You’re standing at the counter of your favorite cafe, ready to buy your usual cup o’ joe. You wistfully glance at the seemingly endless choices on the menu board and consider branching out… but what do all those Italian-sounding names mean? Well, I’m here to help!
Cappuccinos, Lattes, and Macchiatos all contain espresso coffee and milk in various amounts, textures, and ratios. These vary from drink to drink and can be confusing. Don’t worry, by the end of this article, we’ll have you sorted!
What Exactly is a Cappuccino?
In simple terms, a cappuccino is a coffee drink made up of equal parts by volume of espresso, steamed textured milk, and milk foam. So, 1/3 espresso, 1/3 steamed milk, and 1/3 milk foam. Usually, you will also get a pretty design in the foam that we call “latte art.” Occasionally, you will get a dusting of cocoa powder on top.
Follow the link for more on what exactly an espresso is (spoiler alert: it’s not the drink!). We’ll get into the differences between steamed milk, milk foam, and textured milk some other time. 😂
UBOI (Useless Bits of Information)
The word cappuccino comes from the Italian for “little hood” and refers to the similarity of the color of the top of the drink and the color of the robes worn by Capuchin monks.
- cappuccino chiaro: a cappuccino prepared with more steamed milk than usual; also known as a wet cappuccino or light cappuccino
- cappuccino freddo: a cappuccino served over ice; also known as an iced cappuccino
- cappuccino scuro: a cappuccino with half the steamed milk and double the foam; aka dry cappuccino or dark cappuccino
- flat white: similar to a cappuccino but with frothy milk rather than foam which sits under the crema of the espresso shot
- marocchino: a fashionable coffee drink from Milan, Italy which is sort of an upside-down cappuccino served in a small glass: first a sprinkle of cocoa powder, then frothed milk, then a shot of espresso
- mochaccino: a cappuccino with a shot of chocolate syrup
- muggaccino: a ridiculously large cappuccino that can fill a mug
- Pepsi Cappuccino: also known as Café Chino and Max Cino, it’s a Pepsi with a taste of coffee previously sold in Russia, Romania, and other parts of Europe. After the new Coca-Cola drinks maybe it will make a comeback?
- skinniccino: a cappuccino made with skim milk
Cappuccino for Kids
- babycino: a faux cappuccino-style drink for children consisting of warm milk in a small cup and topped with milk foam and powdered chocolate
Cappuccino and Booze
- captainccino: a coffee cocktail consisting of one shot of Captain Morgan Tattoo and one shot of Baileys Irish Cream poured into a cappuccino
What Exactly is a Latte?
Latte is the Italian word for “milk” and the drink you are thinking of is properly called a caffè latte, coffee with milk. It consists of a shot of espresso with three times as much hot, frothy milk and topped with milk foam.
The sky’s the limit! You can put any number of flavorings in a latte. Perhaps you have run into a few of them. There is a fall favorite that comes to mind involving pumpkin and spices. Think of it as a coffee-based milkshake.
What is a Macchiato?
Ha! Trick Question! Macchiato comes from the Italian for “marked” or “stained.” Looking for a mostly coffee drink? You want a caffè macchiato. If you want a mostly milk drink, check out the latte macchiato.
OK, So What Exactly is a Caffè Macchiato?
A caffè macchiato is “coffee marked” with a little milk. Order one and you will get a shot of espresso with a dollop of milk foam.
And What Exactly is a Latte Macchiato?
A latte macchiato is “milk stained,” meaning milk that has been stained with coffee; do you grok the difference between the two macchiatos? The latte macchiato uses the same ingredients and proportions as a caffè latte, but milk first, then the espresso, topped by foam. Often, the coffee is poured off a spoon so as to guarantee the layers.
What’s the Difference: Cappuccino vs. Latte?
A latte is a much “milkier” drink than a cappuccino. A latte – assuming you mean a caffè latte (see above) – has the same amount of espresso as a cappuccino and three times as much steamed milk.
Which Drink is Stronger?
The answer to this question depends on what you mean by stronger. When you say “strength,” do you mean the total amount of caffeine? Do you mean the amount of caffeine per volume? Or do you mean the strength of coffee flavor? I’ll address all three criteria but make sure you know what it is you are looking for.
Fine. Which is Stronger: Cappuccino or Latte?
A cappuccino and a caffè latte have the same amount of coffee in their recipes. That means each drink will also have the same amount of caffeine. However, since a latte has three times the milk, an equal volume of cappuccino will have more caffeine than the latte. The cappuccino will also have a stronger “coffee forward” flavor.
What’s the Difference: Cappuccino vs. Macchiato?
A cappuccino has way more milk than a caffè macchiato. They both have the same amount of espresso. A cappuccino has one third of the milk of a latte macchiato and both usually have the same amount of espresso. I say usually, because some cafes will use less espresso in the latte macchiato.
Which is Stronger: Cappuccino or Macchiato?
A cappuccino and a caffè macchiato have the same amount of coffee, and therefore, the same amount of caffeine. There is much more milk in a cappuccino, so the caffè macchiato will have a stronger coffee flavor and volume for volume, it will be stronger as well. A latte macchiato has three times the milk of a cappuccino so will have less coffee flavor even though it has the same amount of coffee and caffeine in the drink.
What’s the Difference: Latte vs. Macchiato?
A caffè latte and the latte macchiato use the same ingredients and proportions of espresso, milk, and foam. In the caffè latte, it goes espresso, milk, then foam and is usually served in a cup. In a latte macchiato, the milk is heated and foamed, and placed into a glass. The espresso is added gently to the milk in such a way so as to sit on top of the heated milk but below the foam, allowing the layers to be seen in the glass. There also should be a little spot of crema on top so as to further distinguish it from a caffè latte. A caffè macchiato is just a shot of espresso with a blob of milk foam on top.
Which is Stronger: Latte or Macchiato?
This one is an easy comparison: a caffè latte and latte macchiato use the same ingredients and proportions of espresso, milk, and foam, so they are of equal strength, providing your barista doesn’t short change you on the espresso in the macchiato (some baristas make them with half the espresso). A caffè macchiato, being what it is, has a stronger coffee flavor.
Now that you know the basic construction of the cappuccino, latte (more correctly called a caffè latte), caffè macchiato, and latte macchiato, you can feel confident when coming face-to-face with your friendly neighborhood barista. Remember to be a customer displaying proper cafe etiquette. And now that you know the difference between the drinks, you can try each of them to find out which is the one for you. Maybe it’s the captainccino!