Clearing Up the Difference Between the Cappuccino, the Latte, and the Macchiato
- What Is A Macchiato?
- What Is A Cappuccino?
- What Is A Latte?
- THE BOTTOM LINE
- Frequently Asked Questions
If you're exploring the world of milk-based espresso drinks, you may be confused. Almost everyone knows what a Cappuccino is, but what the heck is a Macchiato? and what about a Latte?
Confused yet? It's okay - keep reading to get some clarity on these drinks once and for all.
What Is A Macchiato?
Macchiato literally means "marked", as it is an espresso "marked" with a spoonful of foamed milk on top.
Nowadays you can find countless different variations of the macchiato including the caramelly Starbucks one (1) and a "tall macc" (2) with so much milk that it is basically a miniature latte. Technically, however, a macchiato is simply an espresso with a tiny dash of milk.
Outside Italy, you might want to order an "espresso macchiato" to make sure you get the right drink.
Variations of the Macchiato
Today, however, many of the coffee drinks called "macchiato" do not have much to do with the original recipe. Starbucks offers a "zebra macchiato" or an iced "marble mocha macchiato" (3) with white mocha on the bottom and an espresso shot on the top. While this might delight those with a sweet tooth, it's far from a traditional macchiato
A common variation is the "latte macchiato", an inverse macchiato: hot milk topped with espresso, usually larger and served in a tall glass.
If you want an espresso drink with more milk than a macchiato, you might enjoy a cortado, Latin America's delicious contribution to milk-based espresso drinks.
What Is A Cappuccino?
One of the most popular coffee drinks around the world, cappuccino is espresso topped with steamed milk and milk foam.
The name "cappuccino" comes from the Roman Catholic order of Capuchin monks (4). When milky coffee first appeared on café menus in 18th-century Vienna, it resembled the robes worn by these monks. It is commonly served with a dusting of shaved or powdered chocolate on top, derived from the Viennese custom of adding ground spices.
"When expertly poured so that a circle of white is perfectly encircled by the darker coffee, the design on a 'traditional' cappuccino is called a monk's head." - Serious Eats
In Italy, cappuccino is exclusively a morning drink. This is a cultural quirk not observed anywhere else.
History of the Cappuccino
Although the name was first used in Vienna, Italy can take pride in inventing the modern-style cappuccino. The espresso machine was invented in Italy in the late 19th century, and cappuccinos started popping up on café menus in the 1930s.
The original Viennese milky coffee was sweetened with cinnamon or chocolate and often decorated with whipped cream. This style of sugary cappuccino was also popular in interwar Italy - possibly because the quality of the average espresso was poor enough that it needed to be masked with extra flavorings.
After the second world war, the cappuccino was streamlined. Improved technology meant pulling a delicious espresso became easier, so the need for additional sweeteners was reduced.
Slowly, cappuccino also became popularised worldwide. In Britain, this happened in the 1950s (5), while the US warmed up to cappuccino much later, in the eighties. Nowadays, there are only a few corners of the world left where a cup of cappuccino would not be readily found.
The Certified Cappuccino Recipe
While many sources consider the definition of cappuccino as a 1:1:1 ratio of coffee, milk, and foam, the Istituto Nazionale di Espresso Italiano (INEI) defines Certified Italian Cappuccino as follows:
- It begins with 25 ml of espresso
- It requires 100 ml of cold milk (3 - 5 degrees C) steamed to a volume of 125 ml
- It is to be served in a white porcelain cup with a volume of 150-160 ml
- It is to be topped with a visible dome-shaped cap of milk foam (6)
To test this, we fired up the La Pavoni and brewed several cappuccinos to the INEI's precise specifications. They were exactly like the cappuccino we enjoyed at the Hotel Universo in Lucca on our last trip to Italy, where the barista added just a thin layer of foam on top. Sometimes, standards are delicious.
The key to the INEI cappuccino: the quality of the espresso. Where the macchiato is 75% espresso and 25% milk, the cappuccino reverses the proportions. This means that for cappuccino, espresso quality is of paramount importance.
A poor shot won't give you enough coffee flavor; a perfect shot will render that magical balance of deep espresso and slightly sweet steamed milk.
Here's a video by Dritan Alselda on how to achieve the perfect Cappuccino at home:
Variations of the Cappuccino
Outside of Italy, it's common for cappuccino to use coffee, milk, and foam in a 1:1:1 ratio. Variations between the ratio of milk and foamed milk are how baristas create a "dry" or a "wet" cappuccino. A wet cappuccino has more hot milk, while a dry one has more milk froth. In many places, cappuccinos are dusted with cocoa powder.
