Coffee. What’s not to love? A steamy mug of rich black coffee. The sweet refreshment of an iced latte. So flavorful, so versatile, and so many choices. Where do you begin?
The foundation for almost all coffee drinks we enjoy today is that bold simple classic—espresso. From there, we add water, milk, and other additional flavorings to give us the variety we know and love today. Your typical morning joe, your afternoon pick-me-up—everything began with a small shot of espresso.
Legend has it that some time around 850 CE, an Ethiopian goat herder named Kaldi ate some berries from a tree and noticed that he couldn’t sleep that night. He mentioned his findings to an abbot of a nearby monastery who also partook of these berries; afterwards, the abbot was able to stay awake all night, praying. Word spread, and here we are today.
Whether this legend is true or not, coffee is now a staple for many of us. And, the way we drink coffee has changed a lot through the years. Let’s talk about some of the different coffee beverages we have at our disposal today.
Automatic Drip, French Press, Pour Over: How Brewing Methods Affect Coffee
Before we can break down the multitude of coffee drinks, it’s good to have an understanding of the different brewing methods. Each method has its benefits and drawbacks. And each method changes your cup of coffee just a little bit.
- Automatic Drip Coffee Maker: We are all pretty familiar with automatic drip coffee makers. These seem to be the standard for many of us. And, for good reason—they are an inexpensive option for brewing a decent cup of coffee. Sure, you can break the bank on an industrial-grade coffee maker. But you can also find a perfectly good model for around $20. The process is simple. Hot water is “dripped” over ground coffee to give us that cup of energy we’ve come to know and love.
- Pour-Over Coffee Method: The pour-over coffee method shares the same concept as an automatic drip brewer. The difference is in the level of control you have over the flavor. Pour-over coffee brews one cup at a time and can take several minutes. But, since you manually pour the hot water over the grounds, you can be assured that they are saturated evenly. This, in combination with the slowness of the process, will give you a more vibrant, flavorful cup of coffee.
- French Press: A French press is an unfiltered coffee brewing method. Hot water and grounds steep together and, when done, they are separated with a plunger. Since there is no filter, more of the natural oils from the coffee beans are absorbed. As a result, French press coffee is deep and robust and somewhat thicker than coffee brewed with other methods.
- Cold Brew: We would be remiss if we didn’t at least touch on the concept of cold brew coffee. Cold brew does not mean iced coffee. Rather, the grounds are steeped in cold water to basically create a coffee concentrate. It is a slow process, usually 24 hours. Since the beans are not broken down by heat, the end result is a sweeter, smoother brew with a little more caffeine.
A Breakdown of Some Familiar Coffee Drinks
Lattes, cappuccinos, Americanos—we all know these. But how is a latte different from a cappuccino? And what qualifies a strong black coffee to be an espresso?
Since espresso is the foundation for most other coffee drinks, we’ll start with that. You cannot brew an espresso without an espresso machine. These machines use pressure to shoot water over very finely ground dark coffee. The 1:2 coffee-to-water ratio leaves you with a small shot of very strong coffee.
Is that a little too intense for you? Add about two-thirds of a cup of water and you have an Americano. Is an espresso not strong enough? Use a 1:1 ratio instead for a rich and bold ristretto.
Things start to get interesting when you add cream or milk. These drinks all sound so similar, and yet so very different.
- It’s café au lait in French or café con leche in Spanish. Whichever way you say it, this popular breakfast drink is equal parts espresso and steamed milk.
- More milk than you want? A macchiato is a shot of espresso with one or two teaspoons of foamed milk dropped on top.
- A latte is usually served in a tall tumbler glass. It consists of a shot of espresso and eight to ten ounces of steamed milk. Flavored syrups are often added. And, it is usually topped with whipped cream.
- For something equally rich but not quite as sweet, try a cappuccino. This popular Italian breakfast drink is made with equal parts espresso and foamy whipped cream. Adding sugar or other sweet flavorings is optional.
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A Breakdown of Coffee Drinks by Geography
Some familiar coffee drinks—and some less familiar—are recognized by their country of origin.
- Irish Coffee: This familiar favorite consists of coffee, sugar, cream, and Irish whiskey. Though there is a traditional standard brewing method for this treat, it has evolved into many common variations that you can easily make at home.
- Vietnamese Coffee: Don’t let the sweet milk fool you. This is a strong cup of coffee. And, to brew it, you’ll need a Vietnamese coffee maker. Similar to the pour-over method, Vietnamese coffee is brewed one cup at a time. However, instead of pouring over an empty mug, it is poured over a glass of sweetened condensed milk.
