What's The Difference Between A Cappuccino vs Latte vs Macchiato?

The mighty cappuccino, the ubiquitous latte, and the refined macchiato - three original Italian heavyweights. But what is the difference between these drinks exactly, and what defines each of them?

Here we explain everything you need to know about these classic coffee drinks. We'll look into the history, how each is made, the recipes, and much more. We'll deep dive into milk foam, steamed milk, use of a manual hand press espresso maker and techniques to help you produce these popular coffee drinks at home.

So read on to see these guys duke it out, and learn all about these iconic espresso drinks at the same time.

What's A Cappuccino?

Cappuccino for a couple

A cappuccino is an espresso drink with steamed milk, topped with milk foam. Before the cappuccino, in Europe coffee was prepared in the Ottoman style - that is, with hot water and maybe some sugar. It wasn't until the 1700's in Vienna that we saw the first example of a milk-based coffee - the cappuccino, but not quite as we know it.

We don't know exactly how it was drunk, but it certainly didn't feature espresso (which hadn't been invented yet). It was most likely simple brewed coffee featuring cream and sugar. We do know that the cappuccino takes its name from the Capuchin monks of the era, whose robes the colour of the finished drink was said to resemble.

The modern version of this famous coffee drink consists of espresso and steamed milk topped with milk foam. The cappuccino is traditionally a morning treat in its traditional home, Italy - but enjoyed at all times of day in its many adopted homes worldwide.

Often served with chocolate powder, this is one of the most popular coffee drinks worldwide, with hundreds of variations. Although the accepted standard is espresso with a 1:1 ratio of steamed milk and milk foam, but there are countless variations of this famous espresso drink.

As long as it involves an espresso shot, and steamed and frothed milk, it can be potentially be described as a cappuccino. Some baristas prefer a 'wet' cappuccino (more steamed milk vs milk foam), whereas the coffee shop next door may well go dry (with more milk foam and less steamed milk).

Elsewhere, it's not uncommon to see whipped cream, chocolate syrup, cocoa powder or perhaps a double shot worked into this coffee shop classic served in porcelain coffee cups.

Whatever the milk ratio, cappuccino coffees can be found on the menus of coffee bars right across the world. Even so, it sometimes seems that no two coffee shops agree on the cappuccino.

For our recipe, we've gone as classic as we could find. An espresso maker is a must, and you'll also need a way to steam milk.

What are the ingredients in a cappuccino?

Here are the ingredients in a cappuccino:
  • 25ml espresso shot
  • 100ml milk
  • 5oz round, porcelain cup
  • chocolate powder or cocoa powder

Espresso coffee pouring machine

How do you make a good cappuccino at home?

Here's how to make a good cappuccino at home:

  1. Pull the espresso shot with your espresso machine as you usually would. Add to the cup. Use two espresso shots for a stronger drink.
  2. Steam 100ml of milk in a milk jug until the volume has increased by at least 25% (125ml). For more foamed milk, steam for longer. You can go right up to 175ml.
  3. Holding the foam back with a spoon at first, pour the milk over the espresso shot. As the milk pours out steadily allow the foam to pour out on top of the milk. Spoon the remaining foam on top of the drink, and sprinkle.

What's A Macchiato?

The espresso macchiato is an espresso shot with a touch of foamed milk on top. Macchiato literally means marked, as in marked with a spot of milk. A macchiato allows the coffee drinker to experience all of the subtle notes generated by the espresso machine, allowing the nature of the coffee beans to shine through.

Nowadays, the word macchiato gets thrown around a lot, and is often technically misused. Many short coffee drinks use this moniker, even when combined with mocha, inverted (with espresso poured over foam or hot milk), or topped with much more steamed milk in a tall glass (the 'tall' macchiato).

Purists might not consider these coffee drinks to be a true macchiato. However, the customer is always right, and so we find ourselves with a staggering array of different macchiato style coffee drinks, with whipped cream and flavoured syrups abundant.

And for those with a sweet tooth, or who simply like trying something new when they visit the coffee shop, this is surely a good thing. Don't forget to take a reusable coffee cup on your daily coffee runs!

Classic coffee in vintage feels setting

What's The Point Of A Macchiato?

The milk top is designed to smooth the espresso, taking the slightly bitter edge away and allowing the shot to slide down smoothly. The foam cap is designed to be barely noticeable, so the consumer still appreciates the subtle notes of the espresso shot.

For those who prefer a slightly milkier coffee, the Cortado is equal parts espresso and steamed milk, and makes a delightful espresso shot drink if you find macchiato too bitter. If you want your espresso shot a little smoother still, a flat white adds a little more milk to the mix, but still remains a little pokier than many other coffee drinks.

Which Has Less Milk, Macchiato Or Cappuccino?

If you're wondering which has less milk, the macchiato has less milk than the cappuccino. Macchiato is the winner here, and hands down too. Macchiato has only a tiny topping of foamy milk, designed to help smoothen the shot beneath, with a ratio of 9:1 in favour of espresso. Cappuccino consists of espresso + equal parts milk foam and milk froth, so that's way more milk than is involved in the relatively austere coffee drink that is the macchiato.

What's A Latte?

A latte is a coffee drink with steamed milk over an espresso shot. When you see the barista in your local coffee shop steaming milk in a large milk jug, you can probably rest assured they are preparing a latte. Now possibly the most popular coffee drink, the classic caffè latte (meaning 'coffee milk' or 'milk coffee') now outguns most other espresso drinks in sheer volume sold.

In its simplest form, the traditional latte is steamed milk over espresso. But that's only half of the story. To make the best latte, the texture of the milk is crucial. The best latte will have a smooth mouthfeel and a mild coffee taste cutting through.

