Affogato vs Espresso: Traditional, Starbucks, and More

Millions of coffee lovers everyday enjoy the bitter, complex flavor of espresso. The simple drink is a perfect way to get a caffeine boost while on the go.

The majority of coffee drinks we love use espresso as the base. Lattes, cappuccinos, flat whites and more are all popular espresso drink options.

While these are all popular drink choices of coffee connoisseurs, there is one post-meal drink that combines both the delicious flavors of espresso and the sweetness of a Italian dessert, gelato.

Today were covering the history and more of the iconic Italian dessert, the affogato as well as some espresso basics.

You’ll find out about the traditional take on this drink as well as the popular Starbucks rendition, some alternative options and more.

Affogato vs Espresso: Traditional, Starbucks, and More

Espresso: A Coffee Essential

A shot of espresso is the standard on the go drink for many people, especially in Italy where (surprise!) the drink originated.

While the style of the espresso machine has changed since 1884, the time of its invention, the drink has stayed a staple throughout time.

This shot of intense flavor is created by pushing hot water at a high pressure through tightly packed, finely-ground coffee.

When done correctly, the result is a highly concentrated shot of coffee that has consist of three distinct parts: crema, body, and heart.

Crema

This is probably one of parts espresso is best known for.

It is the creamy golden layer that sits directly on top of a perfectly pulled shot of hot espresso. The crema helps create a more visually appealing drink and is delicious.

Body

The Body of an espresso shot is a bit more complex then the crema or heart. This portion actually consists of three different components: Soluble solids, soluble gasses and insoluble solids.

Without going into too much detail, these are all different things that result when water is pushed through the ground coffee.

The soluble solids give you the taste of the actual espresso, the soluble gases the lovely coffee smell, and the insoluble solids are things such as the oil that comes from the beans that helps along the smell, taste, and mouthfeel of the shot.

Heart

This portion of the espresso shot is found at the very bottom of the glass.

The heart is much thicker than the rest of the liquid as it was the first water pushed through the espresso and thus sits at the bottom of the glass.

This part is also responsible for most of the acidity you taste in a shot of espresso.

Affogato al caffè: A Classic Italian dessert

Now is time to dive into the main star of today’s post, the affogato. This is both a dessert but also a style of espresso shot, referred to as affogato style.

This balanced Italian dessert is thought to have originated in Italy, but when and where is a point of confusion.

There are a few theories floating around currently, the first being that this delicious dessert originated back in the 1600’s thanks to a Franciscan friar named Angelico who decided to mix a bit of espresso with a bit of vanilla ice cream.

Another suggests that affogato originated in Naples, Italy, but was created or at least strongly influenced by the French.

It has also been suggested that while it was around before the mid 1900’s, it was in the 1950’s when the dessert really started to get popular. This is thought to have been due to ice cream also becoming increasingly popular after WW2.

While we may not know where or when this dessert truly came to be, we do know that it is absolutely incredible when made well.

Creating a traditional Italian affogato

One of the beautiful things about an affogato is that it’s simple.

However, because there are only two ingredients, you need to make sure they are high quality and created well if you want that authentic taste. (if you’re making this in your kitchen as a midnight snack it might not matter as much)

As we discussed already, the two main components of an affogato are the espresso shot and the vanilla gelato.

The Espresso

You really want to try and pull a shot of espresso that has a good crema and captures that complex, intense flavor that espresso is known for.

One of the best parts of an affogato is the balance of the espresso flavor with the creaminess of the gelato. Additionally, it is recommended to stick to a single shot of espresso (30-40 mL) per one scoop of gelato.

Although affogato is the Italian word meaning “drowned”, you don’t want to completely drown your gelato so much in espresso that you throw off the flavor ratio.

The Gelato

When in doubt, go to the source! Recipes From Italy states that if you want to keep it traditional, the best gelato to use is either “gelato alla crema” or “Fior di latte gelato”.

Fior di Latte gelato specifically is considered a very pure gelato as it doesn’t contain eggs or anything else beyond milk, sugar, and heavy cream (yum!).

Pro Tip: It is highly recommended to make sure your gelato is quite frozen before using it! This way, your scoop of vanilla gelato wont won’t completely melt when you add the fresh espresso.

Alternative Options: Straying away from Traditional Affogato

Like any dish, there is a traditional and non-traditional way to make it. Maybe you don’t have an espresso machine or are not a fan of vanilla gelato. Whatever reason you have, there’s no shame in creating your own version of an affogato.

Alternatives to using espresso

According to Spruce Eatsthere are definitely some good alternatives for espresso when it comes to making an affogato. What makes an affogato great, is the balance between the bold and strong espresso flavors and the smooth creaminess of the gelato.

