Cappuccino Vs Latte: Key Differences For Coffee Lovers

Can't decide between a cappuccino or a latte?

There's a lot of debate about espresso drinks and which is the best, and the cappuccino vs latte debate is a common one between friends. Both of these coffee drinks have espresso, foamed milk, and a milk foam layer, but there are some key differences between the two drinks. 

We're going to give you the full comparison of cappuccino vs latte so you'll be able to order your next drink with confidence. 

When we’re talking about cappuccino vs. latte, there are a lot of factors to consider. Let’s look at each one so you are crystal clear about the similarities and differences.  

1. Ingredients

A caffe latte and a cappuccino both have 3 layers of the same ingredients, and for coffee lovers both are equally delicious. The primary ingredients in these coffee drinks are:

  •  Espresso - which provides the coffee flavor and caffeine content 
  • Steamed milk- this gives the drink a smooth texture
  • Layers of foamed milk or frothed milk (sometimes called microfoam)- the provides a layer of foam on the top of the drink

The real difference in cappuccino vs latte is the quantity of milk. A latte is milkier, and has more sweetness because of the steamed milk. It also has a light milk foam layer, but a lot more steamed milk. This makes it less rich, but much smoother.

In comparison, cappuccinos have less milk and therefore a stronger coffee flavor from the espresso. There's less steamed milk, but a thick layer of frothed milk and foam to give it a different texture. The different ratios give it a bold, and rich taste. 

2. Coffee Strength

A caffe latte and a cappuccino both feature the same amount of espresso, so they actually have the same amount of caffeine (around 85mg)! 

Even though these popular espresso drinks have the same amount of caffeine the cappuccino definitely has a stronger coffee flavor.

3. Milk Content + Typical Ratio

If you want a milky coffee then you can't go wrong with a cappuccino and a latte. Both have 1-2 espresso shots, but a latte will have significantly more milk than a cappuccino. A cappuccino will have more foam and less milk and has several layers, whereas lattes used mixed milk and espresso.

Cappuccinos feature equal amounts of foam, steamed milk, and espresso. Espresso makes up 1/3 of the latte, with the other 2/3 being steamed milk.

4. With Or Without Foam

Foam is a signature ingredient in both cappuccinos and lattes. The frothed milk which is made into a layer of foam and added to the top of the two drinks gives it a smooth texture and rich taste. 

The main difference between a cappuccino and latte is the layer of foam on top. Lattes have more steamed milk, but less foam, and they're served with just a light layer of foam. 

A cappuccino has an even proportion of espresso, steamed milk, and foamed milk. This means there's less steamed milk, but much thicker layers of foam on top.

Both drinks are delicious, but if you enjoy foam then you'll prefer a freshly brewed cappuccino. 

5. Hot Or Cold Options

One consideration in the cappuccino vs latte debate is which is better in cold or hot weather. Both drinks are actually served hot or cold, so you can enjoy either drink year round. 

An iced cappuccino is made with all the same ingredients as a regular cappuccino, though it's called a Cappuccino Freddo. The addition of ice can impact the textured milk and make the milk foam layer smaller. This makes the coffee flavor stronger even though the drink has the same amount of espresso. 

An iced latte is also made with all the same ingredients and the ice can have the impact on the milk foam, though lattes only have a light layer anyway. They are made with regular milk (instead of heated milk) but still have the same amount of espresso. Cold lattes are still noticeably creamier than iced cappuccinos. 

Most coffee shops will offer a grab and go iced cappuccino and latte option too. This pre made drink is usually stored in the fridge and even though it isn't the true Italian way, it can save you waiting for baristas to hand make your drink.

6. Healthiness

The definition of healthy in relation to a cappuccino vs latte is difficult to nail down. 

Calories are generally the first thing we consider when choosing between two drinks. A latte has around 210 calories in a serving, while a cappuccino has about 130, so on face value your cappuccino is the healthier choice. 

Espresso shots have basically 0 calories, so this difference in calories mainly comes down to the milk content. Lattes have much more textured milk throughout but a lighter milk foam layer on top. In comparison, cappuccinos have less heated milk, and even though they have a thicker layer of foam they still have fewer calories. 

However, it's worth bearing in mind that you can alter the calorie content by choosing the milk added to the drink. Vegan milk options are generally lower calorie than whole milk, or you could ask your barista to use skimmed. You also need to be aware of how many calories any extra syrup, chocolate powder, or sugar may have on the calorie content. 

Another key factor in determining the healthiness of a cappuccino vs latte is the caffeine content, but given they both have the same amount of espresso then they both tie in this category. 

7. Extra Additions

While it's not the traditional way to have them, some people enjoy using extras to give their coffee drink a sweeter or more interesting or distinct taste, and baristas will usually ask how you want it served.

