What is the Difference Between the Types of Coffee?

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There are so many types of coffee in the world that it can be difficult to know where to start in your journey to finding your favorite caffeinated drink.

So just what is the difference between the types of coffee and which type of coffee is best?

Here we answer these coffee brewing questions and more so you can order with confidence at your local coffee shop.

different types of coffee drinks on black background

What is the difference between the types of coffee?

First we will start with some of the key factors that differentiate coffee drinks from each other.

Hot or Cold Coffee 

Traditionally, coffee drinks were enjoyed hot due to the fact that the coffee beans needed to be brewed in hot water before being consumed.

However, iced coffee drinks quickly became popular when people realized that brewing coffee before pouring it over ice was another method of enjoying their caffeinated drinks. 

Many hot coffee drinks such as lattes, cappuccinos, and flat whites can be instantly transformed into cold drinks by pouring them over ice and adding more cold milk.

An iced coffee is one of the most popular and common cold coffee beverages, and there are endless variations to this classic coffee drink, like this iced caramel macchiato recipe and this iced coffee with chocolate milk.

Brewing Method  

The method used to brew the coffee beans is also a common way to differentiate between different types of coffee.

Many coffee drinks are made with espresso machines, which is where a small amount of hot water is pulled through finely ground coffee beans to create a highly concentrated coffee. 

Espresso can either be enjoyed on its own or mixed with milk and foamed milk to create beverages such as a Galão, Cortado, or Macchiato. 

Drip and pour over brewing are another popular brewing method where hot water is poured over ground coffee beans and the water slowly drips through a filter to product brewed coffee.

This is a popular brewing method for lovers of black coffee drinks and can be made manually or automatically with a drip coffee maker.

Immersion is a type of brewing in which the coffee beans are soaked in hot (or cold) water for a certain amount of time before the coffee is served.

Compared to drip coffee, hot coffee brewed through immersion has a fuller and heavier taste. See the full comparison here.

This type of coffee is commonly brewed in a French press, and can be used as a base for many types of coffee drinks.  It is a popular brewing method for home as it is quick and affordable.

Find out how to make coffee in a French press here.

These are the most common brewing methods but there are many others.

Coffee brewing methods illustration. Different ways of making hot coffee drinks

Milk or Froth Ratio

Perhaps the most distinctive difference between the types of coffee is the coffee to milk to froth ratio.

  • Black coffee and espresso shots will have zero milk or froth.
  • Flat whites will only have a small amount of steamed milk.
  • Lattes will contain a lot of steamed milk and a slight amount of foam.
  • Cappuccinos have more foamed milk and less steamed milk.
  • A macchiato will have 50% espresso and 50% foamed milk rather than any steamed. 

The ratio of coffee to milk to foam can result in hundreds of variations and unique coffees. See some of the more unique coffee drinks you can make here.

Additional Ingredients

Some types of coffee have additional ingredients rather than the simple coffee, milk, and foam.

Popular additional ingredients include chocolate, alcohol, spices and essential oils.

For example, a mocha will be made up of espresso, steamed milk, and chocolate for a sweeter flavor. 

Irish coffee is another alternative that is made from black coffee, whiskey, sugar, and whipped cream. 

white cup of espresso full of coffee with Chocolate bar and spices on wooden table

How many types of coffee are there?

There are four main types of coffee beans in the world, although two are much more common than the others.

Arabica Beans

Arabica beans make up the majority of the coffee beans that are sold around the world today, with an estimated 60% of the world’s coffee consumption being Arabica beans.

They are mainly sourced from Latin American and African countries. 

There are many variants of Arabica beans with different flavor profiles and aromas, which can be enjoyed by every type of coffee drinker. 

Read our guide to the best espresso coffee beans here.

Robusta Beans

This type of coffee bean is much stronger and bitter than Arabica beans but also tend to be lower in acidity.

Robusta beans are typically produced at lower altitudes and are often used to make instant coffee granules. They are also combined with Arabica beans to produce coffee bean blends.

Robusta beans also have around double the amount of caffeine that an Arabica bean has, which is perfect for strong coffee lovers. 

