This guide will help if you…
- Get nervous when the barista asks what you want to order at the cafe
- Just quietly smile and nod when your friends mention weird coffee drinks
- Are realizing how diverse and amazing coffee is (welcome to the rabbit hole)
To help make sense of all 44 coffee types, we’ll separate them into three main categories:
- Types of Coffee Beans
- Types of Espresso Drinks
- Types of Black Coffee Drinks
We’ll also cover 3 big misconceptions most people have about types of coffee to wrap it up.
By the end, you’ll be confident at the coffee shop counter, in-the-know with your coffee snob friends, and deeply in-tune with the world of coffee.
Types Of Coffee Beans
Let’s begin with different kinds of coffee beans—the foundation of every coffee drink.
Arabica — The coffee plant species that grows coffee beans with a crisp acidity, a sugary sweetness, and lots of diverse flavors and aromas. This is the good stuff.
Robusta — Avoid beans from this coffee plant species. They’re typically bitter, harsh, and dull, which is why robusta beans usually wind up in cheap and instant coffee.
Light Roast — These beans are roasted lightly to preserve more of the unique characteristics that come from their origin farm. Because they’re essentially less cooked, they tend to taste more acidic and tangy (but not sour) and feel lighter on your tongue.
Medium Roast — These beans are meant to keep those unique flavors and aromas in-tact, but also balance them out with some darker flavors, like rich caramel and chocolate. They usually aren’t quite as tangy, taste smoother overall, and feel a bit heavier.
Dark Roast — These beans are designed to maximize the dark earthy, woodsy, spice, and chocolate notes many beans have naturally. They have that classic deep coffee smell and feel heavy and full on your tongue (and are hardly acidic at all).
Vienna, French, and Italian Roasts — Just don’t. These beans are roasted so darkly that they just taste like ash and carbon. If a coffee ever looks black-as-night or has lots of oils on the surface… pass. These are usually low-quality beans to begin with anyway.
Specialty Coffee — This is the highest grade of coffee bean (objectively), with zero defects, a high-quality flavor, and stunning aromas. It’s literally the top 1-3% of beans in the world—and what you’re after if you want your coffee to taste delicious.
Those coffee beans at the store are usually low-grade and getting stale. Try starting with freshly roasted om nom specialty coffee for a change.
Types Of Espresso Drinks
Let’s get into the espresso-based drinks you’ll find at coffee shops and restaurants.
Types Of Espresso
Espresso — Made when hot water is forced through super tiny coffee grounds at 8-10 bars of pressure (aka, a lot). It’s thick, it’s syrupy, and it’s really strong. A “shot” of espresso is usually just 1 ounce of liquid. Bonus points for trying espresso all by itself sometime!
Doppio — This is just a normal double shot of espresso (doppio means ‘double’ in Italian). Most modern espresso drinks use a double shot instead of a single.
Lungo — This is when the barista pulls a shot longer than normal, giving the espresso a darker flavor, more volume, and a less concentrated strength (lungo means ‘long’ in Italian).
Ristretto — This is when the barista cuts the shot early, giving the espresso a more tangy acidity, bright aroma, and even stronger concentration (ristretto means ‘cut’ in Italian).
Americano — Add hot water to espresso to create this drink. It often tastes like regular black coffee, since it’s around the same concentration. If you’re traveling outside the US and ask for ‘black coffee’, this is what you’ll get.
Long Black — Add espresso to hot water for this one—no, really, it’s different. The tangy crema (bubble-fied espresso oils) sits on top of the water, instead of getting mixed in, which gives those first few sips an extra pop of acidity.
Red Eye — If you’re desperate to stay awake, top regular black coffee with a shot of espresso to make a Red Eye. Yup, this one’s no joke.
More Complicated Espresso Drinks
Guillermo — Pull a shot of espresso directly over two slices of lime. Why? You’ll just have to try it and see… (no, really, we have no idea).
Cafe Cubano — This Cuban classic is simply rich espresso mixed with a stunning amount of demerara sugar. It’s a bold drink for bold people.
