Latte vs Cappuccino: Before Your Next Cuppa

Written by The Kitchen Hand on . Posted in Coffee & Tea


Latte vs cappuccino—is there a difference? Ask this to a coffee connoisseur, and you are certain to be shot one nasty look followed by an elaborate, precise, and detailed retort.

For many of us coffee addicts, coffee is not just a beverage to charge us up for the day—it’s liquid for the soul. It is our go-to comfort beverage, and an anytime indulgence. It is the first thing we would like to get our hands on in the morning, and any deviation from our preferred concoction is enough for us to throw a fit!

Being a coffee aficionado and fanatic myself, I am admittedly possessive about the right coffee beans, blend, milk content, quantity, water temperature, foam density, and other factors that come together to make me my perfect cuppa.

It is no surprise, then, that others like me can explain a latte vs cappuccino in a jiffy. But, for those, who can’t see the difference and the fuss behind both, don’t worry!

We’ve put together a complete trade-off between these two beverages, complete with choices to help you not only tell the difference between both, but also to help you ascertain what suits your palette. Let’s get up to speed with the trends in coffee making and discover some hacks to make the perfect cup of coffee!

Speaking from experience, you can either be a latte person or a cappuccino person, but not both. Just like you don’t take a second to make your choice between tea and coffee, you will do the same when it comes to a latte vs cappuccino.

We shall take you through the basics of what exactly these two beverages actually are before we delve into their specific characteristics, though. Both are primarily made of coffee or espresso, steamed milk, water, and sugar (optional).

Now, we must admit that with these few ingredients, there is a score of beverages you can make by using different combinations and quantities, but the latte and the cappuccino are certainly universal favorites. While the latte finds its origins in America, the cappuccino is an Italian brainchild.

In Italian, latte refers to milk, hence the Americans have taken this meaning a step further to coin the term cafe latte. Now, let’s dive right into each of these world-renowned beverages to learn what sets them apart.

What is a Cappuccino?

The cappuccino is an espresso derivative which finds its origin in Italy. It involves a potent espresso shot topped with a moderate dose of steamed milk, finished off with a bubbly-thick layer of foamed milk.

All of these three ingredients are in an equal measure, giving you a rich, thick, and fairly strong drink with a distinct, signature cappuccino taste. For a richer texture, steamed milk can be substituted with cream.

A pastry or a croissant with a cappuccino is the ideal Italian breakfast across the whole of Italy. While cappuccinos are on call all day long in western countries, traditional Italians drink them just once a day for breakfast. Go to a coffee shop worth its name and you will be served a piping hot cappuccino in a ceramic cup.

You will seldom be handed a good cappuccino in any other piece of kitchenware.  The ideal size of a cappuccino is less than 200 ml. However, today we see international coffee chains offering quantities as high as 600 ml for this beverage.

Here are some types of cappuccinos found across the globe today:

  • A dry cappuccino, which sports less steamed milk and more foam than the proportionate amount that’s usually equal to the quantity of espresso. It is a commonly found beverage, especially in America.
    A dry cappuccino has variations in the form of an extra-dry cappuccino, which sports just a splash of steamed milk on your espresso, topped off by foamed milk. For the adventurous drinker, you can go a step further and try out the bone-dry cappuccino, which is nothing but a shot or two of espresso with just a few drops of steamed milk.
  • A wet cappuccino has more steamed milk and less foam, which tends to dilute the potency of your espresso and make the flavor of your coffee more subtle.
  • If you want to deviate from the host of hot cappuccino options available, sink into an iced cappuccino. With the increasing popularity of iced coffees, milkshakes, and smoothies, iced cappuccinos find many takers among modern coffee drinkers.
    These are usually made of espresso which is cooled and frozen before being diluted with water, cream, chocolate, or milk at the time of serving, based on the preference of the customer. These chilled drinks make it possible to enjoy a coffee even on sunny afternoons.
  • Vegan cappuccinos are now a thing, with plant and nut-based milk options replacing the traditional cow’s milk. Experiment with soy milk, almond milk, walnut milk, and other such variants to put together a vegan cappuccino. This will also work well for individuals who are lactose intolerant.
  • Flavored cappuccinos include a wide range of refreshing options for people looking to get something more than just the coffee flavor. From vanilla to hazelnut and caramel, to mint, berries, and a whole lot of other options, flavored cappuccinos cater to the palette of different cappuccino tastes.

