The Beginners Guide to Coffee

Beginners Coffee Guide

There is nothing better in the world than the smell of freshly grounded coffee beans permeating through a room, the sound of steam as it shoots through the nozzle of a Zagato and the first taste of liquid gold as it passes your lips, settles on your tongue and slides down your throat. Some people drink coffee for the caffeine, some for the flavour and most (like me) for both reasons.

For the regular coffee drinker, this post is probably worth skipping because you would already know the basics (like the components that make up a caramel macchiato for example). For the slightly amateur, here’s the beginners guide to coffee. And no, a “frappuccino” is not considered coffee.

Espresso (ehs-press-soh)
A full-flavored, concentrated form of coffee that is served in “shots” – made by forcing pressurized, hot water through very finely ground coffee beans. This is usually ordered and drunk within 10-20 seconds upon receiving as it tends to oxidise relatively quickly. Perfect for a quick wake-me-up.

Macchiato (mah-kee-ya-to)
An espresso shot topped with a dollop of foam.


Caffe latte (kaf-fey lah-tay)
One part espresso, three part steamed milk and a thin layer of foam. I personally am not a fan of lattes because I think the milk to espresso ratio mutes the flavour of the coffee. This drink however, is perfect for milk lovers.

Flat white
Exactly like a latte but without the foam. Some people don’t see the purpose of having foam, for that reason the flat white is the perfect choice.

Americano (uh-meh-ri-kan-no)
One part espresso, three part hot water. Kind of like a diluted espresso shot.


Cappuccino (kap-ooh-chee-no)
A cappuccino is like a latte with half the amount of milk replaced with foam. Many wonder what the difference is between a cappuccino and a latte. The only thing is the amount of foam – a capp consists of the same amount of foam as milk.

Piccolo (pee-ko-lo)
Often mis-spelt as as “picollo” “picolo” or “piccollo”. This is an anglo-american invention and is basically a miniature latte served in an espresso glass.

Espresso con panna (ehs-press-soh kon pah-na)
An espresso shot topped with whipped cream. This is also known as the Vienna Coffee and it’s drunk through the creamy top. A very popular beverage in Italy, usually taken after dinner with desserts.

Mocha (mo-kah)
An espresso shot, steamed milk, chocolate syrup (places that serve quality mochas use high grade chocolate couvertures (eg. Valrhona) instead of chocolate syrup) topped with whipped cream. And if the barista decides to be nice, a generous drizzle of chocolate sauce.

Cafe breve (kaf-fey breh-vay)
A shot of espresso, steamed half & half and foam.

Magic (meh-jeek)
A ristretto*, three ounces of milk & a thin layer of foam. The “magic” is a slang that was coined by Australians and has been recently popular in our local indie coffee scene.

Coffee Tasting

Other useful coffee “terms”

Skinny (or low-fat) : a beverage made using non-fat or skimmed milk

*Ristretto : an espresso shot that takes twelve seconds to pull and is “sweeter” than a full shot (a regular shot takes twenty seconds)

De-caf : shots made using decaffeinated coffee beans

Half-caf : one shot of regular, one shot of decaf.

These are probably some java terms worth knowing. I mean, you never really know when you might need to impress someone you meet at say Starbucks. Coffee is always a good conversation starter. Words by Jolene Koh, photographs by ladyironchef