​A Barista Explains Your Morning Coffee

​What exactly is a flat white? And should you only drink espressos in the afternoon? All the complexities of caffeine culture answered here

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A lot of us decide we like one type of coffee and order it forever, totally unaware of what is really in it or how it is made. But the distinct processes and quantities in coffees have different effects on us, so you might be missing out on something you'd enjoy more.

To ensure you're getting the most of your morning coffee, or know what it actually is, we spoke to Sharni Ruming, a senior barista and product development manager at high-end coffee chain Department of Coffee and Social Affairs and a verified expert on a good cup of joe.

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What you should drink when

In Italy it is customary that people have long coffees like lattes or cappuccinos in the morning and then will drink espressos only in the afternoon. Sharni explains that isn't such a thing here. "A lot of people tend to have their milkier coffee in the morning to enjoy them slowly, but some people order an espresso first thing to wake up," she says.

"In terms of which is better for you, coffee without milk is always a healthier choice and recent studies have shown that instead of causing cardiovascular disease, caffeine can reduce the risk of cancer and heart diseases." 

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Having a maximum of one milky coffee a day then switching to espressos (or the reverse) limits your milk intake without sacrificing your energy levels.

The 5 most popular coffees explained:


A single shot of coffee (double shot is called a doppio)

Sharni says espressos are their second most ordered drink and are "drunk frequently in busy cities to keep people going." You chuck them back like a shot so they feel stronger because the hit of caffeine is not diluted with milk. 


A single shot of coffee with a tiny amount of foamed milk

"If you want a shot but rounded with a small amount of milk then go for a macchiato," Sharni suggests. The small frothy covering of milk on top of the shot means a macchiato has all the instantaneous appeal of an espresso but is a little more palatable first thing.

Flat white

Commonly one-third coffee, two-thirds foamed milk

"This is our biggest seller in every branch," Sharni says, "It started out in Australia and has grown in popularity massively. The milk rounds the taste of the coffee and sweetens the overall flavour."

The caffeine will hit you slower than an espresso because you sip the drink rather than shotting it. That said, the milk isn't frothed for very long and sits flat on the surface so it can be drunk quickly on the go.


Commonly one-quarter coffee, three quarters steamed milk with foamed milk on top

A latte is a more drawn out version of a flat white, you'll likely drink this slower as it has a little bit more milk in it. "In a latte the milk has stretched," Sharni explains, "So will taste creamier meaning lattes are good for sitting down with and enjoying."


Commonly one-third espresso, one-third third heated milk and one-third foamed milk 

Cappuccinos are lighter than lattes because the milk is frothed for longer, "There is less  or steamed liquid milk so they taste lighter, less milky and more foamy," Sharni says. "However, they usually come with chocolate on top so are slightly less healthy." They've gone out of fashion somewhat recently, having been phased out last year by even Starbucks who have adopted the flat white. 

Sharni's tips to get the most of your coffee:

  • Check what you're actually ordering

Specialist coffee shops keep popping up in London and many of them have different terms for variations on the same drinks. "Cafes have different definitions of some slang names like a cortado or a flat white, so if you're specific about what you want, double check what it is they're actually serving."

Another thing to check is whether places do single or double shot as standard, as this varies a lot. Some shops do a double shot in a latte but single in a flat white so ask when ordering and don't be afraid to ask for a shot more or less.

  • Don't get too caught up over skinny milk

"When you try and steam skimmed milk it goes bubbly and thin rather than creamy," Sharni explains. "It is difficult to do and ends up making the coffee taste watered down." For this reason most cafes serve whole milk as standard unless you ask for "skinny," in which case they will give you semi-skimmed milk. 

But don't get too upset about being conned into full-fat milk, they serve it because the coffee tastes richer and better for it, and because skimmed milk doesn't actually have significant health benefits. It is better to have one coffee with whole milk then switch to espresso if you need more caffeine than drink multiple 'skinny' coffees and compromising the flavour.

  • If you want a milk-substitute, ask what goes with your coffee

Rather than going in and blindly demanding almond milk, ask will suit your coffee as coffee shops will test out milk substitutes like soy or coconut and stock what goes with the bean flavours.

"Almond or coconut have their own flavours so they will often use a blend to complement single-origin coffees" she says. "You have to pair your coffees with the milk or flavours clash and taste horrible. We use Oatly because it enhances the flavour of our coffees rather than masking them."

  • What to look out for in coffee shop

There's a lot to know when it comes to the origin of coffee beans and blends.

If you want something that has a unique strong flavour go for a single-origin coffee, "Look for somewhere offering the tasting notes, location of the origin farm and roast date of the coffee beans. Single-origin coffee is more expensive but have a more unusual and distinct flavour. If you want more of an easy crowd pleaser then go for a house blend."

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