Drink comparison: Americano vs Latte

Jun 13

Today in “drink comparisons I find in the list of search term referrals”, I’m gonna talk about a couple of the simpler drinks on the menu: Americano vs latte.

I’ll start with the latte — it’s the drink that forms the basis of most of the espresso drinks on the Starbucks menu. It’s made with espresso shots, steamed milk, and a little bit of milk foam on top. It’s not sweet on its own, but many people add sugar or some kind of flavoring syrup to it. It can be made iced (espresso, cold milk, ice), decaf, pretty much any customization available can be done to it. It’s a very flexible drink and a good test of a coffeeshop’s quality.

The Americano on the other hand is unusual among the espresso drink lineup in that it has no milk in it at all. It’s just espresso shots and water — hot water if you’re ordering it hot, cold water and ice if you’re ordering it iced. Essentially it’s espresso watered down to roughly the strength of regular brewed coffee. You may wonder what the point of that is; why water down espresso when you can just get coffee? One reason is that because of the espresso brewing process, an Americano doesn’t have the same taste as a regular coffee. It retains some of its deep espresso-ness. Another reason is that it’s a way you can brew a quick coffee on an espresso machine, if you don’t have a regular coffee machine handy.

People often make snide remarks about going to Starbucks and finding they’re out of coffee, but it’s true that sometimes the baristas can’t immediately pour a cup of coffee for a customer who wants one. Since the coffee is thrown out and rebrewed on a regular basis, there is often a delay while a new pot is brewed. You don’t just pour a cup of coffee while it’s still brewing, because the strength of the coffee is different between the beginning and end of the brewing process and pulling a cup early throws that balance off. Some stores will stop brewing a type of coffee, like decaf, at a certain time of the day due to low sales. Sometimes the coffee machine just breaks down, or (as happened once at my store) is the winner of a game of “where’s that electrical burning smell coming from?”

When something like this happens, and a customer wants a cup of coffee, the baristas will nearly always offer to make them an Americano instead. For most people this is an acceptable replacement, and it’s quicker than brewing up a French Press or a Clover cup of coffee instead.

Which one should you pick? If you want something dairy-based (or soy-based) and easily customized, especially if you’re not big on the taste of coffee and want something sweeter, get the latte. If you avoid milk, or prefer your drinks more on the coffee-flavored side of the spectrum, or if you just want something as close to a regular coffee as possible, get an Americano.

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Quick update on the Strange Starbucks Afoots

Jun 12

Last Friday I posted that my local Starbucks had acquired a mysterious machine that the barista told me was a carbonation machine. Since then, a couple people have passed along more information about what the plans are for these machines.

According to @markinstlouis, his local Starbucks isn’t waiting for the 6/24 release date, but is using the machine to carbonate Refreshers. Makes me want a fizzy Valencia Orange Refresher already.

My brother, also an ex-barista, asked the baristas at his local Starbucks and learned that the carbonated drinks being introduced this week will be named “Fizzio” (not gonna lie, I’ve never been a big fan of the names the marketing department comes up with) and one available option will be root beer.

Carbonated Refreshers? Non-bottled root beer at Starbucks? It’s gonna be an interesting summer …

Update: Talked to another barista, and learned that they’ll be offering not just root beer, but ginger ale and lemonade soda too.

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Drink comparison: Mocha vs Macchiato

Jun 08

A glance through the search terms bringing people to my site tells me that people hunting for a comparison of Mocha vs. Macchiato. These are very different drinks, so let me straighten this out for you guys. You definitely don’t want to grab the wrong one.

A mocha is chocolate, espresso, steamed milk and usually whipped cream on top. Depending on how you look at it, it’s either a latte with chocolate and whipped cream, or a hot chocolate with espresso. It’s chocolatey and often not super-sweet. It can be ordered “on the rocks” aka iced.

An espresso macchiato on the other hand is a cup of milk foam with espresso shots poured into it, “marking” the foam with the espresso. It’s not sweet at all, and is ordered by the number of shots rather than the cup size.

However, as far as Starbucks drinks, when people ask about a macchiato they’re often asking about the caramel macchiato. This is a sweeter drink consisting of vanilla syrup, steamed milk, milk foam, espresso shots poured through the foam, and caramel drizzled on top. It’s more like a vanilla/caramel latte than an espresso macchiato or a mocha. If you order it iced you can see the layers of ingredients through the side of the cup — unless of course you order it “upside down”, with the shots going in first.

Which one should you pick? If you want something chocolatey, get the mocha. If you want the dark taste of the espresso, only toned down slightly by the milk foam, get the espresso macchiato. If you want something pretty sweet and you like caramel, get the caramel macchiato.

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Strange things afoot at Starbucks

Jun 06

While I was ordering my Clover-brewed Verona at my local Starbucks today, I noticed a mysterious new machine behind the counter. It was mostly covered by a sign saying only “Coming 6/24”. There was a gauge at the top I guessed might be a temperature gauge, but otherwise I was baffled.

