Flat White Vs Cappuccino Explained: How These Coffees Differ

Want a milky coffee but not sure what to choose? Your local coffee shop probably has a lot of options, and two popular espresso based drinks are the flat white and cappuccino. 

Both of these drinks are made with espresso and milk, but what's the difference between them?

 This guide will give the full cappuccino vs flat white breakdown and help you choose the best coffee drink for you on your next visit. 

1. Ingredients

Both flat whites and cappuccinos have the same basic components - milk and espresso. The key difference between a flat white and cappuccino is the type of milk used, and the milk to espresso ratio.

A flat white is made with:

  • Single or double shot of espresso
  • Steamed milk

A flat white is 1/3 espresso, and 2/3 milk. There's usually a very light micro foam layer, but it's much thinner than a cappuccino or latte and can't be used for latte art.

A cappuccino is made with:

  • Single or double espresso shot
  • Steamed milk
  • Milk foam

A cappuccino has an equal ratio of the three ingredients, with 1/3 espresso, 1/3 steamed milk, and 1/3 milk foam. There is a thick foam layer on the top which gives it a richer taste and smoother texture.

2. Taste Comparison 

Both of these milk based coffee drinks have similar ingredients but they taste noticeably different. 

A flat white has the intense flavor of espresso mixed with the richness of milk. It's similar to a small latte, but has a much stronger coffee flavour.

In contrast, a cappuccino is rich and milky, but has a stronger coffee flavor. This is because there's less milk to balance it out and you can really taste the espresso.

If you like espresso based drinks then either of these will work well, but if you want a more milky coffee you should order a flat white. 

3. Texture

The texture of each of these amazing coffee drinks is quite different because of the milk used. 

A cappuccino has a rich, thick, and creamy texture from the combination of steamed milk and milk foam which is free poured on top of the espresso.

A flat white is a lighter drink with a silky texture, but has a texture which is closer to a white coffee.

If you love creamy coffee drinks then you'll prefer a cappuccino, but if your desired texture is velvety smooth then go for a flat white. 

4. Serving Size

Espresso coffee drinks vary massively. Some are designed to be drunk quickly, whereas others are meant to be slowly enjoyed over a few hours.

A flat white is 5-6 oz. The size doesn't really vary and every professional barista should make it the same. 

A traditional cappuccino is also 5-6 oz, but many coffee shops offer a large cappuccino up to 12 oz. A large cappuccino many have more espresso shots, but they are always one third espresso.

Both coffee drinks are short and designed to give you a quick, but enjoyable, caffeine boost.

5. Caffeine Content

The caffeine levels of your favorite coffee is determined by the beans used, the brewing process, and the amount of espresso in the base. Despite the differences in coffee recipes, they both have the same amount of espresso, so the caffeine levels are very similar. 

Flat whites and cappuccinos both have 120-140mg of caffeine from the espresso shots, though a larger cappuccino may have an extra shot of espresso, which will make it stronger.

Both of these drinks have a decent hit of caffeine and will definitely perk you up in the morning. 

6. Calories

Flat whites and cappuccinos aren't really unhealthy, but they also aren't the lowest calorie drinks out there. 

A flat white typically has 160-200 calories, whereas a cappuccino has 100-120 calories

The double espresso shot doesn't really have any calories, it's all down to the milk.

Some coffee shops add chocolate powder on top of the milk froth, but a cappuccino still has fewer calories because it has less steamed milk and more airy foam on top compared to a flat white. 

Both of these drinks are healthier than Frappuccinos or other sugary drinks with whipped cream, but if you want the low calorie option you should choose a cappuccino. 

7. Milk Content

The type of milk is the only difference between a flat white and a cappuccino, and it's what sets them apart. 

A flat white is made with 2/3 steamed milk. A cappuccino is made with 1/3 steamed milk and 1/3 frothed milk

While you can use regular milk or low-fat milk with these coffees, there are also plenty of other milk options to choose from. 

If you're vegan, or just trying to have fewer calories you can switch your whole milk for a dairy-free alternative. Almond milk, oat milk, or soy milk all work well, but coconut milk gives the creamiest texture.  

8. Popular Variations

Most espresso coffees can be customised or altered to better meet your tastes. Flat whites and cappuccinos are two of the least versatile drinks, but there are a couple of variations of each.

Popular flat white variations include: 

  • Starbucks flat white - made by steaming milk and adding a double ristretto shot instead of an espresso
  • Caramel flat white - made with dark caramel syrup on top of the light milk froth to give it a sweeter taste
  • Iced flat white - made with cold milk and poured over ice. This is an amazing coffee on a hot day

Popular cappuccino variations include:

  • Wet cappuccino - made with slightly more steamed milk and less milk froth so it has more liquid
  • Dry cappuccino - made with less steamed milk and more milk froth so it has less liquid
  • Iced cappuccino - made with cold milk and poured over ice

Cappuccinos also tend to come with chocolate powder dusted on top, but you can add extra sugar, milk, or flavored syrups if you want to.

Every coffee shop is different, but you definitely have more cappuccino variations to choose from.