Liberica and Excelsa

Liberica is a much less common type of coffee and makes up a small percentage of global coffee crops.

These beans have a unique smokey flavor with a fruity aroma. They are predominately grown and consumed in south east Asia, but are not commonly found in the US.

Excelsa is a genus of Liberia beans and makes up around 7% of the world’s coffee production. Like Liberica beans, Excelsa beans are most commonly found in South East Asia.

The Excelsa bean is commonly blended with other coffee beans to enhance complexity and flavor in Arabica coffee blends.

Which type of coffee is best? 

There isn’t a definitive answer to which type of coffee drink is the best because everyone’s tastes are different from one another.

One person might love the quickness of espresso shots, while another couldn’t drink a coffee without lashings of milk and foam. 

If you enjoy the strong taste of black coffee and want a drink that you can knock back without taking too long, here is a list of the best coffees for you:

  • Black coffee
  • Americano 
  • Espresso
  • Doppio
  • Red-Eye
  • Lungo 
  • Ristretto
  • Cortado
group selection of different coffee types

However, if you prefer a drink that you can sip and enjoy while catching up with friends, you might prefer one of these coffees: 

  • Latte
  • Cappuccino 
  • Galão
  • Mocha
  • Flat white
  • Affogato
  • Irish coffee
  • Café au Lait

Lattes are the most commonly consumed type of coffee, with the cappuccino following closely behind.

The flat white is another popular type of coffee among those who like a simple beverage, and mochas are well-received among people with sweet tooths. 

The less common coffee types in this list are the affogato, Irish coffee, and red-eye. They are less commonly consumed by the average coffee lover. 

What is the sweetest type of coffee? 

Whilst these days there are many ways to sweeten coffee, the Mocha is the sweetest type of coffee in a traditional sense, thanks to the spoonful of chocolate that is added to the drink.

  • The chocolate mixes with the espresso shot and removes a lot of the bitter taste.
  • The steamed milk blends with the chocolate and essentially makes it a mug of hot chocolate with a shot of espresso mixed in. 

You can also opt for chocolate sprinkles or whipped cream on top for a mocha, making it even sweeter than before. 

Another good option if you have a sweet tooth is a Vietnamese coffee, which is brewed coffee with sweetened condensed milk. The condensed milk in the brew makes for an incredibly sweet coffee.

Irish coffee is another good alternative for a sweet tooth who wants to add some alcohol to their coffee drink.

Irish coffee has whiskey and espresso, which are considered bitter and not sweet at all, but this is masked by two types of sugar: 

  • Firstly, there’s the sugar mixed right into the coffee.
  • Secondly, there’s the sugar within the whipped cream.

With every drink of Irish coffee, you’ll be getting enough sugar and a big mouthful of cream to satisfy any sweet craving. 

Hot Irish coffee with whiskey and cream

What is the mildest type of coffee? 

The mildest coffee will have a smaller ratio of espresso or black coffee in it and a larger ratio of milk.

So, all of the coffee drinks without milk in them are not going to be the mildest option. These will taste stronger and more bitter. 

A latte is a great example of a mild coffee as it has a smaller amount of espresso compared to the amount of steamed milk.

Other mild coffees are a mocha, cafe au lait and a coffee frappe. The amount of espresso used in these coffees will affect how mild the taste is. A single shot of espresso will result in a milder coffee than a double shot.

Also a short pulled espresso will be milder than a long pulled shot. A short pulled shot is smaller in quantity and therefore, when mixed with milk and foam, will be milder than a long pulled alternative.

The long-pulled espresso is larger in quantity and therefore will make the coffee less mild. A regular espresso is right in the middle of these two extremes. 

If you’re looking for the mildest type of coffee, ask your barista to make your beverage with a short-pulled single shot espresso. 

Summary

It’s clear that you’ll never be short of options when visiting a coffee shop or brewing coffee at home – whether you prefer a mild, sweet, or straight-to-the-point coffee.

We hope that you learned something interesting from our article and maybe even found your new coffee order! 

More coffee articles

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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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