coffee espresso latte cappuccino

Are you a coffee enthusiast who wants to know the key differences between four classic coffee drinks - coffee, espresso, latte, and cappuccino?

In this ultimate guide, we're breaking down the milk, espresso, and foam used, the brewing methods, and the taste profiles of these four drinks. Get ready to discover your new favorite coffee drink and become an expert in coffee choices!

Coffee vs Espresso vs Latte vs Cappuccino

History and Origin

The history of these beloved beverages can be traced back to Italy, where coffee has been a cultural staple for centuries. Espresso, latte, and cappuccino are all variations of coffee that have evolved over time, each offering a unique experience for the drinker.


Espresso originated in Italy in the late 19th century as a method of brewing coffee quickly using pressure. It is a concentrated, full-bodied coffee with a rich, robust flavor, made by pushing hot water through fine ground coffee beans under high pressure.


The latte, short for "caffè latte," which means "milk coffee" in Italian, saw its popularity rise in the 1980s. It is composed of one-third espresso, and two-thirds steamed milk, topped with a layer of foam. Not as strong as espresso, the latte offers a balance between the boldness of the espresso and the creaminess of the milk.


Cappuccino is another espresso-based drink that originated in Italy. It is believed to have been named after the color of the robes worn by Capuchin monks, which resembled the color of the drink. A cappuccino is made up of equal parts espresso, steamed milk, and microfoam, creating a richer and creamier texture than a latte.

Comparing the Beverages

Drink Components
Espresso 100% espresso
Latte 1/3 espresso, 2/3 steamed milk, foam
Cappuccino 1/3 espresso, 1/3 steamed milk, 1/3 microfoam

When it comes to taste, strength, and texture, these drinks offer different experiences:

  • Espresso: Due to its concentrated nature, espresso has the strongest and most robust flavor among the three. It is often enjoyed in small quantities, as a quick shot.

  • Latte: Lattes are for those who enjoy the taste of coffee but prefer a milder option. The added milk softens the espresso, making it smoother and creamier, with the foam providing a light, airy finish.

  • Cappuccino: For those who want a balance between strong espresso and creamy milk, the cappuccino is the perfect choice. The equal parts of espresso, steamed milk, and microfoam create a rich, velvety texture that is both satisfying and indulgent.

To summarize, the key differences between espresso, latte, and cappuccino lie in their ratios of espresso, steamed milk, and foam, which ultimately affect their taste, strength, and texture. Originating from Italy, these variations allow coffee lovers to choose a drink that caters to their personal preferences. Interestingly, the quality of these beverages greatly depends on the equipment used. For businesses or aficionados seeking the best in the industry, it might be time to purchase a commercial espresso machine. Such machines ensure the perfect balance of flavors and textures, enhancing the overall coffee experience for consumers. Investing in a commercial quality espresso machine can significantly elevate the standard of drinks served.

Basic Characteristics


Coffee is a widely popular beverage made from the seeds of the Coffea plant. It is typically brewed with ground coffee beans and hot water, resulting in a rich, full-bodied flavor. The taste of coffee can vary greatly depending on the type of beans and preparation method used. Regular coffee contains varying levels of caffeine, with an average cup containing around 95 mg of caffeine. The strength of your coffee will largely depend on the coffee-to-water ratio used during brewing.


Espresso is a concentrated form of coffee made by pushing hot water through fine coffee grounds under high pressure. It is served in small quantities, usually as a 1 oz shot, and is known for its intense, bold flavor. Given its concentrated nature, espresso packs a stronger punch in terms of caffeine content, with the average single shot containing around 63 mg of caffeine. The distinct flavor and strength of espresso set it apart from regular coffee beverages like lattes and cappuccinos, in which espresso serves as the base.


A latte is a popular coffee beverage that combines espresso with steamed milk and a small layer of milk foam on top. Lattes typically contain more milk than other espresso-based drinks, resulting in a creamier texture and milder taste. The flavor of a latte leans more towards the sweet and smooth side, with the steamed milk diluting the bold taste of the espresso. A standard latte is usually composed of one shot of espresso, which contributes to its lower caffeine content compared to straight espresso shots.


Cappuccino is another popular espresso-based drink, characterized by its even distribution of espresso, steamed milk, and milk foam. Unlike lattes, cappuccinos have a higher ratio of foam, giving them a smooth, velvety consistency. This frothy layer, combined with the espresso base, results in a stronger espresso taste in comparison to lattes. As with lattes, a cappuccino typically contains one shot of espresso, but due to the lower milk content, its flavors and caffeine strength lean closer to the espresso side.

In summary, all four of these coffee beverages showcase the versatility and variety that coffee has to offer. With different brewing methods, milk-to-coffee ratios, and levels of foam, each drink brings a unique taste, texture, and caffeine strength to the table for coffee enthusiasts to enjoy.

