Are you a coffee lover who wants to know the key differences between three classic coffee drinks - flat white, 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 three drinks. Get ready to discover your new favorite coffee drink!


Flat White vs. Latte vs. Cappuccino: The Basics

The Essence of Each Drink

Flat White: The flat white is known for its strong espresso flavor with a smooth, velvety texture resulting from the steamed milk and a small amount of microfoam. It is typically served in a 5 to 6oz cup and has a bold taste due to the higher espresso-to-milk ratio.

Latte: In contrast, a latte has a milder espresso flavor as it contains a larger volume of steamed milk, usually around 10oz. Often served in a larger cup or glass, the latte has a coffee-to-milk ratio of about 1:4, which makes it creamier and more calorie-dense compared to a flat white or cappuccino.

Cappuccino: Cappuccinos are usually 5 to 6oz, similar to a flat white, but characterized by equal parts espresso, steamed milk, and frothed milk. This traditional Italian beverage has a more distinct layering of components, with foamy milk blanketing the top of the cup, lending a creamy texture to the coffee.

Key Components: Espresso, Milk, and Foam

There are three primary ingredients that make up these espresso-based beverages:

  1. Espresso: The base shared by all three drinks is a shot of espresso, which provides the strong coffee flavor and caffeine kick. The amount of espresso in each beverage does not vary greatly; however, the presence of milk and foam does change the overall taste and intensity.
  2. Milk: Steamed milk in flat whites, lattes, and cappuccinos contributes to the creaminess of the drink. The temperature of the milk plays a crucial role in giving each beverage its specific character. A flat white uses less milk than a latte, while a cappuccino incorporates equal parts milk and foam.
  3. Foam: The frothed milk in a cappuccino creates a thick layer of foam on top, making it airy and light compared to a flat white or latte. Lattes also have foam, but it is less pronounced as most of the milk is steamed. Flat whites have the least amount of foam, which helps maintain the stronger espresso flavor.

These characteristic features of flat whites, lattes, and cappuccinos set them apart in terms of taste, texture, and size. Understanding the nuances of each drink can help coffee enthusiasts appreciate their preferred choice even more.

History and Origins

Cappuccino's Capuchin Monks Connection

The cappuccino is believed to have originated in Italy, inspired by the habits of the Capuchin monks, who wore brown robes that resembled the color of this coffee drink. The name "cappuccino" comes from the Italian word "cappuccino," which means "little hood," a reference to the order's tradition of wearing hoods. In the early 20th century, the cappuccino became popular, as the espresso machine and steamed milk techniques were perfected. The classic cappuccino consists of equal parts espresso, steamed milk, and milk foam, making it a delightfull balance of flavors and textures.

Flat White's Australian and New Zealand Roots

The flat white can be traced back to Australia and New Zealand, where it was first created in the 1980s. Its origins are a subject of debate, with both countries claiming to be the birthplace of this coffee drink. The flat white is made with a double shot of espresso and steamed milk, but has less milk than a latte, making the espresso flavor more prominent. The milk is steamed to a microfoam consistency, giving the drink a velvety texture. The flat white's strong espresso flavor and smaller serving size set it apart from other espresso-based drinks, making it popular among coffee enthusiasts who prefer a bolder taste.

Latte's Italian Beginnings

The word "latte" means "milk" in Italian, and the latte, as we know it today, originated in Italy. The traditional Italian latte is a combination of espresso and steamed milk, usually in a ratio of 1:3 or 1:5, depending on the desired strength and creaminess. As the name implies, lattes have the most milk content among the three drinks, resulting in a milder taste and higher calorie count compared to cappuccinos and flat whites. Lattes are often served in larger cups than cappuccinos and flat whites, with sizes ranging from 6 to 8 ounces or more. The popularity of lattes has resulted in a wide array of flavored and sweetened variations, often topped with milk foam art, making them a favorite among those who appreciate milder coffee drinks.

In summary, the cappuccino, flat white, and latte are all espresso-based coffee drinks, each with its own distinct history and unique characteristics. The cappuccino's equal parts espresso, steamed milk, and foam reveal its Capuchin-monk inspiration, while the flat white's strong espresso flavor highlights its Australian and New Zealand roots. Finally, the latte's Italian beginnings and focus on milk make it a popular choice for those who prefer smoother, creamier coffee drinks. Each of these beverages offers a different experience, making it essential for coffee lovers to explore them all and find their personal favorite.

