Your Guide to 8 Popular Coffee Drinks

Do you head to your nearest coffee bar every day to jump start your morning?

If so, you’re not alone! In 2011, there were an estimated 20,000 coffee businesses in the US, with combined revenues of about $10 billion, according to the Small Business Development Center. Why coffee bars? The filtered water and fresh coffee grounds that coffee shops use creates a much more appealing product than anything you could brew at home, explains Erin Meister, a regional representative for specialty coffee roaster Counter Culture Coffee. She adds that the allure of the coffee bar experience also includes the convenience, the atmosphere, and the luxury of being waited on by a barista. Then there’s the extensive array of choices and flavors on most coffee shop menus.

Coffee is a Unique Experience

"Almost everyone in the world has a thought about of what coffee tastes like," Meister stresses. Whether you prefer a simple brewed mug of coffee, a latte, or a decadent seasonal specialty, there’s something that fits everyone’s taste preferences. But before you order your favorite drink, she points out that it can be helpful to know what you are actually ordering and what the impact will be on your weight and nutritional needs, as well as how much caffeine it will bring.

Overview of Popular Coffee Drinks

Here is a rundown of a few of the popular coffee drink picks, along with a sample of the nutritional value of these drinks (just keep in mind that these can be different depending on the coffee shop, the size, and the ingredients you select):

  • Filter coffee: This is another name for drip-brewed coffee, which is the standard type of coffee you might make at home or order at your local coffee bar. The brewing process for this involves letting water seep through the ground coffee beans. The actual coffee flavor it contains comes from the individual beans themselves, which are very strong, thought a typical cup of brewed or filter coffee is actually 98 percent water and only 2 percent coffee. The caffeine content in a plain coffee drink can vary a great deal, depending on the size and the brewing process. For instance, at Dunkin Donuts, a small (10-ounce) serving is 132 mg of caffeine, while at Starbucks, a small (8-ounces) contains 180 mg of caffeine. Filter coffee has approximately 0-5 calories per cup.
  • Espresso: This drink is more concentrated than regular brewed coffee. It’s typically made by using steam pressure to extract the coffee. The flavor can be very intense, so it’s often used as a base for other, milder, coffee drinks. Although the amount of caffeine espresso contains is higher than filtered coffee, espresso is traditionally served in very small amounts (at Starbucks, for instance, the serving is 1 fluid ounce, with 5 calories and 1 gram carbohydrate). Caffeine content in a small espresso equals about 75 mg.
  • Americano: If you like espresso but want to tone down the bold flavor, you might want to order an Americano, which consists of adding a shot (or multiple shots) of espresso to hot water. A typical small serving at most coffee bars has about 15 calories, 1 gram of carbohydrates, and 75 mg. of caffeine.
  • Cappuccino: This is a drink made using an espresso machine that has steam wands to blend equal amounts of espresso, steamed milk, and foamed milk to create a unique frothy texture. The drink is made by blending the espresso shot and the milk together first, and then adding the foamed milk ingredient on top of the concoction. Because of the milk used, the flavor is milder than a straight shot of espresso or an Americano. It is also more fattening: A 12-ounce cappuccino (a "tall" at Starbucks) made with 2% milk typically has 80 calories, 2.5 to 3 grams of fat, 7-8 grams of carbohydrates, and 75 mg. of caffeine.
  • Latte: This popular drink contains an espresso shot with steamed milk that is topped with foam. This drink contains more milk than a cappuccino. The ratio in a latte can vary depending on who makes it, but it’s usually just a few ounces of espresso, and it is heavy on milk with a smaller amount of foam. A typical 12-ounce latte with 2% milk is about 150 calories, 6 grams of fat, 14 grams of carbohydrates and 10 grams of protein. The caffeine content is about 75 mg.
  • Café au Lait: This drink is made with brewed filter coffee and milk, with the proportions of both ingredients being equal, resulting in a full-bodied drink. An 8-10 ounce serving with whole milk can run about 65 calories, 3 grams of fat, 5 grams of carbohydrates, and 3 grams of protein. At most coffee shops, the caffeine content is 70 mg.
  • Mocha: This is a type of drink made with espresso and frothed milk that has chocolate syrup added. As a result, the calorie content can be higher than some other drinks. Some people consider this a hot chocolate with a shot of espresso added. A 10-12-ounce serving made with whole milk can have about 230 calories, 9 grams of fat, 32 grams of carbohydrates, including 26 grams of sugar, and 10 grams of protein. (This can vary a great deal, though, depending on the specific type of cocoa used and the proportions.) The caffeine it packs is about 75 mg for a small serving.
  • Macchiato: This is a drink that uses a shot or two of espresso that is then “stained” by adding a small amount of milk. (An alternative is to reverse the proportions by using milk as the base and staining it with a small amount of espresso.) This drink can be made with different flavors added in. A sample of nutritional value of a small plain espresso macchiato with whole milk and nothing extra added is 10 calories and 1 gram of carbohydrate, while a macchiato that is made from milk that contains a shot of espresso and vanilla syrup can be 130 calories, 5 grams of fat, 16 grams of carbohydrates, and 5 grams of protein. Both versions contain about 75 mg of caffeine.

Adding it Up

The good news is that when you drink standard coffee and forego the extras (such as cream, chocolate syrup, and whipped cream), the calories will be low and the caffeine can bring some mild health benefits, such as improving your vascular health and circulation, says Stella Metsovas, BS, a food and diet expert based in California. Many healthy adults can tolerate about 400 mg. a day of caffeine without any ill effects. But she recommends that people steer clear of the fancy seasonal drinks that tend to pack in extra ingredients and calories.

"Most research that studies health benefits of coffee always use traditional coffee drinks instead of the new designer coffees (like your pumpkin latte)," she says. "In fact, most of these new popups harm your health instead of boosting the circulatory benefits coffee is known for." She adds that the sugars contained in many flavor-enhanced coffees can even destruct the healthy production of glucose and insulin. And while many people think that using artificial sweeteners can help to keep calories in check, Metsovas points out that this comes with its own set of health risks, including the potential to alter gut flora, which some researchers now believe can increase the risk of metabolic diseases such as diabetes.

What all this means is that when you order your next coffee, remember that keeping it simple is usually best.

Erin Meister and Stella Metsovas reviewed this article.


Caffeine Informer. "Caffeine Content of Drinks." Accessed website Sept. 28, 2014. 

Dunkin Donuts. "Menu and Nutrition." Accessed website Sept. 28, 2014. 

Meister, Erin. Regional representative for Counter Culture Coffee. Phone interview, Sept. 19, 2014. 

Metsovas, Stella. Food and diet expert. Email interview, Sept. 24, 2014. 

"Drinks." Starbucks Coffee Company. Accessed website Sept. 28, 2014.