It was sitting by the blenders, so it seemed likely to be related to cold drinks. Didn't seem like some kind of fancy new blender, because what kind of drink would take a special blender? All I could figure out was that it had something to do with a mysterious new summer drink line.

So I did what I always advise people to do when confused or puzzled about something at a coffeeshop: I asked the barista. And she said it's a carbonation machine. So that “temperature gauge” is more likely a pressure gauge.

I seem to recall hearing that Starbucks was test-marketing “handcrafted sodas” somewhere, and it looks like the test was successful, because this sounds a lot like carbonated soda drinks are coming to a Starbucks near you. I haven't done any internet digging, but my guess is they're going the Italian soda route.

There will undoubtedly be an advertising blitz when the drinks are rolled out, so keep an eye on the Starbucks social media accounts and your local stores. Can't wait to see what they've come up with!

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Drink Comparison: Latte vs Macchiato

May 23

Looking at the search terms people use to find my side gives me a pretty good idea about the puzzlements that puzzle the great wide coffee-drinking internet. Today I’ll elucidate what appears to be a common quandry among the search engine-using populace: Latte vs. Macchiato.

The latte, as I’ve said elsewhere, is the “baseline” espresso drink. It consists of espresso, steamed milk, and foam. If you order it “on the rocks”, that’s espresso, cold milk, and ice. If you want it sweet, you have to add something to make it sweet. Nice and simple.

The (espresso) macchiato is simpler ingredient-wise but a little more complicated to make: it consists of a cup full of milk foam with espresso poured in afterward, leaving a brown “mark” on top of the foam where the shots came through. I say it’s more complicated because not only do you put the ingredients in “backwards” from most drinks, but making good milk foam can take practice. Making a whole cup of good foam definitely takes practice. As with the latte, there’s no sweeteners here. It’s usually ordered by the number of shots (single, double, triple, etc) rather than the cup size.

You can order an espresso macchiato iced, but it’s not very common. Usually that’s a cup of ice, with warm milk foam on top, and espresso shots poured over the top. The combination of the warm foam and the ice will get you some weird looks, but if that’s what strikes your fancy then rock your drink however you like.

There’s a third member to this comparison, however, and it’s the much more commonly-ordered macchiato at Starbucks: the caramel macchiato. This is closer to a vanilla/caramel latte than to an espresso macchiato. It’s vanilla flavoring syrup, steamed milk, milk foam, espresso shots poured through the foam, and then a drizzle of caramel sauce poured on top. It’s a macchiato because you’re still “marking” the foam with the espresso (or vice versa), but it’s mostly milk rather than foam. Unlike both the latte and the espresso macchiato, it’s quite sweet. It can also be made “on the rocks”. If you order a caramel macchiato, I highly recommend you stir it well before drinking it so more of the caramel dissolves in the milk.

Which one should you pick? The latte is a solid standby for those who don’t want their drink too sweet but aren’t keen on the taste of nearly-full-strength espresso. The espresso macchiato gives you much more of the full taste of the espresso, with much less milk to water it down (this also makes it the lowest-calorie of the three). The caramel macchiato is a favorite of people who prefer sweet drinks and love the taste of caramel.

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Drink comparison: Misto vs Latte

May 13

While looking through the search terms that led people to my site, I noticed an interesting pattern: lots of people are searching for one drink “vs.” another drink, I assume to find out what the differences are so they know which one they want. Since I’ve spent over ten years trying to break down and simplify these things so people understand them more easily, I figured I should do some posts comparing drinks one-on-one. And I’ll start with the comparison that got me by far the most hits last quarter: Misto vs Latte.

Let’s start with the latte. The most “basic” espresso/milk drink, it’s just espresso, steamed milk, and a little bit of milk foam on top. If it’s iced, it’s espresso and milk mixed with ice. It’s not very sweet on its own; many people sweeten it with sugar or some kind of flavored syrup like vanilla or hazelnut. When breaking down the entire espresso drink lineup, this is the drink I start with, because a lot of other drinks can be described by how they differ from the latte.

The misto, however, is not an espresso drink. You may see it referred to more often as a cafe au lait, a “coffee with milk”. This drink is half regular brewed coffee (not espresso) and half steamed milk. Or in its iced form, which is less common, it’s coffee and milk with ice. There are two things that make this different from just getting a regular coffee and adding milk on your own: first, there’s as much milk as there is coffee, instead of being mostly coffee with a little milk added; and second, the milk is steamed, so the drink as a whole stays nice and hot. Like the latte, this drink is not sweet unless you add something sweet to it.

The difference between the latte and the misto/au lait is that the latte uses espresso where the misto uses regular coffee. Espresso is stronger and has a slightly different flavor, so while the actual volume of coffee in a latte is smaller the coffee-ness is just as strong.

Which one should you pick? I’m a latte junkie personally, so it’s usually my first choice. It’s also better if you want to add flavors to your coffee, or if you prefer the taste of espresso. However, if you prefer the taste of regular ol’ joe, or if you really want to savor the taste of the specific coffee being brewed, get the misto. The misto is also lower in calories than the latte, generally, because more of the volume of the drink is low-calorie coffee instead of higher-calorie milk.

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