Have you ever drawn a complete blank in the coffee shop and forgotten your order? It’s more common than you think, and unsurprising given how similar some coffee drinks can be.
Two coffee shop favorites are the latte and flat white. They’re both espresso drinks with a lot of creamy steamed milk, but they are quite different in a lot of other ways.
To help explain, we’ll give you the full flat white vs latte breakdown, and show you how to make the perfect drink at home without any fancy espresso machine.
Differences Between a Flat White Vs Latte
You'd be forgiven for thinking that a flat white and latte are the same drink given the ingredients list is identical. Both drinks contain:
- one or two shots of espresso (depending on how strong you like it)
- steamed milk
- foam (or microfoam) on top
A key difference between a flat white and latte is the cup size. Flat whites are shorter espresso drinks and tend to be served in a smaller cup. Lattes are served in bigger cups and are usually around the same size as any regular coffee.
This is down to the balance of ingredients, particularly espresso and hot milk, (which we'll come onto in a second), but you'll definitely notice the size difference before the taste.
Here are a few more key differences between flat whites and lattes which aren't so obvious:
Both espresso based drinks are prepared with espresso and steamed milk.
However, when preparing a great flat white most of the foam is scraped off. This leave a little foam layer on the top of the drink.
When preparing a latte the foam is layered on thickly. This thick foam is often used by baristas as a “canvas” to create latte art.
The milk is also prepared differently in both espresso drinks. A latte is smooth and velvety drink, and this is largely down to the high quantities of steamed milk.
A flat white isn't as smooth in comparison but it's still rich and smooth because of the micro foaming process. Instead of simply steaming the milk, the milk is turned into microfoam, which basically means that small bubbles form because of the steaming process. This gives it a smooth top which balances the bold espresso taste.
2. Caffeine Content
There isn't much difference between a latte and flat white when it comes to caffeine content and they both contain 120-150mg per cup.
This is because they are generally both made with two shots of espresso (or double shot of ristretto for a flat white). This means that regardless of other ingredients they both have the same caffeine strength.
However, the real difference between a latte and flat white is how strong they taste. A flat white uses ristretto shots and has less milk in the recipe. This means it tastes stronger even though there's no more caffeine included in the recipe. In comparison, a latte has much more steamed milk to dilute the strong espresso taste.
It's possible to use decaffeinated coffee beans for a latte and flat white if you want to avoid caffeine completely, but otherwise you're going to be consuming roughly the same amount in either of the two drinks.
3. Milk Content/Ratio
When you're looking at a latte vs flat white you'll notice that the ingredients in both recipes are very similar and the milk to espresso ratio is actually identical.
Lattes and flat whites contains:
- 1/3 espresso
- 2/3 steamed milk (with 1cm of foam on the top of a latte)
While both drinks have the same amount of espresso, lattes have a greater amount of milk. This is because lattes are served in larger cups than a flat white (which has less milk). It's also the reason for the more robust espresso flavor in a flat white.
4. With or Without Foam
Both drinks have foam, but lattes have a much thicker layer on top. In fact, lattes are probably the foamiest espresso drink. Not only does a latte contain more milk, but it also contains a thicker foam layer on top, which many milky coffee drinkers prefer.
Flat whites also have some velvety microfoam, but it's thinner. The thin microfoam layer still adds to the richness of the drink, but it retains more coffee taste which is why I personally prefer flat whites.
5. Hot or Cold Options
Both of these beverages are available hot and cold (depending on the time of year), and you won't surprise the barista by ordering iced versions of either. The
Iced lattes are commonly found on coffee shop menus and you can usually get them in a range of flavors.
An iced latte is still an espresso based drink, and has the same amount of each ingredient as a regular latte. The main difference is that it's made with cold milk, which means there's less foam. This makes the espresso bitterness more noticeable even though there's no more caffeine, and it's the reason that most iced lattes are served with a flavored syrup.
Ordering a cold flat white is definitely less common, and you may not see iced flat whites on the regular menu, but they're still a refreshing summer time option which your barista can definitely make. The bold espresso really cuts through the small amount of milk, and an iced flat white works well as an alternative to your regular iced americano or cappuccino.
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. There are more common additions in a latte vs a flat white, but you've still got a lot of options to choose from with both.
A caffe latte has a pretty mild flavor, despite usually having two shots of espresso in the base, and the high volume of velvety steamed milk makes it the perfect for mixing other flavors in. That's why there are lots of different lattes on every coffee shop menu.
