Cappuccino or Latte : What’s the Difference

The two most famous espresso based coffee drinks, but can you tell the difference in a cappuccino or latte test?

It’s not easy, they are both espresso based drinks, both have steamed milk, and both have foamed milk. So how do you tell one from the other?

If you have visions of impressing you friends by making them a round of coffees from you fancy new automatic coffee machine?

Well you should know the difference and how to make each one, or far from impressing them, you will actually be letting them know how bad a barista you really are.

Today you will learn all you need to know about these two Italian favourites, including the main difference and how to prepare each one properly.

What is a Cappuccino?

cappuccino in a glass

A cappuccino is a milk based coffee, that has been a favourite of coffee drinkers the world over for decades. It has evolved slightly over the years, but what we refer to today as a proper cappuccino came to the fore in the second world war. But it wasn’t until the 80’s it really hit its peak.

At its heart it consists of three components, a shot of espresso (or two if you fancy it), steamed milk and foamed milk.

A true cappuccino will be exactly 1/3 espresso, 1/3 steamed milk and 1/3 foamed milk. Being exact with these is essential and getting it right is a true test of a baristas quality.

It is difficult to produce in a high volume environment, such as a high street coffee shop during the morning rush.

Cappuccinos should be enjoyed before or with your breakfast, it is not an after meal drink.

Cappuccinos get there name from Capuchin Monks (1), people see a similarity between the colour of the monks robes and the espresso laden milk.

How to make a Cappuccino

As we have discovered making a cappuccino is an exact process and many a coffee drinker will judge a barista skill on their ability to make a good cappuccino.

Cappuccino Ratios

Firstly you have to have the correct coffee cup, a cappuccino should be served in a 170ml (6oz) glass or ceramic cup.

What makes a cappuccino what it is, is the composition, this has to be exact. Or you are not making a cappuccino.

So here goes, this is how you make one correctly

  1. Brew a single or double shot of espresso
  2. Take cold milk, this is important the milk has to be cold. Between 3 and 5 degrees celcius.
  3. Steam the milk in a stainless steel jug, until its volume increases by 25%. Most baristas use weight to measure this
  4. Foam the top of the milk
  5. Layer the espresso in your cup first
  6. Top this with an equal measure of the steamed milk
  7. Finally add the milk foam to fill the final 3rd of the cup. This should be arranged in a dome shape
  8. Sprinkle with cocoa powder.

It is important that you use the best espresso beans, the quality of the espresso flavor and the sweetness of the textured milk is what makes a great cappuccino.

What should the texture of a Cappuccino be?

With a strict 1:1:1 ratio between shot, milk and foam you cappuccino should well rounded with a smooth milk. The foam should be dense and firm, and maintain its structure even as you drink down the cup.

The bubbles should be fine (what is referred to as micro-foam), if you drink from a proper cup, the frothed milk should stick to your upper lip.

What Is a Caffe Latte?

caffe latte

As you have discovered the ingredients are exactly the same for a Caffe Latte as for a cappuccino, but it is exact ratio’s that make the difference.

You may be forgiven for thinking how can the ratio make that big a difference, but believe me it can. A Latte is a world away from a proper cappuccino.

A Latte starts the same, with a shot of espresso or two, this is then topped with much larger amount of steamed milk. The idea here is to produce a creamier drink, with a lighter espresso flavour and much more gentle flavour profile.

This more milky consistency is what gives it its name “caffè latte translates to “Coffee Milk”.

Just like the cappuccino it has seen a huge rise in popularity over the recent years, thanks mainly to en-vogue variations of the high street chains, which a flavoured with all sorts of things.

Again this is a morning drink, but unlike the cappuccino can be enjoyed right up until lunch time.

How to make a Latte

Unlike the Cappuccino, the Latte has no real firm recipe. It is made differently all over the world and really depends on local culture and also the equipment at hand.

Some Italians will argue that a latte is simply an espresso mixed with warmed milk. A latte is mainly drank at home, and as such the preparation method depends on the maker.

Caffe latte Ratios

If you want to make a caffè latte like an Italian,

  1. You need to use espresso beans that can handle the milk, and brew a shot or two.
  2. Warm milk on the stove.
  3. Combine the two, as a minimum you need double the milk to espresso.
  4. Sweeten to taste

The other widely accepted method is the American Latte. You are probably more familiar with this method due to the American style coffee shops we all love. The main diference is the milky coffee is topped with a layer of foam.

If you want to make an American caffè latte,

  1. Brew a shot of Espresso from whole coffee beans
  2. Steam milk to a foamy consistency
  3. Flavour with syrup such as vanilla, cinnamon etc
  4. Pour in the steamed milk that hasn’t turned to foam.
  5. Top with the milk foam

As you can see ultimately its a real simple coffee to prepare and this is probably why it is so popular, and many different cultures have a similar coffee drinks, in France they have a Cafe Au Lait, in Germany the Milchkaffee, and Latin America Cafe con Leche.

The texture of Latte?

As the ratio of steamed milk to milk foam is greater, then as you would expect the texture is milkier. Flavour wise they are much lighter, they do have a hint of espresso, but the acidity and bitterness are masked by the sweetness of the milk.

Due to their smoothness of taste, they make a great base from which to enhance with other flavours. This is why you always find specials made from lattes, such a spiced latte or a cinnamon latte etc.

Cappuccino vs Latte : Which one should you choose?

There is no easy answer to which you should choose, this is down to preference. Ultimately the cappuccino is smaller and has a stronger coffee hit, so if your looking for that morning wake up then maybe this is for you.

However if you are more in favour of a long drink and are looking for something to sip and chat to your friends then the Latte it is. These are also great flavoured as well, so are perfect to get creative with to impress your guests.


Is a Cappuccino Stronger than Latte

These are both espresso drinks, and both traditionally have 1 shot of espresso in. So if terms of caffeine they are both the same.

However a Cappuccino has less milk, and therefore tastes stronger than a latte which is a taller drink with more milk.

Which is the creamiest, Latte or Cappuccino

Both drinks start with a shot of espresso, and then are topped with milk, but this is where they are different. The amount and the texture of the milk is what differentiates these two favourites.

A latte has a lot more milk and has the creamier consistency compared to a cappuccino which is foamy.

Which has the most calories

As we have learnt, Latte boasts more milk than its counterpart, and therefore all other things being equal, will have more calories. Obviously the milk type and fat content, drink size and additives (syrup, sugar etc) will affect this.

To compare, a Starbucks tall latte with semi skimmed milk is 143 calories (2), where as the same size cappuccino with semi skimmed is 129 calories

Which Milk is Best?

To get best results when steaming milk, I recommend using whole milk. This will give a velvety and dense foam. Experienced baristas can get a good effect with semi skimmed milk.

I would avoid using skimmed milk, while you may get it to a foamy consistency it will have no body and disappear quickly.

About Jacques Carner

Jacques is the man behind behind We Spill The Beans. He as a lover of all things coffee, and has previously worked as a buyer for one of the biggest coffee companies in the world. You can find more about him here.