Using a French press, moka pot, or pour over are all great ways to recreate this strong coffee flavor without an espresso machine.

Additionally, using a darker roast of coffee beans will help accomplish this flavor as they tend to make coffee that is bolder, stronger and less acidic in taste.

Alternatives to Vanilla Gelato

Depending on where you’re searching for an affogato, you’ll find more often than not, that it is being served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream instead of gelato.

Adding a scoop of ice cream is definitely common and still gives you that creamy/bitter combination that you might want with an affogato.

If you’re straying away from the vanilla flavor all together, there are a few flavors that work better than others when adding espresso.

Some of the popular options are either dark or milk chocolate and hazelnut. While some people recommend against using coffee ice cream, if you want a extra kick of coffee flavor, feel free to give this a go!

Adding a Boozy Finish

As affogato is often offered as a dessert, adding a bit of booze is not uncommon. Similar to the alternative gelato or ice cream flavors, adding hazelnut liqueurs like Frangelico, a shot of amaretto, or a bit of rum are all great options to enhance the flavors.

Lowering the Caffeine Content: Decaf Options

Like any other coffee drink, you can always make a shot of decaf espresso to go with your affogato. Caffeine affects everyone differently and just because you might not want as much caffeine as an espresso shot gives you, doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy this delicious dessert!

The only difference you may notice with a decaf shot of espresso is a milder flavor profile. This is due to the decaffeination process and how the shot itself pulls.

A shot of espresso contains around 80 mg of caffeine.

Where to Find an Affogato

As this is a traditionally Italian dessert and coffee drink, you should be able to find it easily in many Italian restaurants. Fine dining or higher end restaurants who sell espresso also typically offer affogato as an after-dinner drink option.

In my experience in the United States, I don’t find many coffee shops offer ice cream options so I wouldn’t assume that your favorite stop would offer an affogato-style shot, but it never hurts to check! If you travel to Italy or Europe this likely will not be the same case!

Starbucks' Take on the Affagato: The Frappuccino

The coffee conglomerate has been known to take traditional coffee drinks and spin them into some of the most iconic drinks on the market.

If you’ve ever worked in a coffee shop before, you are probably familiar with having to ask people if they would like a traditional macchiato or a “Starbucks” version when they order.

This case is no different. As we all know, Starbucks isn’t exactly serving up traditional affogatos in the drive through, but they do sell hundreds and hundreds of Frappuccinos a day.

A Frappuccino is a flavored frozen blended drink that was invented by Starbucks market director Andrew Frank in 1992. It was launched in stores a few years later in 1994.]

To date, Starbucks offers over 30 different flavors of the Frappuccino and in 2011 the popular blended drink accounted for 20% of the total sales.

While the Frappuccino may not actually contain ice cream, the balance of sweet and bold flavors are still very present, though most likely on the sweeter side of things.

In a classic Caffe Vanilla Frappuccino you’ll find similar ingredients to what makes up ice cream: Ice, milk and whipped cream.

Espresso is also added similar to an affogato along with coffee Frappuccino syrup to give it an extra punch. Any other flavorings like caramel sauce or vanilla bean powder are also added in as needed.

Obviously if you have a taste for a classic affogato, a Frappuccino is probably not at all what you’re looking for. But it has undeniably changed the blended drinks market since its late 90’s launch.

Summary: Affogato vs. Espresso

Although the title of this article is “Affogato VS. Espresso” that really isn’t the case.

While they are two separate drinks to be enjoyed, one is more of a dessert that cannot traditionally exist without the other.

While espresso is, and always will be, the essential in so many coffee drinks, it can be enjoyed on its own and in many other ways.

A good shot of espresso will have three crucial parts: a good smooth crema, great body, and good heart found at the bottom of the shot, providing acidity and mouthfeel.

Affogato on the other hand, is a style of the espresso shot, poured over gelato or ice cream.

Ideally, around 30-40 mL or one shot of espresso will be used for every one cup of gelato or ice cream used.

Although the word affogato in Italian translates to “drown”, you don’t want to have too much espresso in your affogato.

One of the best things about an affogato is when the hot espresso joins the gelato, slightly melting it. This creates a beautiful combination of the different flavors, temperatures, and textures.

The popular dessert has been enjoyed for decades and has even been adapted by Starbucks and transformed into one of their most popular blended drinks, the Frappuccino.

Although inspired by the Italian dessert, the Frappuccino is only similar as the ingreidents used are similar to those in gelato or ice cream.

Starbucks has offered around 30 different flavors of frappuccinos since its birth in 1994.

If you ever come across an affogato while in a cafe in Italy or just a nice restaurant elsewhere, I highly recommend giving it a go.

While it may not be the best option for someone who loves sweeter drinks, it’s the perfect way to get an extra bit of caffeine after a meal.