Latte vs Cappuccino: What’s the Difference Between These Two Coffee Classics?

Latte vs Cappuccino: What’s the Difference Between These Two Coffee Classics?

By Sam Morris

Latte vs cappuccino: What’s the difference? Both are among the most ordered at coffee shops worldwide, and it’s no wonder why. When choosing between the velvety smoothness of a latte or a robust and frothy cappuccino, there’s plenty to love about these two iconic espresso-based drinks.

Lattes and cappuccinos are also enjoyable for your baristas to craft. Some may appreciate the artistic freedom a latte offers for latte art. Others might enjoy the precision and texture control required for a cappuccino’s foam. For customers and baristas alike, choosing a latte vs cappuccino is win-win situation.

It makes me wonder: If you polled your customers who order these two coffee classics, would they be able to explain the nuances that set a latte vs cappuccino apart? 

I’m guessing the answer is no. 

So, let's recap the differences between a latte vs cappuccino, which essentially boil down to their ingredient ratios and preparation methods. Even for our audience at Coffee Equipment Pros, there’s always something new to discover. Whether it’s a science fact, a new Italian vocabulary word, or our celebrity comparisons for these classic espresso drinks, you might uncover some unexpected nuggets of information in this article. We even offer our take on making these two caffeine icons in six simple steps.

Ingredients and Ratios: The Essential Elements of These Popular Espresso-Based Drinks

Both drinks contain the same essential ingredients: milk, steamed milk foam, and espresso. Seems straightforward, doesn’t it? But don’t let simplicity fool you. There’s a world of complexity and nuance hidden within these everyday components that you interact with behind the bar daily.


Oh, to be a fly on the wall whenever an American orders a latte in Italy. As we know, someone will serve them a glass of good ol' wholesome milk. 

Italian lesson #1: Latte means milk. Our American friends need to order a caffe latte, the formal name for the espresso drink predominantly made of milk.

Cappuccino traditionally contains an equal ratio of milk, steamed milk foam, and espresso. The ratio can vary based on several factors. 

In Italian lesson #2, "cappuccino" means "little hood." This comes from the hooded cloaks worn by Italy’s Capuchin friars. So, think of that milky foam cap as the cappuccino’s “little hood.” #TheMoreYouKnow

Speaking of that cap, whole milk is traditionally preferred to produce it because it contains the highest fat percentage, making it conducive to steaming and frothing. The rise in the demand for plant-based milk has made soy milk a popular choice for producing a good alt-milk froth. Soy milk contains high protein, helping create stable foam when steamed. This results in a creamy texture like dairy milk.

Oat, almond, and macadamia milk are other popular plant-based options. They can froth reasonably well, especially those formulated for barista use. However, the frothing quality may vary depending on the brand, additives, and equipment used. 

Steamed Milk Foam

Steamed milk foam isn’t just a topping—it’s a fascinating blend of chemistry and culinary artistry. When milk heats up, it’s like a science experiment in action. The proteins in milk, mainly casein and whey, work together as surfactants. They create tiny bubbles that give the foam its light, airy texture. It’s a delicious reminder that even the simplest ingredients can hold a world of complexity. 

If you like to nerd out on this stuff, check out this quick read published in the International Dairy Journal about the foaming properties of milk. Here’s the TL;DR summary: The study found that milk’s amount and kind of protein affect how well it makes foam. When the casein to whey protein ratio was mostly whey (40:60), the foam didn’t last as long. This might be because the casein proteins didn’t spread out as well at the top of the milk. But when the ratio was more balanced, from mostly casein to mostly whey (80:20 to 75:25), there weren’t significant differences in how well the milk foamed up. (I kinda like to geek out on this stuff too.)

This might be a good time to recap some popular cappuccino variations. As you probably know, crafting the perfect bone-dry cappuccino (my personal favorite) is an art. It’s a minimalist masterpiece featuring only rich espresso and velvety foam. The classic cappuccino involves an equal trio of milk, milk foam, and espresso. But watch out for the wet cappuccino, where milk takes the lead with less cream, edging closer to the latte territory. 

Speaking of lattes, they have a higher milk ratio and minimal foam. This makes them a comforting, satisfying, and incredibly versatile choice for coffee lovers seeking a balanced and indulgent beverage. The latte’s smooth surface is the perfect canvas for intricate latte art designs, adding an aesthetic element to the drink.

Now, let’s move on to the star of the show: the coffee.


Is espresso a type of coffee or a brewing method? I think it’s both. Espresso is concentrated coffee, and it's brewed by forcing hot water through finely ground coffee beans under high pressure. 

This brewing method uses an espresso machine to produce concentrated coffee quickly. The result is a rich, flavorful shot. You can enjoy it on its own or use it as the base for lattes, cappuccinos, and macchiatos.

The origin of the first espresso machine and the first coffee machine is a topic of historical debate. The word itself comes from Italy. 

It’s time for Italian lesson #3: The term “espresso” is derived from the Italian word "esprimere." It comes from the Latin roots “ex-,” meaning out of or from, and “premo,” meaning press. 