Macchiato (Classic) — Drop a dollop of milk foam over a shot of espresso and you have the classic macchiato. Important: it must be a dollop and not a smidgen or a bit.
Macchiato (Starbucks) — This is just a weird sugary latte. Nobody really knows why they named it a macchiato… but it makes everything so confusing.
Cortado — A 4oz Spanish favorite made from 1 part espresso, 2 parts steamed milk, and a thin layer of microfoam. It’s usually served cooler than most espresso drinks so that you can down it in just 2-3 gulps. It’s a strong one, often referred to as a ‘gibraltar’ and ‘piccolo’.
Cappuccino — Ah, the proverbial classic: 33% espresso, 33% steamed milk, and 33% dense foam. It’s traditionally a 5-6 ounce drink (the monster 20oz version Starbucks serves is a recent development). It’s a great middle-ground drink where you can still taste the flavors of the espresso, but the harsher notes are smoothed out by the sweet milk.
Latte — An approachable drink anyone can get behind, made with a double shot of espresso, several ounces of steamed milk, and a light layer of microfoam. Usually served anywhere from 8 to 20 ounces large.
Flat White — WOW, talk about a hotly debated drink. Here’s how Australians tend to describe it: “basically just a small 6-ounce latte”. Many coffee shops use a ristretto shot to make sure it’s distinct from both the cappuccino and latte.
Breve — Take any drink that uses espresso and milk. Now exchange the milk for cream (usually half-and-half) and you have a breve.
Cafe Bombon — 50% espresso, 50% sweetened condensed milk. It’s a strong and sweet one! The milk is added slowly so that it sinks to the bottom to form two distinct layers. Add some ground cinnamon on top if you live on the wild side.
Espresso Con Panna — This is a tasty double shot of espresso topped with thick whipped cream. Yes, it’s as good as it sounds.
Freddo Cappuccino — The Greek classic where espresso is chilled over ice, then topped with cold milk that’s been shaken to make it foamy and creamy. Like a mini trip to Athens.
Affogato — Espresso over ice cream. Need I say more?
Red Tie — Get a load of this: an iced Thai drink that combines black tea, orange blossom water, star anise, crushed tamarind, sugar, and condensed milk with a shot of espresso.
Espresso + Extra Good Stuff
Caffe Corretto — Is your shot of espresso missing… something? Mix in equal parts grappa or brandy (yes, the alcohol) to “fix” it like the Italians do. Yes, morning is OK (no judgement here).
Espresso Martini — Feeling modern and sophisticated? Mix a shot of espresso with simple syrup, coffee liqueur, and vodka. Shake with ice like you mean it, then strain into a martini glass. Now weep, because all other cocktails are ruined for you.
Espresso is so concentrated that small mistakes during brewing tend to throw off the whole shot. To make better drinks more easily, always start with specialty espresso beans.
Types Of Black Coffee Drinks
Rather than using high pressure to create concentrated “shots”, these drinks are made with regular ole regular-strength black coffee.
Basic Black Coffees
Drip Coffee — This is what comes out of your regular coffee pot when hot water is poured over grounds. It’s moderately strong, has a thin and smooth body, and is just… well… standard.
Pour Over — Essentially a hands-on version of drip coffee (but it makes better coffee). You place the grounds in a cone with a filter, then manually pour water over them in a circular motion. Gravity pulls the brewed coffee down into a mug below. It’s a big category, including the Chemex, Hario V60, and Kalita Wave coffee makers.
French Press — The quintessential coffee: rich, heavy, and bold. This coffee’s made with a metal filter, so those aromatic oils and microscopic coffee grounds all get to your mug (and grace your tongue with unmatched flavor).
Siphon (Vacuum Pot) — A coffee for scientists and snobs: juicy, aromatic, and unbelievably cool to watch. You basically create a vacuum in the siphon brewer and defy gravity to make this type of coffee.
