The Barista Diaries: Breaking down iconic espresso drinks

Are you looking forward to switching up your current coffee order this spring? It’s important to be able to tell the difference between different classic espresso drinks before you spend $6 on something new. As a Starbucks barista, I use Starbucks drinks as models to discuss how to make popular espresso drinks, but you can also order most of them at your local coffee shop. Let’s go!


A latte is arguably the most popular espresso drink ordered in cafes. The drink is simply steamed milk combined with as many shots of espresso as you desire. For reference, Starbucks adds one shot of espresso in tall hot beverages and two shots of espresso in tall and venti-sized hot beverages. The same recipe applies to iced drinks, except Starbucks adds three shots of espresso into venti iced lattes. You can definitely get creative with lattes when it comes to milk and flavor options. If you need a little more sweetness, add a little vanilla or caramel syrup. One of Starbucks’ trending drinks is a blonde vanilla latte, which includes vanilla syrup and shots of blonde espresso, which are made with a lighter roast and smoother texture.


If you can’t get on board with the thick consistency or the large amount of steamed milk in the lattes, I recommend trying a cappuccino. A cappuccino is made with the same ingredients as a latte, but the milk is steamed for a few seconds longer to create a lighter, frothier experience. If you order a cappuccino, the cup will be very light and the texture of the drink will be airy. Although dairy milks tend to froth best for cappuccinos, you can substitute oat milk or soy milk for the best non-dairy milk results.

Speckled caramel

If you haven’t ordered an iconic Starbucks hot or iced caramel macchiato yet, you have to try one on your next coffee round. A macchiato is made “upside down”, which means that the milk is first poured into the cup, then the shots of espresso are poured over it. If you order a caramel macchiato, there will be vanilla syrup in the bottom of the drink and a thick caramel sauce drizzled over the espresso shots. Most people choose to stir this drink if ordered chilled, but be sure to take a photo of it before stirring to capture the scenic caramel trickle and shots of espresso flowing into the cup. Many cafes also offer mocha macchiatos, which I haven’t tried yet!

Matt white

As a barista, I’ve noticed that many customers have never heard of a flat white or have no idea how it’s made. At Starbucks in particular, flat whites are made with whole milk rather than the standard 2% milk that most other espresso drinks are made with. A flat white gets an extra shot of espresso, and the shots are ristretto style, which are smaller and more concentrated. There is a feature on espresso machines for ristretto shots that pushes less water through the ground and results in a smoother, richer flavor. Starbucks currently offers a wonderful spring drink known as Almond Milk Honey Flat White, which is made with almond milk and honey blend syrup. For all my sweet coffee loving friends, this drink is perfect for you.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: