The Delicate Differences: Latte vs. Cappuccino vs. Macchiato

There is nothing like a delicious cup of coffee. But for which type are you in the mood? Are you craving a bit of sweetness, or do you feel the need for an extra kick of caffeine? Would a macchiato be a wise choice? Or maybe a cappuccino? How about a latte? You have so many options!

You can also consider the type of roast, the type of bean, and the type of milk.

Indeed, when unaware of the differences, one can be overwhelmed by the amount of information. You may not know that each choice has its unique characteristics, regardless of whether you’re brand new to the coffee scene or have been drinking it for years.

For a simple coffee fix, there is a lot to ponder.

Therefore, let’s keep things as straightforward as possible. To better understand the subtle differences between a latte, a cappuccino, and a macchiato, let’s start with the base, which is espresso.

Then, we can get into the types of espresso drinks (such as the latte, cappuccino, and macchiato) and their general characteristics. Hence, you will not have to depend on your instincts or feelings for guidance. Instead, you will have armed yourself with the information you need to satisfy your craving.

Here’s a hint: it’s all about the proportion and pour.

Essential Ingredient: Espresso

The brewing method, espresso, comes to form when hot water passes through coffee grounds at a high velocity and pressure.

This happens via an espresso machine. 

You can use regular coffee beans or espresso beans, depending on your preference. Though some think espresso beans and dark roast coffee beans are much the same, the oiliness of the beans does count.

For authentic espresso, most people choose espresso beans, which are darker than regular coffee beans and roasted a lot longer. This gives espresso a fuller feeling because the beans are less acidic.

Espresso comes in small amounts called shots. In a shot, the amount of espresso is one ounce, which is not much. That’s why people typically order a “double shot” of espresso.

It’s important to know what an espresso is in order to understand the differences between a latte vs. cappuccino vs. macchiato. The differences come with the amount and types of steamed milk and foam. They all use espresso as their base, not drip coffee.

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What is a Latte?

Traditionally, making a latte entails using espresso and milk. If both ingredients are fresh, the latte will taste even better.

Usually served in a mug such as this one, a latte contains one shot of espresso, 6 ounces of steamed milk, and approximately 1 cm of foamed milk on top. You can double or triple the recipe, but the ratio remains the same.

It’s also important to note that steamed milk, lightly whipped to add in some air, is what makes the foam. (If you’d like to froth some milk at home, gadgets such as this make it easy.) You can make the foam in a few ways to create different consistencies.

When you buy a gourmet espresso drink, the cute design on top is the foam.

The foam art gives each cup its distinct appearance, and many a barista works hard to create a piece of art with each espresso concoction they make.

Cup of Coffee

Today, lattes continue to gain popularity across America. Currently, there are many different flavors of lattes available. It is challenging to keep up with all of them: pistachio latte, caramel brulee latte, pumpkin spice latte, peppermint mocha latte. The list of flavors can go on and on.

As a matter of fact, lattes have become so popular that there are different recipes for a latte cookie!

In terms of caffeine, the amount in a shot of espresso is approximately 85 mg. Therefore, to figure out the amount of caffeine your drink holds, you will need to know how many espresso shots the barista uses. 

Additionally, the number of calories in your latte will depend on the type of milk you use and the amount of sugar you add. Typically, a proper latte will contain approximately 103 calories.

What is a Cappuccino?

Ok, so this can get confusing. Guess what’s in a cappuccino? 

Yes, you’ve got it: espresso and milk. And it’s layered. 

What makes it different from the macchiato is the equal ratio of steamed milk, frothed milk, and espresso. There must be equal parts of each for a true cappuccino. First, you pour in the espresso, then the steamed milk, and lastly, the frothed milk to have three distinct layers. If poured into a glass cup like this one, you can see the layers. 

As far as caffeine is concerned, you can expect roughly 85 mg of caffeine with a cappuccino (depending on the size). 

Additionally, according to My Fitness Pal, an 8-ounce cappuccino is roughly 90 calories. Are cappuccino calories worth it? Absolutely! Especially if you like a smooth and rich espresso mix. Calories can become problematic when you add sugar or get into adding sugared syrups for flavor, such as for a french vanilla cappuccino. You could combat these calories by choosing nonfat milk and sugar-free syrup for flavoring.

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What is a Macchiato?

It is relevant to note that macchiato means “stained” or “marked in Italian.” Keeping this in mind will help you remember what makes a perfect macchiato.

Again, espresso is the first ingredient. Next, you add in the steamed milk and foam.

Espresso Macchiato

A traditional espresso macchiato begins with a shot of espresso poured into an espresso mug or cup. Then, over the espresso, as if “staining” it, pour one or two teaspoons of steamed milk with a little bit of foam to top it off. 

Compared to the latte and cappuccino, the macchiato contains the least milk. It’s a small drink; therefore, people often ask for a double. 

Moreover, there are fewer calories in this small drink when compared to others. And a traditional two-ounce espresso macchiato contains approximately 85 mg of caffeine per serving.

Latte Macchiato

For a latte macchiato, you need frothed milk and espresso. (Notice the trend here?)

First, in a glass, you pour the warm, steamed milk. Slowly pour in the espresso shot next and add a dash of milk foam. Because of this process, it is typically served in a glass so that you can see the layers.

If the elements are balanced correctly, you should get a drink with a soft and milky taste. Like the espresso macchiato, the latte macchiato contains approximately 85 mg of caffeine per two-ounce serving.

Cup of Coffee

The Differences in Traditional vs. Store-Made

So far, the above information revolves around authenticity. Many of these concoctions are rooted in various countries and cultures worldwide.

As they made their way into chain stores, however, the traditional drinks multiplied into different mixes that made their way onto the menus of coffee shops everywhere.

Coffees, espressos, and teas abound at Dunkin Donuts or Starbucks. Many are mass-produced (though delicious). They focus on taste and convenience as well as trends.

However, small gourmet coffee shops have been popping up everywhere. This is typically where you will find the coffee connoisseur and the perfect espresso.

Most baristas and roasters who work in these shops aim to create the finest cup of gourmet coffee with each cup they pour.

Instead of mass-producing coffee, these artists pay attention to the whole process of creating their drinks. They look at the roasting profile of the coffee bean. They care about the origin of their beans. They study the unique techniques that make each coffee distinct.

Nonetheless, knowing your coffee and what is inside is essential whether you brew your coffee at home, head to the local chain shop, or visit the barista at the gourmet cafe.

You should know what you want and purchase something you actually enjoy.

Final Thoughts

There are subtle differences between authentic lattes, cappuccinos, and macchiatos that allow each to cater to the specific needs of their consumer.

And while many people enjoy learning about the aroma and flavor of their favorite coffee beans, others love their homebrewed cup regardless of where it originated.

The fact is, espresso remains a much-loved beverage for many worldwide. For each person, the world’s best cup of coffee is merely the cup of coffee they like best. Knowing what that is is half the battle.

Treat your sweet tooth or amp up your energy with a bit of caffeine. You can now walk into a coffee shop and order with confidence no matter what type of espresso you like. It’s truly up to you.


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