Espresso-based Coffee: Milk to Coffee Ratio and Water to Coffee Ratio

Espresso-based coffees are more popular than ever around the world. But, the abundance of options and jargon can make your head spin. This guide will clear up some confusion and help you explore the exciting world of espresso.   

But first, why do the drinks taste different?

One of the main reason espresso based-drinks taste differently is because of the quality of the ingredients used. Like with any other cooking, the type of milk and coffee used will have a significant impact on your brew’s flavor.

How you brew your espresso also impacts its taste. If it is very diluted from a larger brew ratio (1:3+), it is a bit more difficult to taste in milk drinks. That is why I advise using a concentrated espresso (1:1.5) in milk. Ristretto espressos like these are much better at cutting through the sugars and fats of milk.

The amount of milk and foam also significantly transform the way espresso tastes. Milk is full of fat, sugars, and water. The fat coats the tongue, curtailing the experience of sour or dry tastes. The sugars help to balance any bitterness from the coffee.  And the water dilutes the flavors of the espresso. 

The foam changes the texture and flavor of the brew. The small air bubbles trapped in foam gradually pop as your beverage sits. As they pop, they release small bursts of the coffee aromas trapped in the milk, enhancing the flavor. A good foam also gives the beverage a velvety, lush feel.

Popular types of espresso drinks

That said, here is a list of the most popular types of espresso-based drinks.

Espresso 

Espresso

Espresso is highly concentrated and is produced by forcing hot water through finely-ground coffee. You are free to use any roast to make espresso. I prefer using medium-dark roasts as they give my brew that great consistency, body, and flavor.

  • To prepare a double shot (double shots are now a standard in America and many places across the globe), you will need 18 – 20 grams of ground coffee to yield about 2 ounces of espresso in 25 – 30 seconds.
  • Add fine grounds into your portafilter —18 grams for the double basket (common in spouted portafilter) or 20 grams for a triple basket (common in bottomless portafilters).
  • Evenly distribute your grounds, tamp, insert the portafilter into the machine and activate the pump
  • Turn it off immediately you hit 30 grams of liquid espresso. If it hits 30 grams before 25 seconds, make your grind finer. And if it hit 30 grams after 30 seconds, make your grind coarser. 

Americano 

Americano

Americano is simply espresso topped with hot water. It is ideal when you want to enjoy more of your espresso. You need to be careful not to end up with a watery brew. The trick is balancing the amount of espresso and water. I suggest starting with less than 4 ounces of water and adding more until you get the desired results.

How to prepare it (1:4 Espresso to Water Ratio)

  • One double shot of espresso | 4 ounces of hot water
  • Add the hot water to the espresso. 
  • If you love a more diluted americano, add more water.

Macchiato

Macchiato

First, the name macchiato means “marked,” and there are two ways a brew can be marked. The common way is to mark espresso with a small amount of steamed milk. 

A café macchiato thus translates to marked coffee and is a 2-3 ounces classic Italian drink. 

Milk softens the more intense coffee and adds a little sweetness.

How to prepare it (1:1 Espresso to Milk Ratio)

  • 1 double shot of espresso | 1 ounce of steamed milk with plenty of foam
  • Pull a double shot of espresso. 
  • Steam about 3 ounces of milk. For a foamier, classic macchiato, try to introduce air until the pitcher stops feeling cold (100°F). Halt steaming immediately the pitcher feels hot to touch (130-140°F).
  • Swiftly add 1 ounce of steamed, foamy milk into the espresso. You can discard the remaining milk or use it as you please.

Latte macchiato

Latte macchiato
latte macchiato black coffee milk espresso milk foam

The other way is to mark a cup of steamed milk with an espresso. The result is a latte macchiato, a popular drink in the U.S.  

How to prepare it (1:6 Espresso to Milk Ratio):

  • Pull a double shot of espresso.
  • Steam about 6-8 ounces of milk. To form a larger “head” of milk foam, try to introduce air until the pitcher stops feeling cold (100°F). 
  • Halt steaming once the pitcher feels too hot to hold (140-150°F). 
  • Add the steamed milk into an empty glass, leaving 1-2 ounces of room. Add a fresh double shot of espresso into the center of the milk.

