Cappuccino VS Latte VS Macchiato VS Americano – Learning the Difference

Over the past many years, coffee has evolved through various espresso-based beverages. At times, you can’t really keep a track of the core differences between a Cappuccino VS Latte VS Macchiato VS Americano, can you?

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Regardless whether you are a dairy or creamer lover or not – every now and then, we do feel the need to enjoy one of those frothy espresso drinks!

They say only an experienced barista or an avid coffee aficionado knows the real difference between different coffee flavors and their brewing methods.

This guide will walk you through the espresso-based coffee arena – everything there is about these beverages that makes them highly demanded globally.

What is an Espresso?

In the simplest of definitions – espresso is a coffee-making technique where boiling water is forced with pressure through fine grounded or roasted coffee beans.

To understand this better, just know that any espresso drink is coffee, but not all coffee is espresso.

One of the major things that differentiates an espresso from other coffee drinks is its brewing process.

Using a pressure-based mechanism that shoots boiling water via fine ground coffee beans, espresso machines give you a caffeine-filled coffee shot within 30 seconds!

What is an Espresso-based Drink?

You do not have to be a skilled barista or a coffee aficionado to know the mechanism, elements and basic terminologies used that comprise your morning cup of Joe.

Let’s start with the basic fact – if a coffee beverage is being made using espresso and milk, it will be called an ‘espresso-based’ drink. That’s the bottom line of it!

Although some recipes might add a lot of other ingredients as well such as cinnamon, vanilla, sugar, cocoa, chocolate, etc., all espresso-based drinks will have the same two basic ingredients, i.e., milk and espresso.

Benefits of Espresso-Based Drinks

You might have already heard about the health benefits of coffee, milk-based coffee beverages carry the same positive health effects.

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Milk-focused coffee beverages are known to be healthy for people with stomach problems as the addition of milk gives a ‘tone-down’ effect to the coffee.

Apart from this, milk-based coffee drinks improve your metabolism, help burn fat, improve overall physical performance of your body and lower your risk of Type 2 Diabetes.

The essential nutrients in milk when combined with espresso, give an increased level of energy to your brain that helps you perform routine activities in a better way.

What is a Latte?

Latte is an espresso coffee beverage that involves milk – with an espresso to milk ratio that starts at 1:3 and goes up to 1:9.

Latte is also known as Caffe Latte – an Italian word that means ‘milk coffee’. During the 19th and 20th centuries, Latte became a well-known beverage throughout the Europe.

There have been a number of variations as far as the recipe is concerned. This is one of the reasons why it could never be really known who invented this espresso drink.

The term as used in English is a shortened form of the Italian caffè latte, caffelatte or caffellatte, which means “milk coffee”.

Italian Latte , American Latte, Germany’s Milchkaffee and France’s Café au lait are famous Latte variations that are prepared by pouring heated milk and strong coffee using to different pitchers and then mixed as per the drinker’s preferences.

Even with all the regional variations that are there to make a Latte, the common recipe involves steamed milk, espresso and sweeteners.

Latte is known to have a smooth, rich and silky foam. One of the major things that differentiate a latte from the rest of the espresso drinks is its artistic method of foam texture.

Milk to Coffee Ratio

Latte will normally have the following milk to coffee ratio:

  • Double Shot of Espresso
  • 6-8 oz Steamed Milk
  • About 1 cm thick layer of foam

How to Make a Latte?

Speaking of recipes, the two most common ways to make a latte are the Italian Caffe Latte and the Americal Latte.

Italian Latte

To make a perfect cup of Italian Latte, all you need to do is:

  • Brew a strong coffee pot.
  • Heat milk.
  • Mix the coffee and the milk.
  • Add sugar as per your preferences.

This Latte type requires no additional equipment or barista-level skills. Yes, you need to do it the right way to get the best flavor and aroma from your Latte cup.

American Latte

The American Latte is slightly different and is prepared by following this method:

  • Prepare an espresso shot and pour it in a mug.
  • As per your preferences, add flavored syrup and sugar.
  • Heat milk.
  • Mix the milk and the espresso.

French & South African Latte

Apart from the Italian and American Latte, there are a few other types of Latte as well – such as the French café au lait which is a milky coffee.

It is usually served in a large bowl as it is known to be a breakfast drink and a large bowl makes it easy to dip your croissant.

This type of latte is usually made from dark filter coffee instead of an espresso – equal quanitites of coffee and heated milk are mixed from two separate pitchers.