Composition and Preparation

Espresso Shots

All three beverages, flat white, latte, and cappuccino, use espresso as their base. The espresso shot forms the foundation of these drinks, providing intensity and flavor. Typically, a single or double shot of espresso is used, depending on personal preferences and the size of the cup.

Milk Texturing and Foam Creation

The texture of milk and the amount of foam play a crucial role in determining differences between a latte, cappuccino, and flat white. Steamed milk is used in all three drinks; however, their composition varies:

  • Flat White: This beverage has a small amount of microfoam or velvety-textured milk (about 0.5-1 cm). The emphasis is on creating a creamy and smooth consistency.
  • Latte: The latte contains more steamed milk, and a thicker layer of frothy foam (1-2 cm) on top. The foam is created by aerating the milk during the steaming process.
  • Cappuccino: For a traditional cappuccino, there is a balance between espresso, steamed milk, and foam. The foam layer (2-4 cm) on this drink is more significant than that in a latte or flat white.

Proportions and Cup Size

Considering the proportions of espresso, milk, and foam, as well as the size of the cup, is essential in understanding the differences between a flat white, latte, and cappuccino:

  • Flat White: Typically served in a smaller cup or mug (less than 6 oz), this drink consists of approximately 1/3 espresso and 2/3 milk. The minimal amount of microfoam provides a stronger coffee flavor.
  • Latte: A larger beverage, lattes often come in 7 oz or bigger cups. The composition includes the same amount of espresso as a cappuccino, but with more steamed milk and foam, leading to a milder coffee taste.
  • Cappuccino: Traditionally served in a 5 to 6 oz cup, cappuccino proportions are generally equal parts espresso, steamed milk, and foam. The foam gives this coffee its distinct texture and character.

In summary, the key differences between a flat white, latte, and cappuccino lie in their milk texturing, foam creation, and proportions of ingredients. Understanding these factors will help you choose the perfect beverage to suit your taste and preferences.

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Differences in Taste and Mouthfeel

Flavors and Caffeine Content

Cappuccinos, flat whites, and lattes are all espresso-based beverages with unique flavors and caffeine content. In terms of taste, the flat white has a bolder, stronger taste than the latte and cappuccino. This is because a flat white typically contains two espresso shots, giving it a more pronounced coffee flavor. Lattes and cappuccinos, on the other hand, contain just one espresso shot each. While it is common to add flavorings, such as sweeteners, to lattes, it is less common to do so with flat whites or cappuccinos.

The caffeine content in these beverages varies as well. The flat white, due to having two espresso shots, typically has more caffeine than a latte or a cappuccino. The latter two, each containing just one shot, have relatively similar caffeine levels.

Creaminess and Frothiness

When comparing mouthfeel and texture, there are notable differences among cappuccinos, flat whites, and lattes. The creaminess of a beverage depends on the type of milk used and the milk-to-espresso ratio. For a flat white, microfoam milk is essential, creating a velvety smooth and rich texture. Microfoam milk is steamed milk that has been aerated to achieve a thick, creamy consistency. On the other hand, lattes can be made with any type of milk, not just microfoam, and usually have a higher milk-to-espresso ratio, making them creamier than flat whites.

Frothiness, or foam, also contributes to the mouthfeel of these beverages. Cappuccinos are known for their thick, frothy layer of foam on top, usually around 1-2 cm. This foam adds a unique, airy texture to the drink. Lattes may have a thin layer of foam, while flat whites should have minimal foam, with their name hinting at a flat and smooth surface (usually just around 1 cm). The minimal foam in flat whites allows the silky mouthfeel of the microfoam milk to be the star of the drink.

To recap, flat whites have a more intense coffee flavor and higher caffeine content, with a velvety smooth mouthfeel and minimal foam. Lattes are creamier with any type of milk, often have added flavors, and a modest layer of foam. Cappuccinos offer a more balanced coffee and milk taste, with a prominent layer of frothy foam enhancing the mouthfeel.

