Traditional vs Americanized Coffee Terms

Coffee is a beverage that is enjoyed by millions all across the globe.  The popular beverage has been around for centuries.  Although a love for coffee can bring cultures together, the way coffee is prepared widely varies from country to country.  While most of the methods use some form of coffee and water, there are still lots of ways that different cultures have made this process their own.  The most mainstream processes in America are probably the French Press, Chemex, and Aeropress.  You can read more about these brewing methods here.  In addition to brewing methods, Americans have also taken many traditional drinks and made them their own.

Traditional espresso culture was founded in Italy.  It was in these small Italian cafes that words like latte, macchiato, and cappuccino were coined.  With the influx of very large coffee retailers popularizing these terms, some of the definitions have changed.  In traditional Italian cafes, the cup sizes are far smaller than even a small cup in most American coffee shops.  Italian cafes are typically focused on bringing people together and taking a moment to enjoy their drink, whereas American shops are more focused on quick service and drive-thrus.  Over time, many of the traditional drinks’ recipes have been modified by large American coffee shops to appeal to the masses.  Let’s take a look at some of these drinks.

Americano/Long Black

These two drinks are very similar, both consisting of hot water and a shot of coffee.  The “Americano” was coined during WW2 when American soldiers were drinking coffee in Italy.  The local coffee was too strong so the soldiers asked for it to be diluted with water.  This drink is made with a shot of espresso that has been topped with water.  The Long Black is the opposite, with the espresso going on top of the water.  This preserves the espresso crema.  


This is a drink that has been popularized by the masses, however the popular definition is far different from the original one.  In Italian coffee culture, a macchiato is defined as a shot of espresso with a small amount of steamed milk.  The word “macchiato” translates to spotted.  A traditional macchiato is around 3 oz.  This includes a 2 ounce shot of espresso and around an ounce of milk that leaves the surface of the espresso with a large white spot.  These drinks are not typically flavored.  The popularized versions typically add caramel, or other flavors, and are resized to appeal to the American masses.  This creation strays so far from the definition of a macchiato that it is basically a caramel latte.


The cortado is actually not of Italian origin.  This is a Spanish drink with cortado translating to “cut”.  This drink is equal parts espresso cut with warm milk.  The milk is steamed, but not as frothy as a latte.  The cortado is typically around 4 ounces of liquid and typically served in a Gibraltar glass.  It is sometimes called a Gibraltar when served in this tapered glass.  

Flat White

This is one of the newer terms on the list, coming from Australian origin.  This was coined by a coffee shop owner who realized his customers preferred less foam in their lattes.  The “flat” comes from the appearance of the milk, appearing less foamy than in many Italian drinks. 

Cafe Au Lait/Misto

This is a French term that translates to “coffee with milk”.  It is made with equal parts drip coffee and steamed milk.  This dilutes the coffee without cooling it down. 


A cappuccino is quite similar to a latte in the fact that it consists of a shot of espresso and steamed milk.  The main difference is the way the milk is steamed.  In a latte, the milk is steamed with a small layer of foam on top, cappuccino milk is frothed more with a thicker layer of foam on top.  Traditionally this is a small drink, coming out to be around 5 ounces.  As with many other foods and drinks, Americans have greatly increased the size to 12-20 ounce cups.

London Fog

A London Fog is the British take on a Cafe Au Lait.  It is similar in that it is half steamed milk, but instead of the other half being coffee, it is tea.  


This is an Italian dessert that has made its way around the world.  It is traditionally made with a scoop of ice cream that has a shot of espresso poured over top.  This makes a sweet and creamy treat with a bit of caffeine.


This is a trending drink from large coffee retailers where different types of coffee are combined with Olive Oil.  “Oleato” means oiled in Italian.  While the word comes from Italy, the drink is not something you would find on traditional Italian menus.  Some claim this line of drinks was created as a tribute to the fact that many Italians drink a spoonful of olive oil each morning.  At Copper Canyon Coffee, we don’t serve any Oleato drinks.  

Cafe Latte

When we think of a Latte, we normally think of espresso with steamed milk.  This is not how the word was originally intended to be used.  In Italy, if you ordered a latte, you would just get a glass of steamed milk.  If you wanted an American Latte, with a milk and espresso, you would need to ask for a Cafe Latte.  


If you were to ask for a Latte in Italy you would get a glass of steamed milk.  We use a different word for that in America.  Most shops call this a steamer.  In many shops, this is a kid's drink similar to hot chocolate.  Sometimes customers choose to add a flavor such as vanilla.

Shot in the Dark/Red Eye/Black Eye

This is regarded as an American drink.  It goes by many different names and some use slightly different definitions for the names.  The base of the drink is a cup of drip coffee, and it is topped off with a shot of espresso.  Most American coffee shops have machines that pull double shots.  Some cafes refer to the double shot as “a shot” while others split the double shot into two.  At our shop, we make the Red Eye (or Shot in the Dark) with a double shot.  Some shops might prefer to use a single shot for the red eye and a double shot for a black eye.  If you see this on the menu at a coffee shop, you might ask the barista how it is made at their shop.  

Dirty Chai

Most people are familiar with a Chai Tea Latte.  Next to the Chai on the menu, many shops offer a Dirty Chai.  This is probably the drink we get the most questions about at our shop.  A dirty chai is just a normal Chai Tea Latte with a shot of espresso in it.  It combines the sweet and spicy flavors of a chai with coffee to give you an extra kick.

With so many different drinks coming from all around the world, it is possible for different shops to serve a drink with the same name but a different recipe.  Ask your local barista how your favorite drink is made at their shop!

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