Know Your Brews


I’ve been told that 95 percent of the people who stand behind a coffee machine and call themselves a barista don’t really know what they’re doing. Could the same be said of the consumers who gaze bleary-eyed (perhaps for lack of the very coffee they’re trying to order) in front of today’s oft-times bewildering coffee menu?

Australia has come a long way since the days of feeble, bodiless instant coffee and a likewise dismal array of brewed coffees. In fact, Australia is now considered one of the top coffee drinking countries of the world.

On the supply side, we’ve seen a dramatic change in the quality of product and a more thorough understanding of roasting. Yet, despite the coffee confidence of some, there is still an eye-popping variety of coffees brewing out there, as well as a few, floating misconceptions. So, until that coffee arrives, and the much-needed caffeine kicks in, here’s some guidance, courtesy of Scottie Callaghan, through the frothy fog of coffee…

Espresso Importance

Somewhat worryingly, little attention is given to the espresso. In simple terms, an espresso is a 20-25ml ‘shot’ of coffee served in a demi-tasse ceramic cup. But, beyond the drink itself, the espresso is the foundation of all good coffees – be it an espresso drink, latte, flat white or mugaccino. It’s the base upon which all of your coffee favourites are built. Get it wrong, and your coffee is shot.

The sign of a good espresso is a clean taste with no bitterness, sourness, rubbery flavour or tar. To enjoy, swirl to release tannins and take full advantage of the floral or spicy aroma of your coffee.

Long Black Longing

The long black is a drink to linger over. Larger than an espresso, around 150-200ml and with more water, it’s also an excursion through different tastes, the flavour of coffee changing attractively as it cools.

Long blacks should be served hot, like an espresso, immediately after they’re poured. This ensures a gorgeous rich hazelnut-coloured crema. Enjoy the cocoa and chocolate flavours to begin, and settle into its sweet tones at the long black’s end.

Lattes, Cappuccinos & the Flat White – The Real Difference

While some argue, with good reason, the finer points of difference between the three, in essence they are all very similar. Traditionally, the cappuccino had more froth than the latte (about a third) and the flat white had none. These days, however, it’s more a function of the café’s style and a matter of perception. Essentially, they are all coffee with milk, whatever way you want to look at it.

For a good latte, cappuccino or flat white, the froth or head, should be silky and creamy, rather than airy or bubbly. There has also been a move to serve coffee in smaller cups, the smaller size meaning less dilution and a more intense coffee flavour.

The Others

Unsurprisingly, our love for all things multicultural has brought with it a slew of coffee types and a confusing list of names. Here’s a sampling of the most common:

Macchiato – Meaning ‘stain’ in Italian, a macchiato is an espresso served in a small glass with a just a dash, or stain, of milk.

Long Macchiato – Also known as a double macchiato, it is made with a double serving of ristretto (the first 10-15ml of an espresso with a more intense coffee flavour), water as a base and a stain of milk.

Piccolo Latte – Essentially a small latte served in a demi-tasse. Also known as a Café Late Corto.

Muggacino – Despite its fancy name it is simply a double espresso with more froth and milk.

Milking the Truth

The choices of milks now poured into coffees are as extensive as the coffee types themselves. Low fat milk is often preferred by baristas over skim milk. Thin and watery, skim milk affects the frothy, silky texture of the head and produces an overly strong coffee taste. Low fat also makes for better latte art. And, as far as soy goes, it can add a wonderfully nutty texture to your coffee. Paired with just the right bean and roast, it can be a taste sensation.

If you’re confused about the names, or frightened by the choices, don’t be. Coffee, like wine, or any epicurean delight, is about discovering what you like. So sip, taste and enjoy!

Words by Yasmin Newman

Image by Lifehack Maylasia


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