A Step by Step Guide on How to Do a Cappuccino

Here is a step by step process of putting together a good cappuccino that would make a coffee enthusiast proud:

  • Fill your cup with one shot of espresso. Oftentimes, American coffee shops load up two portions of espresso due to their large cup size, in which case your cappuccino is going to have more espresso. Regardless, the milk in cappuccino drinks should be equal to the espresso.
  • Pour one equivalent portion of steamed milk into your cup.
  • Add an equal layer of foamed milk to top it off.
  • Finishing touches to a cappuccino involve sprinkling a dash of cinnamon powder or chocolate powder over your beverage to add an element of spice or sweetness, as the case may be.

Note that none of these ingredients are mixed. The essence of a cappuccino is to let these layers be distinct from each other. Also, the foam on the cappuccino is more light than that that found on a latte. You’ll have to go with a very light, airy milk foam to set the tone of your cappuccino right.

There are two kinds of foam that you can find crowning a cappuccino. While one is a dry foam that is quite voluminous but also quite dry in texture, while microfoam is composed of tinier bubbles that adorn your coffee.

Rest assured that the texture of the foam can largely influence your coffee experience in terms of taste, consistency, and caffeine. It is microfoam that is widely used across coffee chains.

What is a Latte?

Latte, meaning milk in Italian, is extended as a beverage to create the café latte, which simply means latte with coffee, or a portion of milk with a dash of coffee with it.

The serving size of a traditional latte is slightly bigger than that of a cappuccino. A good latte sports a single or double shot of espresso, as per the requirement of the consumer. The steamed milk that now gets added is four times the quantity of a single serving of espresso.

This marks the key difference in the question of latte vs cappuccino. Atop this thick layer of steamed milk sits a light layer of foamed milk that’s a lot denser and heavier than that on a cappuccino. This gives your latte a creamy, thick texture that is its trademark. A latte is usually doled out in a large tumbler or glass.

The gamut of what you’d call a latte has spread over the last few decades. Here are the latte options you can  enjoy at any local coffee shop:

  • Flavored lattes are increasingly being experimented with by adding a dash of matcha, caramel/hazelnut syrups, vanilla sticks, and other such flavorful nuts and spices.
  • Traditional cow’s milk in cappuccino and latte varieties is a major problem for vegans and people with lactose intolerance. Hence, these beverages are also made using almond milk or soy milk, which possess similar frothing capabilities as cow’s milk while providing similar visual and brewing appeal
  • Whiskey & Vodka Lattes: Add a dash of Irish cream or Irish whiskey to your latte for the much-needed warmth on a winter morning.
    You could also add a few drops of flavored vodka, such as raspberry vodka, caramel vodka, or mint vodka, for an interesting flavor blend. Many cafes serve whiskey lattes to cater to the diverse palette of coffee drinkers.
  • Festive Lattes: From spiced pumpkin lattes to eggnog and gingerbread lattes, blend in the flavor of the season with your coffee to give your taste buds a treat.

There really is no dearth of experiments you can do with your favorite beverage to add a twist to it and discover a newfound preference for yourself. Your latte is only as good as you try to make it.

How to Do a Latte Like a Boss

Here’s how to make a classic café latte:

  • Start with one (or two) portions of espresso, about 1/6th of the total vessel size
  • Pour steamed milk that’s 4/6th the cup size in measure
  • Load up on a thick and dense layer of foamed milk to top off your latte

The quantity of milk in a latte is about four times that of an espresso. The dense foamed milk in a latte is what causes the various layers in a latte to blend into one other, leaving you with a slightly weaker caffeine taste in comparison to a cappuccino taste.

This extra milk in a latte also contributes to its creamy texture, making it the go-to option for many coffee drinkers for its subtlety.

The French version of a latte, referred to as café au lait, adopts the same ratios but uses French-pressed coffee instead of the standard espresso.

The café au lait is more potent in flavor and caffeine content and mostly does not cater to the American palette. In this case, the pouring method in a café au lait is also different from the others. Both the pressed black coffee as well as the steamed milk are poured in together, with no layer of foamed milk to follow.

Difference Between Latte & Cappuccino

While we have understood that a latte and a cappuccino vary in their composition of coffee and milk, there are few more differences that can tell them apart. The foam on a latte is a lot heavier than that of a cappuccino, which is usually light and airy.

Due to a significantly lesser portion of milk, a cappuccino serving is around 180-200 ml, while a latte serving is a little more generous at around 300 ml. In fact, in Italy, the serving size of a cappuccino can go down to as little as 100 ml.

A cappuccino is traditionally served in a ceramic cup with a stem or a handle, while a latte usually finds itself in a tumbler sort of a vessel.

Also, in a latte, you will not find chocolate powder or cinnamon powder drizzled, which is a common addition to a cappuccino. This also makes the cappuccino a tad sweeter than the latte.

As a latte has more steamed milk in comparison to a cappuccino and the foamed milk is quite heavy and dense, you’ll find that the espresso and the milk in a latte somewhat blend into each other.

