The Differences: Latte vs Cappuccino vs Mocha vs Macchiato

Milk-based coffee drinks can be challenging to differentiate at first, especially if you’re a casual coffee drinker.

What makes a latte vs cappuccino or a macchiato vs mocha different?

These beverages all use a blend of milk and espresso, but they can differ in taste and texture.

It’s time to settle things between these milky coffees, so check out our guide below to find out what makes each coffee drink unique.

milky coffee compared

Latte

What is it?

The cafe latte or latte for short might be the most popular one of the bunch. Pretty much all coffee shops offer the latte or at least a slightly different version of the drink.

What makes the latte vs other coffee drinks stand out is the smooth micro-foam made with frothed milk. It has a distinct look and smooth mouthfeel because of the fine and micro-sized milk bubbles on top.

The latte can be a highly customizable espresso drink too. It can be mixed with various sweeteners and syrups or different kinds of milk, and some non-coffee based drinks can be considered a latte.

Note, the word “latte” is the literal translation of milk in Italian, so be careful when you’re ordering one when you’re in Italy. They might just serve you steamed milk instead!

Another thing that’s special about the latte is the drawings you can do through pouring the micro-foam. It’s called latte art, and there are competitions to produce the best-looking one all over the world.

It can also be called cafe au lait, which originated in France. It is similar to a cafe latte in European countries, except it uses a white porcelain bowl or cup. You might get a different drink if you order in a US coffee shop, however, as they use drip coffee as their base instead of espresso.

If you’re looking for a delicate cup of coffee, consider ordering a latte vs other drinks. The espresso is diluted with more milk, which lessens the flavors of the coffee. However, if you prefer a drink with the same texture of a latte, but the espresso’s flavors are more pronounced, a flat white is a good alternative if a coffee shop offers one.

How is it made?

what’s in a latte?

As one of the more popular coffee drinks, a cafe latte has a mild and pleasing taste with enough coffee to get the rush of caffeine. It starts with a base of a double shot of espresso, which is then incorporated with steamed milk and a final layer of microfoam.

  • Double Shot of Espresso
  • 6 – 8 ounces of steamed milk
  • 1cm layer of microfoam

Since the coffee uses more milk than other coffee drinks, it tends to be a sweeter and creamier beverage vs cappuccino. What defines the latte is the thin layer of micro-foam at the top of the coffee. The crisp and milky foam gives it a unique texture that works well with the creaminess of the espresso.

If you’re not used to the intense flavors of espresso and want a quick cup of coffee, you might consider the flat white as your drink of choice. The brew typically uses a double shot of espresso, less milk, and the same microfoam you’ll find in a latte. 

The flat white has higher proportions of coffee because of the smaller serving size, and it uses fewer portions of milk and foam vs latte.

If you want to go extreme and still enjoy the velvety foam, a piccolo latte is a decent choice. It is served in an even smaller glass (4 oz), and it uses a ristretto shot. This shot is pulled shorter and has fewer amounts of coffee.

Don’t let that fool you; this smaller espresso shot has more concentrated and brighter flavors. Great to offset the smaller portion size and is generally delicious when mixed with milk.

Most coffee shops generally use coffee beans with a chocolatey and nutty taste profile, which makes it a good combination with the steamed milk. 

Cappuccino

What is it?

Italians do love their coffee. That’s for sure. They have a strong coffee culture surrounding espresso sipped as is or with milk. If you think of a cappuccino, you’ll automatically think of the thick milk foam on top, which can lead to a milky mustache with every sip.

Ironically, the original cappuccino wasn’t even an Italian invention. It was known as kapuziner and was first drunk in Viennese coffee shops during the 1700s. It’s a far cry from our smooth cappuccinos we drink now as the espresso wasn’t invented yet.

At the time, high-quality coffee beans were far and few, so lower-grade and cheap coffee beans were normally masked with sweeteners and additives. This version of cappuccino was sweetened with either chocolate or cinnamon and topped with whipped cream.

Italy then took this creamy coffee concoction and made it their own when the espresso machine was invented. It surged in popularity during the early 1950s because of the advancements in improving coffee beans’ quality. This meant pulling a tasty and creamy shot of espresso easier, so there was no need to mask the coffee’s flavors.

What makes the cappuccino vs latte or any other espresso drinks special is the texture from the dense foam of milk. It can either have a velvety or dry mouthfeel, depending on your preference.

