There are a lot of different espresso-based drinks, sometimes this much variety can be confusing. Latte, cappuccino, flat white, mocha, are just some of the most popular drinks made from espresso and milk. Standing in line at the coffee shop, you suddenly realize that you don’t know what to order…
In this post we are going to show you the differences between the most commonly ordered espresso based beverages, so you have an idea when you are about to order.
Funny story: A friend of mine admitted that when she started drinking coffee, she was scared of ordering at the coffee shop. She didn’t know what the difference between macchiato, latte, cappuccino, and mocha, and she was embarrassed to ask the barista. So she started to buy a different espresso drink every day, until she ran through all of the drinks in the menu.
On serious note, if you are curious, ordering a different drink every day is a great way to understand exactly what a drink tastes like. However, maybe some of the drinks in the menu are too much for you, or maybe too little. This article is a little starting point for you.
Espresso-Based Drinks Explained
All the coffee-based drinks in coffee shops are a mix of two base ingredients, espresso, and milk. We have an article where we list and describe a longer list of popular espresso-based drinks. Here, we stick to the most popular ones. Some recipes call for extra ingredients such as cocoa, chocolate, ice, sugar, vanilla, but the base are the warm milk and espresso.
What is the Difference between Latte, Cappuccino, Flat white and Mocha?
The main difference between latte, cappuccino and flat white is the ratio of espresso to milk, and the type of textured milk used.
There is a joke among baristas that you can make an entire coffee shop menu with just milk and espresso. The truth is that the two ingredients, mixed in different ratios, and the different ways the milk is textured creates different beverages, with different taste, and mouthfeel.
Types of Textured Milk
The main types of textured milk are frothed milk, steamed milk, microfoamed milk, and scalded milk.
- Frothed milk is foamy, and contains mostly air.
- Steamed milk is heated with the steaming wand, but the purpose is just to get warm milk, and not to texturize it.
- Microfoam milk is steamed but with the purpose to incorporate air in it in a way that keeps it fluid enough.
- Scalded milk is just heated milk.
Note that the microfoam and steamed milk are sometimes confused, even in barista circles.
Why Are Espresso Drinks Popular?
Espresso and milk-based drinks are great for people with a sensitive stomach because the milk tones down the coffee. Caffeinated beverages such as latte, mocha, and cappuccino are also a great way to break the daily coffee routine or to be served at parties.
Also, the intense coffee flavor of an espresso is not something that every coffee lover enjoys, so coffee drinkers add a little milk to espresso to make it palatable.
Cappuccino vs Flat White, vs Latte vs Mocha
Here are the major differences between latte, cappuccino, flat white and mocha:
|Cappuccino||1/3 espresso, 1/3 steamed milk, 1/3 foamed milk||The espresso is toned down with milk, but the coffee taste is still featured.|
|Latte||1/6 espresso, 4/6 steamed milk, 1/6 foamed milk||This is a milk-based drink with just a little coffee.|
|Mocha||2/5 espresso, 2/5 chocolate, 1/5 steamed milk||A strong coffee with a chocolate flavor.|
|Flat White||1/3 espresso, 2/3 frothed milk||Very similar to a cappuccino, but the milk is micro-foamed and it doesn’t have the dry foam top.|
Can You Make Latte and Cappuccino at Home?
Espresso drinks are usually made using an espresso machine, which is the traditional method. This is what you are buying from a coffee shop. However, you can make your latte at home using cheaper equipment, if you want to ditch your barista. But know that the taste will be different. We have a post where we explain what is espresso and another post where we show how is espresso different from regular coffee.
Do We Need an Espresso Machine?
Yes, lattes and cappuccinos are made with an espresso machine. People use various recipes for lattes because the amount of milk sometimes covers the coffee taste. However, for an authentic cappuccino, real espresso is the best choice. The authentic espresso taste can only be produced by pump driven espresso machines.
Also the steam wand of an espresso machine is the proper tool to texturize milk properly. The steam want injects air into the milk while heating it, and depending on the amount of air incorporated we can have milk that has a different mouthfeel, and will change the taste of your final espresso drink.
If you want to get the authentic taste, you will need to have the proper equipment, and you can buy a cheap espresso machine, if your budget is limited. These machines have a milk steamer and a 9 bar pump and they are decently reliable.
What Is Latte
Latte is nothing else than milk with coffee, and it originates in Italy, where it is called café latte. Latte is very popular because the coffee content is very diluted, and the recipe can be tweaked by adding various flavorings, making latte a dessert. The microfoam milk allows baristas to create beautiful drawings.
Latte is an espresso-based milky drink with a 1 to 3, up to 1 to 9, espresso to milk ratio.
Note the milk to espresso ratio which makes this drink almost not-coffee. Don’t get fooled though, the amount of caffeine in this drink is enough to give you a serious jolt.
