Latte vs Cappuccino: What’s the difference?

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First, let’s agree on a few things:

  • Lattes and Cappuccinos both use espresso
  • They both use steamed milk
  • They are two of the most popular coffee drinks in Australia and most people don’t know the difference between them!

If you’re one of these people, fear not.

In the guide below, we clearly outline all the key differences between these two tasty coffees so you can order with confidence at your local cafe or coffee shop (or impress your friends).

Let’s start with some definitions:

Latte

A latte consists of a single espresso shot which is then topped to the brim of a 200ml glass with steamed, textured milk.

It has a 1-2cm layer of milk foam on top.

Cappuccino

A cappuccino consists of a single espresso shot which is then topped with equal amounts of steamed milk and froth.

It is served in a 200-220ml ceramic cup, with a nice thick layer of foam, approximately 2-3cm.

Cappuccinos are often decorated with either chocolate powder or shavings on top.

So what’s the difference?

As you may have gathered by now, the coffee (espresso) in each of these drinks is identical.

So, the difference between Lattes and Cappuccinos relates to the following:

  1. Serving vessel
  2. How the milk is prepared
  3. Ratios of steamed milk to milk froth

Serving Vessel

Lattes and Cappuccinos have similar serving sizes however their usual vessels do differ.

Lattes are served in a 200ml glass. One key feature of the glass is that it is more narrow than a ceramic cup, so the foam layer on top is thicker than the same drink would be in a wider cup (e.g. a flat white).

Cappuccinos are served in a 200-220ml ceramic cup.

Milk preparation

First a quick refresher on how milk is prepared for coffee:

Milk steaming 101

To steam milk for coffee, the tip of the steam wand (on an espresso machine) is set on the surface of the milk at an angle.

This introduces air bubbles that become incorporated into the milk.

The steam wand creates a whirlpool in the milk jug, ensuring it’s heated and frothed at the same time.

Both Cappuccinos and Lattes use a steam wand to heat up the milk, so what’s the difference?

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

When the texture is just right, she will put the tip of the steam wand below the surface of the milk, so it stops adding air.

She will then continue heating the milk until it reaches the desired temperature.

When steaming milk for a cappuccino, baristas will add more air bubbles than they would for a latte (or flat white).

When steaming milk for a cappuccino, the barista will keep the tip of the steam wand at the surface of the milk as they lower the milk jug to introduce more air. This will create the more airy milk foam that goes on top of your cappuccino.

The resulting texture should be around 1.5cm of milk froth at the top of the jug.

Steamed milk to milk froth ratio

As a reminder, a latte is a shot of espresso topped with steamed milk, while a cappuccino is a shot of espresso, topped with steamed milk AND milk froth.

A cappuccino is traditionally 1/3 espresso, 1/3 steamed milk and 1/3 milk froth (although in reality this only holds if using a double shot or very small cup). A latte in a 200ml glass with a 30ml espresso shot would be approximately 1 part espresso and 6 parts milk.

Regardless of the exact proportions, the Latte should have a higher milk to coffee ratio, because the cappuccino is always going to have a good portion of the cup devoted to froth.

How does this impact the taste?

To understand the taste difference between a cappuccino and a latte, you should consider the impact of the milk foam or froth.

Because a cappuccino is about one-third foam, there’s less liquid milk (steamed milk) to cut the intensity of the espresso.

A latte is a smooth blend of espresso and velvety milk, while a cappuccino tastes “drier” and is topped with frothy foam.

Also, the texture of a cappuccino is different from that of a latte, the former seeming “dry” in the mouth and the latter feeling more “velvet-like” and smooth.

RELATED: Bone Dry Cappuccino

Cappuccino toppings

The traditional Italian cappuccino is itself is very straightforward and simple. However, like with most coffee drinks, the rest of the world continues to put its own spin on things.

In Australia, chocolate powder is often added to a cappuccino, while whipped cream is often added in the US.

Italians follow an odd rule when it comes to cappuccinos: one should never order one after 11 am. This is because a cappuccino is considered a breakfast drink.

Latte vs Cappuccino FAQs

Which is better latte or cappuccino?

Neither is better than the other, it really comes down to personal preference. Cappuccinos have much less steamed milk than lattes because they also have milk foam. However, they have the same amount of espresso, making them quite a bit stronger in terms of taste. Cappuccinos should be smooth but you can still get many of the espresso flavours. They can also taste more “dry”. Lattes, on the other hand, are more mellow and have a velvety texture.

Which is sweeter cappuccino or latte?

A latte will taste sweeter than a cappuccino because of the higher ratio of milk to espresso.

Which is stronger cappuccino or latte?

In Australia, both of these drinks use a single shot of espresso, which is generally around 30ml in volume. So, in terms of caffeine, they should be the same. However, in terms of taste, the espresso flavours are often more pronounced in a cappuccino.