ounce (which would be a 10% error).

A 2-ounce Doppio can be served in the same demitasse (2.5 ounce) as an Espresso. Some baristas use a 1.5 ounce Espresso and a 3 ounce Doppio. There are intermediate sized cups (4 ounces) than can accommodate a 3 ounce Doppio. Again, the Doppio should be served with a 4.5” espresso spoon.

The Ristretto and the Ristretto Doppio

Ristretto means “restricted” in Italian. The Ristretto is the first part of an Espresso shot. Connoisseurs know that the purest part of the shot is extracted within the first 20 seconds of the shot. This is the purest and sweetest part of an Espresso.

You can program your espresso machine to give you 0.7 ounces on what will become your “Ristretto” button. Set the espresso machine up like you would for a normal Espresso (using a ¼ ounce dose of coffee grounds), and push the Ristretto button. You will extract less water through the same coffee puck (as for Espresso) using the same pressure.

The result it that the Ristretto extraction should finish at slightly more than 20 seconds (that is, if all of your parameters were set correctly to yield a 30-second Espresso). The Ristretto will be even smoother and sweeter than an Espresso, but it will be 1/3 smaller. If there is any bitterness at all in a Ristretto, it is wrong. The Ristretto should not be any weaker than an Espresso either.

The Ristretto “walks a very fine line” in its execution. The main problem (when it is not perfect) is that it can be a little weak. It is a total failure if it is bitter. Many baristas consider the Ristretto to be the most difficult drink to get right. As Espresso is a science (and it takes some rigor to do it right, but it can be done by anyone with some patience and measuring tools); the Ristretto is more of an art.

The Ristretto is not at all forgiving of anything done wrong. The Ristretto is THE most difficult drink in the Barista Arts. The Ristretto is served exactly like the Espresso. A Ristretto Doppio is a double Ristretto. It is the same exact process applied to the Doppio.

You can program a “double Ristretto” shot at 1.4 ounces, load and tamp the double group handle with a double dose of ground coffee (½ ounce), and extract it as you would a Doppio. As with the Ristretto, the Ristretto Doppio should extract in a little more than 20 seconds. You can serve the Ristretto Doppio in a demitasse with an espresso spoon.

The Americano (also called a “Lungo”)

If the Ristretto is the most difficult drink to get right, the Americano (or “lungo”) is the drink that is the most misunderstood (and hence, misprepared). “Americano” is Italian for “American,” and “Lungo” is Italian for “long.” In World War II, many American soldiers were not used to espresso, and thought that it was too strong and harsh. (In those days, the equipment was not nearly as good as it is today, and most espresso was probably on the bitter side.)

To accommodate their American customers, the Italian baristas made a thinner and more voluminous (like a normal cup of coffee) drink based on the espresso process. They called it an “Americano,” although it is not regular American drip coffee.

The way that some coffee shops make the Americano (and we feel that this is incorrect) is to simply extract a larger volume of water (4 to 6 ounces) through a double dose (½ ounce) of ground coffee. They set the machine up for a Doppio, and then pull a “long” (“Lungo”) shot. The result is a weak because of the large volume of water (which is what we are trying to do), but it is also bitter because of the longer extraction time. This is not a good way to make an Americano, although many coffee shops do this.

We feel that the correct way to make an Americano is to dilute a good quality Doppio with hot water. The resulting drink is then weaker than Espresso (which is the point of an Americano), but it does not have the harsh undertones that come with over-extraction.

Set your machine up for a Doppio. Then take a cappuccino cup (between 6.5 and 8 ounces capacity), hold it under the hot water dispenser, and put about 3 ounces of hot water in it. Then hold it under the group head, and extract the Doppio into it.

While the Doppio is extracting, the reason that you hold the cup up to the group head is so that the espresso doesn’t fall as far as normal. This will avoid the splashing of your drink against the inner sides of the cup. While this will not change the taste of the drink, the drink will look neater and more professional if the inner sides of the cup remain clean.

Note also that it is very important to extract the Doppio into the water, and not the other way around. (I.e., you could extract the Doppio first, and pour hot water into it, which would be wrong.) The reason is that when the Doppio goes on top, there will be a nice layer of crema on top of the Americano. If you do it the other way, the crema will get dissolved into the drink. This would also be unprofessional.

Drinks with Milk and Espresso

If you have mastered the drinks above, and know the difference between frothed milk and steamed milk and can do both correctly, the drinks below are not difficult. But each has a few little finishing touches that just take a second, but make the result look professional.

A pitcher of frothed milk (or partly frothed milk) will have the thick froth floating on the top. A correct froth is a “micro foam;” it should not have any large bubbles in it. If there are bubbles on the surface, bang the pitcher down on the table to break them.