In Italy, espresso is significant. The government has strict standards for its classification. Specific regulations apply to making cappuccinos. They specify the minimum milk fat content and the ratio of espresso to milk foam. It's important to note that espresso is the main ingredient in these drinks. Variables, like the coffee bean type, roast profile, and espresso grind, can significantly affect the consistency, color, and mouthfeel of both lattes and cappuccinos. One notable difference between both drinks is that cappuccinos have a higher amount of espresso compared to other ingredients. Lattes are more dominated by milk.

Latte vs Cappuccino: Preparation and Process

Every barista may have a unique approach to crafting drinks. Let's break down the basic steps for making each beverage.

How to Make a Latte: Six Simple Crafting Instructions

1. Heat Your Milk

When preparing milk for lattes, use your espresso machine’s steam wand to heat and froth the milk to a temperature of 125°F to 150°F. This range ensures the proteins denature correctly and form the desired milk foam. It's worth noting that the exact temperature can be debated. Milk lactose sugars may scald at 155°F. Denaturation can occur as low as 113°F depending on the milk's fat content.

2. Make Milk Foam

Create milk foam using a steam wand on your espresso machine. This powerful tool infuses superheated steam through the milk, resulting in silky microfoam. The intricacies of foam-making warrant a dedicated discussion. It's essential to consider factors like milk temperature, steam pressure, and technique. All of these influence the texture and volume of the foam.

3. Grind your Beans of Choice

Freshly ground beans ensure you capture the essence of your chosen roast. Regardless of your roast profile, the beans will deliver the best flavor if ground right before making the espresso.

4. Brew the Espresso

Brew a precise shot or double shot of espresso by ensuring your water temperature falls between 186.8°F and 203°F. Keep in mind that water temperature can affect your final product. Factors like region and personal preference contribute to some variability.

5. Pour Steamed Milk Over Your Espresso

When pouring your carefully heated milk over your espresso, reserve some foam. This is your chance to create latte art, which you can do by pouring the foam slowly and deliberately into various patterns.

6. Spoon on Foam

If latte art isn’t your thing (no shame!), spoon on your preferred amount of milk foam. Remember, too much foam will turn your latte into a wet cappuccino. Aim for just a small amount for that perfect latte texture.

How to Make a Cappuccino: Six Simple Steps for This Classic Espresso Drink

In the United States, a cappuccino typically consists of equal parts espresso, steamed milk, and foam. This recipe is standard here. However, it's essential to note that the definition of a cappuccino may vary in other countries.

1. Heat Your Milk

Like a latte, you make a cappuccino by heating milk and creating microfoam or milk froth. The ideal temperature for the milk is typically between 140-150°F. However, this can vary and may depend on the milk’s fat content. In Italy, a cappuccino must use milk with a minimum fat content of 3.4%, whereas whole milk in the United States usually has a fat content of 3.25%. Higher milk fat content aids in achieving microfoam at lower temperatures.

2. Froth Your Milk Into Microfoam

Achieving a high-quality and ample quantity of microfoam is crucial in crafting a cappuccino. This holds true, whether you prefer wet, dry, or standard. Just remember that most methods typically yield twice the foam volume compared to the initial amount of milk.

3. Grind Your Beans

Grind your chosen beans to espresso fineness. This creates the foundation for your espresso shots. Like a latte, the roast profile will shine through. It’s even more pronounced with a cappuccino, with less milk.

4. Make Your Espresso

Imagine the nutty, light flavor of a blonde or light roast or the boldness of a medium-dark roast, perfectly complemented by the creamy microfoam crafted from artisan, locally sourced, organic milk. Overdramatic much? Maybe, but all to say: the beans are just as important as the milk. I find that a single-origin medium roast shines in a cappuccino. It allows me to appreciate the subtle flavor nuances in both the beans and the roast.

5. Pour Your Milk Over Your Espresso

Add your desired amount of standard milk. The amount you choose will determine if you prefer your cappuccino “wet” or “dry.”

6. Spoon on the Foam

Spoon your foam onto the center of the cappuccino. Spread it outward to create a beautiful dark ring along the rim. Aim for more froth than milk for a “dry” cappuccino, while a “wet” cappuccino should have more milk than foam. I enjoy adding a touch of freshly grated nutmeg and dark chocolate with roasted hazelnut on top. In fact, I’m craving one now, so let’s wrap this up. However you prefer your cappuccino, remember that using quality ingredients and care will elevate this classic Italian espresso drink.

If you want to see the preparation of a latte vs cappuccino in action, we love this explainer video from the good folks over at Vigilante Coffee.

Latte vs Cappuccino: Celebrity Edition

Crafting the perfect cappuccino or latte is an art form that blends tradition with innovation. Each drink, with its unique attributes, takes on a distinct personality. I picture the cappuccino as Audrey Hepburn, the perfect embodiment of timeless elegance. 

On the other hand, the latte represents innovation and creativity, conjuring up Andy Warhol’s avant-garde approach to art. The latte's creamy texture and canvas for latte art invite endless possibilities for unique masterpieces with every pour.

Whether you prefer the cappuccino’s classic sophistication or the latte’s creative versatility, both drinks celebrate the artistry and flavor of espresso culture.


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