Affogato vs. Espresso: Full Comparison

Have you ever wondered what makes espresso different from Affogato —which originates from it? If yes, you may not have tasted either one of the two, or you probably have, but want to understand the technicalities. As someone who is quite inquisitive and eager to learn, I share a similar curiosity towards coffee, and that’s why I set out to find out.

Although both drinks are coffee-based and share a similar heritage (Italy), they aren’t the same. An espresso is a coffee drink that you brew by forcing hot water through finely-ground coffee under pressure. Affogato is a dessert gotten by mixing ice cream with espresso, sometimes topped with sauce.

Well, my fellow coffee lovers, let’s continue this journey of discovery and understanding as we dissect the intricacies and nuances of affogato and what makes it different from your classic espresso. I will also share some recipes I found during my research that you can use at home by yourself.

What is an Affogato?

An affogato is a hot and cold coffee-based dessert sold in some specialty coffee shops. You may be lucky to find it on the dessert menu of restaurants too. The English translation of the word affogato is “drowned,” which says much about its nature. The affogato is a delicacy that finds its origin in Italy but has migrated to various parts of the world.

While most people can trace the root of its name, it isn’t easy to find specific details on the affogato’s origin. Some people call it a dessert, and others say it’s a beverage or a drink—a matter of constant debate amongst coffee lovers. But who cares, right? As long as I get my creamy ice cream scoop mixed with the caffeine bursting in espresso, I don’t mind if it’s a drink, beverage, or dessert.

I must say that I low-key think it’s dessert because of the ice cream. Anyway, we all agree on one thing —at least I hope we do— how to eat it. The general recommendation is to pour the coffee on the ice cream before serving and enjoying it before it melts.

How to Prepare an Affogato

Many people have different ways of making an affogato. The standard method of preparation consists of a shot (or two) of espresso and a vanilla gelato scoop. I will share some of the more popular recipes I have come across.

Recipe 1

  1. Take a bowl
  2. Put a generous scoop of Fior di latte ice cream (it looks like vanilla ice cream, but it means “flower of milk”). It is made using sugar, dairy, starch, and no egg yolk.
  3. Then, pour well-regulated espresso over it.

Recipe 2

In the absence of Fior di latte (gelato al fior di latte), they follow the same method as in recipe one with a substitute.

  1. Get a clean bowl
  2. Take a generous scoop of vanilla ice cream and put it in the bowl
  3. Pour espresso in it and serve immediately.

Recipe 3 – Decorated Version

The initial process of this recipe is the same as either one or two. After adding the espresso, they decorate with:

  • Biscotti or cantuccini
  • Caramel sauce or syrup
  • Chocolate syrup or sauce
  • Chantilly cream or regular whipped cream
  • Nuts (toasted, chopped, or candied)
  • Espresso beans covered in chocolate
  • Chocolate shavings

Recipe 4 – Homemade Version

The Ingredients you will need for an excellent tasting affogato at home are ice cream and coffee of excellent quality.

  1. First, you have to make the espresso. If you do not own an espresso machine, you can substitute with a Moka pot or use filter coffee (try making it very concentrated). You can use any variant of coffee (capsules, instant coffee, Brikka, or espresso) as long as it is concentrated.
  2. Put the ice cream in a bowl.
  3. Pour the espresso over it and enjoy your affogato.

Some other people use other ice cream flavors to substitute for Fior di latte and vanilla ice cream. The classic serving dish is a bowl, but some people use cups for commercial purposes.

Other Variations of Affogato

Affogato’s unique nature makes it easy to manipulate any of its main ingredients for a new flavor or add toppings for a different feel. These additions are the origin of varying affogato flavors.

Affogato Corretto

An alcoholic variant of the affogato is Affogato corretto. They prepare the classic version of this drink with grappa (which is a grape pomace brandy made in Italy). If you want the alcoholic tinge, you can play with different alcohol brands until you find the perfect one. You can use some other types of liquors like Kahlua or baileys (it mixes well with espressos since it is milk-based whiskey).

Blended Affogato

This variant is technically a Frappe, and it isn’t an official affogato. Here, you mix the espresso with the ice cream in a blender to create a delicate frappe.

