What's the Difference Between an Espresso, Americano, and More Coffee Drinks?

Resolve your coffee shop confusion once and for all.

For many of us, coffee is the first thing on our minds when we wake up, and for good reason: it’s delicious and energizing, and gives our days a buzzy kickstart. And we’re not limited to regular drip coffee; at almost any coffee shop you have your pick of a whole range of different types of coffee drinks. Not sure what the difference is between a cortado and a macchiato? How about the difference between a cafe latte and a flat white? Today, we’re going over 12 popular caffeinated beverages to help you find your match and nail your coffee order.


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An affogato is an Italian dessert that traditionally consists of milk-flavored or vanilla ice cream with a shot of espresso poured on top. The combination of cold, sweet ice cream and hot, bitter espresso makes for a delightful afternoon treat. Feel free to stray from the classic combo and experiment with other ice cream flavors for a modern take on an affogato. Chocolate or salted caramel, perhaps?


Americanos resemble drip coffee, but they’re actually made of espresso diluted with hot water. The resulting drink  has a similar strength and volume to drip coffee, but with the taste of a less powerful espresso.


Breve means ‘short’ in Italian, which signifies this coffee’s small size. Although the breve has roots in Italy, it’s an Americanized drink, using half-and-half instead of regular milk. To make a breve, pull a shot of espresso, and top it with steamed half-and-half, which makes the drink extra rich and creamy. The ratio of espresso to half-and-half should be about 1:2.

Cafe Latte

A cafe latte is made of espresso and steamed milk, with a coffee-to-milk ratio of about 1:4. There are countless variations on a classic cafe latte, like chai, matcha, and mocha.

Cafe Au Lait

The French cafe au lait is simply a strong coffee with hot steamed milk. You can use espresso or regular drip coffee, and the amount of milk is up to you. A latte tends to be larger and milkier than a cafe au lait, and requires more intentional steaming to master the foamy surface. For an easy, at-home coffee drink, we suggest the ever-flexible cafe au lait.


A cappuccino is the preferred morning coffee order in Italy, and for good reason. With equal parts espresso, steamed milk, and milk foam, it’s a creamy, smooth drink, and a great way to start the day.


Cortados, which originated in Spain, consist of roughly equal amounts of espresso and steamed milk. A cortado tastes more strongly of espresso than a latte or cappuccino does, since it contains less milk.


Espresso is a concentrated form of coffee with a rich, bitter flavor and high caffeine content. To make espresso, a machine forces pressurized hot water through very finely ground coffee beans. Espresso is the base of many coffee drinks, but can also be enjoyed on its own. Whether you’re drinking espresso solo or in a drink, you can order a single shot or a double; it just depends on how tired you are!


A macchiato is an espresso with a dash of steamed milk to cut through the bitterness. In Italian, macchiato means ‘stained,’ to suggest that the milk stains the espresso. A macchiato is a nice way to get a caffeine boost without drinking straight espresso.

Iced Latte

Iced lattes consist of ice, espresso, and cold milk. That’s it! An iced latte is the cold version of a classic cafe latte, so it has the same coffee-to-milk ratio of about 1:4. The milk (which can also be dairy or non-dairy) gives the drink a creamy, velvety texture, while you still get a touch of bitterness from the espresso.


A mocha is a variation on a cafe latte with chocolate flavoring, which could be in the form of chocolate syrup, cocoa powder and sugar, or even melted chocolate. Different people have their own spins on mochas, but the main idea is a classic 1:4 espresso-to-milk cafe latte, with chocolate flavoring added to the mix.

Flat White

We can thank Australia for the flat white, which is like a cappuccino without the foam layer (‘flat’ refers to the lack of foam at its surface). A flat white is made of espresso and steamed milk, and that’s it, which makes for a smooth, strong drink. The main difference between a flat white and a cafe latte is size; flat whites are generally smaller than lattes—more like the size of cappuccinos, and with the same rough coffee-to-milk ratio of 1:2.

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