- Turkish Coffee: This unfiltered, rich brew is not for the faint of heart. Coffee grounds and water, often combined with sugar and cardamom, are heated not quite to boiling. This foamy concoction gets poured into a small cup, grounds, and all. The result is an intensely flavored beverage with a high level of caffeine.
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A Breakdown of Some Unique Coffee Drinks
We’ve covered the basics. What about some of the more unique coffee drinks?
- A popular Brazilian treat is the mocha cola, iced coffee mixed with chocolate milk and cola. Coca-cola has released a similar product. It is available at your local supermarket, so you can enjoy this fizzy combination anytime.
- Bulletproof Coffee: The popular Keto diet has not only impacted people’s food choices. It has also given us bulletproof coffee, or coffee with butter. The belief is that this combination prevents hunger as well as increases mental clarity. And, proponents claim it gives you the coffee’s energy boost without the jitters. Combining coffee with dairy products beyond the standard milk and cream isn’t new. The Swedish afternoon tradition of kaffeost, or boiled coffee, is a flavorful blend of coffee and cheese curds.
- New Orleans Chicory Coffee: During the Civil War, coffee was a scarce and precious commodity. Chicory, on the other hand, was plentiful. And, when chicory is ground and roasted, it provides a tasty, caffeine-free, alternative to coffee. Chicory coffee is still popular in the New Orleans area today. Though, these days it is a rich combination of chicory along with coffee. And, it is available in supermarkets. So, you can savor a mug of this brew anytime, anywhere.
- Chai Coffee: Maybe you’d like to spice things up a bit. Chai tea has long been the drink of choice in India. But, have you tried chai coffee? This spicy concoction is made with black coffee and spices like ginger, cardamom, cloves, and cinnamon. Milk and sugar are popular additives.
- Red Eye Coffee: Like Turkish coffee, this is not a beginner coffee! But, if you need a jolt of energy stronger than just the usual boost, try a red eye. The recipe is simple—a cup of drip coffee with one or two shots of espresso added.
- Nitro Brew Coffee: Nitro brew, basically coffee on tap, is a refreshing treat. This nitrogen-infused cold brew began as a seasonal item that is now readily available year-round. Rather than adding carbonation, running coffee through a tap lends a sweet, creaminess to the flavor, even without adding sugar or milk.
So many choices, and so little time. But you can be sure that there is a coffee drink to suit your every mood. And, what better time than now to try something different and maybe even find a new favorite.
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Frequently Asked Questions
Worldwide, the most popular coffee drink is espresso. In the United States, though, the latte is the clear winner. Americans drink over 67 million lattes per year. On a related note, French vanilla is the most popular coffee flavor with peppermint and hazelnut following closely behind.
Coffee is a versatile drink. Versatile enough to keep its status as that timeless dose of energy we all count on while also evolving through passing—and lasting—trends. The latest trends include things as simple as non-dairy alternatives or adding ice cream for a dessert-like treat. Sustainably sourced coffee is popular. And, of course, nitro brews or the ever-popular iced coffee are here to stay.
To learn more on how to start your own coffee shop checkout my startup documents here
Please note: This blog post is for educational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Please consult a legal expert to address your specific needs.
Hi! I’m Shawn Chun
My adventure in coffee began when I first launched my first coffee shop back in the early 2000s. I had to figure out so many things on my own and to make it worse within 2 years of opening two large corporate coffee chains moved in just blocks away from me!
As I saw smaller and even some larger coffee shops in the neighborhood slowly lose customers to these giant coffee chains and slowly close up shop, I knew that I had to start getting creative…or go out of business.
I (like you may be) knew the coffee industry well. I could make the best latte art around and the foam on my caps was the fluffiest you have ever seen. I even had the best state-of-the-art 2 group digital Nuova Simonelli machine money could buy. But I knew that these things alone would not be enough to lure customers away from the name brand established coffee shops.
Eventually, through lots of trial and error as well as perseverance and creativity I did find a way to not only survive but also thrive in the coffee/espresso industry even while those corporate coffee chains stayed put. During those years I learned to adapt and always faced new challenges. It was not always easy, however, in the end, I was the sole survivor independent coffee shop within a 10-mile radius of my location. Just two corporate coffee chains and I were left after that year. All told the corporate coffee chains took down over 15 small independent coffee shops and kiosks and I was the last one standing and thriving.
Along the years I meet others with the same passion for coffee and I quickly learned that it is not only “how good a barista is” that makes a coffee shop successful, but the business side of coffee as well.
Hence why I started this website you are on now. To provide the tools and resources for up and coming coffee shop owners to gain that vital insight and knowledge on how to start a coffee shop successfully.
Stick around, browse through my helpful blog and resources and enjoy your stay! With lots of LATTE LOVE!