What’s the Difference? Cappuccinos, Lattes, and Flat Whites

As you are looking for your new favorite morning beverage you might find yourself scratching your head at the various names up on the coffee shop board. While all of them seem to have similar elements: espresso, milk, steam, and froth it may be a bit confusing to figure out which is which, and ultimately what you are going to like better. When it comes to being a coffee aficionado understanding how they are prepared and what they are meant to taste and look like will help you pick your beverage. What you might find as you try coffees from different shops and in different regions, is that each of these drinks will alter slightly depending on the baristas experience or even preference of beverage. With these three coffees, you can tell when one is well made and really enjoy sipping your cup of coffee. In this article, we will provide a guide to understanding the differences between cappuccinos, lattes, and flat whites.

First, what do they all have in common that creates misunderstandings about which is which coffee? First, they all have at least one espresso shot in them, but more commonly a double shot of espresso. The rest of the commonality have to do with steaming and foaming milk but the ratio is different amongst all three. Cappuccinos are a traditional beverage from Italy and are known to be deliciously frothy with either a dusting of chocolate or cinnamon on top, depending on where you purchase. Cappuccinos are the easiest to understand as it can be broken down into three parts: 1/3 espresso, 1/3 steamed milk, and 1/3 milk froth. The quantities are equal, which is the distinguishing factor to a cappuccino. A signature taste is a thick, stiff foam, with creamy coffee hiding underneath. If you are a lover of the foam, then you are definitely going to want to take the first try with a warm cup of cappuccino.

If the foam isn’t what you are going for, but a creamy cup of coffee sounds good, the option you should look for is a latte, sometimes known as café latte. It’s not just the taste and less foam that distinguishes a good latte from a cappuccino. How your barista processes the milk when it’s steamed (called stretching for coffee lovers), will texture the milk and will create the perfect temperature and a fine layer of foam, known as microfoam. This is when the iconic coffee hissing noise sounds off that you will hear across your favorite cafes. The barista will manipulate the milk jug to create the right texture and will combine it with a double espresso shot, a glass filled with this milk and a tiny bit of microfoam on top. The milky, almost paint-like texture, will create a delicious creamy cup of coffee that most customers enjoy. If you find that you are not a fan of foam, then this is the cup you should try first when diversifying your coffee interests.

Finally, we come to the less commonly known, but equally satisfying beverage, the flat white. Depending on where you are in the world a flat white might seem a little different, and this is because of two philosophies of how they should be prepared. The goal of a flat white is to create texturized milk and espresso to create a beverage that has a milky smooth texture but still has a strong espresso flavor in it. However, some baristas choose to keep the level of a double shot espresso while also minimizing the amount of steamed milk added, this does not mean they are simply creating a small latte. So, there are two major variations, and they both have to do with the amount of foam that is put into the cup. Some baristas choose to completely forgo the foam. When the milk has been steamed, any froth produced will be withheld from entering the cup to avoid any contamination of the texture. Other baristas take the opportunity to use the foam to showcase their skills. In most specialty coffee shops you are going to find that the flat white will have a similar fine microfoam. However, unlike a latte, the foam has been prepared in such a way that there was no separation between the foam and the steamed milk. If you see your barista appearing to roll the mug while steaming, then you know you are about to have a creamy flat white. The milk gets poured into the espresso double shot where the foam and milk mix together, the pitcher holding the milk must be swirled at all times before the pour. What you are getting out of this unique drink, regardless of how it is prepared, is a strong espresso flavor with a very creamy texture. If you are going to a place known for its espresso roast, and you love a strong flavor, then consider choosing a flat white.

These are only three different types of coffee you can choose from when going to your local café, and while your barista will more than likely jump at the opportunity to help you pick your favorite beverage, you too can know how they are prepared. How the coffees taste and look can indicate the work of an experienced barista, a good roast, and high-quality coffee machines. If your goal is to try these different styles at home keep in mind that the distinguishing features of these coffees come down to ratio and preparation. Starting off with the classic cappuccino will give you a good indicator of how to both steam and froth milk.  If you are simply taking a trip to your favorite coffee shop consider if you like foam, creamy texture, or you crave the strong espresso taste you can get from shots of espresso. While many people prefer the latte, experimenting with different ratios of milk and espresso could open you up to trying many different types of coffees your café has to offer.


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