Coffee Shop Culture and Latte Art

Popularity and Presentation

The coffee shop culture has been growing rapidly, especially in cities like Sydney, where people enjoy gathering at their favorite cafes and appreciating various types of espresso-based drinks. The differences between a flat white, latte, and cappuccino largely come down to the way they are prepared and presented. As customers have become more discerning in their tastes, baristas have adopted various techniques to create delicious drinks and beautiful latte art, making espresso machines an important tool in this craft.

A flat white, originating from Australia, is known for its bolder espresso flavor and usage of microfoam milk, resulting in a velvety texture. In contrast, a latte is characterized by its milder espresso taste, higher volume of steamed milk, and froth rather than microfoam. Lastly, a cappuccino offers a balance between the two, providing a stronger espresso flavor compared to a latte, and featuring a layer of froth on top.

Barista Skills and Techniques

Being a skilled barista goes beyond operating an espresso machine - it includes knowledge of various beans, grinding methods, extraction techniques, and milk frothing to create the perfect drink. Latte art has become increasingly popular as a way for baristas to showcase their skills, making the simple act of serving a drink into a visually appealing presentation.

In creating latte art, the barista must control the flow and texture of steamed milk, pouring it into the espresso to create various patterns such as leaves, hearts, or even swans. Mastering these techniques takes practice, precision, and a keen understanding of the differences between the three types of drinks.

When comparing a flat white, latte, and cappuccino, it is essential for baristas to understand the variations in milk preparation and espresso strength to deliver a drink that meets customer expectations. For example, a flat white must be made with microfoam milk, while a cappuccino uses froth. Additionally, the ratio of milk to espresso varies between the beverages, affecting both their taste and caloric content.

Overall, the coffee shop culture and latte art are not only about the differences between flat white, latte, and cappuccino, but also about the skills and techniques required by baristas to create visually appealing, high-quality drinks that cater to the tastes of increasingly discerning customers in places like Sydney and beyond. With the popularity of coffee shops like Starbucks at an all-time high, it is no wonder that understanding these differences and mastering the art of coffee-making is essential to success in this thriving industry.

Variations and Espresso-Based Drinks

Espresso-based drinks come in various forms, each offering a unique taste and experience to the coffee enthusiast. In this section, we will discuss the characteristics of different espresso variations and how they differ from flat white, latte, and cappuccino.

Macchiato and Cortado

The Macchiato is an espresso drink that includes a small amount of steamed milk, making the espresso less intense but still retaining its bold flavor. It is a compact drink, usually served in a small cup or demitasse.

  • Ratio: 1 or 2 shots of espresso with a small dollop of milk or milk foam.
  • Key features: bold espresso taste with a touch of milk; smaller than a cappuccino or latte.

The Cortado is another espresso-based drink made with equal parts espresso and steamed milk, creating a balanced taste between the strong coffee and the creaminess of the milk. Cortado is usually served in a small glass.

  • Ratio: 1 shot of espresso to 1 part steamed milk.
  • Key features: balanced espresso and milk flavor; typically served in a small glass.

Mocha and Breve

The Mocha combines espresso with steamed milk, chocolate, and often whipped cream. This drink offers a sweeter and more indulgent version of a typical espresso-based beverage.

  • Ratio: 1 shot of espresso, 1 part steamed milk, 1 part chocolate syrup or powder.
  • Key features: sweet and indulgent; often topped with whipped cream or chocolate shavings.

The Breve is an espresso-based drink made with equal parts espresso and steamed half-and-half, creating a richer and creamier version of a latte or cappuccino.

  • Ratio: 1 shot of espresso to 1 part steamed half-and-half.
  • Key features: rich and creamy; commonly served in a larger cup like a latte or cappuccino.

Americano and Long Black

The Americano is a simple espresso drink that combines one or two shots of espresso with hot water. This drink offers a diluted but still robust coffee flavor and is often enjoyed by those who appreciate the taste of black coffee.

  • Ratio: 1 or 2 shots of espresso topped with hot water.
  • Key features: bold coffee taste; served black, often in a larger cup.

