Know your Coffee – The Difference between a Cappuccino and a Latte

by | May 24, 2018

Every coffee drinker knows the feeling of walking into a coffee shop and being greeted with a plethora of different beverages. The vast array of options on a coffee shop menu can be a bit intimidating to someone who doesn’t know a Flat White from a Frappuccino. Even to those who know what they like, all of the fancy titles can be rather confusing. To help clear things up, here is a comparison between two popular espresso beverages: The Cappuccino and the Latte.

The Essential Elements

Before we get into the key differences between the two, first we need to know about the essential parts of any such beverage. The first element is espresso. Espresso is coffee in a very concentrated form and therefore has the strongest flavor of all coffees. To make espresso, you take very finely ground coffee beans and push hot, pressurized water through them using a machine. You can either drink espresso by itself in a 2-4 ounce “shot,” or in a flavored drink that uses espresso as a base.

The second element of these staple coffee drinks is the milk. In both the cappuccino and latte, the milk comes in two forms: steamed and foamed. The process for making both is essentially the same. The barista uses a steaming wand attachment on an espresso machine to force hot air into a serving of milk. For steamed milk, this process is only used to heat the milk up.

coffee steam

To create foam, the process continues until the milk forms micro-bubbles, which increases the volume and decreases the density. The size and amount of bubbles created determines what kind of flavor the foam will have.

So. Now you know what espresso is. Also, you know about the foam-making process. But the questions “what makes a cappuccino a cappuccino” and “what is a latte?” must still be answered. We will begin with the newer of the two drinks, the cappuccino.

 

The Cappuccino

The Cappuccino is an espresso beverage that originated in the 1930s. The name is derived from cappuccino, which is an Italian name of the brown hood that Capuchin friars wore. When the espresso machine started to gain popularity in Italy, the cappuccino was one of the first drinks created. The drink didn’t gain popularity in the United States until the 1980s however. Today, the Cappuccino is one of the most popular coffee drinks that you can find, especially among teenagers.

To make a Cappuccino you need 3 ingredients: Espresso, steamed milk, and foam. Depending on the size, the barista may use two shots of espresso. Next, the steamed milk is added. Lastly, a layer of foam is added to complete the beverage. What makes the cappuccino unique is that it is made with equal portions. The standard cappuccino is 1/3 espresso, 1/3 steamed milk, and 1/3 foam.

This is important because the cappuccino is all about balance. You should be able to equally experience the lightness of the foam, the creaminess of the steamed milk, and the boldness of the espresso.

the cappuccino milk

There are several additions that you can order to make your cappuccino unique. Many people order flavored syrup shots in their cappuccino including chocolate, caramel, hazelnut, and so on. Often during the holidays, you can get designs in your foam created by a skillful barista.

Another way to specialize your cappuccino is to order it “wet” or “dry.” This changes how the foam is whipped. A more “wet” cappuccino will have foam that is more liquid, resulting in a more velvety and creamy taste. Ordering “dry” means that the foam will be slightly more whipped with bigger bubbles, creating a “dry” and airy taste.

Now that we’ve covered the history and elements of a cappuccino, let us now take a look at the cappuccino’s older brother, the latte.

 

The Latte

As a beverage, the latte is a drink that is closely similar to the cappuccino, yet vastly different. It is a wildly popular drink in the United States and around the world with a rich history. The latte first appeared in the 17th century and was mainly a breakfast drink. Its name comes from the Italian caffè latte, which literally means, “milk coffee.” Other names for the latte including Milchkaffee, café au lait, and café con leche.

the latte coffee

The latte took a little longer to catch on in the United States than the cappuccino. Although shops were making lattes in the 1950s, it did not gain nationwide popularity until the 1990s. Today the latte and its variants are an absolute must on any coffee shop menu.

The core ingredients of the latte are the same as the cappuccino: espresso, steamed milk in foam. What makes the latte different is the ratios of these ingredients. The latte starts the same way, with a shot of espresso. Unlike the cappuccino, the milk in the latte is mostly steamed, with a thin layer of foam.

 

The Difference between a Latte and a Cappuccino

As previously stated, the latte and cappuccino have some similarities and some differences. They both have the same birthplace, Italy, and they are both espresso drinks. Both use steamed milk and foam in the recipe, and they are both delicious. Another similarity is that making designs in the foam is common in both beverages.

The key difference is the use of the foamed milk. In the cappuccino, the foam is an equal member of the drink’s composition. In the latte, the foam is more of an afterthought, and sometimes not even a part at all if the latte is ordered with no foam.

Another differing aspect between the two is how people usually order them. A cappuccino is customarily ordered as is, and flavored versions are not as common. Lattes are also frequently ordered as is, but there are many more flavored creations than there are cappuccinos. A famous example is the Pumpkin Spice Coffee that you can easily prepare yourself.

The reason that there are so many more flavored variations of the latte is because of its inherent simplicity. Being a beverage composed of just espresso and milk, the latte serves as a solid base to support the other flavors that can be brought in. In contrast, the cappuccino already has a unique and complex flavor in its own right and does not need additional features.

 

The Coffee Machines

After reading this article, some of you probably want to go out and try making your own cappuccinos and lattes. To get started on this, you will need your own espresso machine. A good espresso machine will not only have the espresso maker equipment, but also a steaming wand for creating steamed milk and foam. For more information on the best espresso machines, check out this article: The Absolute Best Commercial Espresso Machines.

Don’t forget, whether you’re making cappuccinos or lattes, personal preference is extremely important. Maybe you like your latte with no foam at all. Or maybe you prefer a rich and velvety cappuccino. Whatever your preference, the important thing is that you enjoy your coffee, whatever form it takes

 

Conclusion: Cappuccino vs Latte

So there you have it. The difference between a cappuccino and a latte is not just about how much foam is in the cup. It’s a difference of style and flavor preference. The cappuccino showcases each element equally like a smooth jazz trio. Whereas the latte is more blended and provides a solid rhythm section to the other flavors that may be added.

Hopefully, this article has de-mystified the menu at your local coffee shop somewhat. Maybe it even inspired you to start creating your own espresso drinks at home. At the very least, you can now impress your other coffee-drinking friends with this new knowledge you’ve acquired.

  Last update on 2019-11-13 / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API.

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