Then we have the Latte of South Africa which is known as a ‘red latte’ and is primarily made from rooibos tea in place of coffee beans.

What is a Cappuccino?

Being one of the most loved espresso drinks in the world, Cappuccino is an espresso-topped drink with milk foam and steamed milk.

The roots of this coffee drink lie in the Italian origin, although this was first made in Vienna. It made in-roads in the American and European markets around the 1980s.

The modern-day cappuccino machines do not require you to add too much of sweeteners, as the pre-second world war machines used to. Thanks to all the technological advancements!

A perfectly made cup of cappuccino will comprise of dark, rich espresso under a smooth layer of thick milk foam. The balance of the airy foam and the espresso is everything that matters.

Milk to Coffee Ratio

In the modern times, there have been a lot of experimentation done as far as the recipe and brewing style of cappucino is concerned.

Apart from Italy, a lot of baristas go with the 1:1:1 ratio of cofee, milk and foam. The ratio of milk and foam is where baristas play around a little with the final flavor and taste making it a ‘wet’ or a ‘dry’ cup of cappuccino.

Cappuccino comes from the coffee beverage “Kapuziner” which appeared for the first time in the Viennese coffee houses in the 1700s.

By adding more hot milk, a wet cappuccino can be served, whereas adding more froth and foam is what is known as a dry cappuccino.

How to Make a Cappuccino

Even with a number of variations of cappuccino that you might come across globally, the basic methodology remains more or less the same throughout the world.

Here is how you can pull a perfect cappuccino cup:

  • Pull a shot of Espresso.
  • Add steamed milk over the espresso.
  • Add chocolate, cinnamon or whipped cream toppings as per your preferences.

The Traditional INEI Cappuccino Recipe

A lot of baristas around the world use the 1:1:1 ratio for coffee, milk and foam respectively – the Istituto Nazionale di Espresso Italiano (INEI) has defined the Italian style cappuccino as:

  • 25 ml of Espresso
  • 100 ml of cold milk (at 3-5 degreec C) that should be steamed to 125 ml volume
  • Served in a 150-160 ml white porcelain cup
  • Topped with a round-shaped cap of milk foam

What is an Iced Cappuccino?

This is another cold espresso beverage consumed mostly in the hot tropical regions and warm seasons.

Made from cocoa cinnamon and ice-cold milk, the iced cappuccino can give you a refreshing feeling during a hot summer day.

What is a Macchiato?

Also known as Espresso Macchiato or Caffee Macchiato, the Macchiato is what you may call it the ‘reverse engineering’ of a cappuccino. It has more espresso and lesser milk.

Macchiato has slightly more coffee than your regular espresso shot, a pretty strong taste and frothy milk on top.

Since the Italian meaning of the word ‘Macchiato’ is ‘spot’ or a ‘mark’, this beverage literally has a spot of milk that gives it a bold and rich flavor.

How to Make a Macchiato

You might think that a milk spot or a mark shouldn’t be that technical or anything, well, it’s not that easy either.

The widely accepted way of making a macchiato is:

  • Pull an espresso shot.
  • Prepare frothed milk by expanding the pitcher as much as you can so that maximum air can be added for the milk foam.
  • Swirl the frothing pitcher in round motions for a while to get the best foamed milk.
  • For a thick-foamed latte macchiato, pour the milk directly on the espresso. If you want a more espresso macchiato with a dollop of foam, add a few tablespoons of milked foam on top of the espresso shot.

Variations of Macchiato

In the modern coffee brewing styles, there are a number of variations how a macchiato cup is made and served.

The Italian Way

If you are in Italy, you will get a more ‘stained’ brewing method with steamed milk. They prefer staining the espresso and the steamed milk rather than dying or blending the two components.

Zebra or Iced Macchiato

On the other hand, Starbucks have their ‘zebra macchiato’ or the iced macchiato that has more white mocha on the bottom and topped with an espresso shot.

The Espresso Macchiato

Espresso macchiato, as mentioned above, and the caffè macchiato is more or less the same beverage. Usually consists of a single or double shot of espresso with a dollop of foamed milk.

What is an Americano?

The history of the Americano coffee dates back to World War II when American soldiers stationed in Italy could not stand the strong espresso taste of what Italians used to drink.

In order to replace or substitute their drip coffee drinking habit, they experimented by adding water to the traditional Italian espresso shot – this gave birth to the Americano.

