Coffee expert Celeste Wong gives us the lowdown on the most popular and some alternative coffee serves to order when you next visit a coffee shop. Want to become an expert barista in no time and make your brew at home? Read Celeste’s expert guides for how to use a moka pot, how to use an AeroPress, how to make pour over coffee, and how to use a French press. Try Celeste’s tried-and-tested list of the best coffee beans.
When ordering coffee, do you ever find it difficult to figure out what you actually want? My advice is to think of it in terms of milk levels – it just goes up in increments. It seems like the coffee serve repertoire is ever-growing and ever-changing, but understanding the basics is a good place to start. There are different coffees for different occasions, situations and tastes. You may be a regular “don’t even think about changing my morning coffee” person, or maybe you’re curious to try new serves. If so, here are some to try…
Coffee serves explained
Also referred to as a ‘short black’. A single shot of espresso that generally uses 7-8g of coffee to extract about 30ml of liquid. A double shot in a specialty coffee shop will generally use about 17-20g coffee to extract 30-50ml of liquid coffee.
Why order? Ideal for those on the go who want a quick fix!
Flat white (6oz)
This coffee originates from New Zealand (or arguably Australia). It’s a double espresso (30ml approximately), with about 150-200ml heated smooth, “flat” milk usually made in a 6oz cup. This is a small, strong coffee with milk. It’s stronger and less milky than a cold brew iced latte.
Why order? Perfect if you want something strong, and don’t have all day to drink it.
The most popular origin story of the americano is that it was created in Italy during World War II, as a way to dilute the intensity of Italian espresso for the American troops. This is not the same as a filter coffee as it’s made with espresso. It’s a good one to add a dash of cold milk to, if you need.
Why order? A great option for people who like a big cup of hot coffee made with espresso that isn’t too strong.
Long black (5oz)
Some call this an americano, but the “long black”, made popular by New Zealanders, is much stronger and should only have about 100ml or less of hot water, with a 30ml double espresso floated on top.
Why order? This is a coffee for strong black coffee lovers who want to sip on their coffee a tad longer, rather than knock back an espresso.
I call this a “baby latte”. Made with an espresso and heated, textured milk (like that of a flat white), but smaller – only about one thirds of the glass or to the top of a 4oz glass. It’s a smooth coffee that tastes like a latte but with less volume and a silky texture. It is said to have originated in Sydney and Melbourne, by roasters and baristas wanting to quickly taste how the coffee is with milk instead of making a full flat white. It has slightly less milk than a cortado.
Why order? The perfect caffeine pick-me-up, with not too much milk.
A double espresso ‘stained’ with milk. It’s generally a drop of wet milk and a heaped teaspoon of dry, silky milk dropped or “stained” on top. It’s for the no messing-around coffee appreciator. Fun fact: my tuxedo cat was called macchiato – a mostly black cat with a touch of milk on his chin!
Why order? This is aimed at people who love strong espresso, but just need a touch of milk to take the edge off.
Cortado (¾ full 6oz cup)
This is a version of the flat white that originates in Spain. It’s a short, milky coffee made with double espresso and textured milk, usually served in a glass. The amount of milk is slightly less than a flat white but the milk is a little more textured, like a latte. The milk takes the edge off the espresso, and also gives a little feeling of luxury at the same time.
Why order? Great for those in a hurry or anyone after a luxurious, creamy hit.
Do not confuse this with an iced americano or espresso over ice. Cold brew has increased in popularity over the last few years, made with cold or room temperature water, it gives a different quality to the flavour because it’s less soluble than brewing in hot water. By increasing the time at which you are “extracting” or “brewing”, you can maximise the solubility of the coffee grounds, so the ratio of coffee to water is much higher than when using hot water. Also, when you extract coffee using hot water, it oxidises and degrades much more, and faster. When using a cold brew method, which is slow, you’ll often find that acidity and bitterness is very low. The coffee should not only be refreshing, but have clean, vibrant and maybe even slightly boozy flavour notes.
Why order? To be refreshed and to bring out delicate flavours of the coffee beans.
Order the best coffee beans to discover new flavours.
The cappuccino takes its name from the Capuchin friars; the colour of the espresso mixed with frothed milk was similar to the three-coloured Italian flag, which makes sense as I have always made a cappuccino with one third espresso and one third heated milk, topped with one third creamy, frothy milk. In my opinion, the “traditional cappuccino” might be the most difficult to get right. The milk needs to be heated and textured perfectly to get that layered effect. The espresso needs to be just right, too – hot when the cappuccino is drunk so you can taste and feel each layer separately. Often the milk is dusted with cocoa, chocolate or ground cinnamon. A well made ‘proper’ cappuccino is hard to come by. None of that 90’s retro cold bubbly foam dumped on the top of my coffee, thank you!
Why order? For those who love textured milk and want to linger over their coffee. Goes great with a biscuit!
Make your creamy frothy milk with our pick of the best milk frothers.
A 30ml double espresso over ice, topped with cold milk (about 150-250ml). It will taste stronger with less milk.
Why order? This is an afternoon coffee to be savoured and enjoyed on a hot day. A refreshing alternative to the traditional hot latte.
This originates from Valencia, Spain, with a one-to-one ratio of espresso and condensed milk. The bitterness of the coffee will help balance the sweetness, but it’s an intense drink for those with a sweet tooth. It’s not very common to find in cafés here the UK, but if I’m doing a pop up, I always like to be prepared for those in the know.
Why order? For those with a sweet tooth!
Affogato is one scoop of ice cream with (usually) a double shot of espresso. The word “affogato” literally translates as “drowned” in English, so the ice cream is “drowned” in espresso. A delicious dessert or afternoon treat, especially on a warm summer day. It has a great balance of flavour with the coffee and sweet, creamy ice cream. It ironically seems decadent and no-frills at the same time!
Why order? For an indulgent caffeinated treat.
Vietnamese cà phê
This serve is similar to the Spanish bombon, but uses very strong filtered coffee and is larger in size and volume. About two thirds coffee and one third condensed milk. The condensed milk gives the coffee not only a sweetness, but also a luxurious creamy texture. A great cold variation of this would be with a very concentrated cold brew.
Why order? For those who need a strong, thick and sweet coffee.