Lattes gained in popularity in Europe, where they are generally enjoyed in the morning. Many Italian households will make a simple latte using a moka pot and hot milk, and not bother with steaming - heated milk is considered fine.

The same is true of the French Café Au Lait, which is served in a large bowl shaped mug with a large entrance - perfect for dunking a croissant. Latte in this instance is often swapped out for hot chocolate, which itself is kind of a latte if you think about it. Acme latte coffee cups are perfect if you're looking to recreate the look.

Lattes are of course also known for the art that a skilled barista will be able to create atop your drink. Latte art is now a thing in its own right, with awards and all the rest. And the public expect a little art with their latte. If you're interested in latte art, watch this short video:

Latte is not limited to coffee drinks: there are many non-espresso-based drinks which also share the title, most famously the chai latte. Most coffee shops will offer a variety of latte drinks combining steamed milk with a range of teas - it works especially well with matcha and rooibos. And of course, let's not forget the iced latte.

What Is A Latte Macchiato?

A latte macchiato is a coffee drink with steamed milk added first and then an espresso shot, topped with milk foam. A latte macchiato has the confusing quality of not really being much like either a macchiato, or a latte. Unlike the classic espresso macchiato, steamed milk is added first, then the espresso shot, and then milk foam on top. Take a look at our guide on how to steam milk if you'd like tips on milk steaming.

Although still a short coffee drink, those who drink coffee regularly will know that in effect it is closer to a Cortado than a macchiato.

How do you make a perfect cup of latte?

Although simple on paper, in reality making the perfect latte depends on the steam and the pour. You'll need an espresso maker - but you can cheat and use a moka pot. Below are our top tips for pouring the perfect latte - and don't forget to watch our latte art video above.

What makes a perfect latte?

Here's what makes a perfect latte:
  • 250ml milk
  • Espresso shot
  • 15 oz porcelain cup

How do I make an authentic latte at home?

Here's how you make an authentic latte at home:
  1. Grind your coffee beans and pull your espresso shot as usual. If you're making a large latte, pour a double shot. Add the espresso to your cup.
  2. Now, steam the milk. Using the steamer attachment on your espresso machine, or a handheld steamer, steam the milk until you have around 2-3cm of foam on top.
  3. Hold the jug so the spout is around 4-5 cm above the edge of the cup and pour steadily. As the cup fills, move the spout closer to the surface and pour towards the centre of the cup. This should naturally whip up the coffee beneath and mix the drink. With practice you will be able to shape the pattern on top with this method.

What Is The Difference Between A Latte And A Cappuccino And A Macchiato?

The difference between a latte vs cappuccino vs macchiato is mostly in the ratio of milk to espresso. Take a look at this infographic for a visual guide on how to make these coffee drinks.

Cappuccino vs Latte vs Macchiatto

Latte

A latte will vary depending on where in the world you order it, but expect a milky, textured long coffee drink with a mild finish. Often topped with latte art, served in a large cup, and often combined with flavoured syrups, or even brewed with various teas.

The milkiest, mildest and longest of the three drinks.

Cappuccino

The traditional cappuccino consists of equal parts espresso, steamed hot milk, and milk foam (though this formula varies wildly). Often topped with cocoa powder. The shot of espresso is added first, then milk, then foam.

Sweet and strong, shorter than the latte, the classic cappuccino has been delighting coffee lovers for over a century. Generally appeals to those who prefer a sweeter drink. Try ACF Italian coffee cups if you're looking for barista-quality cappuccino cups for your home brew.

Macchiato

As close to a naked espresso as you can get, the macchiato is simply the shot with 10% the amount of steamed milk on top. For those who enjoy the full espresso flavour but with a touch of refinement.

Which Is Stronger, Cappuccino or Latte or Macchiato?

If you're wondering which is stronger, the macchiato is the strongest coffee drink compared to the cappuccino and the latte. Defining which is stronger is a little more complicated than you might think. Going by concentration, the macchiato would be the strongest as it contains less steamed milk than the others.

However, you would still be drinking one shot of espresso, and therefore the same amount of caffeine as you would in the average cappuccino, or latte. That said, the increased concentration might make the kick of a macchiato feel a little stronger at first.

However, many coffee houses however will double-shot lattes and cappuccinos, so depending on what size you order, you could easily end up with more caffeine than you would consume in the average macchiato.

Expobar Rugger Leva Coffee Machine

Which Is Healthier, Latte or Cappuccino or Macchiato?

When it comes to which is healthier, the macchiato is healthier than the latte and cappuccino. No competition here - the macchiato is by far the healthiest option. With only 13 calories and 0.5g of fat per 60ml serving, it's the healthiest of the three.

The average cappuccino clocks in with 135 calories and 5 grams of fat, which is already a big jump on the lean macchiato. The latte however trumps this, with the average shop bought latte weighing in at 206 calories and 8 grams of fat - nearly 20 times the now very healthy-looking short espresso drink.

However, these figures are based on semi skimmed milk and are based on common high street coffee shops. Skinny lattes and cappuccinos are far less fatty and calorific - a skinny cappuccino will be around 30-40 calories, and a skinny latte 40-50. Nut milks and milk alternatives can also be much healthier options if you're concerned about your calorie intake.

Now that you've learned all about the differences between a cappuccino vs latte vs macchiato, it's time to brew your own! Whether it's a cappuccino, latte, macchiato, flat white or other espresso drinks with steamed milk, we're confident you'll be able to perfect espresso flavour with our range here at Alternative Brewing.

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