The Americano was created and named for American troops in WWII France who needed their strong-as-hell French coffee watered down.

This beverage is comprised entirely of just water and espresso. The ratio might vary from one coffee-loving region to another, but the ingredients remain the same.

How to Make an Americano

If you are in the mood for that perfect Americano cup of Joe, then here is what you need to do:

  • Pull a 3 oz espresso shot.
  • Add the same quantity of hot water in a separate mug.
  • Pour the espresso shot in that mug.
  • Your Americano is ready to serve!

Maintaining the Right Ratio

You might find the following two major recipe variations for the Americano cup:

  • Half cup espresso and half cup hot water.
  • One-third espresso and two-thirds of hot water.

In addition to this, there is a big debate regarding which of the two components should go first – the espresso or the water. Majority of the baristas go by the espresso-first method.

Milk or no Milk?

Since the Americano is purely an espresso+water type of beverage, most coffee bars and baristas will not add milk to it.

However, there are people who do like to add milk to their Americano cup so they would have to specifically ask the barista to add it.

What is a Mocha

With coffee beans harvested in Mocha, Yemen – the Mocha coffee is another well-known espresso-based coffee type that has a rich chocolatey flavor.

These coffee beans are known to have a natural chocolate flavor even without the addition of any sweeteners or anything – however, chocolate additives are used to enhance the sweetening flavor of the final drink.

Belonging to the Coffea Arabica plant, the first known species to be cultivated that produces wild coffee bean. Arabica coffee beans are by far the most popular coffee beans worldwide, Robusta coffee beans come second in line.

How to Make a Mocha

Most baristas around the world add some chocolate in the mocha cup in order to enhance the natural chocolate flavor of the coffee beans.

The most common recipe for a Mocha is:

  • Two espresso shots.
  • 2 oz of hot chocolate.
  • 1 oz of steamed
  • Thin milk foam layer as topping

Recipe and Topping Variations for a Mocha

You will find some coffee bars and coffee aficionados preparing their own ganache for the mochas, while the rest of them use chocolate syrups or chocolate chunks.

As far as the toppings are concerned, you an use a whipped cream or frothy foam for your mocha topping. Cinnamon or cocoa powder is also preferred by some coffee addicts.

In addition to this, a lot of people even like their mocha to have a topping of marshmellows as it is a nice combination with hot chocolate.

What is a Mochaccino

In the modern times, there have been quite a few additions and experiments done with the basic recipes of coffees – be it espresso or non-espresso drinks.

Mochaccino is one of those variations. By adding a chocolate syrup, chocolate squares or any other chocolate flavoring to the cappuccino, you can enjoy a Mochaccino!

What is a Mocha Latte

If you are a fan of milk-focused coffee beverages, then you might have tried out the mocha latte as well. This is a normal cup of latte with some chocolate added.

This gives you the taste of both a milky-foamy latte with the essence and sweetness of the chocolate flavors at once. Might not be a traditional recipe, but it certainly works for many!

Other Mocha Variations

Why stop with the chocolate experimentation with your mocha coffee cup when you can go further than that? You can even add a little booze to your beverage like Sambuca, Cognac or Metaxa.

But no one does it better than the Italians – since they are usually known to be the pioneers in the coffee industry, they have surely learned the art of adding booze to their coffee as well.

Most Italian baristas and coffee shops add alcohol to the coffee with the Sambuca.

What is a Flat White

Talking about variations, there is another highly demanded beverage known as the flat white. This consists of steamed milk and espresso.

Even though it is quite similar to a cup of cappuccino, it has a little more milk than a normal cappuccino.

This beverage flavor is known to have been orginiated somewhere in New Zealand and Australia, and known to the rest of the world since the past few years.

How to Make a Flat White

The recipe for a flat white lies somewhere in between a cappuccino and a latte. This is what you need to do:

  • Pull one-third shot of espresso.
  • Add two-third microfoam steamed milk.
  • The major element for a flat white is the milk texture – the milk needs to be steamed in a way that no dry foam is produced whatsoever.

Since there will be no dry foam as there is in a cappuccino, you can actually create latte art in this beverage type. Although a flat white should not be confused with a latte or a cappuccino.

Difference Between Latte VS Cappuccino

Since the espresso-based drinks might have similar properties, components or the brewing methodologies – the final taste, aroma and flavor differs a lot from one another.

As far as the comparison between a latte and cappuccino is concerned, the major difference is the quantity of milk.

