I love visiting my local coffee shop and trying out all the different espresso drinks on the menu. As someone who appreciates the nuances between beverages, I’m often curious about what sets a cappuccino apart from a latte or macchiato. These espresso-based drinks have similar ingredients — espresso and steamed milk — but vary in the preparation, proportions, and overall flavor.
In this article, I’ll break down the differences between a cappuccino, latte, and macchiato. You’ll learn the origins of these espresso beverages, compositions, caffeine content, and how to order each one based on your preferences. Let’s dive in!
What is a Latte?
A latte is an espresso drink made with steamed milk and a thin layer of foam on top. The term “latte” comes from the Italian word for milk, “latte.” It’s similar to a café au lait in French or cafe con leche in Spanish, both meaning “coffee with milk.”
The traditional latte is a single shot of espresso combined with steamed milk and served in a glass or bowl. Modern coffee shops offer lattes in multiple sizes, typically ranging from 8-12 ounces for a single shot, with additional shots for larger sizes.
One of the characteristics of a properly made latte is the latte art. Baristas pour the steamed milk slowly and deliberately to create decorative designs in the foam like hearts or ferns. While optional, latte art adds an element of sophistication and aesthetic enjoyment.
Lattes can also be customized with flavored syrups to make them sweeter. Hazelnut and vanilla are popular options. Some coffee purists prefer the simplicity of an unflavored latte made with whole milk and a high-quality medium or dark roasted coffee. Iced lattes are another delicious variation, perfect for hot summer days.
What is a Cappuccino?
A cappuccino consists of equal parts espresso, steamed milk, and milk foam on top. This is what gives it the distinctive appearance.
The name “cappuccino” comes from the resemblance of its color to the brown robes worn by Capuchin friars. Traditional cappuccinos are around 150ml, prepared with a single espresso shot, about 1.5 ounces of steamed milk, and 1.5 ounces of thick, dense foam.
Some old school Italian coffee bars serve what’s called a “dry cappuccino” which contains less steamed milk and more foam, sometimes sprinkled with cocoa powder or cinnamon.
Modern cappuccinos at specialty coffee shops tend to contain relatively more steamed milk compared to foam. Think of it like a smaller latte, around 6 ounces, with a stronger coffee flavor. The milk foam also makes it look and taste richer.
What is a Macchiato?
A macchiato is an espresso “marked” with just a splash of foamed milk. The Italian word macchiato means “stained” or “marked.” This refers to the dollop of frothy milk that’s swirled gently into the espresso.
The milk serves to soften the intensity of the espresso, but a traditional macchiato remains primarily coffee-flavored. It’s much smaller than a cappuccino or latte, with just 35-40ml, slightly larger than a single espresso shot.
Be aware that some coffee shops use the term macchiato more loosely. A caramel macchiato at Starbucks contains vanilla syrup, steamed milk, and more foam. While delicious, it’s quite different from a traditional espresso macchiato.
Cappuccino vs. Latte vs. Macchiato
Now that we’ve defined each espresso beverage, let’s directly compare a cappuccino, latte and macchiato:
Cappuccino: Single shot of espresso, about equal parts steamed milk and milk foam, approximately 150ml or 5 ounces total
Latte: Single shot of espresso with steamed milk and less foam, about 300ml or 10-12 ounces total
Macchiato: Single shot of espresso “marked” with a dollop of foam, around 30-50ml or 1-2 ounces total
Beyond the ingredient proportions, the main differences come down to volume, flavor, and caffeine content.
The cappuccino is the smallest drink, latte is the largest, and macchiato is the smallest of all. To put exact amounts:
- Latte: A full latte is usually 360ml with a double shot of espresso and about 300ml of steamed milk
- Cappuccino: A standard cappuccino contains 150ml, with 30ml from the single espresso shot and about 120ml of foamed and steamed milk
- Macchiato: This tiny drink is only 35-40ml, a bit larger than the 30ml single espresso shot inside
So if you want the most milk and a lighter coffee taste, order a latte. If you prefer more foam and a stronger espresso flavor, go for a cappuccino or macchiato.
Since the coffee-to-milk ratio varies quite a bit, so does the flavor:
- Macchiato: The milk calms down the espresso just slightly compared to taking it straight
- Cappuccino: The foam gives it a richer, frothier mouthfeel and strong coffee flavor
- Latte: More steamed milk makes it creamier and milky, with a relatively mild coffee taste
Overall, milk has a sweetening effect that balances and smooths out the acidity of espresso. A latte will be the mildest and sweetest tasting drink of the three.
The caffeine content comes down to the number of shots of espresso. A single contains about 65-75mg of caffeine normally. So:
- A single shot macchiato or cappuccino will have around 75mg of caffeine
- A latte made with one shot will have about the same; with a double shot of espresso it can have 150mg
- Cappuccinos and macchiatos are rarely made with double shots since they are smaller single-serving drinks. But the option exists.
If you’re looking for a bigger caffeine kick, opt for a double shot latte or request an extra shot of espresso in your cappuccino.
What’s the difference in volume between a latte, cappuccino, and macchiato?
- Latte: 360ml with double shot of espresso and 300ml of milk
- Cappuccino: 150ml with single shot of espresso and around 90ml of milk
- Macchiato: 35-40ml, slightly larger than a single shot of espresso
How does the taste differ based on the amount of coffee vs. milk?
- Macchiato: Slightly less intense than straight espresso
- Cappuccino: Milder flavor with strong coffee taste
- Latte: Mildest with less intense coffee flavor and sweeter taste
How much caffeine is in each drink?
- Single shot of espresso: 65-75mg of caffeine
- Latte can have double the caffeine if made with a double shot
To Sum Up…
- Cappuccino: Espresso, steamed milk, and milk foam in equal ratio. Smaller around 150ml.
- Latte: Espresso with more steamed milk and less foam. Larger around 300ml.
- Macchiato: Espresso “marked” with a dollop of milk foam. Very small around 30-50ml.
When ordering, think about your size preference, how strong you like your coffee taste, and how much of a caffeine boost you need. An experienced barista can guide you to your perfect drink.
There’s an incredible diversity when it comes to espresso beverages. I encourage you to get out and explore your local coffee shops. Try out different variations and find your new go-to order. The nuances between a cappuccino, latte and macchiato open up a whole new world in the cup!