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What is Affogato [The Classic and Starbucks Definition]

We have many coffee drinks and coffee desserts to thank the Italians for – and one of the less common ones is affogato coffee.

So what is affogato? Known in Italy as “affogato al caffé”, affogatos are a classic Italian dessert consisting of hot espresso and vanilla gelato.

However like many traditional coffee drinks and terms, the affogato definition has become confused with the advent of a Starbucks affogato. As a result, the term affogato has two meanings, a traditional Italian one, and a Starbucks one.

So what is an affogato and how do you make it? Read on to learn more.

Glass with vanilla icecream with espresso poured over the top.

What is an Affogato: Classic definition

The word affogato derives from the Italian ‘affogare’, which means ‘to drown’. The Italian coffee dessert is also sometimes known as caffé affogato, literally meaning drowned in coffee.

It is traditionally made using fior di latte gelato, but most cafes and restaurants now use vanilla ice cream or gelato instead.

Fior di latte means the best part of the milk – it is simply milk, cream and sugar with no other flavors or ingredients added. 

Italian affogatos are traditionally served after lunch or dinner as a dessert.

How to make affogato the Italian way

Making a classic affogato couldn’t be simpler.

The gelato is scooped into the base of a chilled glass and the fresh hot espresso is poured over the top.

The hot coffee melts the cold gelato as it is poured over, creating a thick and luxurious foam. 

An espresso affogato is eaten with a teaspoon, allowing you to scoop up the melted ice cream.

They are best eaten while the ice cream is in a semi-melted state, before it has liquidized completely. 

espresso and ice cream in a glass

Affogato recipe variations

There are many variations available for this espresso dessert. Options include:

  1. If you do not have gelato to hand, you can use ice cream. Vanilla is traditional, but we suggest experimenting with different flavors for a unique twist – chocolate affogato and caramel affogato are other popular options.
  1. Another variation is to serve the affogato dessert decorated with toppings. Ideas include crumbled biscotti, meringue, toasted almonds or your favorite flavored syrup for additional sweetness. 
  1. A popular variation to an Italian affogato is a shot of liqueur. This is referred to as an affogato corretto. Traditionally this would be grappa, but other popular options include Frangelico, Kahlua and Bailey’s.

What is affogato: Starbucks style

At Starbucks, they use the word affogato to describe a shot of coffee being poured into the top of any drink.

The remaining ingredients of the drink are combined first, and the espresso shot is poured in to finish. 

For example, traditionally, a latte is made by pouring flavored syrup (if requested), followed by an espresso shot, and topped off with steamed milk.

A latte affogato will be made with the syrup, the milk, and then the espresso. This subtle difference in the method massively changes the look and flavor profile of your drink.

You can also order a Starbucks affogato Frappuccino. This is a cold, blended drink with a shot of espresso poured over the top.

The resultant drink has a beautiful graduated appearance, perfect for that Instagram shot! If you like, you can even request that the espresso is added after the whipped cream.

As you can see, the affogato Starbucks make is very different to a traditional affogato dessert and the two should not be confused!!

What kind of coffee should you use?

The coffee is one of 2 ingredients in this dessert. It takes the spotlight and we highly recommend that you use a high quality espresso that is freshly brewed.

See our reviews of the best espresso coffee beans here.

If you do not have an espresso machine, a moka pot or strong pot of french press coffee will give you a similar caffeine kick.

What is the history of affogato coffee?

The combination of coffee and ice cream is widely believed to have been a recent invention with the term only appearing in dictionaries in the early 1990s.

It has gone through very little alteration throughout its life. Realistically, how much can you improve on coffee and gelato?

Gelato is believed to have been around since the Renaissance period. In a book called Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well published in 1891, there are 24 different gelato and sorbet recipes.

The author of this book, Pellegrino Artusi, traced gelato back even further, to 1533. He believes that Catherina de’Medici, wife of King Henry II of France, brought her chefs from Florence to Paris, where the dessert was popularized.

The legend goes that her court held a competition to find the “most singular dish that has ever been seen”. A poultry farmer called Ruggieri submitted a recipe for a dolcetto gelato and won. Catherina invited him to accompany her to Paris, but he refused, gifting her with the recipe instead.

There are other legends surrounding the invention of gelato. Another way Catherina is linked to gelato is through her cousin, the Grand Duke Cosimo I. His favorite architect was a man by the name of Bernardo Buontelenti, who was a talented chef too.

At the wedding banquet of Henry IV and Maria de’Medici in 1600 he served a dish by the name of crema di Buontalenti.

Some people say he invented it, others say that he borrowed Ruggieri’s gelato recipe. Everyone agrees that the crema di Buontalenti is very similar to modern gelato. 

The word affogato was not added to English dictionaries until 1992. It is around the same time that the Italian dessert began to grow in popularity across the United States. 

Wrapping Up

Now you know exactly what espresso with ice cream is called – and how to order both a classic and modern Starbucks affogato.

Watch the video below to see exactly how to make it, or find more brew guides here or browse all our coffee recipes.

More coffee brew guides

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About Rachel R

Founder of Creators of Coffee, Rachel is a passionate coffee lover, SCA member and former barista, who also loves to research and share practical tips on everything to do with coffee. Favorite way to make coffee: With an Espresso Machine

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