Espresso Glossary

Here’s some terms that you should know to keep up with the barista.


Just what exactly is Espresso?  Espresso is coffee made by forcing water under pressure through finely ground coffee beans.  The name comes from the Italian meaning “to push out”.  Ultimately, if you like what you are making then it’s good,  But, according to the Italian Espresso National Institute (there’s a governing body for damn near everything), the constraints to produce a certified Italian Espresso are to take a 7 gram dose of ground coffee, and pull with 88°C at 9 bar for 25 seconds to produce 25ml of liquid.  I’ll let you covert to other measurements.

Putting that in simpler terms, you should have your setup pulling single shots of about 1oz in 25 seconds.  Now, a “shot” in US coffee houses is almost always what the Italians would call “doppio”, or double shot (double the amount of coffee).  A single is usually half of a double shot (meaning, the barista filled the portafilter like a double and split the output into 2 cups.)

Espresso Based Drinks

These drinks are all prepared with an espresso shot as the base.

Caffe Latte

This is traditionally a morning drink.  In fact in Italy, your coffee progresses through the day with less and less milk added.  You would never have a cappuccino after dinner.  Also, in an traditional Italian Latte, you use steamed milk, but NOT foam, and you pour your coffee IN to the milk.


Espresso with steamed milk topped with the foam from the milk.  The traditional proportions are 1/3 coffee, 1/3 milk, 1/3 foam.  The name comes from the Cappuchin monks who wore habits (uniforms) of a color similar to the drink.


Similar to cappuccino, but with much less milk added.  Macchiato is Italian for “stained”.  So, this is an espresso drink that is “stained” or spotted with milk.  You can also have a Latte Macchiato.  Which is the opposite proportions…mostly milk with a spot of espresso.


This is basically espresso with hot water added to dilute it.

Pulling a Shot

This term comes from the time before precise control mechanical espresso machines.  The barista quite literally had to pull a lever to force the hot water though the filter.  You had to have the skill to know how hard to pull and for how long to get the shot correct.  You can still buy machines like this as seen to the right.  They are NOT cheap, and require considerable skill to master.


A properly pulled espresso shot has a creamy head, similar to a well poured Guinness.  This head is the result of the extraction emulsifying the oils in the coffee.  If the shot is pulled to quickly, there will be no crema (and it will taste horrible).  If the crema appears to “explode”, it probably means the water was too hot (and it will taste horrible).  The color also can tell you if you are doing things correctly.  If it’s too dark you over-extracted (and it will taste horrible).  If it’s too light, you under-extracted (and it will taste horrible).  You can learn a lot from your crema and you should be watching it as you pull your shot….or it will taste horrible. :O)

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