Specialty Coffee Guide

This guide was first published by Two Tall Trees, a third wave coffee cafe ran by us previously.

If you’re curious about specialty coffee, here’s a quick introduction.

Tips to navigating your way around the quirky coffee names on the menu included too!

‘Espresso’ vs ‘Ristretto’

Ristretto

Espresso:

Choose this if you need a quick jolt to your senses. Extremely flavorful and intense, 3rd wave espressos are seldom very bitter. 

Instead, luscious chocolate, caramel and even fruity flavours dominate. This is not a drink to savour slowly. Oxidation rapidly sets in, bringing sour flavours to the fore. Best finished in small sips within 30 seconds to a minute.

Ristretto:

We think ristrettos are sweeter, more intense and more flavourful than espressos, with a thicker, more viscous mouth-feel. At least that’s how they turn out at Two Tall Trees. It’s also why we choose to make a double ristretto instead of espresso for our coffees.

Put simply, just think of the Ristretto as a concentrated form of espresso.

Still with us? Here’s the geek version:

This is a drink of which the definition and method of preparation is hotly debated among coffee professionals. 

Ours are made by restricting the flow of water through the coffee puck to yield a concentrated espresso at the full 25-35sec, rather than stopping the shot early. 

Starting from a dose of roughly 20g, we restrict the flow with grind size to yield 25-30g. That’s our double ristretto. We make all our espresso-based beverages this way.

“Tiny” Cafe Lattes?

Ever seen someone drinking a tiny cafe latte? Like really tiny. Shot glass size. Chances are it’s one of these…

Cortado:

(Our version) tastes like a Piccolo Latte but with more dominant coffee flavour. 

This is because our recipe uses a double ristretto as the base.

Piccolo Latté:

Tastes somewhere between an espresso and a full size milk coffee.

In our local coffee scene, this drink is commonly made with a single espresso shot and topped with steamed milk in a small 90ml glass. The addition of steamed milk to an espresso brings nutty, spicy and malty flavours to the picture. 

These blend with the cocoa, caramel and fruit flavours from the espresso to produce a much loved concoction of bold flavours.

The Geek Version!

There has been much debate about the actual recipe of a Cortado and whether it is the same as the Piccolo Latté. Here’s a small peek into the confusion:

‘Piccolo’ is the Italian word for ‘small’, but the drink has no Italian origins. Legend has it that it was created in Sydney Australia, with a single ristretto as its base. Some say it’s named after the Duralex 90ml Piccolo glass that it is commonly served in. The only similar drink we can think of with true Italian origins is the Macchiato Alto (Tall Macchiato).

‘Cortado’ means ‘cut’ in Spanish. Milk is used to ‘cut’ or reduce the perceived acidity (sharpness) of espresso. The Cortado is said to originate from Spain, but is popular also in Portugal and other neighbouring countries. It is also common to much of Latin America and North America, with many slight variations to the recipe.

Some baristas declare the Piccolo is smaller than the Cortado, some argue the opposite and yet others insist they are the very same drink.

There’s also a similar drink called a Gibraltar to add to the confusion. To avoid getting too wordy, let’s just say it’s a slightly larger Piccolo Latte or Cortado. Or maybe not, depending on who you ask.

All we know is that we’re glad to have one on the menu!

And then there’s…

Espresso Macchiato:

Not to be confused with the Latte Macchiato or Caramel Macchiato from a certain worldwide coffee chain or those in the menu of bubble tea stores. 

The Espresso Macchiato features a ‘blob’ of milk foam that coats the surface of an espresso. It’s a tiny drink packed with dense flavour.

Choose this if you prefer a less intense experience than a straight espresso. 

The addition of (foamed) milk changes many flavors, adding nutty flavours to the coffee, and generally mellowing out the acidity perceived in espresso. 

Like espresso, finish this quickly for the best experience.

The Geek Version!

‘Macchiato’ can be translated as ‘marked’ or ‘stained’. 

Thick milk foam is used to mark the coffee beneath it. Espresso Macchiato and Cafè Macchiato are frequently used interchangeably. 

The former features an espresso marked with thick coffee foam while the latter is actually more like a full sized black coffee marked with a little milk, in Italy. 

