Latte vs Cappuccino vs Macchiato: Understanding the Distinctions

9 min read FEB 28, 2024

The latte, cappuccino, and macchiato are some of the most popular milk-based espresso beverages. If you have a penchant for creamy coffee, chances are one of these options is your preferred choice. However, what sets them apart? In this article, you will explore the precise distinctions between these drinks.

Additionally, I will provide insights into the preparation of each one, along with some intriguing variations. Without further delay, let us commence!

Latte, Cappuccino, and Macchiato: A Brief Comparison

Let's talk about the differences between Latte, Cappuccino and Macchiato. The main distinction lies in the amount of milk used in each drink during the preparation process. All three beverages include a combination of espresso and steamed milk with varying ratios.

Starting with the Latte it's an espresso based drink with a generous amount of milk, which gives it a milder and sweeter taste compared to the others. It also comes in a serving size compared to Cappuccino or Macchiato.
Moving on to the Cappuccino it has less milk than a Latte but more than a Macchiato. This results in a flavor profile that falls between both drinks. Although it may not be as large as a Latte its not considered small either.

Lastly we have the Macchiato, which is an espresso drink, with a hint of milk added to it. This minimal amount of milk creates a flavor experience that distinguishes it from the options. Additionally Macchiatos are generally served in sizes.


A latte is made by combining an espresso shot (or double shot) with steamed and frothed milk. What makes it different from coffee drinks is the ratio of milk to espresso. In a latte there's an amount of milk compared to beverages.

Because of the milk content a latte has a milder taste compared to a macchiato or cappuccino. However, don't underestimate its mildness.

All these drinks include one shot of espresso. While a latte might have a taste more than a macchiato, the caffeine content remains the same.

How To Make A Caffe Latte

A standardized recipe for a latte does not exist. Typically, it starts with one or two espresso shots, although the quantity of frothed milk used may vary among baristas. Consequently, variations in foaminess and latte strength can occur.

Here is a suggested approach:

1. Begin by preparing a double shot of espresso and transferring it into a tall glass.

2. Optionally, incorporate a shot of flavored syrup for a vanilla, caramel, or hazelnut latte.

3. Steam the milk until it develops microfoam (not foam).

4. Carefully pour the milk over the espresso.

While the amount of milk added varies subjectively, a recommended ratio to aim for is approximately six parts milk to one part espresso.

Caffe Latte Variations

There are two primary methods for preparing a latte: the Italian and American approaches. The method described above represents the American approach, which involves steaming the milk to achieve a thicker and frothier consistency. In contrast, an Italian latte utilizes hot milk that has not been steamed, resulting in a more liquid texture without any foam layer on top.

Now, let's consider an iced latte. When temperatures rise, one can enjoy an American or Italian latte served over ice for a refreshing caffeine boost.

Interestingly, in France, a latte is called a "café au lait." It is similar to an Italian latte, but it uses filter coffee instead of espresso. Due to the lower concentration of filter coffee than espresso, the coffee-to-milk ratio in a café au lait is quite different. While American and Italian lattes typically contain six times more milk than coffee, a café au lait consists of roughly equal parts of heated milk and coffee.


Now let me share my preference; I really enjoy Cappuccinos! They consist of a shot of espresso combined with milk that adds creaminess to each sip.

Although a cappuccino has milk compared to a latte it still has an amount when compared to a macchiato. Crafting the cappuccino is not a task, for many cafes despite its global popularity as a milky espresso beverage. The secret lies in the art of pouring frothed milk into the espresso. When done flawlessly it results in a creamy cappuccino with coffee colored swirls on top.

However if the technique falls short you end up with a coffee drink that's too milky and topped with a layer of foam. So, how can one distinguish an authentic cappuccino? Apart from observing the color of the foam, a spoon can gently push it aside.

If the foam easily separates from the liquid it indicates that the cappuccino might not be upto par. It's worth noting that this examination can only be conducted within minutes after being served. Even a crafted cappuccino will eventually show some separation.

How To Make A Cappuccino

To achieve the perfect cappuccino, practice is key. However, once you master the technique, it becomes remarkably simple. Follow these steps:

1. Commence by brewing a single shot of espresso in a coffee cup.

2. Steam the milk until it achieves a foamy consistency.

3. Hold the cup with the handle facing towards you and gently tilt it to the side, towards your other hand.

4. Carefully swirl the milk foam with your free hand and gradually pour it over the espresso.

5. Consider enhancing the flavor by sprinkling cocoa powder, chocolate syrup, or cinnamon on top.

Ensure that you pour the milk foam into the center of the cup, avoiding contact with the sides. This will prevent the foam from separating from the coffee, resulting in a cappuccino that lacks the desired creaminess and consistency.

