Flat White vs Latte vs Cappuccino: What’s the Difference?

Beyond their serving size, there’s a big difference in the milk and foam content of a flat white, latte and cappuccino – which ultimately impacts the flavour of these popular styles of coffee beverage. We get down to the nitty-gritty of their unique qualities.

The respective merits of a flat white, latte and cappuccino are hotly debated by caffeine addicts. While every coffee lover has their favourite, each drink delivers a uniquely satisfying experience in terms of taste, texture, and visual appearance.

Firstly, let’s look at what they all have in common. They all have the same three fundamental ingredients: a shot or two of espresso, hot milk (or steamed milk), and froth (milk foam).

The espresso – the actual coffee part – doesn’t change between them. The ingredient that makes a flat white, latte and cappuccino special all comes down to the white stuff. We’re talking about the way the milk is prepared and poured, as well as the ratio of hot milk and froth in the cup.

While a lot of attention – quite rightly – is given to the beans, it’s easy for coffee drinkers to forget how important good milk is to a good coffee. Using the right type of milk makes a difference, too.

The choice of cup also needs to be considered – here’s where you can get the right cup for your latte and cappuccino, for example.

So let’s pour over the details a little more, looking at each coffee style in turn.

Cappuccino – Creating Perfect Balance

a frothy cappucino
A frothy cappuccino. Photo from Sanah Suvarna.

The original and probably most famous specialty coffee beverage of all, the cappuccino is thought to have got its name from the order of Capuchin monks in Italy.

The precise reference is either to the hoods worn by the monks (Italian: cappuccio) whose shape resembles the bonnet of milk foam in a cappuccino, or the brown colour of their robes which matches the ideal brown colour of the beverage.

The cappuccino we all know today is the result of the development of steam-producing machines to make espresso, to heat and to foam milk. These started to become widespread in Italy from about the middle of the 20th century.

With a cappuccino, balance is everything. A single shot of espresso (60ml) is mixed with an equal part of steamed milk (60ml) topped with a thick crown of foam (60ml). Creating a thick, stiff foam makes all the difference, with the end result feeling like drinking bubbles with a bed of coffee hidden at the bottom.

A light dusting of chocolate or cinnamon powder is often applied as a finishing touch. As it has less milk than a latte – and the milk is not mixed in – the strength of coffee flavour remains bolder in a cappuccino. A delicious, well-loved classic.

Latte – Milk the Moment

a cup of latte
A latte served in a glass cup shows off its attractive textured layers. Photo from Becca Tapert.

If you like your coffee milky, this is the one for you. Latte (pronounced LAH-tay) means “milk” in Italian, and as the name suggests this is the milkiest – and largest serving size – of the three beverages. Adding milk to coffee has been widely enjoyed for many years, but the modern latte concept is generally thought to have been started in Seattle, USA, during the 1980s.

A single shot of espresso (60ml) is mixed with hot milk (180ml) and topped with a thin layer of froth (20ml).

a milk frother and a cup of cappucino
De’Longhi’s LatteCrema System produces the perfect creaminess and lusciously thick foam for your latte. Featuring the PrimaDonna Elite Experience. Photo from De’Longhi.

To make your own, nothing creates creaminess like De’Longhi’s Lattecrema System. Simply turn the froth regulating knob to personalise the quantity of foam you desire.

The cleaning function on the carafe ensures that milk residue is washed away after every cup. Alternatively, for the traditional barista experience, the optional milk frothing wand can be used to prepare your milk to your specific taste manually.

Flat White – The Smooth Operator

a barista pouring latte art
Milk is added to a flat white to create a velvety, even texture throughout. Photo from Pete Willis.

The flat white is the relatively new kid on the block, unless you’re from Australia or New Zealand that is.

Both countries make strong claims to the ownership of this yummy beverage, with the first examples thought to have been created ack in the 1980s. It has since gone global and become one of the most popular coffee styles out there. Creamy and intensively caffeinated, it’s easy to see why.

This drink consists of a single shot of espresso (60ml) combined with two times the quantity of milk (120ml) that should be heated consistently all the way through. The idea is not to let the milk split into bubbled froth and scalding liquid, which explains why the flat white is often served a little colder than a cappuccino.

The milk is freely poured in with the espresso to create a velvety, dense texture that remains consistent throughout the drink, leaving just a small amount of foam on top. Made with less milk, a flat white is usually smaller than a latte.

Ever wondered why it’s called “flat”? ‘Flat’ is commonly used to describe sparkling drinks that have lost their fizz, and in this case, it simply means a coffee that is less foamy on top.

The flat white has an even mix of liquid milk and smooth velvet foam so it feels like drinking espresso, only yummier.

Prepare your cappuccino, latte, or flat white just the way you like it with De’Longhi’s range of fully automatic coffee machines, available on the De’Longhi eShop.