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Know your Coffee Drinks!
Part 1: Black Coffee

So you’re at the counter of your favourite coffee shop ordering a “to-go” coffee because you’re running late (again!) and the person in front of you just ordered a “long black”. “What the heck is a long black?” you ask yourself… surely that’s an americano? Surrounded by people in the queue who are caffeine deprived, a bit edgy and who look like they know their coffee, you’re not about to ask it out aloud.

Well you don’t have to because we’re going to make this all very clear right here!

The most “common” drink names that you’ll hear in restaurants and coffee shops would be:

Coffee Drinks Without Milk

  • Ristretto
  • Espresso
  • Lungo
  • Café Americano
  • Long Black

Coffee Drinks With Milk

  • Café Macchiato
  • Flat White
  • Cortado
  • Cappuccino
  • Café Latte

We’ll bring you up to speed on each one and you’ll soon be ordering like a pro! We’ll look here in Part 1 at the drinks that do not have added milk (black). Part 2 will then focus on the drinks that do have added milk.

The final words of this introduction are reserved for describing why the taste of “espresso-based coffee” differs from “filter coffee”, which is also known as drip coffee. While many cafes and restaurants serve filter, most have moved to espresso-based drinks as their major focus. Espresso based coffee, unlike filter, which relies on gravity, is made using pressure to force the hot water through the ground coffee, which by the way, requires the coffee beans to be ground finer than you would find in a filter blend (it can be because pressure forces the water through the finer, more tightly packed coffee granules that might clog and prevent gravity from doing its job!).

The result is a very different flavour profile because the soluble compounds that each method extracts, and their relative concentrations, differ as you can imagine. Having hot water gently seep through grounds in a filter basket, means that the water is in contact with the coffee for longer than it would be in an espresso machine where 25 seconds is required to extract 25 to 40 ml of the black gold. Also, given the grind in a filter blend is coarser, to allow gravity to pull water through the grounds, the surface area in contact with the water is much reduced.

The flavour difference is therefore not surprising. We’ll focus here on espresso-based coffee favourites!

Ristretto, Espresso and Lungo

We’ll look at these together given they are variations on the same theme – namely an espresso shot with different amount of water to extract the  solubles.

The difference between a ristretto, espresso and lungo

A ristretto, which is derived from the Italian word for “restricted” uses the same amount of ground coffee as an espresso, but only half the water. Many baristas will use a finer grind that that used for an espresso and so, it is technically incorrect to call it a concentrated espresso shot.

The flavour profile also differs because the amount of water moving through the grounds is less and so extraction of compounds that might occur with 60 ml of water through 14g of ground coffee for a double espresso, does not occur with 30ml of water through the same coffee grammage. One of the more interesting compounds that is not extracted to the same extent in a ristretto when compared to an espresso, is caffeine.

Espresso is typically made with 7g of ground coffee with 30ml of water and a double espresso requires 14g of ground coffee with about 60ml of water passing through the grounds under pressure. A characteristic of good espresso blends is the formation of “crema” on the surface. This is formed by tiny bubbles of CO2 that are released into the extracted liquid through the use of heat and pressure in the process that characterises espresso extraction.

The lungo is a “longer” drink and is typically around 3 times the volume of the espresso. When made with 14g of ground coffee, a lungo would then offer around 120ml of extracted coffee (with thanks to for the photo above).

Café Americano and Long Black

long black vs americano

Many people make the mistake of thinking a “café americano” or as it is more commonly called “an americano” is the same as a lungo. It is not. The major difference being that a lungo has ALL its water passing through the coffee grounds, whereas a café americano has water added to the cup and then the espresso shot is added into it.

The long black is similar in a way to the café americano, but this drink has hot water added to an espresso shot that is already in the cup.

The way to tell a long black from a café americano is to look at the surface of the drink where the café americano (left hand cup in image)  is likely to retain some of the crema characteristics, this is noticeably absent in a long black (coffee cup to the right) because the crema is dissipated by the addition of hot water to the espresso.

So now you know your black coffee choices and what makes them unique. It’s time to move on to Part 2 to look at the coffee varieties that have added milk.


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