Everyone needs a little pick-me-up from time to time. Whether it’s a cup of joe in the morning or a mid-afternoon caffeine boost, the average American drinks over 2 cups of coffee per day. While some people opt for straight black coffee, many of us opt for different types of coffee such as crafted espresso drinks. The rich, creamy milk pairs perfectly with the toasty, deep flavor of espresso, making for a delicious morning drink.
The way you craft each drink really changes the overall experience. The most popular espresso drinks are the latte, the cappuccino, and the macchiato. Though these drinks are all made of the same ingredients, they have subtle differences that give them distinct flavor profiles. Understanding the differences between them can help you pick the right one every morning.
These drinks are all crafted espresso drinks. They all have bold, strong espresso mixed in with carefully aerated milk. The main difference between these drinks is the way the milk is prepared, as well as the way the espresso is incorporated with the drink. While a latte has just a layer of foam, the cappuccino is rich and heavily aerated. The cafe macchiato is an espresso-focused drink with just a layer of foam, while the latte macchiato is similar to the latte.
These drinks are enjoyed around the world. While they have origins going back centuries, the way we see them today is a pretty new development. Technology has made milk aeration and espresso pulling more reliable, and distribution has made these drinks much easier to craft. So just keep in mind the progress involved in each drink the next time you enjoy a hand-made latte.
Stream Milk The Right Way
Typically, milk is steamed between 130 degrees and 160 degrees, which is the optimal temperature for bringing out the sweeter flavors of the milk. The barista will also incorporate air into the milk while it is steaming, which creates the foam on top of each beverage. The amount of milk will vary, anywhere from 10 ounces for a flat latte to 1 ounce for a cafe macchiato.
How Much Espresso Is Enough?
Espresso originated in Italy and became widespread after World War II. This popular method of brewing coffee involves pushing hot water through finely ground coffee beans. The result is a small, powerful coffee that most people have to add milk to, resulting in lattes and cappuccinos. The standard espresso shot weighs about 1 ounce, and most coffee shops use 2 ounces of espresso for a 12 ounce serving.
The history of Latte
Though we’ve been adding milk to coffee for centuries, the word “latte” didn’t exist until the 20th century. Popularity soared starting in the 70s in Seattle, and the beverage quickly spread. Today, this is the most popular espresso drink in America, making it a staple in many morning routines.
How Latte is made
The latte is the cornerstone of the coffee shop. This simple drink is steamed milk poured into espresso. In most American coffee house, the standard 12-oz cup will typically have 2 ounces of espresso with lightly foamed milk. There are 8 fluid ounces of milk before aeration, expanding to 10 ounces after being steamed. This is then poured into the espresso to create a heavy, rich drink. A well-made latte should weigh 10 ounces, with about half of an inch of foam once on top.
Sweet and Iced Lattes
Because there is so much milk, the latte has become popular for sweet drinks. The milk mixes well with syrup, chocolate, and caramel compared to its foamier counterparts. The rich cream from a latte is perfect for adding sugar, and the bitterness of the espresso provides an excellent counterpart for the sugar.
Iced lattes are also popular on hot days. Most coffee shops will add about an inch of foam to the bottom of a cup, add ice, and pour in cold milk and espresso. The result is a milky, rich drink that has a deep coffee flavor from the espresso. These drinks also go well with syrups and sugar, making them the perfect summer treat.
Some people dislike the foam in a latte. If you want a milkier drink, you can order a “flat” latte. In a flat latte, the milk is heated up, but not aerated. The resulting drink would weigh 12 ounces rather than 10, and will be filled to the top with hot milk without the layer of foam. This is the best way to maximize the amount of milk in the drink, but sacrifices the texture.
The history of Cappuccino
“Cappuccino” is an Italian word, but the drink actually originated in Vienna. Viennese coffee houses started to mix coffee with milk and spices, leading to the origin of our modern cappuccino. The modern version of the cappuccino, however, comes from post WWII Italy. With the spread of espresso machines, cappuccinos as we know them became the most popular way to have coffee.
How Cappuccino is made
The cappuccino is similar to the latte, but with much more foam. Just like the latte, milk and foam are poured into espresso. A typical 12 ounce cappuccino will only have about 5 ounces of milk before aeration. This milk is heavily steamed, leading to about 2-3 inches of foam. A correctly made cappuccino should weigh 7 ounces rather than 10, with nearly half of the drink being foam.
Dry vs. wet
Everyone has their own preferences, and the same is true with cappuccinos. If you want a milkier, less foamy drink, you can order it “wet.” Similarly, if you want your drink to be more foam heavy, you can order it “dry.” Some people order their drink “bone dry,” meaning that they want espresso topped only with foam, without any milk. Cappuccinos are the richest of the crafted milk drinks, with a rich, decadent texture from the foam, making them a go-to for many coffee drinkers.
The history of Macchiato
Espresso was new during the 20th century, and many people couldn’t tell the difference between the crema on top of the espresso and the foam from the milk. Barista’s would eventually start “marking” their espresso shot with milk foam to make it easier to distinguish, leading to the name we use today.
How Macchiato is made
There are actually two popular versions of the macchiato. The cafe macchiato is a small, rich drink that it primarily espresso, perfect for a quick morning wake-up. This drink prioritizes the flavor of the espresso, cutting the harshness with a cap of foam.
The latte macchiato, however, is more akin to an upside down latte. Taking a full cup of steamed milk and pouring the espresso on top, this drink is much creamier and more milk heavy. These two drinks are are completely different, so it’s important to understand the difference between the two to make sure you don’t order the wrong one.
“Macchiato” is Italian for “marked”. The name for the cafe macchiato meant that it was coffee “marked” with milk. In most coffee shops, a cafe macchiato is made by taking a single 1-oz shot of espresso and adding a fluid ounce of milk foam on top. This foam is usually made from about 4 ounces of milk, since a certain amount of milk is needed to get the right texture from aeration.
This beverage is bold, deep, and not for the faint of heart. It’s one step down from drinking straight espresso, but coffee enthusiasts love the powerful taste. The foam perfectly cuts the bitter aftertaste of the espresso, leaving you a strong espresso flavor without the sour feeling afterward.
The latte macchiato is a much more recent invention. Taking the same idea as the cafe macchiato, the latte macchiato is milk “marked” with espresso. The milk and foam are identical to the latte, but you pour the espresso shots into the milk, rather than the milk into the espresso.
The main draw to this drink is the way it changes over time. The first few sips will be primarily milk. As the espresso mixes in, you gradually get a stronger drink. By the time you’re halfway through the drink, the espresso mixes in fully and you have a very strong version of the latte.
Picking Your Beverage
These drinks take the same key ingredients and deliver incredibly different experiences. The rich, creamy flavor of a Latte is perfect for a late-morning pick-me-up, while the decadent cappuccino is an excellent choice for an early afternoon drink. The bold, powerful flavor of a cafe macchiato is nearly the opposite of the milky latte macchiato.
Everyone has their own preferences, so experiment with what you like. Don’t be afraid to change things up, either. If you’re used to getting a latte every morning, try out the cappuccino. Maybe even go for the cafe macchiato. No matter what you pick, the aromatic richness of espresso will lift your spirits and give you the energy boost you need to get through the day.