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What's the Difference Between a Cappuccino and a Flat White?

A good old cappuccino is an espresso-based drink you know well, but how does it compare to a flat white? Simply put, a flat white can be regarded as the opposite of a dry cappuccino. But looking at things this way may diminish the fine nuances that define the flavor profile of each drink.

To make a clear distinction between flat white vs cappuccino, you should know their espresso-to-milk ratios, preparation techniques, and minute details that make these drinks unique. This article provides an overview of their similarities and offers a recipe for each beverage to highlight their differences.

Flat White vs Cappuccino: Similarities and Differences

Both flat white and cappuccino feature espresso and milk, and they can have one or two shots of espresso. Presented this way, these beverages may come off as almost the same. However, the way milk is prepared for each drink varies and affects the texture and creaminess of the final result.

“The aim is always 145°F (when steaming cappuccino milk) … We are aiming for wet and silky milk, but we want to stretch our milk a little bit further.” – Joshua Walhain, Wolff College of Coffee

What Walhain means by stretching the milk a bit further is best-described through a recipe.

Cappuccino Recipe

Cappuccino features three basic components – espresso, steamed milk, and frothed milk. The traditional recipe includes equal amounts of each ingredient. As hinted, there are also dry and bone-dry cappuccinos which contain less steamed milk or none at all. This article focuses on the traditional recipe.

As for the milk steaming technique, insert the nozzle into the jug and hold it in place until you reach the right temperature. Stretching the milk doesn’t refer to the steaming but rather the pouring technique. While pouring, lean the cup a little and slowly fill it up to the brim, then lift up the crema so it’s slightly above the brim.

If you want to make a cool canvas for latte art, dust some cocoa/chocolate onto the espresso before pouring the milk.

Flat White Recipe

The base of a flat white is one or two shots of espresso and it’s topped with microfoamed milk. In general, about 4.4oz of milk is enough to pull off the desired texture. It is important to know that the flat white microfoamed milk shouldn’t contain any froth.

The steaming technique is not set in stone, but there are some guidelines to do it the right way. Keep the nozzle in for a few seconds and give the milk plenty of air. And again, the temperature you wish to get is around 145°F. A 5°F leeway is allowed, but the temperature shouldn’t exceed 158°F. (1)

For a good pour, start high with a thin milk stream, then come down and speed up the flow until you fill up the cup.

a photo of  flat white vs cappuccino

Cappuccino vs Flat White

History and Origins

History of the Cappuccino

What’s the link between Italian friars and cappuccino? Unless you already know, it’s the name. It was inspired by the color of cappuccino, which is similar to the color of the robe Capuchin friars wear. With this in mind, the Italian origins of the drinks are obvious and cappuccino is the main morning staple on the peninsula. (2)

Interestingly, the roots of cappuccino can also be traced back to the 18th-century Viennese coffee shops. At the time, the drink was loosely described as coffee that has sugar and cream. However, the cappuccino as you know it today came into being in the second part of the 20th century.

History of the Flat White

Unlike cappuccino, a flat white has a much shorter history. The drink first started appearing in coffee shops in Australia and New Zealand in the 1980s, and there is some controversy about its origin. Namely, at least a few coffee shop owners from both Australia and New Zealand claim that they were the original creator. (3)

Regardless of the inventor, flat white quickly reached Britain and soon became popular in the United States and Canada as well.

Starbucks features a flat white on their menu and, according to them, the credit goes to Australia.

Final Thoughts

Which one do you prefer? Is it the traditional wet cappuccino or a novel flat white? How about a dry cappuccino? If you are in for a more powerful espresso taste, it’s safe to assume you’d go for a flat white. But if you’d rather stick with the classics, an early morning cappuccino might be your choice.

Now that you know the difference between a flat white and a cappuccino, here's an article discussing the different types of coffee.

FAQs

Which is stronger cappuccino or flat white?

Flat white is stronger than a cappuccino, especially if it’s made with ristretto. In addition, flat white doesn’t feature steamed milk, which helps the espresso flavor shine through.

Is flat white healthy?

Yes, a flat white is healthy. The drink has 110 calories and about 6g of fat. However, it is a bit lower on calcium than other espresso drinks because it contains less milk.

What makes a good flat white?

The balance of microfoamed milk and espresso makes a good flat white. There should be more coffee than the microfoam, and the perfect texture is silky smooth with natural sweetness.


References

  1. Carpenter, A. S. (2018, August 7). Advice for the Barista. Retrieved from https://sca.training/blog/2018/7/21/barista-skills-foundation-module-posted
  2. Lillie, B. (2015, February 2). Italian Coffee Culture. Retrieved from https://www.italymagazine.com/featured-story/italian-coffee-culture
  3. Pearlman, J. (2015, September 28). Who invented the flat white? Row breaks out between Australian and New Zealand cafe owners. Retrieved from https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/australiaandthepacific/australia/11895654/Who-invented-the-flat-white-Row-breaks-out-between-Australian-and-New-Zealand-cafe-owners.html
Scott
 

Hi, I'm Scott, and I've traveled extensively through North America and Europe, exploring food and drink pairings around the world. My Love of coffee began during my teen years when a friend's family introduced me to the glories of the classic Italian Moka pot. That technology got me through too many early-morning final exams in college and eventually led to a manual espresso machine after graduation.

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