Common latte recipe additions include:
- caramel syrup
- toffee nut syrup
- hazelnut syrup
- vanilla syrup
- white chocolate sauce
- mocha sauce
- cinnamon syrup
- chai spices
The difference with flat white vs latte additions is that they won't disguise the ristretto as much. The flat white is smaller and more intense, and while you can still add what you want, most people stick to the original recipe.
Common flat white recipe additions include:
- caramel syrup
- hazelnut syrup
- lavender flavors
- raspberry flavors
7. How Long It Lasts (Size Matters)
The size of your drink can be an important factor is deciding between a latte vs flat white.
A traditional flat white is usually 6oz. Most coffee shops only have one size on the menu, and if you ask for a large Starbucks flat white you're going to get some strange looks from the barista.
Caffe latte drinks are usually available in a range of sizes, but even a small latte has to be at least 8oz. to count as a proper latte. Some coffee shops will offer different sizes and Starbucks serve lattes up to 16oz.
If you prefer espresso based drinks you can sip on then you should order a latte. If you just want a quick caffeine boost then choose a flat white.
Flat White Coffee (Overview + How It’s Made)
A flat white is a milky coffee drink made by combining strong espresso with steamed milk (or a dairy-free milk alternative).
There's some debate over where the flat white was first invented. Some sources say that the exact origins date back to 1980s Australia, while others claim it all started in New Zealand.
Whether the flat white originated in Australia and New Zealand is yet to be proven, but the flat white is now one of the most popular espresso drinks with coffee lovers around the world.
This tasty coffee drink is made by brewing an espresso (sometimes a double shot of espresso), adding small amount of steamed milk, and finished with a very thin layer of foamed milk added to the top.
This thin 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 drink.
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 was originally invented 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.
The definition of latte in Italian is actually milk, so even to this day, asking for a “latte” in Italy will get you a tall glass of milk (you must ask for a caffè latte instead).
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 would rather have the subtle taste of coffee mixed with creamy steamed milk topped with a good amount of foam.
Lattes are made by combining a shot of espresso (or a double espresso shot) 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.
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 amount of espresso machines, quality coffee beans, and handy coffee accessories, making a variety of amazing coffee drinks at home is easier than ever, and that includes both flat whites and lattes.
The recipes for both drinks are simple, but the process for making a flat white or latte will depend on the espresso machine you’re using.
1. For both drinks, start by making a single shot of espresso (or a double shot of espresso). You can do this by using espresso beans and a coffee maker, or an espresso Keurig pod. If you're really struggling you can use drip coffee.
2. Next, steam the milk. You can use a steamer attachment (or steam wand) on your coffee maker to complete steaming process and steam your milk of choice. You can use whole milk, skim, or a dairy-free alternative like oat, almond, soy, or coconut milk.
3. If you don't have a steamer, here are 3 ways to steam milk without a steamer:
4. Once you have your steamed milk, the next step is to combine it with the espresso. The flat white technique is slightly different different to the latte technique.
For a flat white:
5. Combine the coffee and milk in a small mug and scrape some of the foam from the top.
6. Aerate the milk foam until the large bubbles are gone.
7. Add it to the two shots of espresso in the base by pouring it slowly over the top. Once you get to the the last inch of the drink start pouring really quickly to finish. This keeps the froth milk from separating.
For a latte:
5. Combine the coffee with your freshly steamed milk in a larger cup. The foam will naturally come to the top, and there's no need to flatten out the foam unless you prefer little to no foam in your latte.
There are then two more optional steps if you want to create some latte art:
6. Start by pouring the milk foam into the centre of your caffe latte so it goes into the deepest part.
7. Whip the creamy milk foam across the top of the coffee and serve the drink with your own signature design.
Latte art isn't easy, especially if it's your first time, and even some experienced coffee shop baristas won't try. Just keep practicing until you get the hang of it. Once you're done just sit back, relax, and sip on your homemade beverage!
Common Flat White & Latte Questions
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 have less steam milk, 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 latte vs flat white vs cappuccino, a cappuccino has a lot of similarities. The flat white, latte and cappuccino recipes are fairly similar, but 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 cappuccinos very similar to a flat white. However, cappuccinos usually have a thicker layer of foam on top and don'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 a bit more skill required. This is because a professional barista will 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 big bubbles in the froth are made so tiny that they can't be seen, creating a velvety 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.
Hopefully, now you never have to stand in the Starbucks line wondering, "Hmmm… coffee flat white vs latte, which one should I get?"
However, we know we aren't going to settle the flat white vs latte debate here because ultimately it comes down to personal preference. 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 if you're a coffee love who wants a strong coffee flavor then a flat white is the one for you.