Preparation and Ingredients


Coffee is made by brewing ground coffee beans using hot water, which extracts the flavors and caffeine from the beans. There are various brewing methods, such as drip, pour-over, and French press, which can produce different tastes and strengths. Coffee beans should be freshly ground for optimal flavor, and the type of roast (light, medium, or dark) can also influence the taste. Here are some key coffee preparation elements:

  • Beans: Choose fresh, high-quality coffee beans.
  • Grinding: Grind beans just before brewing for optimal flavor.
  • Brewing method: Drip, pour-over, or French Press. Experiment to find your preference.
  • Water: Use filtered water heated to the right temperature (195-205°F).


Espresso is a concentrated coffee beverage brewed under high pressure (usually 9 bar) using an espresso machine. It involves pushing hot water through fine coffee grounds, resulting in a stronger and more robust flavor than traditional coffee. The process also produces a rich crema on top, a hallmark of a well-extracted espresso. The key ingredients and aspects of espresso preparation include:

  • Beans: Use freshly roasted, high-quality espresso beans.
  • Pressure: Brew with a pressure of 9 bars or more.
  • Crema: A sign of a well-extracted shot, this golden-brown foam forms on top of the espresso.
  • Ratio: A typical espresso shot uses a 1:2 ratio of coffee grounds to water (e.g., 18g of coffee for 36g of extracted espresso).


A latte is a popular coffee beverage that combines espresso with steamed milk and a small amount of milk foam. The drink has a creamier, milder taste compared to a straight espresso or cappuccino due to the higher ratio of milk to espresso. Preparation typically involves:

  • Espresso: One or two shots of espresso (about 2-3 ounces)
  • Steamed milk: 4 parts or more (compared to the espresso)
  • Milk foam: A thin layer on top of the drink
  • Optional: flavored syrups or toppings, such as caramel or pumpkin spice.


A cappuccino is another espresso-based drink that consists of equal parts espresso, steamed milk, and milk foam. The cappuccino has a stronger coffee flavor compared to a latte but remains smooth and velvety due to the frothed and steamed milk. The preparation involves:

  • Espresso: One or two shots of espresso (about 2-3 ounces)
  • Steamed milk: Equal part to espresso
  • Milk foam: Equal part to espresso, creating a thick, velvety layer
  • Optional: cocoa powder or cinnamon sprinkled on top for added flavor.

Both lattes and cappuccinos can be made with milk substitutes such as almond milk, and other variations like cortado and macchiato have their unique ratios and preparation methods. For those who prefer a different experience, Starbucks and other coffee shops offer a wide range of sizes and flavors to satisfy any coffee lover's palate.

Caffeine Content and Calories

When exploring the differences between coffee, espresso, latte, and cappuccino, caffeine content and caloric value are essential factors to consider. These beverages vary in their preparation methods, ingredients used, and may contain different amounts of caffeine and calories.

Caffeine Content

Caffeine levels in these popular coffee drinks can differ significantly due to factors such as processing, brewing time, and serving sizes. Here's a breakdown of the average caffeine content for each beverage:

  • Coffee (12 ounces): 120 mg of caffeine
  • Espresso (2 ounces, two shots): 80 mg of caffeine
  • Latte (16 ounces): 173 mg of caffeine
  • Cappuccino (16 ounces): 173 mg of caffeine

Keep in mind that these values may fluctuate depending on the type of coffee bean, grind, and brewing method (such as using a French press).


Caloric values for these coffee drinks also vary based on the ingredients and serving sizes. The type of milk and any added sweeteners or flavorings can greatly affect the overall calorie count. Below is an overview of the approximate caloric content for each beverage:

  • Coffee (12 ounces, black): 2-5 calories (calories increase with added milk, cream, or sugar)
  • Espresso (2 ounces, double shot): 10-15 calories
  • Latte (12 ounces, whole milk): 210 calories
  • Cappuccino (12 ounces, whole milk): 130 calories

These numbers can be reduced by opting for non-fat milk or alternative milk options, like almond, coconut, or oat milk. Keep in mind that the choice of milk and additives will alter the taste and texture of the final drink.

In conclusion, when comparing coffee vs espresso vs latte vs cappuccino, it's essential to understand the variations in caffeine content and caloric values. Each coffee drink provides a unique taste experience, and your personal preferences and dietary needs will determine the best option for you.

Popular Variations and Flavors


There are numerous coffee variations that cater to a wide range of personal preferences, involving different brewing methods, coffee beans, and flavor enhancers. Some popular variations include the Italian espresso, rich and concentrated; the ristretto, an even shorter and more intense espresso; and the lungo, a longer and milder espresso. Many coffee lovers also enjoy adding sugar or sweeteners, whole milk, non-fat milk, or even a dash of cinnamon to enhance the coffee's taste.