The Long Black is similar to an Americano, but the espresso is poured over the hot water, preserving the crema (the flavorful and aromatic layer of foam on top of the espresso). This small difference in preparation results in a slightly different taste and mouthfeel.

  • Ratio: 1 or 2 shots of espresso poured over hot water.
  • Key features: bold coffee taste with preserved crema; served black, often in a larger cup.

These variations of espresso-based drinks showcase the versatility of espresso machines and the diverse range of coffee experiences one can enjoy. Each drink offers something different—whether it be a bold espresso taste, the perfect balance of coffee and milk, or sweet indulgence.

Milk Options and Dietary Considerations

Whole, Skim, and Alternative Milks

When it comes to flat whites, lattes, and cappuccinos, the choice of milk can greatly affect flavor, texture, and nutritional value. For a creamier, richer taste, whole milk is often preferred. Skim milk, on the other hand, creates a lighter beverage with fewer calories and less fat. Moreover, alternative milks like soy, almond, and coconut milk cater to those with dietary restrictions or preferences.

Calorie and Fat Content

The calorie and fat content of these beverages can vary depending on the type of milk used.

  • Flat White: A flat white typically contains about 1/3 espresso and 2/3 milk, with a micro foam layer. Since it has the least amount of milk compared to lattes and cappuccinos, it has a bolder, stronger taste and fewer calories from milk.

    • Whole milk: Approximately 140 calories, 7g fat
    • Skim milk: Approximately 90 calories, 0g fat
    • Alternative milks: Caloric and fat content varies
  • Latte: Known for the highest milk content among the three, a latte has a 1:4 coffee-to-milk ratio. It boasts a velvety texture and mild flavor, but also a higher calorie and fat content.

    • Whole milk: Approximately 190 calories, 10g fat
    • Skim milk: Approximately 120 calories, 0g fat
    • Alternative milks: Caloric and fat content varies
  • Cappuccino: This drink contains equal parts espresso, steamed milk, and frothy foam. Generally served in a 5 to 6oz size, it strikes a balance between the intensity of a flat white and the creaminess of a latte.

    • Whole milk: Approximately 120 calories, 6g fat
    • Skim milk: Approximately 70 calories, 0g fat
    • Alternative milks: Caloric and fat content varies

Keep in mind that these figures are approximate, as factors such as serving size and espresso strength can influence the nutritional profile of each drink. Ultimately, the choice of milk depends on individual preferences and dietary requirements.

Key Takeaways and Perfecting Your Choice

When exploring the differences between flat white, latte, and cappuccino coffees, it's essential to look at their compositions, milk type, and serving styles. All three are espresso-based beverages, yet they are distinct in terms of taste, texture, and presentation.

A flat white is characterized by a bolder espresso flavor, combined with a small amount of micro-foam milk. This steamed milk is aerated to create a thick, velvety texture. Flat whites are typically made with a double espresso shot, making them stronger in coffee flavor compared to lattes or cappuccinos. They are served in volumes of around 200ml, usually in a glass or a small mug.

A latte offers a milder coffee experience. It consists of espresso combined with a larger volume of steamed milk, resulting in a creamier and more subdued coffee taste. Lattes can be made with any type of milk and are usually served in volumes of 6oz or larger.

A cappuccino strikes a balance between the two, incorporating equal parts of espresso, steamed milk, and foamed milk. This beverage is served in volumes of 5 to 6oz, typically in a ceramic cup to emphasize its three-layer structure.

When perfecting your choice, consider the following aspects:

  • Strength of the coffee flavor: Flat whites offer the boldest flavor, lattes provide a more diluted taste, and cappuccinos offer a medium intensity.
  • Type of milk: Flat whites require micro-foam milk, while lattes can use any milk variety.
  • Amount of milk foam: Cappuccinos showcase the most foam, lattes have a moderate amount, and flat whites maintain a "flat" foam (~1cm).
  • Serving size: Lattes often come in larger servings, while flat whites and cappuccinos have smaller volumes.

To summarize, when choosing between a flat white, latte, or cappuccino, consider the differences in coffee flavor strength, milk type, foam amount, and serving size to find the perfect beverage for your preferences.

CappuccinoLatteLatte information
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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