The flat white is another milk coffee drink, which lacks the traditional cap of foam and often has slightly less milk than a traditional cappuccino.
What Is A Latte?
The key is in the name: "cafe latte" means "coffee milk". As with cappuccino, it is a very globalized drink, with countless variations on the recipe. In fact, there is no single correct way to make a latte.
In most coffee shops outside Italy, it's typically a single espresso topped with plenty of steamed milk. As long as it contains milk, it can be a latte - even if it's not made with coffee. Popular café drinks like Chai Latte and Matcha Latte fulfill the only criteria of being a latte, as they contain milk. In Italy, ordering a latte will just get you a glass of milk.
"The difference between a Cappuccino and Latte are simple: both have Espresso and milk, but the milk content is what makes the difference. The Latte has more, and has a creamier taste. The Cappuccino has less milk, and a stiff head of foam, whereas the Latte has a short head of foam." - Artisan Coffee & Food Marketing
In Italy, many people make a latte for breakfast by simply brewing coffee in a Bialetti Moka pot, heating milk on the stovetop and combining the two. This seems to be the common style - they don’t bother with foaming the milk.
History of the Latte
Because latte doesn't refer to one specific recipe, it's hard to pinpoint who actually invented it. Milk coffee became popular across Europe over the late 19th and early 20th centuries, with regional variations such as Germany's Milchkaffee and France's café au lait, made by pouring heated milk and strong coffee out of two separate pitchers, mixed to the coffee drinker's preference.
In the English-speaking world, the word latte came to be widely used - paradoxically, because the latte is not really a part of Italian café culture. A common recipe for making it evolved, including espresso, sweeteners and steamed milk.
In an average espresso bar in Italy, you can order a macchiato or cappuccino, but the caffè latte is seen as a breakfast drink to be made at home instead.
Latte Recipes Around the World
Generally speaking, there are two very different ways to prepare a latte: the way enjoyed in Italy, or the American technique. But there are other variations as well.
The Latte in Italy: Brew a strong pot of coffee (using an espresso machine or moka pot) and then add heated milk and usually sugar. Simple, satisfying, and requires no special equipment.
The Latte in America: Brew a shot of espresso and steam milk to a thick microfoam (not a frothy cap), about 1 part coffee to 6 parts milk. Add flavored syrup or sugar (optional), to taste. Top with latte art.
The Latte in France: The café au lait (or cafe crème) is a milky coffee usually served from a large bowl - apparently because it's easy to then dip your croissant or breakfast baguette in the coffee (8). It is generally made with dark filter coffee, not espresso, traditionally served tableside by mixing equal parts of coffee and heated milk from two pitchers.
The Latte in South Africa: A red latte is based on rooibos tea instead of coffee.
THE BOTTOM LINE
There are many different types of coffee. but In the end, the difference between macchiato, cappuccino, and latte are all about the ratios of coffee to milk:
- Macchiato - A shot of espresso with a dollop of milk. Ratio: 90% coffee, 10% milk.
- Cappuccino - A shot of espresso with steamed milk and foam. Ratio: 1:2:2 per the INEI, also commonly 1:1:1 outside Italy.
- Latte - In Italy, coffee with heated milk. Outside Italy, espresso with lots of steamed milk. Ratio: commonly 15% coffee, 85% milk.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is a mocha?
A mocha is a coffee drink which includes hot chocolate or chocolate syrup. The name comes from the Red Sea port of Mocha, source of some of the finest coffee beans in the world. Because coffee from this region tends to have notes of cocoa and caramel on the palate, coffee houses began making drinks combining chocolate with brewed coffee and called the combination mocha.
Which is stronger, cappuccino or latte?
Cappuccino is slightly stronger in flavor than latte, at least in its original form. Most latte drinks are made with a higher volume of milk, though adding an extra shot to either one can make it stronger.
Does a macchiato or a latte have more caffeine?
A macchiato and a latte typically have the same amount of caffeine, because they are both made with a single espresso shot: 64 mg per 1 oz (30 ml) shot. Adding more shots of espresso will increase the caffeine content.
What's the difference between cappuccino vs latte?
The main difference between cappuccino vs. latte is in the quantity and type of milk. Cappuccino typically has a 1:1:1 ratio of coffee, steamed milk, and froth, while a latte has thick steamed milk but no froth. Typically a larger drink, a latte may include a double shot of espresso.
Can you steam milk for a latte or cappuccino without an espresso maker?
You can steam milk for a latte or cappuccino without an espresso maker, either using common kitchen gear or specially made tools for steaming milk. Our article on steaming milk at home includes a section on how to steam milk without an espresso maker.
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