What’s the difference between all the espresso-based drinks?

What’s the difference between all the espresso-based drinks?

February 23, 2021

Espresso Based Drinks, what's the deal?

Why are there so many espresso-based drinks and what’s the difference between the main espresso-based drinks? 

Espresso-based coffees are more popular than ever around the world, but the vast amount of choices and lingo can make your head spin and leave you confused. To clear up some confusion, we’re bringing you the breakdown from our professional opinion.

Coffee has become a big part of a daily routine. Whether you have to have it first thing in the morning, you grab it on the way to work, or you like to leisurely sip it at a café in the evenings (when this is an option), coffee fuels you up, wakes you up, and most of all, it’s delicious. Whether you want to find a new favorite caffeinated drink or you want to revisit an old favourite, here are seven of the most popular types of espresso drinks for you to check out!

Let’s be straight up!

Drinking espresso straight up is less popular than using espresso as a base ingredient for a long list of fancy coffee beverages. From the café in your neighbourhood to Starbucks, there are many twists on the classics. There are over 40 different variations of espresso-based drinks and many have their own sub-specialities. Cappuccino has at least five possibilities (check that out more in our blog on Cappuchinos!) Drinks vary at different cafés, and that can be quite intimidating when it comes to ordering.  Don’t know the difference between a flatwhite and a Cortado? 

Let’s keep it simple, espresso drinks can be divided into two groups – with or without dairy. Common espresso drinks:


A ristretto is similar to an espresso shot. If you ever see people drinking from a small espresso cup in a 3rd wave coffee shop, they will most likely be drinking a double shot ristretto. Many people, including most baristas and coffee professionals consider a ristretto to be the purest way to enjoy coffee. It is rich and full body in taste, however if you are not used to drinking straight espresso it may pack quite a punch!


An americano is simply espresso and hot water. The americano is predominantly consumed in North America and Australia. Different to Italians, the americano became a trend because Americans wanted an easier sipping drink than espresso. The hot water cushions the intense flavour of the espresso, making it a more sippable drink to enjoy. 

Road Tip: For best results when making an americano, alway pour hot water in the mug and the espresso on top! This allows, for the cream to be on top, taking the quality and enjoyment of the drink higher! 


A macchiato is 2 parts espresso to 1 part steamed milk.

The macchiato is from the same family as the latte and cappuccino. However the macchiato likes to live fast and die young. With 2 parts of espresso and only 1 part steamed milk it creates a bold taste to enjoy! Perfect for a post meal dessert or a mid afternoon pick-me-up. 

Road Tip: The macchiato is the most underrated espresso based drink in the family. 


In between a macchiato and a latte, the cappuccino stands its own ground. This delicious coffee beverage is made up of ⅓ espresso and ⅔ steamed milk. Different from the latte, a cappuccino has thicker micro foam allowing for a rich, dessert-like drink. Traditionally this drink is 5-6oz in size and makes for a lovely afternoon coffee or a breakfast delight! 

Road Tip: The texture of the milk is what takes this drink to the next level, you want a thick micro foam without a bubbly frothy texture.  


That latte is arguably the most commonly ordered coffee beverage since third wave coffee hit the scene.  A double shot of espresso with steamed milk. Lattes are sweet, rich, full body and drank from first thing in the morning till the evening. Many individuals enjoy a flavoured rendition of this beverage, and there is nothing wrong with that. However a classic Latte stands tried and true and is a staple in modern coffee drinking. 

Road Tip: If you enjoy a bit of sweetness, try adding a teaspoon of raw sugar or honey to the espresso before pouring in the milk. Adding it before the milk allows the sweetness to spread through the drink, making a consistent taste throughout the beverage! 


The most popular play off of a classic latte, and of course it has chocolate! 

If you are a hot chocolate lover or just enjoy a little sweetness in your day, the mocha may be the coffee drink for you. Some say this is the “gateway” drink of the coffee world, we think it’s just straight up delicious. Made with rich chocolate, espresso and steamed milk - these flavours come together in a delicious wonderland that warms you to your core. 

Road Tip: Try making your own homemade mocha syrup with high end dark chocolate, vanilla and simple syrup. 


The Red Eye

For anyone who loves caffeine or needs a real pick me up! This modern classic is a cup of drip coffee with an extra shot of espresso. If the americano and drip coffee had a love child, it would be this. A beautiful, amazing love child. It’ll give you the caffeine kick you need, while tasting great, with this coffee beverage you won’t have to sacrifice intensuing for flavour.  

Road Tip: Similar to the americano, drop the espresso shots on top of the drip coffee for best results! 

No matter what your go-to espresso-based drink is, I hope you try each one of these beverages at some point. You may go back to your favourite but you may find a new coffee bestie!

Author Alisha Esmail