You’re standing in line at your favorite coffee shop, contemplating the many options on the menu. Two items immediately stand out thanks to their milky creaminess: the latte and the flat white.
Before you place your order by playing a quick game of eeny-meeny-miny-moe, it’s time to do some research. While flat whites and lattes have a lot of similarities, they’re two very different drinks, and one might be a better choice for you than the other.
In order to confidently place your next coffee order, check out this guide on the difference between flat white and latte coffees, how they’re made, and how to easily make your own Starbucks-quality flat white or latte at home.
What Is a Flat White Coffee? (Overview + How It’s Made)
A flat white is a coffee drink made from combining strong espresso with steamed milk or a dairy-free milk alternative.
Some sources say that the exact origins date back to 1980s Australia, while others claim it all started in New Zealand. No matter where it all started, there’s no denying that the flat white is now a popular choice among coffee lovers around the world. It has become a standard drink in coffee shops everywhere, especially in the US.
This tasty coffee beverage is made by adding a shot of espresso - sometimes two! - with a small amount of steamed milk, followed by a very thin layer of foamed milk added to the top. This top layer of foam is often scraped flat, and since milk-based coffee drinks are often referred to as "white coffee," the name "flat white" was born.
Many people enjoy the bold taste that comes from sipping on a flat white, especially when a second shot of espresso is added. It’s the perfect choice for anyone who wants the strong flavor of espresso but also appreciates the creamy richness that comes along with a milk-based coffee beverage.
What Is a Latte? (Overview + How It’s Made)
Now let’s talk about the classic latte. A latte, also commonly called caffe latte, is actually very similar to a flat white and uses the same main ingredients: steamed milk and espresso.
The latte originated in Italy, but many parts of Europe have their own unique take on the drink and their own name for it as well, such as café au lait or café con leche. It wasn’t known simply as latte until it entered the Western world and became more commercialized. Even to this day, asking for a “latte” in Italy will get you a glass of milk (you must ask for a caffè latte).
Regardless of what name you use to order, one thing has become clear: the latte is an extremely popular choice for coffee lovers, especially those who prefer the subtle taste of coffee mixed with creamy steamed milk topped with a good amount of foam.
Lattes are generally made by combining a shot of espresso (or even two) with steamed milk so that the espresso makes up ⅓ of the drink and the milk accounts for the remaining ⅔. A layer of frothed milk is added to the top, and sometimes it is even artfully mastered into a pretty design - like a heart or flower. This is where the phrase “latte art” comes from.
Differences Between a Flat White Vs Latte
Both drinks contain either 1 or 2 shots of espresso (depending on your preferences), and both contain steamed milk as well as foam on top, but there are a few major differences that separate a latte from a flat white. The first big difference between a flat white vs. latte coffee has to do with size.
Flat whites are generally served in smaller cups; while the standard size for a latte is about 8 ounces (240ml), a flat white is more often served in a 5-6 ounce cup (160ml). So even though they contain the same amount of espresso, flat whites have less milk, which accounts for the bolder taste.
Here are a few more key differences between flat whites and lattes:
While both beverages are prepared with espresso and steamed milk, most of the foam in flat whites is scraped off the top. Only a thin layer of foam remains, while in a latte, the foam is quite thick, which explains why so many baristas use it as a “canvas” to create latte art.
Another difference has to do with the way the milk is prepared. Flat whites are extremely creamy and rich in taste, and this is all thanks to the micro foaming process. Instead of simply steaming the milk, the milk is “microfoamed," which basically just means that tiny air bubbles form in the milk while steaming. This makes its texture more velvety and smooth.
2. Caffeine Content
If you’re looking for a lower caffeine coffee beverage, you’ll want to go with a latte. Since it contains more milk, the espresso is more diluted than in a flat white. However, it’s possible to use decaffeinated coffee beans for either beverage.
3. Milk Content/Ratio
Lattes use more milk, but once again, this is strictly because they are served in larger cups. The smaller volume of milk in flat whites explains the more robust espresso flavor and the higher caffeine level.
4. With or Without Foam
If you’re looking for the foamiest beverage, then you’ll definitely want to go with a latte. Not only does a latte contain more milk, but it also contains a thicker layer of foam on top, which many coffee drinkers prefer.