The milk that had not inflated with air (which would be micro foam if it had) will be on the bottom of the pitcher. It is basically just hot steamed milk. In the drinks below, we recommend that you use a small pastry spatula to hold back (or pull forward) the froth as you pour hot milk (or froth) into whatever drink you are making.

A small pastry spatula is simply a 1-inch wide flat blade on a handle. Pastry chefs use it to spread icing and other things on cakes. A bar spoon (which has a long 8” handle and a circular spoon-bowl) will also be useful in making “dollops” with the froth. Another pastry tool that is indispensable is a powdered-sugar shaker. For some of the drinks, you will dust the top of the drink with cocoa powder (or cinnamon). This is the best tool for this job.

The Macchiato

In Italian, Macchiato means “spotted” or “marked.” The concept is to merely “spot” an Espresso with a touch of milk so as to lighten its color slightly. We will simply take the Espresso out of the deep black realm, try not to disturb the crema, and leave a nice (but small) dollop of frothed milk in the center.

First, make an Espresso in a demitasse cup. Then take your pitcher, and pour a very small amount (¼ ounce or so) of steamed milk into the center of the Espresso. Use your pastry spatula (or another tool) to hold back the froth as you pour. Try to pour the hot milk directly into the center of the cup, so as not to disturb the crema.

If done correctly, the Espresso will turn a slightly lighter color, but will still have a nice layer of crema on its surface. Now take a bar spoon, and take a small amount of froth (micro foam) from the top of the pitcher of milk. Put this “dollop” of froth in the center of the drink.

The dollop should be small. It should only be about ¼ inch high, and should not extend to the sides of the demitasse cup, but should remain in the center of the cup. To finish the drink and give it a professional look, take the tip of your frothing thermometer, and run it around the outside of the dollop of froth (i.e., in the crema) to round-out the dollop and make it symmetrical.

The Macchiato Lungo

As you’ve probably guessed by now, a Macchiato Lungo is a “long macchiato.” But contrary to what you might have guessed, it is not a Macchiato made with a Doppio. Instead, it is a Macchiato made with an Americano.

First make an Americano. Then pour a small amount (about 1 ounce) of hot milk into the center of the Americano, using your pastry spatula to hold back the froth as you pour. Then using a bar spoon, take a dollop of froth and put it in the center of the drink. Use the tip of your frothing thermometer to round-out the dollop of froth.

The Cappuccino

Outside of Espresso, Cappuccino and Latte are usually the two most popular drinks that are ordered in espresso bars and in many restaurants. Cappuccino is Espresso mixed with frothed milk, and Latte is Espresso mixed with steamed milk. But there are professional finishing touches to each that will make a big difference in the appearance of the drink.

Extract an Espresso into a cappuccino cup. It is a good idea to hold the cup up under the group head during the extraction so that the inner walls of the cup don’t get splashed. This will result in a more professional appearance.

Another way that some people eliminate the splashing is to extract the Espresso into a shot glass, and then pour it into the cappuccino cup. We feel that this is not a good thing to do. The reason is that some of the crema will stick to the shot glass, so this technique removes crema. And the crema that doesn’t get removed gets blended into the Espresso as you pour it into the cappuccino cup. The result is amateurish.

Now take your pitcher of frothed milk, and using your pastry spatula, pull the froth forward as you pour so that most of what gets poured is froth, and not milk. Pour approximately twice the volume of the espresso (e.g., 2 ounces) of froth into the center of the espresso.

The finishing touch that makes it more professional is to now let the drink rest for 20 seconds or so. The blended espresso and froth will even out, and settle back down into the cup. Now come back and pour a little more froth (1 ounce or so) into the center of the cup so as to make the drink “puff up” in the middle, kind of like a soufflé.

Optionally, you can use a powdered-sugar shaker (a pastry tool) full of cocoa powder or cinnamon to sprinkle a little cocoa or cinnamon top.

The Café Latte (usually just called a “Latte”)

Outside of Espresso, Cappuccino and Latte are usually the two most popular drinks that are ordered in espresso bars and in many restaurants. Cappuccino is Espresso mixed with frothed milk, and Latte is Espresso mixed with steamed milk. But there are professional finishing touches to each that will make a big difference in the appearance of the drink.

In fact, Latte is a standard drink used in professional barista competitions as a vehicle in which to show off the artistic talent and skill of the barista. The barista will create elaborate patterns, called “latte art,” on the top of the drink using various tools, and sometimes syrups. While these elaborate patterns take more time than you would want to take in a busy shop, you can make simple patterns in a second or two that will give your Latte a professional look.

Traditionally, Latte is made in a tall (relative to its size, which should be small – like a 6 ounce juice glass) clear glass, and not in a cup. But you can use a cappuccino cup if you would like. Sometimes in competitions, baristas will choose to use a cappuccino cup for a Latte so that they will have more surface area on which to make latte art.