What Is A Flat White And How Are They Made? 

Nobody is exactly sure whether the flat white was invented in either New Zealand or Australian coffee shops in the 1980s, but New Zealanders claim it was them. [1]

Allegedly, customers were tired of the fluffy cappuccino and wanted a thin milk stream instead of the foam. This led New Zealanders baristas to experiment, and start brewing coffee with less foam. This is when the flat white was born. 

A flat white is made with about 1.5 ounces of espresso, 4-5 ounces of espresso, and about 0.5 ounces of micro foam. 

Espresso counts for about 25% of the drink, so it does have a relatively strong coffee flavor – more so than a typical latte. It still has a smooth texture to it because of the milk and micro foam on top, but without the velvety finish of a cappuccino.  

To make a flat white you'll need:

You'll then need to follow these steps:

  1. Brew two shots of espresso using your espresso machine
  2. Steam the milk using the steam wand until there is about 1cm of foam on top and tiny bubbles start to form
  3. Pour the espresso into a small mug, and slowly add the milk
  4. Tilt the milk jug and the hot milk should start to fold back on itself to create a pattern
  5. Add any sugar or other extras, and enjoy

An espresso machine is generally required to make the espresso base in a flat white. Espresso machines are now affordable in the home, but you can use french press or even filter coffee instead.

How To Make Starbucks Flat White Coffee 

Starbucks flat white is a slight variation on the traditional coffee recipe. It's based on a drink called a ristretto, which is very similar to espresso but a bit more concentrated and intense. This gives a Starbucks flat white more coffee flavor.

To make a Starbucks flat white you'll need:

  • 2 shots of ristretto espresso  
  • 1 cup of steaming milk 
  • Sugar (optional)

To make a double ristretto shot using an espresso machine just as much ground coffee as you would with an espresso shot, but half the volume of hot water. 

Once you have the ristretto you can following the same steps as above, pouring the frothy foamed milk over the espresso to complete the drink. Starbucks often include latte art on their flat whites but thin foam makes it difficult to non-professionals- so you might struggle.

Flat White Vs Cappuccino Explained: How These Coffees Differ

What Is A Cappuccino And How Are They Made? 

The cappuccino was invented in the 1700s.[2] It was originally served with whipped cream and spices before being replaced with frothy milk. The cappuccino still remains an important part of Italian coffee culture, and is served in coffee shops around the world. 

In most countries you can order a cappuccino at any time of day, but in Italy they consider it to be a morning drink. If you're in Italy and order it after 11am you may get some weird looks from your barista, and you might want to go for an espresso or macchiato instead.

A cappuccino is made with about 2 ounces espresso, 2 ounces steamed milk, and 2 ounces milk foam. It is noticeably stronger than a flat white and has a balanced and creamy texture to it.  

It's much frothier than a flat white (the foamiest of the two drinks), so if you like foamy coffees that have a good caffeine kick, it’s likely that you’re a fan of the cappuccino. 

To make a cappuccino you'll need:

  • An espresso machine
  • A steaming wand
  • A frother for the milk froth layer

You'll then need to follow these steps:

  1. Brew one or two shots of espresso 
  2. Use the steam wand to heat the milk, gently swirling to create larger air bubbles
  3. Hold back the top layer in the jug and pour the hot milk into the cappuccino until it's about 2/3 full
  4. Use your milk frother to create the frothed milk and add it on top. You can experiment with some latte art if you're feeling brave
  5. Add any sugar or extras and enjoy!
cappuccino with pastries

Common Flat White & Cap Questions Answered 

Which of these coffees is the weakest?  

A flat white is weaker than a cappuccino. While a flat white has 1.5 ounces of espresso, a cappuccino contains 2 ounces of espresso.  

Which of these coffees do Italian’s drink? 

Italians drink cappuccino. It's a classic Italian espresso drink and is typically enjoyed before or after breakfast.  

Which is healthier? Flat white or cappuccino?  

A cappuccino is healthier than a flat white as it contains less milk – most of it is milk froth. It is, however, only marginally healthier, and this is also dependent on the type of milk that is used.  

Is the cappuccino or flat white generally more expensive to buy? 

Flat whites are typically more expensive as they require more skill to make. A good flat white needs to be made with milk that is steamed into a ‘microfoam.' That's the only way that you'll get the silky smooth texture when you're sipping your coffee.  


Conclusion

Almost all coffee shops will serve these espresso drinks, so it's good to understand the flat white vs cappuccino differences. 

Flat whites are espresso and steamed milk, with a small amount of frothed milk on top. Cappuccinos have equal parts steamed milk and milk froth making them smoother, but with a stronger coffee flavor. 

If you like more coffee flavor in your espresso drinks then you should choose a cappuccino, but if you prefer a lighter drink with more milk you should go for a flat white. 

References:

1. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2015/01/07/the-disputed-history-of-the-flat-white-the-coffee-drink-starbucks-just-introduced-in-north-america/

2. https://www.thespruceeats.com/history-of-the-cappuccino-765833