Other variations are based on:

  • Serving caramel or chocolate ice cream based affogato (or any other creamy flavor)
  • Using a double ristretto instead of an espresso shot for a more intense flavor
  • Fruit ice cream for an unconventional taste
  • Syrups
  • Oilseeds
  • Liqueurs
  • Wines

What is an Espresso?

The brewing process involves forcing boiling water through finely-ground coffee under high-pressure. A barista uses an espresso machine to achieve the unique taste of espresso. The entire brewing process doesn’t last up to a minute. A good espresso shot will:

  • Be bitter
  • Have a strong flavor
  • Be extremely concentrated
  • Strong with a lot of caffeine
  • Have a complicated flavor profile
  • Be very hot and smokey
  • Have aromatic oils
  • Be thicker than usual filtered coffee
  • Be less acidic than standard coffee

Baristas use the technical requirements that the Italian Espresso National Institute set for making espresso to make an excellent brew. The principle for making espresso is quite simple as long as you follow the guide. Appropriately crafted espresso will have two layers, which are the crema and liquid layer.

The Crema Layer

It is the layer at the top of the shot that appears golden-brown and lasts for approximately 40 minutes after brewing the coffee. It only forms on an espresso because the machine’s pressure intensity affects the way oils interact with water. An ideal crema layer should be dense and thick enough to hold a spoon of sugar.

The crema layer defines the taste and nature of your espresso. A lighter-colored crema with large bubbles indicates that the coffee will have a watery taste because of under extraction. And a darker-colored version will have a bitter taste due to over-extraction.

The main components are proteins, melanoidins (which is a combination of amino acids and sugar), and oils. You may not see a crema layer in all types of coffee beans or espresso. Many people identify this layer as a sign of a properly brewed shot. On the other hand, some people think it is too bitter for them to enjoy its presence in their espresso.

The Liquid Layer

Some barristers split the liquid layer into two sections, the body, and the heart.

  1. The body is the caramel to brown mid-portion of an espresso shot.
  2. The heart is the rich, dark brown base of the espresso shot.

The liquid part is the espresso’s central portion, and it comes with sweetness and acidity.

Drinks You Can Derive From an Espresso

The affogato we are comparing espresso is one of the derivatives of an espresso. When you alter the steamed milk, wet foam, dry foam, and hot water concentration; or blend the espresso, you can get different types of coffee drinks from the espresso.

With more water, you can get an americano and a long black. When you put more milk, you can get a macchiato, a flat white, a latte, or a cappuccino. You can also include different flavors like chocolate, caramel, vanilla, and more for a unique taste.

For all the types of espresso-based drinks, you can get ice cubed versions or blended ice versions that make them pleasant to drink in summer months. Other cold variants are the caffè Freddo and Freddo espresso.

Caffé Freddo

Caffé Freddo is a cold espresso that they also call an Espresso Freddo. It is typical in southern Europe. In Rome, the cafes will prepare it and keep it chilled in advance.

Freddo Espresso

In Cyprus, Greece, and their neighboring countries, they call their cold espresso Freddo espresso. They are famous in the summer months, and it gets preserved slightly differently than the Italian version.

How Does an Affogato Differ from an Espresso?

Espresso is an independent drink that you have to brew from scratch. It serves as the foundation for many coffee-based beverages. On the other hand, an affogato is a derivative of the espresso with the addition of a polar opposite of the espresso for a different feel. I will classify the difference between affogato and espresso in four categories.

Preparation Method

Preparing an espresso requires boiling or near-boiling water, ground coffee, and an espresso machine. You pass the water under pressure through coffee using the espresso machine. For affogato, you will need an espresso or any strong coffee brew as the initial base with ice cream and a bowl (in some cases, extra additions, or a blender). The preparation requires taking a scoop of ice cream, pouring an espresso shot on it, and serving immediately.

Consumption Purposes

People that take espresso want a quick burst of caffeine. Most folks enjoy affogato as a dessert since it tastes so heavenly. Affogato is the coffee and an ice cream lover’s dream come true.

Health Benefits

For health benefits, espresso has most of the health benefits coffee offers like:

  • Reducing the effect of liver Damage
  • Antioxidation
  • Boosting short term memory
  • Mood boost

Since affogato has espresso, it technically has these benefits. However, ice cream comes with its unhealthy nature. The only advantage you may gain from affogato is that it will boost your mood due to coffee’s dopamine release and ice cream’s sugar content.

