Coffee is good when you can drink it without milk and sugar and enjoy it.
When prepared properly it will be neither sour nor bitter but sweet with a beautiful finish (i.e., after taste). You see, milk and sugar hide the coffee & shows the imperfections. So, if you make instant coffee, go ahead, it will need some milk or sugar… probably both.
But now go to a cafe that serves good coffee, order a Macchiato, Cortado or Flat White, and try it without sugar. What is there to lose? Okay, so what is a Macchiato, Cortado or Flat White?
— deep exhale —
Let me try to explain. Every person (and indeed country) has a different idea of what each means.
Macchiato, or Cafe Macchiatto, is Italian for ‘marked’ or ‘dirtied’ and it is an espresso (usually a single) with just a touch of foam and/or milk. There are many variations (as well as confusion) when it comes to this particular type of coffee. Results vary from cafe to cafe. Bad versions will have you adding a little sugar, basically ruining the coffee experience BUT, if the coffee is good the Macchiato is a wonderful experience. I only order Macchiatos at good cafes.
Cortados are 1 part milk, to 1 part Espresso (usually a double, I guess you could say double Macchiato with maybe a tiny bit more milk). I always ask for this, but if the barista doesn’t know what is, I ask for one of the two. I love the Cortado because the proportions are just right for me. The milk gives the coffee a little texture and a subtle sweetness but doesn’t hide the taste of the coffee.
Cappuccino and flat white have more or less the same amount of milk, more or less 2 parts milk to 1 part coffee, but the Cappuccino is traditionally served in a smaller cup with a single shot of Espresso (150-200ml). The milk is different as well. A Cappuccino will have milk that is more frothed, with a small foam tower on it, with chocolate sprinkles (usually no Latte Art). A Flat White will be in either a similar-sized cup or larger (200-280ml) with a double espresso and micro-textured milk (less frothed so it has a more glossy look to it, with a thick milky consistency).
Latte is Italian for milk, and a Cafe Latte is more or less 3 parts milk to 1 part coffee, traditionally served in a large glass with over-steamed milk. Too rich for me and the flavour of the coffee is lost in all that milk. On the other hand, in Germany, they say ‘Latte Macchiato’ not to be confused with an actual Macchiato!
Because Cortados and Flat Whites use textured milk it is easier for the barista to produce good latte art (if the milk is too hot or foamy, latte art becomes more of a challenge, especially with alternative kinds of milk). Also, there are probably some Australians and Kiwis out there reading this now shaking their heads. Usually, a Flat White would be quite small, and some places only serve single shots. Lattes are also popular down under, but also usually a single espresso and smaller cup. South Africa isn’t far behind, but we have a love affair with ‘bigger is better’. Believe me, when it comes to coffee, it is not the case.