Chocolate syrup, marshmallows, cream (if you like it rich), and sugar/Stevia are some of the most common additions, and a cappuccino is often served with cocoa powder on top to make it more delicious. 

One cool addition that you probably wouldn't consider unless you're a barista, is latte art. Latte art is where a distinct design is drawn by hand on the light layer of the textured milk to make it a bit more special. It can be done on a cappuccino or latte, and the best baristas can make some special artwork. 

Latte art is harder on a cappuccino vs a latte because your cappuccino has a thicker layer of steamed milk foam on the top. It's easier on a caffe latte because there's a thin layer of milk foam which doesn't interact with the coffee and can comfortably hold the design. 

Cappuccino and latte art is tricky and only the most experienced baristas can do it well, but it's an interesting addition for both these coffee drinks.

8. Variations

Both of these popular espresso drinks have variations in the recipe so you can enjoy them your way. However, the cappuccino options are quite different vs latte options, so it's worth explaining.

Cappuccino variations alter the actual recipe of the drink, and you can choose between a “dry” or “wet” cappuccino. 

A dry cappuccino has less steamed milk and more foam, meaning less liquid. This makes the espresso more prominent and you can certainly taste the coffee flavor.

A wet cappuccino has more steamed milk and less foam, meaning more liquid. This helps to disguise the slightly bitter espresso shots, and brings the cappuccino closer to a latte. Just note that a wet cappuccino has more calories because of the higher milk content. 

If you consider the cappuccino options vs latte options, the variation is quite different. Lattes and iced latte variations don't have alternative recipes, but there are a lot of different extras which can fundamentally change the taste. By adding different flavored syrups you can make it a caramel, vanilla, or even a cinnamon latte which makes it feel like a different drink. 

Choosing different cappuccino and latte variations can keep you drink interesting, but there are definitely more delicious latte options to try.

Cappuccino Vs Latte

What is a Cappuccino? (Overview + How They Are Made)  

While the cappuccino doesn't have an extensive history in the US, it’s actually hundreds of years old in Italy and most of Europe. Back in the 1700s, the drinks appeared under the moniker "Kapuziner" in Vienna. 

The meaning of the name is essentially, "coffee with cream and sugar." There was another very similar drink around back then, called the “Franziskaner." It featured more milk and was called this due to how the drink's color seemed to match the tan robes of Franciscan capuchin monks. As "capuchin" means "hood" in Italian, this led to the word cappuccino being coined as a result.  

Despite having an Italian name, the cappuccino isn't as popular in Italy as other coffees. It's regarded as a breakfast drink, probably because of the thick layer of foam on top, and you might get some strange looks if you order a cappuccino from an Italian barista in the evening.  

Cappuccino Origin

While this is how it got the name, the actual cappuccino was born in Italy around 1930, not too long after the espresso machine gained its first wave of popularity. 

Due to the machines becoming more popular and the overall economic improvement after WWII, the modern cappuccino came to light, which consists of equal parts: a rich espresso shot made from quality beans, with steamed milk, and topped with a thick and airy layer of foamed milk. They are served with one layer of foam on top of the other layer of steamed milk instead of having them mixed. 

Now you'll find a cappuccino served in pretty much all coffee shops and it's one of the espresso drinks that just doesn't go out of style. The common recipe for this coffee drink hasn't really changed from the traditional cappuccino, but there are a few extra flavors to choose from. 

Those who love coffee and sitting down to really savor the flavor tend to like cappuccinos. As the traditional drink is just 6 ounces, it’s not for someone who loves drinking large quantities to stay awake or stave off food cravings, for example. These tend to be people in their 40s and up rather than younger drinkers who are always on the go. 


What Is a Latte? (Overview + How They Are Made)  

In Italian, the word latte means "milk," which is essentially what the drink is: steamed milk and coffee with a bit of foam on top. Usually, it’s made with either a single or double shot of espresso, which comprises the first 1/3 of the drink. 

The next 2/3 is steamed milk, with around a centimeter of frothed up hot milk. Texture (and obviously flavor) is also a priority here. Lattes are commonly served in all sizes, as it’s not as strong as cappuccinos in flavor.  

Despite the Italian name, Italians usually prefer a stronger coffee. The high volume of steamed milk and foam (which is the key difference between a cappuccino and latte) dilute the espresso taste so it's not as commonly ordered. However, it's done well around the rest of the world. 

A latte is often confused with a flat white, but while they look similar, there is a big difference. A flat white is made with a double ristretto shot, which is stronger than espresso and there's a noticeable difference in taste. A latte also has a light layer of milk foam on to the top, whereas the flat white doesn't. This makes a flat white taste very different, so don't be fooled by the similar look.

Latte Origin

The origin of the latte is found in Italy, where the combination of black coffee and hot milk has been around for hundreds of years. In the original Italian version, the milk isn’t foamed like it is so commonly done today. There's a popular theory that in Berkeley, California, back in the '50s, the current version with steamed milk was invented, but we can't be certain about that.  

