Flat Whites vs Latte vs Cappuccino, what is the difference between these drinks? To make it worse, there are so many options on cafe menus that the choices can be overwhelming! This definitive guide is here to clear the common misunderstandings that blur the lines between these drinks.
The two things that these drinks have in common are the components that make the drinks: textured milk (steamed milk) and espresso. So naturally your next question is, what makes them different? This is all down to how they are prepared, where they are served and how the barista has been trained.
Espresso is one thing that will remain consistent in the preparation of these drinks and will generally be prepared using a double shot of espresso, however this may vary depending on the size of the drink. It is a common misunderstanding that leads people to believe that the quantity of coffee is what makes these three drinks different, in reality it is all down to the ratio of milk and foam to coffee.
The Cappuccino is a traditional Italian drink, and well known for its frothy top dusted in delicious chocolate powder. However what defines this drink is a little more than just the froth. The basic anatomy of a Cappuccino can be broken down into three parts, the espresso, milk and foam. A Cappuccino will generally be make using the following guide:
- 1/3 Espresso
- 1/3 Steamed Milk
- 1/3 Milk Froth
It is the equal quantities of each component that makes a cappuccino what it is. The structure of the drink means that, while milky it may be a stronger coffee flavour than it's counterparts. When drinking a cappuccino you may notice the experience of a nice stiff foam to begin, followed by a rich milky coffee underneath.
Latte (Caffe Latte)
Latte is often thought of as a milky coffee and compared to a cappuccino this is quite often true, however the differences are greater than this. The key to a great latte is found in the process of steaming the milk, this is called stretching or texturing milk. Correctly textured milk serves two purposes, to heat the milk to the desired drinking temperature and to generate a micro foam. Micro foam is made when air is incorporated into milk when the barista is heating the milk and creates that wonderful hissing sound you will hear in cafe's.
Through folding, swirling and tapping the milk jug a barista is able to create a smooth 'wet paint' consistency to the milk when can then be used to create a latte. A latte consists of:
- Double espresso shot (60mls)
- Glass filled with steamed milk
- Approximately 1cm of MicroFoam on top
By building the drink in this way you will experience a 'milky coffee' that will please a wide range of palettes.
Flat Whites are subject to a little more interpretation and will vary wildly depending on the cafe you visit and in what area of the country/world you are in. I will explain two common schools of thought here as neither is right or wrong. Ultimately a flat white is going to be textured milk and espresso, some baristas maintain the same quantity of espresso and use a smaller quantity of milk than in a latte. Flat whites shouldn't just be thought of as a smaller latte however, the following guide will take a look at the two most common variations:
Forget the Foam
This is especially common in higher volume cafes, where a standard amount of espresso is combined with steamed milk. The difference here is the foam, in this case the foam will be completely held back when the drink is being poured. This drink is going to be similar to the taste as a latte that has no foam.
It's all about the Foam
This is possibly the most common way to serve a flat white, especially in independent or specialist coffee shops. This method highlights the skill of the barista and is an absolute treat to drink when done well. In the preparation of this style of flat white, the barista will texture the milk to produce a fine micro foam. The key to this kind of flat white is to not let the foam separate from the milk, this means rolling the milk while it is being steamed to keep the milk and foam mixed together. After the milk has finished being heated it is necessary to continue to swirl the pitcher to keep the foam mixed in with the milk, the drink will then be poured & may visually look similar to a latte.
The main difference here is that when the drink is consumed, it will have a strong coffee flavour and a velvety smooth mouth feel due to the micro foam incorporated throughout the drink.