The espresso shot’s flavors are more pronounced as well since it uses less steamed milk than a latte or flat white. It provides a good middle ground if you find a macchiato’s flavors too strong or if you think a latte is too mild and milky.

Most coffee drinks can be heavy, but the cappuccino’s milk foam gives it a much-needed lightness. This is why Italians make it their drink of choice for exclusively for mornings.

How is it made?

what’s in a cappucino?

Most coffee industry professionals consider a cappuccino as having a 1:1:1 ratio of espresso, steamed milk, and milk foam. It generally has the same process as making a latte, but you’ll have to aerate your milk more when you’re steaming it to get the preferred level of foam for your cappuccino.

You can think of it as follows:

  • 1/3 Espresso Shot
  • 1/3 Steamed Milk
  • 1/3 Frothed Milk

The difference between a cappuccino vs latte is that the tight ratio allows the coffee’s taste to cut through vs latte. 

With that said, it is highly recommended to use high-quality coffee beans for your espresso shot. This ensures a perfect balance between the strength of the coffee, the sweetness of the milk, and the foam’s airy texture.

There can be slight variations between the ratio of steamed milk and foam. These drinks are called a dry cappuccino and a wet cappuccino.

A dry cappuccino generally has more frothed milk than steamed milk. It highlights the flavors of the espresso more than a regular cappuccino.

On the other side of the spectrum, the wet cappuccino has more steamed milk than frothed milk. It allows for a sweeter drink because the milk dilutes the espresso more. Sounds familiar to a latte or flat white, but even the fewer amounts of frothed milk give it a unique texture vs latte.

You can even go for a “bone-dry” cappuccino, which is essentially an espresso topped a pillow of milk foam, no steamed milk at all. It can be a unique experience, but the downside is the drink can take quite a while to make.

If you’re wondering if there’s a “very wet” cappuccino with even more milk than foam, they’re pretty much called a latte or flat white at that point.

Whichever variety of cappuccino you choose, you’ll be sure to enjoy the fluffy foam this coffee is known for.

Mocha

What is it?

The name of this brew is derived from a port town in Yemen called Mocha, famous in history as the starting point of coffee. 

The blend of chocolate with cocoa is a match made in heaven because of their similar taste profiles rebalancing the coffee flavors. These drinks are sweetened as these two ingredients are known for their distinct bitterness. It was first drunk when cocoa beans were first exported to Europe during the late 1500s.

You might be familiar with Mocha when you’re ordering from your favorite coffee shop, and generally, a mocha latte or mochaccino is any milk-based coffee drink mixed with chocolate. It’s the choice for most coffee lovers who want to satisfy their cravings for caffeine and sweet-tooth at the same time.

An earlier version of the Mocha was a coffee drink called the Bavareisa, which was popular around Turin and Venice. It’s composed of hot chocolate, coffee, and a thick layer of cream on top.

In other parts of Italy, the Bicerin was the choice for satiating the combo of coffee and chocolate. This mocha drink first used french pressed or drip coffees, but when the espresso came into play around the turn of the 20th century, it’s been mixed with an espresso shot ever since.

The Bicerin is a bit different vs mocha lattes because of its appearance and texture. It’s a layered drink that starts from the bottom with hot chocolate. An espresso shot comes next, and it can either be topped with whipped cream or frothed milk. Mocha lattes generally mix the chocolate, coffee, and milk with just a bit of micro-foam on top.

How is it made?

what’s in a mocha?

As our other espresso-based drinks, what you’ll need is a double shot of espresso and steamed milk as a base for your Mocha.

A lot of coffee drinks can be made into a mocha by simply adding chocolate into it. Most cafes use ratios of espresso to milk, similar to a cafe latte or a cappuccino.

One thing you need to consider is that your chocolate should easily incorporate with the coffee and milk. Some coffee lovers use their home-made ganache, chocolate syrup, or even a pack of hot chocolate mixes for their Mocha. As with coffee and milk, using good quality chocolate goes a long way for a perfect cup of Mocha.

If you want to do it like a pro barista, just pull an espresso into your preferred mug then blend it with your preferred chocolate. The next step depends on your preferred texture for the steamed milk and foam. You can froth the milk either latte or cappuccino-style and pour it gently in your mug, so all the ingredients for your Mocha blend well together.

