Latte Vs Cappuccino Vs Macchiato: What’s The Difference?

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latte vs cappuccino vs macchiato

So what’s the difference? While they are all espresso-based milk drinks, the difference lies in the ratio of milk to coffee and steamed milk to microfoam. You will find a lot of variation across different coffee shops and parts of the world. While there is no single definitive recipe, there are some universal truths.

  • Macchiato: Smaller drink, with a stronger coffee to milk ratio
  • Cappuccino: One-third espresso, one-third steamed milk, one-third microfoam
  • Latte: Single shot of espresso, with 8oz of steamed milk

However, rigid definitions miss these drinks’ fluid and mercurial nature. A search for the conclusive, or even the original, version of these drinks is unhelpful. To illustrate the point, the original cappuccino, most likely the Austrian kapuziner, was invented around 1800 and named after Capuchin monks.

It would have been made with brewed coffee, not espresso, as it predated the invention of the espresso machine in 1884 by almost a century. The “three equal parts” recipe outlined above comes from the 1950s. It is much easier, then, to embrace the elusive and ever-evolving nature of these drinks.

A helpful way to see the differences is to imagine a spectrum of milk texture and coffee ratio. On the one end, the milk is “wetter” or less textured, and there is not such a strong coffee taste. This is where the latte lives. Further to the right sits the cappuccino, where the milk is foamed much stiffer, and the coffee is more prominent. Off at the far extreme, beyond even the “dry cappuccino”, you passed on the way, is the macchiato.

What Is a Latte?

Essentially, a latte is a shot of coffee served with steamed milk. The word is simply Italian for milk, and in Italy, a caffè latte would usually be something drunk at breakfast time, at home. They are traditionally very milky and made with a Moka pot

The word entered the Anglo-American coffee culture lexicon in the 1980s. Since its arrival, it has meant many things to many people, but it always includes milk and coffee. 

How to Make It

  • A shot of espresso
  • Around 8oz of lightly textured milk

As your espresso shot is being made, you should steam your milk. Aim for a relatively short period of inserting air into the milk until you have added about 20% volume. Then whisk the microfoam and milk together until you reach a temperature of around 140 °F (60 °C). 

This shorter period of stretching the milk will give you a lighter foam, giving the sort of mouthfeel most people expect from a latte. It still leaves you with good texture milk for latte art, should that be your thing.

Let the milk rest for a moment before tapping out any large bubbles. This pause allows for undesirable bubbles to weaken first. You should then swirl the milk to incorporate the microfoam and pour it into your espresso.


A latte is quite a delicate drink as far as espresso drinks go. You should aim for a mild taste, but be careful to choose a coffee that won’t get entirely lost behind a long milk drink. Look at our guide on selecting coffee for espresso if you need help with this.

What Is a Cappuccino?

This is perhaps the most divisive of all the drinks here. Perhaps. In broad terms, a cappuccino should be stronger than a latte and have stiffer textured milk. How stiff, however, is a question that has doubtless been the cause of murders.

At the extreme ends, if you can stand a teaspoon up in it, you’ve probably gone too far. If it spills over the rim of your cup at the slightest whisper of a nudge, you likely haven’t gone far enough. It really is up to your personal preference.

A good way of communicating to your barista how you would like your cappuccino might be to ask them to make it “wetter” or “drier,” depending on how stiff you believe your milk foam should be.

How to Make It

  • A shot of espresso
  • Around 6oz of well-textured, steamed milk

When you are at the initial stretching phase, working air into your milk, you should allow this to continue until you have added around 50% volume to the milk you started with. You should then drop the tip of the steam wand a little lower into the milk, keeping your angle, and allow the microfoam to swirl and incorporate.

Aim for the center of your shot when you are pouring your milk. You should see a crema ring around your milk’s edge as you pour. Again, if you need to scoop the milk out of the jug, you may have stretched it too much.


A cappuccino should have a strong espresso flavor to it. It should be rich and smooth on account of the milk, and the mouthfeel should be velvety.

Related: What Is Espresso?

What Is a Macchiato?

Perhaps a little less known than the other two, this drink is also the subject of less controversy. Though this does not mean it isn’t regularly and almost wilfully misunderstood. There should be no confusion with the other two.

A Macchiato is a shot of espresso marked with a little milk foam. Steer well clear of the 50 / 50 variations here. These could more properly be called a cortado. 

It was most likely the creation of Italian baristas in the 1980s looking for a way to differentiate between customers’ orders for espresso that did or did not require a little dash of milk. 

How to Make It

  • A shot of espresso
  • A tiny dash of quite densely textured milk

This one is very straightforward. We’d suggest you texture your milk in much the same way as with the cappuccino and pour similarly. You can almost begin as if you are going to make a cappuccino, then change your mind at the last minute. Were you too late? You shouldn’t be too sure either way!


This should predominantly be the flavor of strong and intense espresso. The milk sweetens it slightly and removes the bitterness while adding a slight velvet.

In Summary

Ultimately, whether you are making your espresso-based drinks at home or ordering them in a coffee shop, it’s most important that you get the drink you want. The different names are just ways to communicate what you like. The exact classifications of each one are difficult to pin down and often mean slightly other things to different baristas.

When you’re out, the best way to ensure you get the coffee you want is to be explicit with the barista about the ratios and milk texture you like.

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Aidan is a former barista and coffee industry professional, turned writer and passionate home brewer. He never travels anywhere without his emergency coffee kit (hand grinder, scales, and v60).