Cappuccino Variations

Let's delve into variations of cappuccinos now. "wet" and "dry" cappuccinos are terms you might have come across. A wet cappuccino has milk and less foam while a dry cappuccino boasts foam and less liquid milk.

There are a few coffee drinks that are often associated with the cappuccino excluding those poorly made ones, with too much milk foam. One such drink is the flat white, which is often seen as the Australian version of the cappuccino.
The flat white differs in two ways; it can be made with either a shot of ristretto or a double shot of espresso and it has a smoother microfoam that results in less foam on top.

Another variation is called the babyccino, which's like a cappuccino but without coffee and designed for kids and It's made with milk foam. Sometimes topped with cocoa powder or cinnamon.. If you want to make it more enjoyable, for little ones you can add marshmallows as a delightful topping.


Let’s talk about the caffe macchiato, also known as an espresso macchiato. What sets this drink apart is its amount of milk. In fact it contains milk compared to coffee concoctions. The slight dilution of the espresso in a macchiato enhances its flavor profile. Makes it stand out from milk infused coffee beverages.

How To Make A Macchiato

There are multiple techniques for preparing a macchiato. However, adhering to the traditional approach, the procedure generally consists of:

1. Brewing an espresso shot in a small cup or glass.

2. Steaming milk until it achieves a foamy texture.

3. Giving it a gentle swirl and pouring a small amount over the espresso.

And that concludes the process. This method is widely regarded as dependable and straightforward.

Macchiato Variations

The macchiato has undergone several transformations over time, with varying milk quantities incorporated in different regions. Eventually, the concept of a "topped-up macchiato" emerged.

While a traditional Italian macchiato typically consists of a hint of milk foam, a topped-up macchiato contains a more significant amount of milk, though not as much as a latte. This variation encroaches upon the territory of a latte.

A further iteration has gained popularity in cafes: the "long mac topped up." This beverage resembles a topped-up macchiato but includes a double shot of espresso.

Another variation is the latte macchiato, which can be considered the inverse of a macchiato. The term "caffe macchiato" translates to "stained coffee," and "latte macchiato" refers to "stained milk." It features more milk than a regular macchiato but less than a latte. Furthermore, it is layered, showcasing the milk at the bottom, coffee in the middle, and milk foam on top.

Interestingly, Starbucks' popular caramel macchiato is actually a latte macchiato rather than an espresso macchiato. Additionally, the latte macchiato can be enjoyed as an iced coffee.

Frequently asked questions

Can I make a macchiato without steamed milk?

While it might not be considered a macchiato you can make an espresso, with a small amount of cold or room temperature milk instead. You can make a stained coffee called an espresso macchiato fredo.

How long should I steam the milk for a macchiato?

The duration of steaming the milk for a macchiato can vary depending on preference. However, most people find that steaming it for 20-30 seconds gives you a textured foam.

Can I use alternative milk for a cappuccino or macchiato?

Absolutely! You can use milks like almond, oat or soy to make your cappuccino or macchiato. Just keep in mind that the texture and taste might be slightly different compared to using dairy milk. It could be fun to experiment with types of dairy milk until you find one that suits your taste buds.

Can I add flavored syrups to a cappuccino or macchiato?

Yes, indeed! Adding syrups such as vanilla, hazelnut or caramel can enhance the taste of your cappuccino or macchiato. However remember to use them in moderation as they can impact the flavor balance of your drink.

Are there any caffeine-free options for cappuccinos or macchiatos?

Certainly! You have an option if you prefer caffeine cappuccinos or macchiatos. You can go for espresso shots or choose alternative milks that are naturally caffeine free. You can also try making a cappuccino without using coffee by using milk foam and adding cocoa powder or cinnamon on top, for flavor.

Can I make a cappuccino or macchiato with regular brewed coffee instead of espresso?

Technically it is possible to make a cappuccino or macchiato using brewed coffee or espresso. However the resulting drink may not have the intensity and flavor profile as one made with an authentic espresso shot. For the most authentic experience it is recommended to use an espresso shot when making a cappuccino or macchiato.

How do I know if my milk is steamed correctly for a macchiato?

To achieve the steamed milk texture for a macchiato you should aim for a velvety consistency, with tiny bubbles. The steamed milk should be able to maintain its form when poured over the espresso shot. If it appears foamy or thin it might affect both the taste and presentation of your macchiato. With practice and experimentation you'll be able to find your texture for a macchiato experience.

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