There’s no doubt about it. Singapore has fully woken up to the culture of coffee. From ubiquitous big name chains, to hard-to-find boutique hipster joints, we’re definitely in the midst of a brewing revolution.
But how well do you know your coffees? Do you know your macchiato from your ristretto? Before you confuse that cute barista with your order of Ariana Grande and Mocha Choco Latta Ya Ya (which might be funny, actually) here’s a quick reference to the more popular coffees, what they are, and tips on getting the most out of it.
It is: a concentrated concoction, deep, dark, and rich. Forms the basis for many other popular coffee drinks.
Made by: forcing a small amount of nearly boiling water under pressure through finely ground, compacted coffee beans.
Pairs well with: a glass of water and friendly gossip with the barista.
In the cup: This is coffee at its purest. And purists will only drink it straight up, allowing no other taste to desecrate the experience. Some espressnobs advocate 13 steps to drink it, but that’s probably taking too long. The basic theory of drinking espresso is to drink it quickly. After all, it’s called an espresso, which means “made expressly, but also to be drunk quickly. Let it cool down a bit first, though – espressos don’t pair well with scalded tongues.
Fun fact: The term espresso also refers to a type of coffee roast (Espresso Roast) resulting in a particular style of roasted coffee bean (Espresso Beans) that are often used in espresso machines to brew espresso.
It is: more precisely called a Caffè Latte, a delicate blend of coffee and milk. A popular choice among coffee-drinkers, lattes are the go-to order when you can’t decide.
Made by: brewing a shot of espresso, which is followed with steamed milk and topped with a thin layer of foamed milk.
Pairs well with: light pastries and snacks, and a carefully cultivated attitude of thoughtfulness.
In the cup: Easily identified by the artistic patterns created by talented baristas in the foam, lattes are the multipurpose all-rounders of the coffee joint. Equally great as a mid-afternoon pick-me-up, or as an accompaniment to your novel du jour as you lay by the pool. Lattes should be sipped slowly – they should encourage contemplation and an appreciation for the slower pace of life. This is probably why they are commonly served in extra large cups – so you can literally hold on to the moment.
Fun fact: Latte artists can create really intricate designs. Swirls and leaves are popular, but some artists produce pictures of dragons, cartoon characters, and even teddy bears. Could you drink that?
It is: a delicious, naturally-sweet combination of espresso coffee, milk and steamed milk foam, with a distinctive red-brown colour. Supposedly not to be ordered or drunk after mid-morning.
Made by: pouring espresso into the bottom third of the cup, adding another third of hot milk, and topped with a final third of milk foam.
Pairs well with: texturally-intricate tidbits, like a biscotti.
In the cup: What’s not to love about a cappuccino? The strong espresso flavour, the creamy texture, and the tickle you get from that layer of sweet froth. Italians only ever drink cappuccinos with their breakfasts, but elsewhere, who cares? It’s notoriously difficult to get the ratios of three main components right, which is why if you find a barista who can make a cup that you love, you should seriously consider marriage.
Fun Fact: Taken without sugar, cappuccino is a perfect hunger saver. The only calories it contains come from the milk. It fills the stomach, provides nutrition and often tides you over to prevent those unpleasant hunger pangs.
It is: a decidedly pretentious coffee that you can order to impress café companions with. Also ideal if you’re limiting your dairy intake.
Made by: adding the slightest hint of milk to a strong espresso, accomplished by adding frothy milk foam into the espresso.
Pairs well with: anything pretentious (just kidding). Macchiatos do best on their own so you can fully appreciate the taste.
In the cup: Macchiato means “marked” in Italian, which is what this somewhat macho-sounding beverage is: coffee marked with a touch of milk foam to cut the harshness of the espresso. Authentic macchiatos (also known as espresso macchiatos) are unflavoured, save for the milk. But by all means, go for your favourite flavours, like caramel or hazelnut, to add a bit of fun to your cup.
Fun fact: Most people who order a macchiato don’t know what it is. But now you do!
It is: a robust beverage, more serious than the cappuccino, less intense than the macchiato, passionately Spanish in origin.
Made by: adding a small amount of warm milk to an espresso, usually in a 1:1 ratio, without additional foam.
Pairs well with: churros or similarly light rolls (preferably Spanish), can be substituted with youtiao.
In the cup: Despite being the perfect after lunch coffee to get you into the siesta mood, the cortado is a coffee that you won’t find on the menus of most coffee places. And because it’s not that well-known yet, the cortado could be the next new epitome of cool. (Remember when that spot was owned by the cappuccino? Yeah, me neither.) Of course, if you have your own espresso machine, you could always make your own.
Fun fact: The milk used in a cortado should be only lightly steamed and shouldn’t have any of the telltale froth or foam you’d see in a latte or cappuccino.
Long Black or Caffè Americano
It is: a confused drink that nevertheless does its job of delivering caffeine. Espresso-based, but designed to taste like drip-filtered coffee.
Made by: adding hot water to one or two shots of espresso. If it’s espresso first then water, it’s an Americano. If the espresso is at the bottom, it becomes a Long Black.
Pairs well with: hot dogs, pizza, donuts, fried chicken … you get the picture.
In the cup: Long Blacks and Americanos are good for anytime drinking. A well-made cup retains the subtle aroma of espresso, but with lighter body and less bitterness. According to coffee folklore, it was created by Europeans to deride the perceived American taste for weaker coffees. It is now believed to have been developed in the city of Seattle. Who has the last laugh now?
Fun fact: An Americano not doing it for you? Try the red-eye. This is a regular drip-coffee with an added shot of espresso!
Kopi-O Kosong Gao
It is: the closest thing to a true-blue Singaporean espresso you can get (it’s the “gao” that makes it special).
Also, at a mere fraction of the cost.
Made by: just barely diluting the intense, concentrated essence of freshly brewed and sock-filtered kopi with a bit of
hot water. Think Long Black, but with a very local flavour.
Pairs well with: kaya toast, chwee kueh, or whatever is eagerly waiting for you at the end of the longest queue at the
In the cup: a dark, brooding beverage, through which you can just see the silhouette of the stainless steel teaspoon that
invariably comeswith it. The first sip is daunting: it almost tortures the taste buds; but once the bitterness coats the inside
of your mouth, all you’re left withis the unique kopi tang and potent aroma. You might even start to imagine that
it’s a little bit sweet!
Fun fact: local kopi is made from a blend of Colombian Arabica and Indonesian Robusta beans that are wok-roasted with
margarine and sometimes pineapple skin and maize.
From Italy to Spain, from the US to SG. Coffee is here to stay. It’s the miracle that kickstarts our mornings, gets us through
our post-lunch food comas, and helps make that end of the day finish line feel that much closer. So now that you have the
inside scoop on this necessary nectar, go forth and make your order. And maybe get that barista’s number while you’re at it.