On the other hand, a cappuccino has much less steamed milk with a thin layer of light foam, and hence, there is a clearly defined distinction between the coffee and the milk. The more you sip on your cappuccino, the more you will find the flavor of coffee increasing and that of the milk decreasing,

This also contributes to the stronger espresso flavor in the cappuccino and gives it the tag of being the stronger caffeine beverage in comparison to a latte.

Latte vs Cappuccino – Which Scores Better for Nutrition?

As the ingredients for either a latte or cappuccino are the same with differences only in their quantities, there isn’t much variation between the two from a nutrition perspective.

While a latte has more to offer with its higher calcium content due to the higher milk ratio, this also has a downside. You will be loading on 1-2 more grams of fat from the milk should you choose to have a latte over a cappuccino.

That said, the decreased milk in cappuccino varieties should even out if you are in the habit of drizzling chocolate powder or any other flavoring agent, which certainly lends more sweetness to cappuccino taste.

Hence, we could say both beverages are pretty much on the same nutritional plane, with a gram or two of fat and calcium this way or that. Having said that, aside from the short-term number crunching, coffee in any form brings a significant number of long-term health benefits to the table.

Coffee is known to reduce the risk of the onset of Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and heart problems, as well as Type 2 diabetes. It is also a mood stimulant and helps in keeping depression at bay.

It stimulates the brain, increases blood flow and makes the body more active. Hence, you can indulge in a cup or two of a café latte or cappuccino as part of a healthy diet.

However, if you wish to make your coffee a whole lot healthier and even have it aid in weight loss, we’d recommend you try bulletproof coffee. Lauded as a fat burner, bulletproof coffee is made by dropping a few grams of butter and a teaspoon of oil in your coffee to make it a zero-carb high-fat drink, a perfect beverage as part of the ketogenic diet.

Latte vs Cappuccino Cost

Most cafes around the world charge pretty much the same for a latte or cappuccino. But in some cases, especially in some European countries such as Greece or some Scandinavian countries, a cappuccino is priced slightly less than a latte. This could be due to the slightly more milk it warrants.

By cost difference we mean a few cents, which shouldn’t amount to much. Hence, no matter what you pick in the battle of latte vs cappuccino, it should set you back by pretty much the same amount on a daily basis.

However, if you are looking to indulge yourself in some latte art or gourmet additions to your drink such as hazelnut, vanilla, caramel, etc—get ready to shell out almost double the cost of a traditional latte or cappuccino.

Trends in the Barista Craft

While lattes and cappuccinos are traditional, older methods of coffee making, we have seen variants of springing up across the global coffee community that cater to the evolving taste of coffee drinkers.

Here are some trends we have observed over the last few years that have drawn inspiration from lattes and cappuccinos. Some have been successful in cutting out quite a niche for themselves:

  • Extensions of Latte vs Cappuccino

Ask a coffee drinker in the early 19th century if they’ve tried a macchiato and they’ll throw you a blank look. But today, a macchiato is a common feature in the menu card of every coffee shop.

A macchiato is a potent version of a cappuccino, minus the layer of foamed milk, and with only half the amount of steamed milk in comparison, making it a perfect evening dose of caffeine to shake you out of imminent slumber. In fact, macchiatos are known as espressos with a few drops of milk in them.

Similarly, another fad in the world of coffee is a latte macchiato which defies the principle of espresso first. This drink begins with a layer of steamed milk, followed by espresso, then foamed milk—similar to that which crowns a latte.

Basically, it is espresso which is sandwiched between two layers of milk, steamed and foamed. Many such experiments of a latte with coffee have given rise to beverages that cater to the evolving palette of coffee enthusiasts.

Chocolate enthusiasts, too, have delved into the world of coffee for their fair share of indulgence. A mochaccino squeezes in a layer of hot chocolate between the espresso and steamed milk in cappuccinos, tweaking your cappuccino’s taste with a dash of chocolate. Drizzle some chocolate powder or gooey marshmallows on a mochaccino and you have a winner.

  • Latte Art

Latte art has brought in a whole new element of style and personalization into the world of coffee making. Increasingly seen in western countries, artistic images are drawn on a ready cup of coffee by pouring steamed milk in certain methods that skilled baristas have mastered over time.

From beautiful trees to plants, webs, flowers, hearts, and even the impression of a person’s facial features, the surface of your coffee today has become an artist’s canvas.

This is achieved using crema—a mixture of coffee oil and brewed coffee—as well as microfoam on the coffee surface. There are two commonly used ways of achieving these patterns on your coffee: free pouring and etching. The former involves carefully pouring white micro-foamed milk onto the surface of your coffee that’s topped with crema.