Derivatives or Variants

Affogato is among the many individual drinks that one can get from mixing espresso with other beverages. Espresso has many drinks that baristas make with it. For affogato, its variation is due to mixing up the main ingredients or adding other things to it.

For espresso derivative, just like you add ice cream to the espresso to get affogato, you can add:

  • Steamed milk, espresso, and foamed milk in equal concentration to make cappuccino
  • Ice and a shot of espresso for cafe’ con Hielo
  • 10 ounces of steamed milk, 2 ounces of espresso, and 2ml of foamed milk for a latte
  • Two shots of espresso with whipped cream for con pannas
  • 3 ounces of hot water and 2ounces of espresso for an americano
  • Double espresso shot for Doppio
  • 4 ounces of steamed milk and 2 ounces of espresso for flat white
  • Using half the average water content for Ristretto
  • Double the water volume for Lungo
  • 2 ounces of liquid chocolate, 2 ounces of espresso, and one ounce of steamed milk for a mocha

Which One is Better: Affogato or Espresso?

With things that concern taste, it is difficult to say which tastes better objectively. My sweet tooth may prefer the affogato, while someone that hates sweets may choose the espresso. Both drinks are excellent in their own right, and preference of one over the other will probably vary depending on occasion or need. I don’t think someone that is rushing to work will appreciate the delicate flavor of ice cream. In the same way, one may choose the affogato over the espresso on a coffee date since it takes a while to finish.

How Much Caffeine is in An Affogato?

Ice cream is usually caffeine-free, except it has a coffee flavor. So, affogato’s caffeine content will depend solely on the coffee beans or the espresso’s concentration. The stronger the caffeine content of the beans, the more the caffeine.

Since it is quite difficult to guess the caffeine content of the coffee you are using, I will make a chart based on Starbuck’s affogato.

Affogato – style Drink (Tall Size)Caffeine Content
Vanilla Bean Frappuccino75 mg
Caramel Frappuccino125 mg
Mocha Frappuccino130 mg
Average caffeine for drink:

Can you Make an Affogato with Drip Coffee or AeroPress?

 You can use Aeropress or drip coffee to make an affogato since its essential requirement is concentrated coffee. Both Aeropress and drip coffee have strong caffeine concentrations that make them capable substitutes for an espresso. Another excellent choice is the french press.


The Aeropress forces coffee through a thin paper into a cup directly. Unlike espresso, it doesn’t have much oil content, and it is only suitable for one serving per time. The concentration of Aeropress makes it taste similar to espresso, so it is the perfect substitute.

Drip Coffee

To get drip coffee, you place the filter paper into the drip coffee machine, add coffee grounds, and fill the machine’s reservoir with water. The water will flow through an aluminum tube; clicking the power switch will boil the water. Small bubbles of the boiling water will flow to the drip area and then spread across the coffee ground to a collecting cup at the base for a delicious tasting coffee.

For a more concentrated drip coffee, you can leave it for a while, except you are a sucker for fresh coffee.

Which is the Best Alternative?

The best alternative when making an affogato will be the Aeropress since it is similar to an espresso. However, everyone has different taste buds. So, you may enjoy the drip coffee a lot more than the Aeropress and even the espresso. The key to getting your perfect affogato is experimenting with flavors and coffee types until you find the one that makes your taste buds excited.


Affogato is a derivative of ice cream and espresso, and Espresso is a coffee drink brewed under pressure. Affogato is mostly a dessert, while espresso is an actual drink. Both beverages are worth trying out at least once in a lifetime. If you cannot get an affogato in a coffee shop in your area, the easiest way to enjoy your dessert is to make one yourself.


Charlie McFarlane

Specialty Coffee Enthusiast. Hungry for knowledge in the art and science behind specialty coffee and decided to document my journey, while sharing it with the public. More than 10 baristas were interviewed; over 21 farms were visited across 5 countries. Almost 100 Coffee Shops. Bean of choice: Pacamara. Preferred coffee country: Panama. Preferred Brewing Method: Aeropress. Facebook | Instagram | Twitter

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