Coffee Showdown: Flat White vs Cappuccino vs Latte

Have you ever stood in your favorite coffee shop and wondered what the difference between a cappuccino, latte and flat white is? I mean all three of them are made with espresso and milk. Confusing, right?

In this post, want to help you understand the differences between these three drinks.

In short, the key differences between these two drinks are in the coffee-to-milk ratio and milk texture. Now, let’s go into more detail about the differences between a latte, cappuccino and flat white.

Side note: you can skip the detailed explanations and go to the sections you’d prefer to read:

What is a Cappuccino?
What is a Latte?
What is a Flat White?
Similarities
Differences

What is a Cappuccino?

When it comes to espresso-based drinks, the cappuccino is probably one of the oldest and most well-known. It is an espresso drink with equal parts espresso, steamed milk and milk foam on top of the drink. It is usually around 150-175ml.

Cappuccino

Origin of the Cappuccino

The cappuccino that we know today, is an Italian drink. However, we can actually trace its roots to Vienna in the 1700s.

That Viennese drink was called a Kapuziner. The reason is that the drinks color was similar to the color of the Capuchin Frairs’ robes. Although it wasn’t an espresso-based drink back then, it was still a milky coffee.

Kinds of Cappuccinos

You might have heard of a dry cappuccino and a wet cappuccino.

Basically, a dry cappuccino has more foam and less milk than a traditional cappuccio. Whereas a wet cappuccino has less foam and more milk. However, a wet cappuccino still has more foam and less milk than a latte.

What is a Latte?

So, technically this drink is called a caffe latte. Caffe is the Italian word for coffee and latte is Italian for milk. Which, is why it is important to add the caffe part when ordering a caffe latte in Italy. Else you might end up with a glass of milk.

Basically a caffe latte is an espresso based drink with less foam of top of the drink and more steamed milk than a cappuccino. The extra milk reduces the intense flavor of the coffee and gives it an extra creamy texture. Traditionally this drink is usually around 240ml.

Latte

Origin of the Latte

Regardless of the fact that the name suggests an Italian origin, it is not the case. The first latte was made in 1959 by an Italian named Lino Meiorin. His Italian heritage is where the Italian name comes from. However, he was actually in California in the United States when coming up with this drink.

Meiorin was one of the owners of the Caffe Mediterraneum. It was a coffee shop on Telegraph Avenue in Berkley.

Many of their customers were not used to the strong Italian espresso drinks that they served and would ask Meiorin for some extra milk. Meiorin would then ask the barista in Italian to add more milk (latte) to the cup.

At some point, he decided to make a drink with a higher coffee-to-milk ratio a staple on their menu and officially called it a caffe latte. 

With time other coffee shops also started to serve this drink to the delight of many coffee lovers.

What is a Flat White?

A flat white is a coffee drink very similar to a latte. It is usually made with a double shot of espresso or a ristretto shot. Then some microfoamed milk is added to achieve a drink of 150-175 ml. Most often baristas pour the milk in beautiful latte art patterns on top of the drink.

Flat White

Origin of the Flat White

There is some debate as to if the flat white originated in New Zealand or Australia. However, it is widely agreed that it was in one of those two places and then spread to places like the United Kingdom and North America.

The drink started out because people wanted a creamier and smoother coffee drink. Which, the cappuccinos in those times did not offer. The reason is that back then it was customary, everywhere except for in Italy, for a cappuccino to have dry foam that rose above the top of the cup. Thus, instead people started asking for a flat, white coffee without foam.

As the coffee world evolved and people started pay attention of milk texture and latte art, the flat white as we know it today made its appearance.

Flat White

Similarities

Before we look at how a latte, cappuccino and flat white differs, let’s first see how they are the same.

Brewing Method

The first thing is that the base ingredient of all three of these drinks are made with espresso coffee. Thus, an espresso machine is generally used to brew the coffee.

Ingredients

Basically, these three coffee drinks contain the same things milk and espresso. It is when it comes to the ratio of milk to espresso where things get interesting. I’ll get to that in a moment.

Differences

Now that we know how these drinks are similar, let’s have a look at in which ways they differ.

Latte

Amount of Milk Foam

The main difference between these three drinks is the amount of foam on top of the drink.

A cappuccino with its thick layer of foam on top has the most foam. Even a wet cappuccino, which has less foam and more milk than a normal cappuccino, has more foam than a latte and flat white.

When we compare a latte and flat white, a flat white doesn’t have as much foam as a latte.

So, in short, a cappuccino has the most foam, followed by a latte and a flat white has the least foam.

Kind of Foam

When it gets to the kind of foam on the coffee there are also some slight differences.

A latte and cappuccino both get milk foam on top. However, a flat white actually gets a small amount of microfoam on top.

Flat White

Amount of Espresso

A latte and a cappuccino both only contain a single shot of espresso. Whereas a flat white needs two shots of espresso.

Yet, it is important to note that different sizes of the drinks will require different amounts of espresso.

Ratio of Espresso to Milk Used

Because of the different amounts of milk and espresso in a cappuccino, latte and flat white, it stands to reason that the ratios between the milk and espresso will differ.

As I mentioned, both a latte and a cappuccino get one shot of espresso. However, a latte gets 6oz (180ml) of milk and a cappuccino gets only 2oz (60ml).

In contrast, a flat white with it’s double shot of espresso is made using 4oz (120ml) of milk.

Cappuccino

Caffeine Content

The caffeine content of coffee severely depends on the kind of coffee beans used. Yet, the basic concept will remain the same. More shots of espresso equals more caffeine.

So, if you go with the traditional amount of espresso shots, a flat white will have double the amount of caffeine that a latte and cappuccino have.

However, as I mentioned earlier, the amount of espresso differs based on the size of the drink.

Flavor

Of course, because of the different ratios of espresso to milk the drinks do have different flavor profiles. 

A latte is creamier than the other two because of the larger amount of milk compared to foam.

A cappuccino, although creamy is not quite as creamy as a latte and is less milky than a latte.

On the other hand, a flat white has quite a strong espresso flavor. It is smooth and has a bit of bitterness to it.

Latte

Serving Size

Flat whites and cappuccinos are traditionally smaller (about 150-175 ml) than lattes (about (240ml) and served in smaller cups.

However, in my experience, more often than not, cappuccinos and lattes are served in similar sizes. Especially when ordering a takeaway coffee.

Other Coffee Comparisons

Cappuccino vs Americano

Both a cappuccino and an Americano are popular coffee drinks on coffee shop menus. Here is how a cappuccino and an Americano is different.

Cappuccino next to americano

Iced Latte vs Iced Mocha

In summer we want something cool and refreshing, right? Ughh, but once again… choices.

If you want to know what the differences are between an iced latte and an iced mocha, this post is just for you.

An iced mocha and an iced latte in takeaway cups.

Cortado vs Piccolo

Both of these two espresso-based coffee drinks are small but potent. The problem, however, is which one is the right one for you?

To help you make your decision I wrote a post comparing a cortado and a piccolo.

Cortado next to piccolo coffee.

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