5. Hot or Cold Options
It’s possible to make both of these beverages cold or hot. It’s more common to order an iced latte, but that doesn’t mean it’s not possible to order an iced flat white on hot days.
6. Extra Additions
Most coffee shops offer a long list of flavors and add-ins, and we’re not just talking about cream and sugar. Whether you’re ordering a flat white or latte, it’s possible to ask for additional flavoring, like lavender, honey, hazelnut, raspberry… this list could go on for a while.
How to Make Flat Whites & Lattes at Home
You don’t have to become a professional barista to make a latte or flat white at home. Thanks to the growing list of home coffee machines, quality coffee beans, and handy coffee accessories, making a variety of different coffee drinks at home is easier than ever, and that includes both flat whites and lattes.
The process for making a flat white or latte will depend on the machine or coffee accessories you’re using. For both drinks, start by making about 1 ounce of espresso (or 2 if you’re feeling crazy) either by using espresso beans and a coffee maker or an espresso Keurig pod.
If you have a steamer attachment on your coffee maker, put that to good use and steam your milk of choice. You can use whatever milk you prefer - skim, whole, or a dairy-free alternative like oat, almond, soy, or coconut milk. If you do not have a steamer, no worries! Here are 3 ways to steam milk without a steamer:
- 1Pour the milk into a small glass jar with a lid (a Mason jar works great). Shake the jar until the milk is frothy, then heat the milk for about 30 seconds in the microwave.
- 2Warm the milk on a stovetop until it reaches about 140 degrees F. Add the warm milk to a French Press - make sure it’s clean first! - and pump the plunger a few times to get a frothy consistency.
- 3Heat the milk in a microwave-safe bowl or cup, then use a whisk or handheld frother to create a nice foamy texture.
No matter which way you choose to steam and froth your milk, the next step is to combine it with the espresso. For a flat white, you’ll combine the two in a small mug or cup and finish the process by scraping some of the foam from the top.
For a latte, use a larger mug or cup to combine the coffee with your freshly steamed milk. Unless you prefer little to no foam in your latte, there’s no need to flatten out the foam.
Next, just sit back, relax, and sip on your homemade beverage!
People Also Ask (FAQs)
Is a flat white healthier than a latte?
If you’re looking at it from a calorie perspective, then flat whites are slightly healthier than lattes. This is strictly because they are served in smaller cups and not because the ingredients are necessarily healthier.
If you’re trying to lower your calorie intake, consider ordering your flat white or latte with a dairy-free alternative, like almond milk or oat milk. This is also great for anyone who is lactose-intolerant or vegan.
Is a latte stronger than a flat white?
Nope, it’s actually the opposite, at least if you’re talking in terms of coffee flavor. However, you might argue that a latte is stronger in terms of creaminess since it comes with a thicker layer of foam on top.
How does a cappuccino compare to these two popular coffees?
When you compare flat white vs. latte vs. cappuccino, a cappuccino has a lot of similarities. The main difference between a latte and cappuccino and flat white, though, is that a cappuccino is generally made with equal parts espresso and milk (rather than ⅓ to ⅔), so it has a stronger flavor.
This makes a cappuccino very similar to a flat white. However, a cappuccino usually has a thicker layer of foam on top and doesn’t require you to scrape off or flatten out the foam layer.
Why is flat white more expensive than a latte?
While the ingredients don’t cost more to make a flat white, there is more skill required. This is because professional baristas use a “micro foaming” process to make the milk taste richer. A post by Stylist explains this perfectly:
“A good flat white should be made with milk steamed into a ‘microfoam.' This means that the bubbles in the froth are so tiny that they can't be seen, creating a silky-smooth texture as you sip your coffee." So even though flat whites are smaller, don't expect to pay less than you’d pay for a latte or cappuccino.
Now you never have to stand in the Starbucks line wondering, "Hmmm… coffee flat white vs. latte, which one should I get?"
The main thing to remember when comparing the difference between a flat white and a latte is that a flat white offers a bolder taste of espresso, so it’s the better choice for people who want a more powerful punch when it comes to coffee flavor and caffeine.