Deep Dive: What Is a Caffè Mocha?

Deep Dive: What Is a Caffè Mocha?

Part breakfast, part dessert.
by Kayla Baird | February 04, 2021

Grab your wetsuits, we're taking a deep dive into some of our favorite café drinks. This time out, we’re going in on a coffee that will satisfy both your cravings for breakfast and dessert.

Key facts

Caffe Mocha, Mocha (mow-kuh)

Definition: A beverage made with steamed milk, espresso, and chocolate.

Other names: Moccachino

First known usage: Caffè mocha or mocha began showing up on menus in the United States when espresso was first introduced to the country, likely in the '20s. The word mocha, however, dates back to the 15th to 18th century when the Port of Mokha, Yemen was a central point of trade and commerce. Arabica beans from Mokha were often very earthy and chocolaty in flavor, driving a word association between chocolate and Mokha.

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What is a mocha?

Even though Mokha carried the connotation of coffee with a decadent chocolate flavor, it wasn’t until Italy in the 18th century that chocolate and brewed coffee started being combined in the form of a bicerin. The bicerin is served in a small glass with hot chocolate (chocolate and hot milk), espresso, and topped with whipped foam.

Now, in its most streamlined form, a mocha is simply a caffe latte with chocolate added to create a rich and flavorful blend of chocolate, milk, and espresso. Oftentimes, what a cafe serves as its mocha most resembles their hot chocolate — often with the addition of whipped cream or chocolate powder. Just a tad different from drinking black coffee. Wink, wink.

The first specialty coffee drink I ever tried was this indulgent combination of chocolate sauce, hot milk, and espresso. Twenty years later, I’ve probably made thousands, and consumed hundreds in some form. There’s something enticing about the combination of chocolate and coffee — yet the combination of the two flavors goes a little deeper than the recognizable combination of chocolate and coffee in the cup.

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How it’s made

The caffe mocha can be considered a hot chocolate with a shot of espresso, or it can be considered a caffe latte with chocolate added. For most cafès, the caffe mocha recipe mimics their hot chocolate recipe, rather than simply being a latte with chocolate added.

Chocolate could be added via a syrup, ganache, powder, or by melting chocolate in the espresso. Chocolate is usually added first, using the espresso to melt the chocolate. Then, steamed milk is poured into the chocolate and espresso mixture, and finally topped with steamed milk, whipped cream, or even marshmallows.

What does it taste like?

The flavor profile of a mocha can depend on the type of chocolate and coffee being used. At its best, a mocha tastes more like chocolate than it does coffee, which makes it unique when compared to other espresso coffee drinks. The bittersweetness of espresso combined with chocolate creates a rich, satisfying chocolate flavor that lasts even longer than the last sip. Generally, dark chocolate is used as it works best when paired with espresso. If you are in the market for a beverage that delivers an exceptionally rich and chocolate-y coffee taste, look no further than the mocha.

Variations and similar drinks

The way a mocha is prepared will vary depending on the cafè or barista — each recipe will have an ideal coffee to chocolate ratio, and the chocolate may be prepared differently.Chocolate is usually dark chocolate, and can vary from a sauce to a powder. The final drink can then be topped with whipped cream, a marshmallow, or milk foam. Cocoa powder or cinnamon may be added on top, with some variations using chocolate syrup as a garnish.

A mocha latte may be iced, as well. Instead of hot steamed milk, espresso and chocolate is combined with chilled milk and ice.

A white chocolate mocha drink is another popular variation, with a zebra mocha being a combination of white chocolate and mocha.

Coffee recommendations

Depending on the type of chocolate and espresso you’re using, the flavor combinations for a mocha are endless. I picked some of my favorite chocolate-y coffees that I think would shine in a mocha latte.

For a classic, traditional mocha

Dense chocolate-y sweetness with a soft cherry acidity make Panther's East Coast Espresso a great choice for an elevated classic.

For a surprising mocha
With the brightness of tropical fruit layered underneath deep milk chocolaty goodness, Methodical's Guatemala Ixlama makes a brighter, more fruit-forward mocha.

For a decaf mocha
Cherry, chocolate, and molasses in City of Saints' Decaf Colombia Huila lend way to a perfect pairing with chocolate and milk for a decaf mocha.

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