Espresso is popularly served as a single or double shot, known in Italian as "doppio." It has a thicker consistency and richer flavor compared to other coffee types due to the high pressure used during its preparation process. Some important espresso variations include the ristretto, with its highly concentrated flavor, and the lungo, a more diluted version. Playing with coffee-to-water ratios, espresso enthusiasts can find their preferred taste through experimentation.


A latte is a popular espresso-based drink made with steamed milk and a small amount of milk foam, typically served in a larger cup. Flavored lattes are popular, with the addition of flavored syrups such as vanilla, caramel, or French vanilla, which complement the natural bitterness of espresso. Lattes also provide room for creativity through latte art, which involves skillful pouring of the steamed milk to create intricate designs on the drink's surface.

Variations Flavor
Caramel Latte Smooth, rich taste with mild sweetness
Vanilla Latte Creamy and sweet with notes of vanilla
Chai Latte Spicy, tea-infused flavor with a hint of sweetness


Cappuccinos are another popular espresso-based drink, made with equal parts espresso, steamed milk, and milk foam, resulting in a rich, velvety texture. They offer various flavors and variations, often inspired by the barista's creativity.

  • Flat White: A cappuccino with less milk foam, providing a smoother, creamier texture.
  • French Vanilla Cappuccino: A cappuccino flavored with French vanilla syrup, adding a sweet and fragrant twist.
  • Cinnamon Cappuccino: A cappuccino topped with a dusting of cinnamon, providing warmth and a hint of spice.

No matter the choice, each coffee variation allows customers to adjust specific elements such as milk, sugar, and syrup to suit their taste preferences. The final selection often depends on personal taste, as well as the quality and consistency of the coffee used in the preparation process. Ultimately, the choice between coffee, espresso, latte, or cappuccino is determined by the individual's appreciation for specific flavors, textures, and aromas.

Finely-Ground Coffee and Brewing

When it comes to enjoying a delicious cup of coffee, the brewing method and the grind size of the beans play a crucial role in defining the taste and texture of the final product. This section will discuss how finely-ground coffee is used in the brewing process for coffee, espresso, and related drinks such as lattes and cappuccinos.


In the context of coffee brewing, finely-ground coffee is commonly used for pour-over or immersion brewing methods. Pour-over brewing involves pouring hot water over fresh coffee grounds and allowing the water to extract the flavors and aromas before passing through a filter. This method is known to give a clean and well-balanced cup of coffee. On the other hand, immersion brewing requires adding coffee grounds into hot water and allowing the mixture to steep for a few minutes before filtering.

While different brewing methods may require varying grind sizes, a finer grind typically results in a stronger and more robust flavor. As the grind becomes finer, the increased surface area of the coffee grounds allows for more extraction and thus, more intense flavors. However, it is essential to find the right balance to avoid over-extraction, which may result in bitterness and unpleasant flavors.


Espresso is a concentrated coffee beverage that uses high pressure to force hot water through finely-ground coffee packed in a small amount, usually referred to as a puck. The grind size for espresso is even finer than what's used for brewed coffee methods, and it is crucial for achieving the right resistance to water flow and generating the crema – a creamy, caramel-colored foam layer on top of the espresso shot.

The extraction time for espresso is between 20 and 30 seconds, and during this brief period, the water extracts the rich flavors and aromas present in the coffee grounds. Due to its strong and bold nature, espresso serves as the base for many other coffee drinks, including lattes and cappuccinos.


A latte is a coffee drink that combines espresso with steamed milk and a thin layer of microfoam. The ratio of espresso to milk in a latte is about 1:2, making it a creamier and less intense beverage compared to straight espresso. To prepare a latte, an espresso shot is combined with a larger portion of steamed milk and topped with a small amount of microfoam. The result is a rich, smooth, and creamy coffee drink that is both satisfying and comforting.


Cappuccino is another popular espresso-based drink and shares similarities with a latte. The primary difference between the two lies in their milk ratios. A cappuccino consists of equal parts espresso, steamed milk, and milk foam, creating a more balanced flavor profile and a thicker layer of foam compared to a latte. This foam layer, which gives cappuccinos their unique velvety texture, is an essential component that adds both aesthetic and taste appeal to the beverage.

In conclusion, finely-ground coffee is essential for achieving the desired flavors and textures in various coffee drinks, including espresso, lattes, and cappuccinos. Finding the right balance between grind size and brewing method is key for a satisfying coffee experience.

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Tony Barlow

Tony Barlow

Majesty Coffee Technical Sales Expert - Meet the Team

Tony Barlow, with over a decade of experience in the coffee industry, is the go-to technical sales expert at Majesty Coffee. He's passionate about helping businesses find the right espresso equipment for their needs.

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