Cappuccino vs. Latte - What's the Real Difference?
What do you get when you mix espresso, steamed milk, and foam? A cappuccino or a latte? Well, actually, you sort of get the former and the latter.
But don’t worry, this isn’t a coffee conspiracy and your neighborhood barista, aside from his expert coffee-making skills, isn’t trying to deceive you. Despite having the same three ingredients, these two Italian coffee classics are polar opposites in terms of texture and taste.
So, should you be team cappuccino or team latte? We’ll let you decide.
What Is a Cappuccino?
Legend has it, the cappuccino made its debut into Italian culture sometime in the 17th century, although its origins are fiercely debated. Some say it was named after the Capuchin robe, a fabric worn by Capuchin friars that mimicked the bronzed color of espresso mixed with milk.
Interestingly, it wasn’t until after WWII, when espresso machines and Italian-inspired cafés became the norm, that Americans joined the cappuccino craze. Better late than never, right?
Yes, except, the iced cappuccino with a shot of vanilla syrup you might see on the menu of a local coffeehouse isn’t exactly a cappuccino.
Despite its cultural transformations and variations, the classic cappuccino is said to be the perfect balance of 1/3 espresso, 1/3 steamed milk, and 1/3 frothed milk.
The emphasis on proportions and preparation make this espresso-based brew notoriously challenging for baristas. Too much steamed milk lands you a latte, forgetting to froth the milk might transform your capp into a flat white.
But, if your barista hits the mark, you’ll be blessed with a beverage that is bold and airy, with subtle hints of sweetness.
What Is a Latte?
Even if you’ve never ordered or tasted a latte, you’ve probably seen a leaf-adorned creamy brown cup of joe pop up on your Instagram feed. Well, chances are, your friend just snapped a selfie with a latte.
The delicate designs your barista can sculpt into your latte are the result of the latte’s most important properties: espresso and steamed milk.
In fact, beneath the latte’s decorated facade, lies the same ingredients as the classic cappuccino. The difference is the latte calls for 1/6 espresso, 4/6 gently steamed milk, and 1/6 foamed milk, making it a much creamier, milkier brew.
But don’t be fooled, just because contains more milk than a cappuccino, the latte still delivers a kick of caffeine, courtesy of espresso, that you won’t find in your everyday cup of joe.
Rumor has it, the latte is an American invention with a borrowed Italian name; Latte meaning “milk.” So, if you step into an Italian café or order a latte outside of the state, we recommend you order a caffè latte to avoid being served a glass of milk and a few smug stares.
When to Order a Cappuccino vs. Latte
Despite having the same ingredients, the taste, texture, and preparation of these two cherished beverages couldn’t be further apart. So how do you know which coffee classic is for you?
If you love the taste and texture of espresso, you’ll want to reach for a cappuccino. A well-made cappuccino is not diluted by steamed milk, has no acidity and features a thick foamy layer that is dry and airy.
Basically, a cappuccino is for the coffee drinker that wants to channel their inner Italian and savor the flavors of espresso.
A latte, on the other hand, features more steamed milk than a cappuccino and the ingredients are generally mixed, diluting the notes of espresso and making the coffee flavor more subtle.
So, if you’re the “I’d like some coffee with my creamer” type, but still want that extra espresso-induced pep in your step, order a latte.
Coffee connoisseurs will tell you that you can only judge a coffeehouse by their cappuccino, but who doesn’t love some latte art? We recommend you try them both!
What to Expect When You Order
It’s important to note that where you order a cappuccino will determine how it’s served.
The foundation of an authentic cappuccino is in its structure of thirds. To achieve the perfect proportion of espresso, steamed milk, and frothed milk, a cappuccino is generally served in a small 6 oz, ceramic cup.
However, if you’re ordering a capp at a commercial coffeehouse, you might be handed a 12, 16, or 20 oz cup. Just know, unless you get a barista that moonlights as a magician, your mainstream cappuccino probably won’t taste like a classic and might taste more like a latte.
If you find yourself in a European coffeehouse, a latte will traditionally be served in a tall 8 oz, glass cup. However, it’s not unusual for an American coffeehouse to put a latte in a short, ceramic cup, much like a cappuccino or throw a latte in a 12, 16, or 20 oz cup to go.
Don’t fret if your coffee comes in different shapes and sizes, just look for the textures and tastes we discussed, and you’ll know whether your drink was made to perfection.
So, we’ll ask you again, what do you get when you mix espresso, steamed milk, and foam? Now you know, the choice is yours.
Whether you opt for the bold flavors of a cappuccino or the creamier, sweeter latte, we’re confident you’ll enjoy a delicious cup of coffee.