Flat white vs cappuccino

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Flat whites and cappuccinos are two of the most popular coffee orders in Australia. They are both are espresso-based coffee drinks with steamed milk foam.

They’re also both served in flat, round ceramic cups, unlike a latte which is served in a glass.

So what’s the difference?

What’s a flat white?

A flat white consists of a single or double shot of espresso topped with steamed milk. It is served in a ceramic cup and has a thin milk microfoam layer on top, typically around 0.5cm.

There is debate whether the flat white was an Australian or New Zealand creation. Whatever its roots, it’s extremely popular in both Australia and New Zealand and has been around since the 1980s. It has since appeared on coffee menus in the US and beyond.

RELATED: Flat White vs Latte

What’s a cappuccino?

Distinct due to the frothy milk foam on top (and sometimes some chocolate powder), a cappuccino is made with a single espresso shot and topped with steamed milk and milk froth. It is traditionally 1/3 espresso, 1/3 steamed milk and 1/3 milk froth.

Like flat whites, cappuccinos are served in a ceramic cup.

Espresso shots

Both drinks start with a base of espresso, pulled from an espresso machine using finely ground coffee beans.

While a cappuccino will almost always have only a single shot, flat whites can sometimes be served with two.

There is, however, no standard number of shots in a flat white and this will differ between cafes, coffee shops, and baristas.

In Australia, more often than not, you will get a single shot if you order a flat white at your local coffee shop.

Steamed milk

Both of these espresso-based drinks use milk that is heated and aerated using the steam wand on an espresso machine.

However, each drink has its own distinct texture. The flat white is a smooth blend of espresso and velvety milk, while the cappuccino is “drier” in taste and topped with frothy foam.

Milk steaming 101

The tip of the steam wand is placed on the surface of the milk at an angle.

This technique introduces air bubbles that are then incorporated into the milk, increasing its volume.

The pressure from the steam wand will create a whirlpool in the milk jug and will ensure it is both heated and textured at the same time.

However, there are some ever so slight differences between how the milk is textured for a flat white vs how it is done for a cappuccino.

Flat white

For a flat white, the barista will only want to add 0.5-1cm of volume to the top of the milk by introducing tiny bubbles of air.

Once the desired texture is reached, they will put the tip of the steam wand below the surface of the milk, so it continues to heat but no more air is introduced.

Cappuccino

When texturing milk for a cappuccino, baristas will purposely use the steam wand to add more air bubbles than they would for a flat white (or latte). They will be aiming for around 1.5cm of milk froth at the top of the jug.

This is done by continuing to lower the milk jug as it warms up so the tip of the steam wand remains at the surface. This is to maximise the amount of air that is introduced to the milk to create the airy foam that makes up the top layer of the drink.

Latte art can be a feature on cappuccinos but is more common on flat whites.

RELATED: Latte Vs Cappuccino

Volume

Cappuccino

The serving size of these two drinks is quite similar and they are both served in ceramic cups.

Flat whites are served in a variety of sized cups but ideally should be 150-170ml to get the desired balance between espresso and milk.

Cappuccinos are served in a 200-220ml, meaning they have more milk and foam than a flat white.

Chocolate

In Australia, chocolate powder is often sprinkled on top of a cappuccino. In the US, whipped cream can also be added.

However, these additions are a later twist on this popular drink, as the traditional Italian cappuccino doesn’t have chocolate powder or anything else added on top.

Italians also have an interesting rule about cappuccinos—you should not order one after 11am, because they are considered breakfast drinks.

Taste and milk ratio

The important thing to understand in terms of taste, is that because cappuccinos are one-third foam, there’s less liquid milk to cut the intensity of the espresso.

So, in a single cappuccino, you’ll likely have a one-to-one ratio of coffee to steamed milk, which can make for a stronger taste and a more intense drink.

The mouth feel is also different between the two drinks, with cappuccinos feeling more “dry” in the mouth, compared to the velvet-like smoothness of a flat white.

RELATED: What’s a Bone Dry Cappuccino?