While in college, I worked at a cafe on campus, where I easily consumed at least half a dozen espressos every day and almost as many flaky croissants every week. Over time, I’ve mastered the art of drawing espresso, learned what a portafilter is, tasted Italian and French roasts, and learned the difference between a cappuccino and a latte.
These two espresso drinks are almost identical: depending on the size of the drink you order, you can expect a cappuccino and a latte to both be made with one or two shots of espresso. The espresso is first poured into the cup or paper coffee cup before being topped with steamed milk. Both drinks contain steamed milk and froth, but the proportions are what distinguishes a latte from a cappuccino. This is where things get a little tricky: to make a latte, frothed milk is poured evenly into the cup, creating a latte with a thin layer of froth on top. On the other hand, a cappuccino is prepared by pouring the hot milk over the espresso while using a large spoon to retain the frothy milk. Once the hot milk stream has been added, the remaining froth is then poured over the cappuccino, creating a thick, airy foam layer on top.
Generally, a cappuccino has a stronger coffee flavor because there is less milk mixed into the espresso. And cappuccinos are usually served in their pure, unadulterated coffee form.
In contrast, lattes are milkier and generally sweeter. Think fall-style Pumpkin Spice Latte or a Mocha Peppermint Latte — these are lattes that have added flavor in the form of artificial sweetener, chocolate syrup, or both. So how do other popular specialty coffee drinks fit into this?
An Americano is in his own playground; this beverage, which can be served hot or iced, is literally just one or two shots of espresso (depending on how tired you are) topped with hot or cold water. It tastes stronger than iced coffee, but dilutes the bitter espresso flavor for a more palatable pick-me-up.
Flat whites are popular espresso drinks in Australia, but they didn’t really gain popularity in American coffee shops until Starbucks launched their version in 2015. It’s hotly debated whether a flat white is more like a cappuccino or a latte. . . and the answer depends on who you ask. But usually a flat white is made with ristretto shots (which are shorter, sweeter versions of espresso shots), steamed milk, which is richer and smoother than steamed milk. steam like you’d find in a cappuccino or latte, and finely bubbled microfoam poured on top.
A macchiato is a smaller version of a cappuccino. A single or double espresso is poured into a Barbie-sized cup and a dollop (just a dollop!) of frothed milk is poured on top. For the record, it’s totally different from a caramel macchiato, which is just a vanilla latte drizzled with caramel sauce.