10 Facts You Might Not Know About Coffee

Mar 07 at 12pm

Right now there are countless espresso shots being pulled and drip coffees being poured in San Francisco's 49 mile radius. We are a city of coffee fanatics, but most of us don't know that much about the drink we've become addicted to. Here are 10 things to consider the next time you order a latte or pour yourself a cup of joe:

1. Best times to drink coffee

Give yourself an hour or two after waking up to run through your body’s natural cortisol reserves, then drink a cup between 9:30 and 11:30 a.m. If you drink coffee before that, it will have little affect on your already alert body and only build up your caffeine tolerance faster. The next time your cortisol levels dip is between 1:30 and 5:30 p.m. Drink your second cup then.

2. Can you drink too much coffee?

According to a recent Mayo Clinic study, 2-3 cups of coffee a day are not only safe, but can possibly reduce the risk of certain types of cancer, suicidal depression, risk of stroke, and lots of other nastiness we’re just beginning to learn about. The reason why coffee was thought for so long to be a health detriment is that until recently, medical studies haven’t taken into account that the heavy coffee drinkers used as testers are usually heavy cigarette smokers as well. However, exceeding 28 cups a week (or 4 cups of coffee a day) actually can lead to long term health risks.

3. Drip coffee has more caffeine than espresso

Because it is more concentrated, espresso technically contains the most caffeine per ounce, but considering it’s unlikely that you’ll drink 8 to 16 ounces of straight espresso, drip coffee always wins in the caffeine battle.

4. Espresso + drip coffee is called...?

Every region has a different name for this drink. Red Eye, Black Eye, Dead Eye, Depth Charge, Turbo (if you’re on the East Coast and dig Dunkin' Donuts), Shot in the Dark, Stink Eye, Trainwreck... the list goes on. Some gas stations have black coffee shots with their creamers as condiments (for those who don’t care for No-Doz with their coffee).

A secret way to order this drink at cafes is a “cup of coffee with a shot of espresso.” That cuts down on the confusion and can sometimes lead to a cheaper price tag when ringing up an add-on to a drip, rather than a making it sound like a special drink with a kitschy name.

5. Americanos are mostly water

As the legend goes, the Americano was created and named for American troops in WWII France who needed their strong-as-hell French coffee watered down. Needless to say, an Americano is not stronger than any equally-sized cup of drip coffee. An Americano is mostly water.

6. An iced cappuccino is pointless

You should order an iced latte instead. An iced latte is made by pouring cold milk over espresso, whereas an iced cappuccino is the same, but topped with steamy foam. Adding hot foam to a cold drink is pointless unless you like lukewarm drinks. One of the bloggers at Serious Eats said it best here.

7. What's a “cortado?”

A cortado is basically a mini latte, also called a wet cappuccino, a Gibraltar, an Africano, le noisette, la cortadito, and a ton of other names across the globe. The difference between all espresso drinks is just the ratio of steamed milk (cream, water, etc.) to espresso and how much of that milk is foamed. In a cortado, there is about two ounces of steamed milk to accompany two shots of espresso. It's served in a small, straight-sided glass. If served in a cappuccino cup, it’s called a flat white.

8. Why do coffee snobs love ristretto... and what the hell is it?

Basically Ristretto is grinding your espresso even finer than usual to further condense your shot. It’s delicious, but so few Americans order this drink that your casual cafe employee has never heard of it. If you’re ordering a ristretto, you're probably looking for perfection, so I’d suggest only ordering an espresso ristretto if you see it on the cafe’s menu.

The opposite of ristretto is lungo, or a “long pour.” It is when you grind the espresso beans more coarsely and allow the shot to pull for a longer time, thus producing about twice as much liquid. This page has a great set of images to help visualize the differences between all these espresso drinks.

9. What's a breve? Or a con panna ?

Caffe breve is an American drink (despite it’s name) using half and half instead of regular milk in a latte/cappuccino/etc. Here’s a nifty page with some nutrition facts if you’re thinking about it.

Espresso con panna is a shot or two of espresso topped with a healthy amount of whipped cream. It is served in a small glass.

10. Why does anyone care about latte art?

The art is not important to the taste, but anyone who can manipulate the foam and espresso crema so delicately in one fluid motion is probably going to make really good lattes.

Though don’t buy into all that “latte art” where baristas draw onto the foam afterwards with espresso dye or chocolate powder. That’s just playing with your food and letting a hot beverage go cold. Drinks like that are show pieces.

Photo via Thinkstock

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