One of the most common questions baristas get asked is: “what is the difference between a latte and a cappuccino?”
Today, there are so many coffee drinks that experiment with different combinations of the perfect flavor duo: coffee and milk. When you come to a cafe, you can order a flat white, macchiato, mocha, or cortado, all of which include varying ratios of coffee and milk. The possibilities are endless.
The latte and cappuccino remain among the most popular coffee orders. They both contain the same ingredients: espresso coffee, steamed milk, and milk foam on top—but result in a different taste and experience. However, not all cafes or coffee drinkers know what’s the difference between a latte and a cappuccino.
This article will dive into the similarities and key disparities between these two popular coffee drinks so the next time you’re at the cafe, you can order like a pro.
Cappuccino Vs Latte
While cappuccinos and lattes are two different beverages, they have a lot of things in common, which is why the distinction between the two can sometimes be blurred.
Both coffee drinks contain espresso shots, steamed milk, and milk froth on the top. The key difference is the ratio between these components and the amount of foam each of them contains.
These two espresso-based drinks enjoy popularity because they both tone down the bitterness and strong coffee taste. They offer different textures and experiences because of the amount of foam used.
The Essential Ingredient: An Espresso
Before we go into the differences between a latte and a cappuccino, let’s establish what they have in common, and that is the same essential ingredient, an espresso.
An espresso is a small shot of coffee that was invented in Italy and is made through a method in which highly pressurized hot water is forced through very fine coffee grounds.
This drink is usually brewed within 30 seconds and only results in a 30ml or 1-ounce concentrated caffeine blast.
Making a great espresso shot is a result of the perfect balance between grind, temperature and pressure. Since you cannot make a good latte or a cappuccino without starting with great espresso, the first step is to perfect this component first.
What Is a Latte?
The latte was created in Europe, either in Italy as “cafe latte” or France as “cafe au lait” - they still can’t decide. Then it was adopted by America and popularised by Starbucks, spreading across the world.
Since ‘latte’ means milk in Italian, if you forget to mention the “cafe” component when ordering, you will just receive a glass of milk and a condescending look.
Outside of Italy, a latte means a single or double espresso shot, depending on the country, combined with steamed milk to create a rich and creamy drink with a thin layer of foam on top. The espresso taste of a latte is very subtle and the drink has a satisfying creamy texture that can be combined with additional flavors such as vanilla or hazelnut.
The creamy texture of a latte is so delightful that it has been adapted to create drinks that don’t even contain coffee, such as the matcha latte, chai latte, or turmeric latte.
What Is a Cappuccino?
The name “cappuccino” comes from the order of Capuchin monks in the Roman Catholic Church, the word ‘capuchin’ meaning ‘small hood’ in Italian. This is because the first coffees that were made in Vienna in the 18th century resembled the robes worn by these monks (*).
When the drink was first being made in Vienna, it was combined with whipped cream as well as chocolate or cinnamon, which is where the tradition of chocolate on cappuccinos comes from. It is believed that these additional flavors were added to milky coffees in Vienna in order to mask the poor quality of an espresso.
Today, some countries still add chocolate powder to cappuccinos, such as Australia, while others moved away from this tradition and serve these drinks without the chocolate dusting. Whether you get a touch of chocolate or not, depends on the cafe as well as the current trend, which, at the moment, is to ditch the chocolate. Even though the word was first used in Vienna, Italy is believed to have invented the modern-day version of cappuccino.
Similar to a latte, a cappuccino starts with one or two shots of espresso, which is then followed by steamed milk and a distinct thick layer of foam, the ratio, and balance of which is very important. Because it contains less steamed milk, you can expect a stronger espresso taste coming through from the espresso shot.
Cappuccinos can also be made more ‘dry’ by stretching the milk further to give it a lighter, fluffier texture with even more foam. On the other hand, a ‘wet’ cappuccino will contain less foam on top. While in Italy, this is a breakfast drink and it is not considered socially acceptable to drink milky coffee after lunchtime. The rest of the world enjoys cappuccinos at any time of the day.
What Is the Difference Between a Latte and a Cappuccino?
Now that we’ve established what exactly these popular coffee drinks are, let’s look more closely at the latte and cappuccino difference.
Cappuccino Vs Latte: What’s the Ratio?
The ratio between the amount of coffee, steamed milk, and foam is one of the most fundamental differences distinguishing the two. A latte consists of ⅓ espresso with ⅔ steamed milk and is topped with foam that is around 1cm thick.
A cappuccino, on the other hand, follows a 1:1:1 ratio between coffee, milk, and froth, meaning that it consists of ⅓ espresso, ⅓ steamed milk, and ⅓ of foam on top.
Cappuccino Vs Latte: How to Serve Them?
Cappuccinos are traditionally served in a small ceramic cappuccino cup that holds a volume of around 150-180ml.
Lattes, on the other hand, are usually served in a glass or a cup that is much bigger, around 240ml.
This means that the cappuccino is a beverage with a much stronger and more intense coffee taste, while a latte only has a mild coffee flavor.
Cappuccino Vs Latte: Taste
As mentioned, since cappuccinos are served in a smaller cup and contain less steamed milk, they have a stronger taste and contain a thick later of dense but smooth microfoam.
Lattes are bigger, creamer, milkier, have a velvety-like texture, and have a milder coffee taste, making lattes more approachable.
Because of these differences, lattes are good for sipping slowly and cappuccinos are a better choice for a quick caffeine hit that can be consumed almost instantly.
The Verdict: What’s the Difference Between Latte And Cappuccino?
Even though latte and cappuccino consist of the same ingredients: espresso, steamed milk, and milk froth, there are many differences between the two. While the differences can vary between cafes and countries, in general, a cappuccino is stronger, smaller, and contains more foam, and lattes are creamier, larger, and have a milder taste.
If you are keen on extra foam and looking for a stronger-tasting milky coffee, the cappuccino will be a great pick. And if you are in the mood for a mild coffee with a velvety texture, opt for a latte.