Here, the primary focus to achieve the pattern relies on the method of pouring. Alternatively, you could free pour and use a thin stick to draw out the pattern you desire. Needless to say, both require tremendous skill and practice.

For those of us who love to indulge in a cup of coffee for photographic pleasure aside from the flavor and culinary appreciation, latte art is what you should be ordering during your next visit to a gourmet coffee shop.

  • Time of Coffee Consumption

The time we choose for our coffee indulgence has also evolved tremendously over the years. Back in the 19th and early 20th century, you would see the sales of a latte or a cappuccino peak in the morning hours, up until around 10 or 11 o’clock. After this time, milk-based coffees would be avoided due to them being difficult to digest.

In fact, it would be considered borderline rude to demand a latte or cappuccino of a barista in the evening hours. Evenings would call for a shot or two of espresso.

However, consumption patterns have changed, with coffee drinkers grabbing 5-6 servings of their go-to milk beverage in a day. We use this as liquid comfort during business meetings, while binge-watching television sessions, or over a casual date.

The Barista Barometer: How Your Coffee Maker Can Make or Break Your Coffee Experience

In order for you to appreciate the art of coffee making and evolve into a coffee connoisseur, it will largely depend on the skills of your barista.

Often times, you will find even the best coffee shops dishing out inconsistent drinks on a day to day basis. This could be due to busy hours, quick turnout demands, lack of good craft, or the lack of experience on the part of the barista.

It is no wonder that many people who actually enjoy coffee are not able to tell the difference between a latte vs cappuccino. Largely, this could be due to the incapability of the coffee maker in your neighborhood coffee shop.

Even coffee that is dished out at workplaces is done so in a subconscious hurry to get back to the work desk, leaving this wonderful beverage to serve as nothing more than an energizer and a much-needed stimulant during your workday.

It is a pity that poor craftsmanship in the art of coffee making has reduced the potential of this rich beverage to just an aid to boost your energy levels.

For one to truly appreciate the art involved in a good brew, a fair knowledge of the ideal temperature and consistency of milk, espresso, and water is necessary. What may not be the perfect cup of latte or cappuccino initially can certainly be mastered with a tad bit of patience and practice, as well as a keen attention to detail.

Wondering how to get started? Read on.

Want to Master the Art of Coffee Making? Here’s What You Need to Know!

Whether it is a latte or cappuccino, there are a few basic rules for brewing the perfect cuppa, in terms of the latte or cappuccino taste, texture, consistency, and coffee flavor. Some things to keep in mind are:

  • Focus on the espresso. No matter how well you steam the milk or how good your pouring skills are, the key to a good cup of coffee is how well you brew your espresso. Always keep your coffee infusions brief and run the hot water quickly through the ground coffee.
  • Choosing the right cup size is pivotal to getting the measurements right. An oversized cup or a small cup is going to get you confused about the right amount of espresso and milk in your cappuccino or latte.
  • Warm your cup in a heater or microwave. Often times a cup kept out in cold countries leads to the coffee cooling very fast, leaving the drinker to discard the last few sips of his drink. Keep the cup warm so as to complement your hot drink.
  • Steaming the milk in a steamer is an exercise that should take you about forty seconds. Make sure you use the milk soon after and don’t leave it lingering around in order for it to be palatable and complement your espresso well.
  • For the layer of foam, we would suggest you invest in a foaming jug. These are usually made using stainless steel and sport a pointy pouring beak in order to support artistic pouring, should that interest you further on in your coffee-making enthusiasm.
  • Do not heat the milk beyond 158 degrees Fahrenheit while steaming or foaming, as this causes the lactose sugar in milk to be released, which can alter the taste of your cappuccino or latte.
  • When pouring the foam, ensure to not break between the pour, completing it in one go. An inadvertent break can cause the foam to be uneven and not visually appealing.
  • The foam on your coffee acts as a heat insulator and keeps your beverage hot for longer. Hence, ensure a uniform pour to enjoy every sip of your coffee.
  • While low-fat milk may be appealing from a health perspective, beware that using low-fat milk in a cappuccino or latte leads to a compromise in the flavor of your beverage and can rob it of its creamy, rich texture.

What’s Your Brew?

Both the latte and cappuccino make for excellent variants of the coffee and milk blend. After knowing how exactly each of these drinks is made and the host of experimentation you can indulge in, we would encourage you to try both and decide for yourself what your taste buds are more receptive to.

We’re sure you will zero-in on which is more palatable to you than the other when it comes to the latte vs cappuccino.

We hope our article has given you some good insight into the differences between these two beverages and you are now fairly well equipped to call the shots. Literally, as in, the espresso shots… So the next time you are at a coffee shop, you can tell the difference between the latte vs cappuccino. Go out there and find your go-to drink between that you can swear by.

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