Moka Pot — This world favorite sits on your stove and shoots hot steam through fine grounds to make a really concentrated form of coffee. It’s very similar to espresso (strong and heavy), but doesn’t use enough pressure to really be espresso.
Turkish Coffee — The OG coffee! Originally from Yemen around 1600 CE and made by mixing superfine grounds with water over the stove, allowing it to almost boil a few times, then pouring it all into a small cup. It’s usually served with a sweet treat to balance out the intensity. Don’t drink the last sip unless you like a mouth full of grounds.
Percolated — This campfire classic is made from a pot sitting over the fire. Inside the pot, the coffee and water are continually brewing, so most of the time, this kind of coffee ends up being really bitter. We don’t really suggest it.
Let’s Get Crazy
Cafe au Lait — Regular black coffee, plus some steamed milk. A nice way to mix it up from adding regular cold milk.
Cold Brew — Unusual in almost every way, cold brew is made from mixing grounds with cold water and letting it steep for 12+ hours. Without hot water, the flavor comes out very different: richly aromatic, insanely smooth, and lacking bitterness and acidity. And since it’s brewed into a concentrate, you can use it as a base for cold brew soda, cold brew cocktails, and other fun drinks.
Japanese Iced Coffee — Brew pour over coffee directly over ice to chill it immediately. Voilà! Since it’s chilled, those rich aromas don’t fly out into space, but stick in the coffee (so it’s pretty aromatic and tangy).
Irish Coffee — Drop some brown sugar and Irish whiskey into your hot coffee, then top with lightly whipped heavy cream. If you needed this one explained, it’s obvious that you’re due for a fun trip to the bar.
Vietnamese Iced Coffee — Brew a bold coffee with the Vietnamese ‘phin filter’, stir in a couple tablespoons of sweetened condensed milk, and top with ice. The contrast of rich coffee and sweet milk is the perfect treat for a warm day.
Vietnamese Egg Coffee — Think eggy coffee can’t possibly taste good? Brew a bold cup with the ‘phin filter’, whisk together sweetened condensed milk and an egg yolk, then mix together in a mug. Your assumptions about eggy coffee are all wrong (no offense).
Cold Brew Lemonade — An up-and-comer in the specialty coffee world, this refreshing drink mixes sweet lemonade with cold brew for a tangy and sweet afternoon lift-me-up.
Misconception #1: Espresso Has Way More Caffeine Than Black Coffee
Yes, technically espresso has more caffeine than black coffee per ounce. But here’s where the big misconception comes in:
A double shot of espresso has about the same amount of caffeine as an 8oz cup of coffee.
Sure, espresso is roughly 4x as strong, but you only have ¼ as much of it by volume in an espresso drink like a cappuccino or latte. Meaning… it’s actually about even (unless you drink tons of black coffee every day, in which case you’re having way more caffeine there).
Misconception #2: Some Drinks Are ‘Manly’, Some ‘Feminine’
Just… no. That’s… ugh.
Drink what you want and enjoy it.
Let the haters hate (they’re wasting their own energy).
Misconception #3: Dark Roasted Coffee Has More Caffeine
There’s been a long-raging debate about which roast level has more caffeine.
Burly men like to think dark roast coffee has more caffeine, because it usually tastes more bold and bitter. Hip baristas sometimes say light roast has more caffeine because it’s less roasted and therefore more “natural”.
Here’s the truth: there’s basically no difference, so don’t stress over it.
Scientists now know that it has more to do with the bean than the roast. Coffee is an agricultural product, so it’s only natural that there’s some variation between farms or… oh, I don’t know… continents.
You’re A Coffee Type Pro
Next time you visit your local cafe, you’ll know exactly what’s what.
Next time your friends are slinging coffee jargon like elitists, you can out-lingo them.
And you’re thoroughly down the rabbit hole now (join us, it’s nice down here).
Every one of these coffee types begins with the same thing: beans. So if you want your drinks to be as delicious at home as they are at the coffee shop, start with specialty beans that are roasted to maximize flavor and balance.