For me, the most convenient way to make Mocha is to use chocolate syrup. It can be easily mixed with the espresso shot making the coffee-making process similar to a cafe latte. You can also use chocolate tablets or coins, but you might have to add just a bit of hot water for it to dissolve evenly before adding the espresso.

You can also use other types of chocolate like white and dark, which makes the Mocha latte a highly customizable drink for coffee lovers. Some cafes also mix other ingredients like peppermint, cinnamon, or vanilla that complement well with the coffee’s flavors.

Whether you think it’s hot cocoa mixed with espresso or a latte blended with chocolate syrup, the mocha coffee can undoubtedly satisfy a sweet tooth.

Macchiato

What is it?

Another delicious creation from Italy, the Macchiato means “stained” or “spotted” in the native language. This drink might be the most confusing to define because of the wide variations of this coffee. Today we’re going to focus on the original drink, the Espresso Macchiato; but let’s first tackle the modernized take on the coffee.

It can be quite a confusing experience if you are not used to what kind of Macchiato you’ll order at a coffee shop, especially if you’re new to coffee.

Coffee newbies might be more familiar with the version from commercial coffee chains that serve different kinds of Macchiato. They offer a milkier and heavier coffee drink called a Latte Macchiato. Some might have a drop of syrup on top, depending on the order to help differentiate and sweeten it more vs other brews.

In my experiences as a barista, we only served an espresso macchiato. I’ve had people order it, and they have become confused when they’ve received a small caffeine-filled cup of espresso instead of a large and sweet milky beverage.

In a more traditional sense, the Italian Macchiato or Espresso Macchiato is actually a basic drink. It is essentially a shot of espresso with a spoonful of foamed milk on top. What’s the point of the small amount of milk, you may ask?

The milk enhances the silkiness of the crema and the sweetness of the coffee beans for the espresso. The Macchiato highlights the strength and flavor of the coffee, which is perfect for espresso enthusiasts.

Portugal also has its own version vs Macchiato called Cafe Pingado, which means “coffee with a drop”. If you’re craving for something with just a bit more milk, a Cortado is a good choice if your coffee shop offers it.

How is it made?

what’s in a macchiato?

Compared to other milk-based coffee drinks, the espresso macchiato is as straightforward as it gets. The beverage is only made up of an espresso shot and a dollop of milk foam on top.

  • Espresso Shot
  • 20ml of frothed milk.

Don’t let this straightforward process fool you. This espresso drink provides loads of flavor with a subtle hint of smoothness.

If you’re not used to steaming milk in small amounts, it’s best to practice with an extra allowance of 10 or 20ml of milk, then lessen it as you go. 

Make sure that the milk isn’t too hot as well. Even if it’s in small amounts, overheating your milk can still have a huge impact on your drink, and it might lead to an undesired texture and bitter cup of coffee.

It’s best to treat the Macchiato as you would a high-quality espresso shot. Using top-notch and freshly ground coffee beans is a must for an espresso macchiato as the coffee is highlighted more than other milky coffee beverages.

If you think an espresso macchiato might be a bit too strong for you, a Cortado is a worthy alternative. It is essentially the midpoint between a macchiato vs latte where there is a 1:1 ratio of espresso and milk. The coffee is still the highlight of the drink, and milk offers a crisp texture vs Macchiato.

Interestingly enough, the emphasis is on the milk for a latte macchiato vs a traditional macchiato. It usually uses a single shot of espresso and uses more milk. The milk is first steamed and frothed to a dry, thick texture and placed first in a glass. The espresso is then added to give it a nice layered appearance.

Summary

We’ve tackled the differences between these coffee drinks, and now it’s up to your preferences on what coffee you’ll prefer.

A latte is highly recommended if you want a mild and creamy drink, and sometimes coffee can be a dessert as well, and the Mocha definitely satisfies your sweet tooth..

If you want to appreciate the espresso’s flavors more, a macchiato might be the best fit for you. Cappuccinos can also lean towards the coffee’s flavors, but it comes with a silky foam of milk.

Whichever one you’ll like, one thing’s for sure you’re going to have one delicious cup of coffee.

Philip Daniel Felongco

Philip Felongco

Ex-Barista and now coffee writer

A life long coffee drinker, Philip has been looking for new ways to enjoy coffee since he started in the coffee industry in 2017. His favorite coffee is a light roast Rwandan single origin. If he’s not binging on food shows or trying out new coffee recipes, you can catch him here at Sip Coffee!