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  • Writer's pictureSturbridge Coffee Roaster

Java Beat: Espresso Yourself

This article originally published in The Sturbridge Times, October 2018 By Elvis Dyer, Owner/Roaster, Sturbridge Coffee Roasters

By definition, espresso is a strong coffee prepared by forcing live steam under pressure, or boiling water, through ground coffee beans. It is both a brewing process and a beverage invented by the Italians. The variables that go into a single shot of espresso – beans, roast, grind, dosage, coffee pack, pressure, temperature and time – can yield varying outcomes. What hits the espresso cup is always strong, caffeinated and complex. Adding to the complexity are the number of drinks available utilizing espresso shots.

Espresso based drinks share three common ingredients: espresso, steamed milk and foam. The main differences between them are the proportions of espresso, steamed milk and foam within the beverage. Steamed milk is cold milk that has been steamed with a high-pressure wand on an espresso machine. The wand forces hot air in between the milk’s proteins, warming it up and creating a fine microfoam on the surface. Some of the more popular espresso based drinks include:

Cafe Latte

The proper coffee to milk ratio for a latte is 1/3 of espresso and 2/3 of steamed milk. It is usually steamed between 135 and 150 degrees, and has only a thin layer of microfoam. The iced version is made with espresso, cold (unsteamed) milk and ice. The low concentration of espresso blends well with sweet flavor syrups such as vanilla or mocha, which is how it is often advertised.


The traditional way to make a cappuccino is in thirds – 1/3 espresso, 1/3 steamed milk and 1/3 foam. The milk should appear glassy, smooth, shiny and with no visible bubbles. Cappuccinos have a stronger coffee flavor than lattes as there is less milk to dilute the espresso. Although I’ve seen iced or frozen cappuccinos advertised, given that 1/3 of the drink is foam, the reality is the drink is probably something different,

Flat White

A flat white is a blend of micro foamed milk poured over espresso shot or shots to create a sleek, velvety texture. The key to flat white is microfoam – pouring and steaming microfoam is essential to blending a flat white correctly. To prevent the milk from breaking into bubbles, it must be steamed at a consistent temperature spread evenly throughout the liquid.


A true macchiato is an espresso with a a small dollop of microfoam from steamed milk, often just spooned out, so no liquid milk makes it into the cup. Macchiato means spotted or stainen – the espresso is “stained” with foam. If you order a macchiato at a specialty coffee shop, you’ll likely be asked to clarify what you want as many have changed the true European version into more of an “upside down latte”. Macchiatos allow you to experience the rich and diverse flavors of espresso, with a small bit of milk and foam to smooth out the roughest edges, while still leaving the shot’s flavor profile intact.


This drink is in between a macchiato and a cafe latte and is made with 1/2 espresso and 1/2 foam-infused milk. This is a great drink for someone who wants something strong, but needs a little milk to soften the espresso. The milk is steamed to the cooler side, usually between 115 to 125 degrees, to allow you to down it almost immediately after receiving it, often in a Gibraltar glass. The milk should have the consistency of a cafe latte and result in the same glassy, smooth, creamy texture as a cafe latte and cappuccino.


An americano is an espresso shot cut with fresh hot fresh water, creating a bold, strong coffee taste.


Ristretto is the most concentrated espresso drink. This beverage is simply a single shot of espresso, extracted in very short time and small water volume, so you get full aroma and flavor of each coffee bean.


Affogato is espresso and ice cream, made by pulling/pouring espresso shots over vanilla ice cream.


Ordering a “breve” means that you want your espresso based drink made with half and half instead of milk. For example, a breve cappuccino is a cappuccino made with steamed cream instead of milk. A breve macchiato uses steamed half and half instead of milk.

What are dry and wet drinks?

Ordering your espresso based drink “wet” or “dry” allows you to control how much foam you’d like in your drink. Asking for a dry drink means you want extra foam and less liquid. Since the foam is less liquid than milk, this makes the drink “drier”. Asking for a wet drink means you want less foam and more steamed milk.

You may find variations of these drinks from place to place, and often hear them ordered with flavors, however, the best espresso drinks start with quality beans and quality roast.

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