Cappuccino

Cappuccino

A cappuccino is usually 33% espresso, 33% microfoam, and 33% steamed milk. Some people confuse it with flat white. A flat white is another espresso-based brew prepared uniquely. Preparing a cappuccino requires more amount of practice. So be ready to experiment for a while before nailing it. 

How to prepare it (1:1:1 Espresso to Milk to Foam Ratio)

  • Pull a double shot of espresso into a 5 – 6ounce cup. 
  • Steam around 4-6 ounces of milk. For a foamier cappuccino, try to introduce air until the pitcher stops feeling cold (100°F).
  • Halt steaming immediately the pitcher feels hot to the touch (130-140°F).
  • Give the pitcher some good swirls on the counter to help mix the dense foam.
  • Add the steamed milk into the espresso until it fills a 5-6 ounce cup. As the drink settles, the foam will rise to the top, resulting in an even mixture of coffee, foam, and milk.

Latte 

person making latte art

A latte is a traditional espresso-based Italian coffee drink, but there are many different types of latte flavors. It is made up of about 1/6 espresso, 4/6 steamed milk, and 1/6 foamed milk. It is known as caffe latte in Italy, but most people elsewhere forgo the term caffe and only refer to it as a latte. In Italy, if you order a latte, you will likely get a tall glass of milk. This is because latte means milk in Italian. 

Latte is different from cappuccino in that it has much more milk and less foam. 

How to make a 10-ounce latte (1:4 Espresso to Milk Ratio)

  • Pull a double shot of espresso into a 10-ounce cup. 
  • Steam about 7-8 ounces of milk. For a milkier latte, try to introduce less air into the milk. 
  • Halt steaming once the pitcher feels too hot to hold (140-150°F). Give the pitcher some good swirls on the counter to help mix the foam.
  • Add the steamed milk into the espresso until it fills the cup.
  • To make larger lattes, increase the amount of milk to match your desired size.

Cortado

Cortado

Also known as Gibraltar, a cortado is a smaller-sized, lightly textured espresso-based drink that contains espresso and milk. It is a good choice when craving something milkier than macchiato and more punch than a flat white.

How to make it (1:2 Espresso to Milk Ratio)

  • 1 double shot of espresso | 2-3 ounces of milk with a very thin layer of foam
  • Pull a double shot of espresso into a 4 – 4.5 ounce cup. 
  • Steam about 5-6 ounces of milk. I prefer cortados with less foam. So, only introduce a small amount of air into your milk.
  • Halt steaming once the pitcher feels hot to touch (120-130°F). 
  • Give the pitcher some good swirls on the counter to help integrate the foam. 
  • Pour the steamed milk into the espresso until it fills the cup.

Flat whites

Flat White

There is no clear standard of what a flat white is. It is a simple espresso drink containing steamed milk. A flat white is almost similar to a cortado.

How to brew it (1:2 Espresso to Milk Ratio)

  • One double shot of espresso | 3-4 ounces of milk with a thin layer of foam
  • Pull a double shot of espresso into a 5-6 ounce cup. 
  • Steam roughly 5-6 ounces of milk. The best flat whites have a good balance of steam milk–try and dense foam to introduce a small amount of air (4-5 seconds of chirping/paper tearing sounds).
  • Halt steaming once the pitcher feels hot to touch (130-140°F). Give the pitcher a few good swirls on the counter to help integrate the foam. 
  • Pour the steamed milk into the espresso until it fills the cup.

The bottom line

As you may have noticed, what makes each of the espresso-based drinks unique is the amount of milk added. That means if you can master how to vary the milk ratio, you will always create the perfect drink. 

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Editorial Staff at Crazy Coffee Crave is a team of Coffee & Baristas who enjoy the one thing that we all think about, as soon as we get up in the morning. Trusted by thousands readers worldwide.