Caffeine level in all espresso-based coffee drinks is almost the same.

The cappuccino is more of an Italian-origin drink with one-third espresso, one-third foamed milk and one-third steamed milk.

On the other hand, latte is supposed to have a lot more milk than a cappuccino – a coffee to milk ratio of 1 – 1.5. Cappuccino is a much stronger coffee than a latte, which is a light regular drink for those who might not prefer the rich or bold taste too often.

Difference Between Latte VS Cappuccino VS Macchiato

Now you might be wondering since latte, cappuccino and macchiato, all have to do with milk then they might taste more or less the same.

Wrong, they do not.

The core difference between these three types of beverages is the amount of milk added and the way it is added after puling the espresso shot.

For the cappuccino, you would add more coffee as compared to a latte – the macchiato is where you just add a few spoons of foamed milk and that’s about it!

Although the modern-day macchiatos are far from the original recipe, however, if we assume that the pure, traditional macchiato is what we are talking about here, then that means adding very little milk to the cup.

This means that the major difference between these three beverages is:

  • Cappuccino – More coffee, less milk – rich and bold taste
  • Latte – More milk, less coffee – mild taste
  • Macchiato – More coffee, slight addition of foamed milk – full flavored taste

Difference Between Iced Americano VS Iced Latte

Iced coffee drinks are popular around the world since the past many years, regardless of a hot or a cold geographical region.

The two most-loved iced coffee drinks are the iced latte and the iced americano. Let us see what the basic difference is:

Iced Americano – this is a combination of espresso, cold water and ice.

Iced Latte – this is made using espresso, cold milk and ice.

That is it! Yes, you heard that right. There is no difference of the coffee beans used or the caffeine levels that you get from your cup of iced coffee beverage.

If you are someone who likes their coffee black because you are a fan of bolder coffee flavors – the iced Americano is for you. And if you are who needs something sweeter and light, iced latte is what you should go for.

Difference Between Latte VS Mocha

As we already learnt that Latte is a milk-based drink with very little amount of espresso.

As far as the mocha is concerned, this means that you are just adding the essence of chocolate to your drink. The rest of the components can be varied or kept the same – depending on your preference.

If you want to enjoy the flavors of both a latte and a mocha, you can go for the mocha latte that is made from small amounts of espresso, foamed milk and hot chocolate, combined with a large proportion of steamed milk.

Difference Between Latte, Cappuccino, Macchiato and Americano – In a Nutshell

To make it short and simple for you to decipher the core difference between these famous coffee beverages, this is how the story goes:

Latte – A milk-focused creamy espresso drink. Around or more than 2/3 of the cup is filled with steamed milk which is directly poured over an espresso shot and a layer of milk foam is added.

Cappuccino – This is a more classic espresso drink made up of an espresso shot and topped with steamed milk and milk foam. This gives a more foamy, rich and smooth beverage.

Macchiato – For the chocolate flavor lovers, this beverage is made from Arabica coffee beans known for their natural chocolatey flavor. A rich and bold choice that comprises of steamed milk topped with two shots espresso.

Americano – If you want to enjoy the traditional essence of water and espresso without any dairy-related additive or sweetener, the Americano is what you need.

A Few More Espresso Drinks You Should Try Out

The coffee beverages that we have already discussed are more ‘mainstream’ and popular drinks throughout the world.

Let’s have a look at some more types of espresso drinks that might not be highly demanded but certainly have their classic flavors.

Affogato – This is rather a dessert more than a morning cup of Joe. Using 2 oz of espresso and around 3 oz of vanilla ice cream, this is meant to give you a sweetening refreshment.

Café Con Hielo – If you are in a mood for an iced version of the regular espresso, this could well do the job for you. Pour around 50 ml of espresso directly over ice and your Café Con Hielo is ready.

Café Breve – An Americanized version of the classic Italian latte, Café Breve is an espresso that’s prepared just like your regular cappuccino but with steamed half-and-half in place of milk. This gives it a very creamy foam.

Con Panna – This is also a dessert espresso made of 2 oz espresso topped with 3 oz of whipped cream.

Whether you are going to try out a new coffee shop or try your hand at home – know that there will always be different versions of the coffee beverages that you might get.

However, the classic recipe, brewing method and serving remains more or less the same for these coffee drinks in most parts of the world.

Why Add Milk in the First Place?

