latte or Cappuccino with frothy foam, coffee cup top view on table in cafe.

Latte Vs Cappuccino: What is the Key Difference?

Latte vs Cappuccino – not sure the difference between a latte and a cappuccino? You’re not alone. It wasn’t until I started making my own specialty coffee that I realized how different the two are – and what a unique flavor experience they can provide. 

Lattes and cappuccinos are made from two ingredients: espresso and milk. A cappuccino has equal parts espresso at the base, steamed milk in the middle, and foamed milk on top. A latte has the same amount of espresso as a cappuccino but twice the steamed milk and only a thin layer of foam on top.

Read On

So if those are the basics, how do you get different drinks? What is the ratio of coffee to milk? Do they really taste different? Let’s explore the rich world of these two specialty drinks. 

Latte vs Cappuccino

Through a skilled combination of espresso and milk, baristas concoct drinks with entirely different finishes, textures, and tastes. 

Both lattes and cappuccinos start with a single or double shot of espresso as the base. 

set of coffee cups, espresso glass, coffee latte, cappuccino, mocha, americano,caramel macchiato, latte vs cappuccino

From there, for a traditional cappuccino, the barista will layer milk and a thick topping of milk foam. Cappuccinos are known for their frothy, rich flavor – the espresso comes through quite strongly, but the foam brings a softer, velvety texture.

The barista adds a lot more milk for a latte than a cappuccino and only a thin layer of foam at the top. This small amount of foam lends itself to the intricate “latte art” that has exploded in the past few decades. Lattes are creamier and less acidic than cappuccinos.

Let’s dig a little bit deeper into the unique histories and formulations for these popular coffee drinks. 

What is a Latte?

“Latte” simply means “milk” in Italian. The correct term is caffé latte, meaning coffee and milk. While coffee with milk has a long history in Europe, the US version of the latte began popping up in coffee shops in Seattle, Washington, in the 1980s. 

The modern latte popularized by Starbucks is larger than a traditional cappuccino and has a higher ratio of milk to coffee. The added milk gives lattes a smoother and creamier texture. 

To make a latte, a barista will combine the following:

  • One or two shots of espresso – about one-third of the cup
  • Several ounces of steamed milk – about two-thirds of the cup
  • A top layer of foamed milk – a thin layer to the cup’s brim

What is a Cappuccino?

The cappuccino is a traditional Italian beverage dating back to the early 1900s. Angelo Moriondo invented the espresso machine in Italy in 1884. Not long after, the word “cappuccino” became popularized.

The traditional cappuccino has a much smaller ratio of milk to coffee than the latte, giving it a strong, acidic taste of coffee. Cappuccinos are also a smaller drink – or at least, a proper one should be! American coffee-makers have popularized a cappuccino that is roughly the same size as a latte. However, the essentials remain the same.

To make a cappuccino, a barista will combine the following:

  • A single or double shot of espresso
  • A few ounces of steamed milk
  • A thick layer of foam on top – a one-to-one balance of foam to liquid

Steamed vs Frothed Milk: What’s the Difference?

Any barista worth their salt can whip up either type.

  • Steamed milk is essentially milk heated up so that it doesn’t cool your espresso when combined in a cup. Baristas use a steaming wand and a stainless steel carafe. You simply add the amount of milk you want into the carafe, place the tip of the steamer wand well down into the milk, and slowly allow steam into the liquid. (But be careful, it might splatter!) 
  • Frothed milk is heated milk with air bubbles. You make it with the same tools, but the texture comes out differently with a slightly different technique. To create foam, you pour milk into the carafe and then place the tip of the steamer wand right at the top of the milk. Keeping it near the top allows for more air to be pulled in with the steam, which eventually starts creating a froth.

Is a Latte Weaker than a Cappuccino?

In the “cappuccino vs latte” debate, some people claim a latte is weaker. It’s true that because lattes contain a higher ratio of milk to espresso, they will have a creamier flavor than cappuccinos. Cappuccinos tend to maximize the sharp, rich flavor of coffee. However, both drinks technically have the same espresso amount, so a latte is not actually “weaker.” 

Are Lattes and Cappuccinos Sweet?

In general, no. A traditional latte and cappuccino do not have any added sweetener. However, you can ask for your drink to have added sweetener, syrups, or flavoring. Some milk alternatives also have a natural sweetness, and different types of coffee may have sweeter notes.

If you’re ordering at a coffee shop, you may want to ask the barista if any of their milk alternatives are sweetened. Many coffee beverages like a caffé mocha will have sweeteners added.

Are Lattes or Cappuccinos Healthier?

Like anything else, the answer to this depends on what you mean by “healthier.” In general, if you’re looking for a lower calorie count, you might want to opt for a cappuccino since they have less milk. 

However, milk contains beneficial nutrients, fats, and proteins, so there’s nothing wrong with a little extra from time to time. 

If you’re a coffee lover but not a big milk person, you can also ask for your latte or cappuccino with a milk alternative. 

Popular alternatives include:

  • Almond milk
  • Coconut milk
  • Soy milk
  • Oat milk

Related Questions

Now you know everything you need to be an expert on your coffee order! Here are a few more common questions among coffee drinkers.

What Milk is Best for Cappuccinos?

Regular milk is known to create the best foam. However, if you’re not into dairy, milk alternatives are all the rage these days. Most experts recommend oat milk or coconut milk for the best foam

Can the Type of Milk Affect the Flavor of Either Coffee Drink? 

Yes! Each milk alternative has a unique flavor that will slightly change the flavor of your drink. I recommend testing out different types of milk to choose your favorite. The other major factor is the type of coffee you choose and if you have a regular coffee or an espresso drink.

How Much Does an Espresso Machine Cost?

High-quality home espresso machines cost around $400-$500, although more basic models cost much less. While most experts don’t recommend them, some at-home machines can cost as little as $50. 

Deciding on which model to buy will depend on your specific taste and how many extra bells and whistles you want. For the true connoisseur, the cost can be worth it. But if you’re just looking for a fun hobby, trying out a cheaper model is an excellent place to start.