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The coffee world can be challenging to navigate through. It is full of fancy coffee-making gadgets and gizmos, as much as it is full of drinks that all have similar-sounding names and characteristics.
When you visit a coffee shop, it often isn’t as simple as ordering a black coffee (unless that’s what you’re into!).
If you have ever felt daring and wanted to try a macchiato or a cappuccino but were too shy to ask the barista what on earth it actually is, don’t worry, I have been there.
Sometimes the easiest way to find out about things is to do the research yourself.
So, if you have ever wondered what is the difference between a cappuccino vs. a latte or a macchiato vs. a mocha, it comes down to a few essential parts – espresso, milk, and foam.
Sounds simple right?
Let’s take a look.
The Three Main Ingredients
Espresso is full-flavor coffee served in strong shots. It can either be drunk as is or used as the basis for many different delectable coffee beverages.
Espressos are created using espresso machines. Pressurized hot water is pushed through finely-ground coffee beans resulting in a strong coffee topped with brown foam or “crema.” The “crema” gives the espresso an intense, rich flavor that holds the notes of your chosen coffee well.
The difference between espresso and say, a French press, is the way the coffee beans are ground. A French press brew will use coarse grounds, while an espresso will require very fine grounds. This results in the creamier and thicker texture that espresso is so well known for.
The richness of the espresso makes it an ideal ingredient to blend with milk, water, or other liquids.
Milk & Foam
When milk is used to make the mouth-watering drinks adorning the café ordering board, it will either be steamed or will have been turned into foam. Both techniques extract the sweetness of the milk, adding a delicious level of flavor to your drink of choice.
Steamed milk blends exquisitely into an espresso base. It can result in tiny bubbles that are often referred to as microfoam. The consistency will be silky smooth, with only a small layer of bubbles nestled on the top of your coffee drink. Steamed milk can also be blended into your coffee, which creates an outstanding mixture of coffee and milk.
Foamed milk is super bubbly and light. It is mostly whipped milk that has had air added to it. This creates a fluffy, frothy layer that adorns the top of coffees. Some cafés will even create unique foam art, taking your drink to an entirely new level.
Now onto the drinks!
The cappuccino is a classic espresso drink that is made with steamed milk foam. Its origin is Italian, and it is a favorite among coffee enthusiasts.
Cappuccinos have a dark and rich espresso layer on the bottom, covered by a significant layer of foam. They can be topped with cinnamon or sometimes chocolate powder for an extra flavor element.
There are also variations on a cappuccino that uses cream instead of milk or non-dairy products for those who enjoy almond milk, coconut milk, etc. over regular 2%.
The recipe for cappuccinos is pretty simple.
They are made by combining:
- 1/3 Espresso
- 1/3 Steamed Milk
- 1/3 Milk Foam
The result is a coffee drink that is milky yet bold. The layers are separated from one another, so the milk is not mixed with espresso. This is one of the main differences between a cappuccino and a latte.
Recommended: If you are someone who loves the flavor and feel of foam mixing with espresso, the cappuccino is definitely for you. It combines the best of both worlds – cream and coffee. It is something truly delicious and far different from your average cup of joe.
The latte is another classic drink that originated from Italy. It, too, is a favorite among coffee drinkers, although for different reasons than a cappuccino.
Originally, lattes were made at home and not found in cafés. They were made using a stovetop espresso maker to which hot milk was added. Lattes can sometimes be referred to as café au laits or caffe latte.
Lattes are more steam milk oriented. Instead of the espresso and steam milk being separated, lattes will combine the espresso with the steamed milk. This is different than the cappuccino, whose layers stay very much defined from one another.
Lattes will have a layer of foam, similar to the cappuccino. Still, their foam layer is very thin and acts more as an accent than a flavor or feeling treat.
The recipe for a latte is as follows:
- Single or double shot of espresso
- 6-10 oz of steamed milk
- A thin layer of foam (approx. 1/2 in. thick).
The result is a velvety-like beverage that is very creamy, smooth, and milkier tasting than espresso tasting.
Recommended: If you are someone who really enjoys coffee but isn’t a great fan of a strong coffee flavor, you will enjoy a latte. It is a drink filled with milky goodness that goes down smoothly and tastes like a coffee cloud.
The macchiato is one of the newer styles of coffee drinks out there. It is essentially an espresso with a small amount of foam in the middle.
The name macchiato actually refers to the coffee being “marked” or “stained.”
Macchiato is one of the stronger coffee drinks on the market that is more centered on the espresso than the foam or mix of steamed milk and espresso.
Creating a superb macchiato means using high-quality espresso beans. The espresso is the shining star in this drink, and as such, it requires top-notch ingredients.
The recipe for a macchiato is as follows:
- Double shot of espresso (high-quality)
- Approx. ½ in. of foam in the center
The result is a very strong coffee beverage with a hint of creamy relief.
Recommended: If you are someone who really enjoys an espresso, but likes a little bit of creamy goodness at the same time, the macchiato combines the best of both worlds. You will get the espresso’s robust flavor, but it will also be a bit toned down with the rich dot of foam in the middle.
The mocha is a beautiful blend of chocolate meeting coffee.
Mocha combines espresso, steamed milk, and chocolate syrup (sometimes cocoa powder and sugar) to create a delicious dessert-style drink.
Like a latte, mochas use the same ingredients and ratios, with an added chocolaty twist.
They are also often topped with whipped cream instead of foam and can have a light dusting of cocoa powder or cinnamon on top.
The recipe for a mocha is as follows:
- Single or double shot of espresso
- 3 Tbsp. chocolate syrup
- 1 cup steamed milk
- Whipped cream
The result is a super chocolaty espresso drink that is rich, bold, and more like a dessert in a cup than a coffee beverage.
Recommended: If you are someone who adores chocolate and coffee, or just really enjoys the heck out of flavored coffee, you can’t go wrong with a mocha. It may not be as fine-tuned as a cappuccino, latte, or macchiato is. Still, it is heavenly and worthy of drinking.
Hopefully, you now know the difference between the cappuccino, latte, macchiato, and mocha!
While they are all coffee-based drinks, each has its own unique twist and qualities that bring out one ingredient over another.
What it comes down to when choosing one of these delightful coffee-based drinks is asking yourself which quality you love the most in a coffee.
Do you love a coffee drink where foam and espresso are the main stars? The cappuccino may be calling you.
What about a milky smooth coffee beverage where the combination of milk meeting espresso is the main character on stage? You may require a latte.
Or, what about the full-bodied flavor of espresso with only a hint of foam? Umm..did someone say macchiato?
To top it off, what about a chocolate coffee mashup that is too delectable to pass up on? Hello, mocha.
If all of these sound too good, I dare you to try them all.
Maybe you will find a new favorite drink, and if nothing else, you will at least know how to make the perfect drink without needing to attend any barista school.