Espresso Macchiato is often confused with the Cortado or even the Piccolo Latté. All we know is that it definitely wins the award for the easiest latte art among the milk coffees serve – just drop a blob of milk foam into the cup and it’s done!

The difference between Cappuccino, Cafè Latte and Flat White

The main difference between them? Texture.

Cafe Latte

Cappuccino:

The thickest, most heavy texture of the three.

Before Third Wave Coffee, Cappuccinos were usually served with a thick layer of dry milk foam on top of piping hot milk and coffee, topped with cinnamon or chocolate powder. The ‘correct’ recipe had an equal ratio of foam, milk and coffee in the cup.

Because foam and milk are uniformly combined in Third Wave cappuccinos, the old ratio no longer applies. Also, if you are served a piping hot coffee, it’s definitely not Third Wave approved. 

We steam our milk to a comfortable 60 – 65ºC. You won’t burn your palate, and the milk is at it’s sweetest.

Cafè Latte:

Medium texture, with usually the most milk of the three.

The most popular choice of coffee at Two Tall Trees. Usually served in a larger cup, the Cafè Latte is a sweet, milky coffee with a balanced mouthfeel. A well made Cafè Latte should have a “medium” microfoam texture, which also makes it the easiest to make Latte Art with.

Incidentally, the word ‘Latte’ is Italian for milk. Jokes abound in the coffee community about people ordering a ‘Latte” in Italy and getting a glass of milk instead of coffee. However, the boom in cafe culture worldwide has has made it okay to order your ‘latte’ risk free. We know you mean Cafè Latte!

Flat White:

Thinnest texture with (some say) the perfect balance of milk to coffee. Thin but not watery.

Smaller than a Cafè Latte, the Flat White brings out the complex flavors of a coffee without letting the milk hog the spotlight. The silky microfoam texture takes skill to produce correctly.

The origin of the Flat White has no consensus to date. It’s either from Australia or New Zealand, depending on who you ask. There are two camps in Australia laying claim to this magnificent drink – Melbourne vs Sydney. Even recipes vary, from using a single or double espresso or ristretto as the base, as well as different milk to coffee ratios.

However, no matter the recipe, the one defining characteristic of a good Flat White is the silk-like texture of its milk. You know you’re in the ball park if your microfoam is so thin, it’s a big challenge to do decent latte art without the pattern running all over the surface.

The Geek Version!

What gives the milk different textures? 

Bubbles. 

Teeny tiny little cute micro bubbles. 

Pressurized steam is released at high velocity through tiny holes at the tip of the steam wand. At the right angle and depth, millions of micro bubbles will be injected into the milk to form microfoam. Highly skilled baristas can ‘tune’ the size and consistency of the bubbles to give the steamed milk different textures. 

There’s some really good science behind this, but put simply, protein in the milk forms a ‘web’ around each tiny bubble, helping to keep the bubbles from bursting easily, resulting in a shiny, stable mixture of milk and air called Microfoam. 

Black Coffee

The unassuming drink capable of sweeping you off your feet in an instance!

Simply put, they are coffee with water. Nothing else.

If espresso is too intense, this could be your next favorite. The addition of water lowers intensity, giving flavours more clarity. Best drunk while hot. 

Oxidation occurs after a while, highlighting sour notes as the drink cools. It’s like your kopi-O, but sweeter and fruitier with more complex flavors.

Long Black vs Americano

Depending on the cafe you are at, you might have seen the option for either Long Black or an Americano.

And yes, there is a difference: 

Long Black is brewed by adding espresso to water, while Americano is brewed by adding water to espresso. 

Sounds the same? Oh ho..this calls for:

GEEK TIME!

By adding espresso (or in Two Tall Tree’s case, a ristretto) to water, a Long Black retains the crema. The crema hides some of the tasty flavors of the coffee and the Long Black delivers it directly to you in your first sip.

Comparatively, the crema is destroyed when you add water to the espresso in the case of the Americano. This leads to a dilution of all the coffee flavors and you end up with a coffee that is less exciting, only on comparison. 

And no, neither the Long Black nor the Americano is similar to a coffee brewed by running the full amount of water through a coffee puck. You will only get a bitter, sad cup of coffee from that.

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