The standard latte is prepared in an 8 oz. cup, and it contains the following ingredients:
- 1 or two shots of espresso (1 shot = 1 oz)
- Around 5 to 6 oz. steamed milk, (around 5-6 oz.)
- Top up the cup with a thin layer of microfoam milk.
- Add flavorings as desired.
Lattes are served in ceramic wide mugs, that can be easily handled by the barista when pouring latte art. Sometimes tall glasses are used for latte macchiato, since there is no latte art. Latte macchiato is a latte with a thicker layer of froth, similarly to cappuccinos, but with the same milk to espresso ratio as all lattes.
What Is Cappuccino
Cappuccino is an espresso-based drink, of Italian origin, with 1/3 espresso, 1/3 steamed milk, and 1/3 wet foamed milk. The difference between a latte and a cappuccino is the milk content. Latte has a lot of milk, whereas cappuccino is a strong coffee. The coffee to milk ratio in a cappuccino is around 1 to 1.5, considering that foamed milk is at least double in volume compared to steamed milk. Cappuccino has a rich and bold taste, as any espresso would, but is toned down by the steamed milk.
Compared to a latte, cappuccino is a much stronger drink. You can taste the espresso flavors, as the ratio of milk to espresso is basically 1 to 1. (The milk froth is negligible as quantity.)
A standard cappuccino should contain:
- 1 shot of espresso, (cannot be instant or drip coffee).
Cappuccino is not drenched in milk so that the espresso is the featured taste.
- 1 oz steamed milk
- 1 oz microfoamed milk
So once again, the recipe for a cappuccino is mixing equal volumes of espresso steamed milk and frothed milk.
Dry cappuccino is a variant that has more of the dry foam, and less of the steamed milk. An interesting variation is the bone dry cappuccino. The wet cappuccino is a variant where all the foamed milk is replaced with steamed milk.
Mocha coffee is an espresso-based coffee with a strong chocolate flavor, containing 2/5 espresso, 2/5 hot chocolate, and 1/5 steamed milk. Mocha breve is a variant with 1/3 espresso, 1/3 hot chocolate, and 1/3 half & half cream.
Mocha coffee is most of the times a very strong beverage, with very little milk content. We can compare it to flat white and cappuccino, from this perspective. However, from a taste perspective, mocha is an explosion of coffee and chocolate. A taste so rich, that feels like a desert without adding sugar.
Mocha coffee is actually a type of coffee beans with a natural chocolate flavor. These coffee beans originate in Mocha – Yemen. In order to enhance the chocolate taste, baristas have added a little chocolate to the mocha recipe. If we were to compare latte vs mocha, the latte is a very light drink, with little coffee per ounce of milk, whereas mocha is even stronger than a cappuccino.
Mocha coffee recipe, as we find it in most coffee shops is a combination of three elements as follows:
- 2 espresso shots
- 2 oz hot chocolate
- 1 oz steamed milk
- Optional, a thin frothed milk top layer
Mochaccino is simply a cappuccino with some chocolate syrup, or a few squares of chocolate added. Mocha latte is simply a latte with chocolate added. If you want to go with your mocha recipe a step further and add a hint of booze the beverage. You can add Sambuca, Baileys Cream, Cognac, Metaxa, or coffee liqueur. The Italian way to booze your coffee is with Sambuca.
A flat white is a a coffee beverage consisting of steamed milk with espresso. It is very similar to a cappuccino, though it contains slightly more milk than cappuccino.
There is quite a debate of the real origin of the beverage, with Australia and New Zealand claiming the invention.
Regardless of the origins, North American specialty coffee shops have adopted the drink, and is now everywhere in the menu.
Many people compare the flat white it to a latte, because of the similar milk consistency, but we think that is more like a cappuccino because it has the same volume as the cappuccino, and the milk to espresso ratio is much closer to the latter.
People also compared flat white with a wet cappuccino, which is a fare comparison. However, they are different drinks, since flat white uses microfoamed milk, which gives it a velvety mouthfeel, whereas a wet cappuccino uses steamed milk, which is less textured.
The flat white recipe is a beverage in between a latte and a cappuccino, and to prepare it you need:
- 1/3 espresso typically one shot of a normale espresso, or two shots of ristretto
- 2/3 microfoam steamed milk
The texture of the milk is key here, the milk is steamed in such way that there is no dry foam
Because the milk in a flat white is micro-foamed and there is no fluffy foam like in a cappuccino, latte art is possible. This is probably another reason people confuse the flat white to a latte.
There is an entire world of combination of hot water, milk and coffee grounds. Just don’t feel like you need to try them all, they are there for people who need change. I personally have two coffee drinks that I choose most of the time. So if you found what you like stick with it.
But if your relationship with your preferred espresso beverage degrades, don’t be afraid to explore. You might be pleasantly surprised.