Start by extracting an Espresso into a latte glass, or into a cappuccino cup. Then take a pitcher of steamed milk (with some froth on top), and pour the milk into the center of the glass, while holding the froth back with your pastry spatula. Pour about 2 ounces (or a little more) of milk in.

At the end of the pour, pull some froth out with your pastry spatula, and leave a dollop of froth floating in the center of the drink. This froth should rise about ½ inch above the surface of the drink. The froth should not be touching the sides of the glass, and should be surrounded on all sides by crema.

To finish the drink off, take the tip of your frothing thermometer, and run it around the froth to make it as round, and as centered as possible. You may need to run the tip around it several times to do this.

For some simple latte art, you can run the tip of the thermometer directly through the center of the glass (i.e., pull the tip through a diameter line of the circle of froth). This will make a simple heart shape. If you want to round off the top arches of the heart, you can swipe the tip through the heart again (once on each side at a slight angle) to do this. But wipe the tip with a clean cloth between swipes so as not to leave traces of the froth in the crema outside the heart.

To make a clover instead, swipe the tip from the crema directly into the center of the froth (i.e., trace a radius in the circle of froth) and remove the tip. Wipe the tip on a clean cloth and swipe three more radii, each 90 degrees apart, removing the tip from the center and wiping it off after each swipe. You will have a four-leaf clover. Dip the tip into the crema, and then dip it into the center of the clover, leaving a small deposit of golden-brown crema as a dot in the center of your clover.

The Café Vienna

A Café Vienna (also called “Viennese Coffee”) is an Americano topped with whipped cream. Start by making an Americano in a cappuccino cup. Then take a can of whipped cream, and cover the surface of the Americano with it. The whipped cream should be lower than the top of the cup around the sides of the cup, but can be mounded up in the center of the cup. The entire surface of the Americano should be covered with whipped cream. There are two things to be careful of if you want a professional-looking drink.

First, make sure you are using real whipped cream. Many of the toppings sold as “whipped cream” are actually made from corn oil. As these melt into the hot coffee – which they will – they will create grotesque streaks of oil on the surface of the drink. Read the labels carefully.

Second, make sure that you don’t put too much whipped cream into the cup. If you do, the cup will overflow as the whipped cream melts into the hot coffee. This may happen before the customer even begins to drink it. This will make a mess, and it will look very amateurish.

Finish the Café Vienna by dusting the top with cocoa powder, using a powdered-sugar shaker.

The Mocha

Mocha is a mixture of coffee and chocolate. Start by extracting an Espresso into a cappuccino cup. Add a scoop of cocoa powder to the hot espresso. Stir it in until the powder is completely dissolved, and the mixture is smooth. Then finish it off like you were making a Cappuccino.

Pour about 2 ounces of frothed milk into the center of the drink. Let it settle for about 20 seconds, and then pour another ounce of froth into the center to “puff it up” like a soufflé. Dust the top fairly heavily with cocoa powder.

Frothed Milk Drinks Made Without Espresso

These drinks do not have coffee in them. But they are delicious, creamy, and flavorful. They will delight children, and are also very satisfying for adults after coming in from a day of skiing or shoveling snow, when you may not want an acidic drink (coffee) before your stomach has a chance to settle. They are also nice before bed if caffeine makes it hard for you to sleep. In fact milk contains an amino acid called “tryptophan” which helps you to sleep more soundly.

The Hot Chocolate

This is a simple classic. As a barista, you will make this in the style of a Cappuccino, and not as is suggested on the side of the Nestles box. The result will be ethereal, rich, and professional. Customers who are accustomed to the standard home preparation will be pleasantly surprised.

Put a scoop of cocoa powder into a cappuccino cup. Add about one ounce of hot steamed milk, and stir it until all of the cocoa has dissolved, and the mixture is smooth. Finish it off like you are making a Cappuccino.

Pour about 2 ounces of frothed milk into the center of the drink. Let it settle for about 20 seconds, and then pour another ounce of froth into the center to “puff it up” like a soufflé. Dust the top fairly heavily with cocoa powder.

Flavored Steamed Milk (sometimes called a “--- Steamer”)

Children will really get a kick out of this. It is a hot rich creamy froth with a nice sweet flavoring. A real treat, especially in the winter.

Take the bar syrup of your choice (vanilla, almond, hazelnut, butter pecan, or whatever you like most) and put one squirt (about ½ ounce) into a cappuccino cup. Finish it off like you were making a Cappuccino.

Pour about 2 ounces of frothed milk into the center of the syrup. Let it settle for about 20 seconds, and then pour another ounce of froth into the center to “puff it up” like a soufflé.

Optionally, you can dust the top with cocoa powder, but make sure that cocoa goes nicely with the flavor of syrup that you chose.

If you learn these 12 drinks and can make them well, you will have the knowledge and skill to make any kind of drink that you will be asked to make professionally. You will also have the right basic understanding to start creating your own house specialties.

...written by your friends at The Coffee Brewers