If you love your coffee black, you can very easily argue why do people even add milk or creamer in their coffee cup in the first place? – well, there are a number of good reasons, actually.

In the ancient times, people used to add dairy to their coffee mainly for nutritional reasons. However, in the modern-day lifestyle, dairy products are added for different reasons.

Decrease Coffee Bitterness

Milk proteins are known to fight the bitter taste of coffee beans via binding to tannins compounds. Tannins usually have a strong taste that are neutralized when milk proteins bind to polyphenolic compounds.

Lessen Coffee Acidity

The proteins in milk also react with chlorogenic acids present in the coffee beans or ground coffee that have a naturally strong acidic effect. When milk is added, the acidity level goes down.

Give Textures to Your Coffee

If your drink looks good, naturally you would assume that it tastes good, too! Adding milk to coffee lets you create the art and textures that you can’t with a non-espresso coffee beverage.

Using the Right Milk in Your Espresso Beverage

Being one of the core components of almost all espresso-based hot and cold coffee beverages, the art of preparing steamed or frothed milk is something that will play a vital role in the final taste, aroma and flavor of your cup of Joe.

Using the right milk density in accordance with the milk ratio will define the final texture it adds to your coffee. Let’s have a look at how milk can be perfectly steamed and frothed:

Steamed VS Frothed Milk

Depending on which specific type of coffee drink you are preparing, you will either need an espresso machine steam wand or a milk frother.

Steamed Milk – this can be prepared by putting the steam wand almost 1 inch into the milk pitcher and holding it at an angle so that the steam is rightly distributed through the mixture and creates a vortex.

Keep steaming the milk until it reaches a temperature of about 145 to 155 °F.

Frothed Milk – this can be prepared by placing the steam wand in the milk pitcher and create a vortex, however, to create the perfect milk froth, advance the steaming wand slowly till it reaches the bottom of the pitcher.

Steaming too long at one specific place will not give you the perfect froth, so make sure you keep advancing it till the bottom of the utensil slowly and gradually.

The major difference between steamed and frothed milk is the amount of air bubbles that it creates – frothed milk creates thicker milk foam with the expanded volume due to air bubbles.

Steamed milk, on the other hand, has a thinner foam and the volume increases by a third.

Espresso Machine for an Espresso-based Drink?

Well, the answer to that is yes – lattes and cappuccinos will require an espresso machine if you want to drink it the way you have it at your favorite coffee shop.

If you are on a tight budget, you would want to be a home barista and save money on your daily coffee intake – at the same time you would need a cheap espresso machine, too.

For those who are on low budget, they can opt for options that have a basic 15-bar pump and milk steamer.

The next upgrage could be the mid-range semi-automatic espresso machines with better heating mechanisms, larger portafilters, better milk steamer, etc.

For those who can afford the best in line should go for the fully automatic espresso machines that give you probably everything you need to make the perfect latte or cappuccino cup!

Caffeine Levels in Espresso-based Coffee Beverages

“Every 12-oz. espresso drink has one shot of espresso and 16-oz. drinks have two,” said Lauren Alvarez, a barista working at the Franz Hall coffee shop.

Knowing the amount of your caffeine intake through coffee drinks is always a good number that you should keep a track of.

Depending on your medical history and heart condition, caffeine can play some sort of role when it comes to palpitations or other heart-related issues.

Let us have a look at the caffeine levels in the espresso-based coffee drinks:

Caffeine Levels in Espresso Drinks

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The above graph clearly illustrates that caffeine levels in almost all espresso-based coffee beverages is the same – 70-80 mg of caffeine per 12 oz serving.

Depending on the number of shots you pull (1 or 2), for a 12 or 16 oz cup, your caffeine intake will vary. However, these are the universal numbers that remain constant regardless of which coffee shop or barista you go to.

Our Final Word on Cappuccino VS Latte VS Macchiato VS Americano

Coffee beverages have evolved since the past many years to an extent where we have completely new recipes and brewing techniques for a number of hot and cold drinks worldwide.

One should be aware of the fact that there might be newer versions and experimentations done with the coffee flavors that you have known all your life.

However, if you know the basic differences of Cappuccino VS Latte VS Macchiato VS Americano, you would know the taste benchmark of these drinks wherever in the world you go!

At the end of the day, all that matters is your $4 or $5 cup of espresso + milk should give you the taste that you paid for. And if you know your drink well, trust me, no barista can possibly disappoint you!

Know the difference, enjoy your milk-based coffee! 🙂