Since the invention of the latte the combination of the milk foam layers and subtle espresso taste have been a real hit, and this coffee drink has continued to grow in popularity year on year. Nowadays a caffe latte is one of the most commonly ordered drinks around the world and it's one of the espresso drinks that you'll find in almost ever coffee shop. 

Lattes are great for people who don’t enjoy strong coffee tastes but still like coffee. They offer a smooth feel and gentle coffee flavor, and a greater amount of liquid as well. This makes it a go-to for many people who just want a coffee to sip on for longer periods of time, like college students studying or dedicated office workers.  

coffee beans with latte

Making Cappuccinos & Lattes at Home: Barista Tricks  

You can go out and order either drink at your local Starbucks, but when you're weighing up cappuccino vs latte in your mind it's worth considering which is easiest to make at home. In this category they're pretty even and you don't need to be a Starbucks barista to do it yourself. 

To make a perfect cappuccino, you’ll need: 2 tablespoons of finely-ground coffee, 4 ounces of water, and 4 ounces of milk.

  1. 1
    Pull a double shot of espresso. We've given preparation instructions using an espresso machine here, but you can also use a moka pot or other coffee making device. 
  2. 2
    Pour water into your espresso machine’s boiler. 
  3. 3
    Put 2 shots of ground coffee into the portafilter.
  4. 4
    Tamp coffee down 2-3 times in portafilter to get an even layer of grounds, and lock-in by turning to the right. Test it to make sure it's secure.  
  5. 5
    Set a glass carafe or demitasse cup (preferable) under the group head and pull shot for around 25 seconds or until you have your 2 ounces of espresso. 
  6. 6
    Once the shot is pulled, foam milk. Pour milk into a small metal pitcher or measuring cup (make sure it’s made of glass). 
  7. 7
    Steam milk and layer on top of the espresso.
  8. 8
     Once the steamed milk is added, layer the foamed milk on top.
  9. 9
    Liquid milk will settle from foam to create 1:1 foam, steamed milk, and espresso.
  10. 10
     Test the flavor by tasting your beverage and check if you need to add any extras.

To make a perfect latte, you’ll need: 1 ounce water, 1 tablespoon espresso, 3 ounces (or more) of milk. Again, we've given preparation instructions assuming you're using an espresso machine.  

  1. 1
    Fill the boiler with water.  
  2. 2
    Place coffee in portafilter and tamp down 2-3 times to get an even layer just like when making your cappuccino, and test it to make sure it's secure. 
  3. 3
    Lock in the portafilter by turning it to the right once in the machine's group head.  
  4. 4
    Position a latte cup or glass carafe under group head and hand pull the shot for 25-30 seconds.  
  5. 5
    Once shot is pulled, foam milk. Once the milk has doubled its size, you’re done foaming.  
  6. 6
    Use a spoon to keep the microbubbles on top of steamed milk, only pouring steamed milk from the top 1/3 into your latte cup or carafe.  
  7. 7
    Once that’s been poured, layer on the bubbles you have left by aid of a spoon or simply pouring it.  
  8. 8
    Taste the beverage and check if it needs any extra sugar or toppings.

Whole milk is the best option in terms of authenticity, flavor, and texture, and definitely adds the most to the beverage. However, we know not everyone wants or can have dairy. Top non-dairy options are oat milk and almond milk.  

making a latte coffee

Latte & Cappuccino FAQs

Is a cappuccino more bitter than a latte?  

Yes, it is! This is because of the more powerful espresso flavor cappuccinos feature, due to including much less milk and more thick foam than a latte does.  

Which milk is best for cappuccino?  

Whole milk is by far the best option, as it provides the most “authentic” taste and creaminess that made us fall in love with cappuccinos in the first place. This is because of the proteins and fat content, which isn't found in other milks. Skim milk is an okay alternative, and if you want/need a non-dairy milk, oat milk is the winner.  

Do cappuccinos give you energy?  

As they contain significant amounts of caffeine (due to the espresso content), they can realistically give you a nice energy boost after you drink one.  

How does a macchiato differ to these two popular coffees?  

A cappuccino vs latte vs macchiato is a frequent comparison. We know that cappuccinos consist of a balanced ratio between espresso, steamed milk, and milk foam. Lattes are made by adding steamed milk to espresso. Macchiatos are similar, where we take a splash of milk to a shot of espresso. A macchiato features slightly more intense flavors than a cappuccino and is much stronger in flavor than a latte.  


Conclusion

Now that you know what is a cappuccino vs latte and more, do you have any more questions? 

Perhaps, "is cappuccino better than a latte?" That all comes down to your own personal preference! If you haven’t already tried both, give them a try.

Who knows, maybe you’ll end up liking the more robust flavors of the cappuccino or find that lattes still offer a nice amount of espresso taste, too!