written by
Deric Loh

What's the Difference Between Americano, Cappuccino, Macchiato, Latte and other Coffee Drinks

Coffee Dictionary Recipes Coffee Brew Guide 10 min read

Before the commercialization of espresso machine in 1905, the menu of coffee houses and cafes were rather simple. There were maybe two or three drinks to choose from – black, white and maybe a combination of the two.

Today’s coffeehouse and café menus are loaded with choices – more than anyone could have imagined in the past. And, at first glance, one may feel overwhelmed. Coffee just uses three ingredients – coffee, water and milk – so why the need for variations?

The truth is that the way each ingredient is prepared and added, usually in the order this takes place, can affect the drink’s flavor profile significantly.

Today, we’re going to look at the following café classics and dissect them – what is the process that goes into them?

  • Americano 
  • Cafe au lait
  • Cappuccino 
  • Espresso 
  • Flat white 
  • Latte
  • Long black 
  • Macchiato
  • Mocha
Espresso and Coffee Drinks Explained

What Are The Differences Between Them?

Back in old Italy, the difference between a cappuccino and late was huge. The vessels in which they were served in was different. Cappuccino was served in a cup with a mountain of foam while a latte was served in a glass layered with milk and coffee. The amounts of coffee that were served was also different.

Today, it’s more about flavor than it is tradition and aesthetics. Baristas realized that milk and coffee don’t blend well, and did best at a certain ratio. How much this ratio is based on two factors – country and café. We’ve come up with a somewhat understanding as to what “flat white” is compared to “cappuccino.”

How To Prepare Espresso Drinks

Now, let’s look at what these drinks are, what ingredients and devices you need to make them and how to make them. When making an espresso drink, you’ll need the following items:

  • Espresso machine (such as the Breville BES920XL Dual Boiler Espresso Machine – take a look at our Ultimate Guide to Espresso Machines to learn more about it).
  • Milk jug or pitcher
  • Espresso roasted and ground coffee
  • Hot water
  • Chocolate powder
  • Fresh, full cream milk (best flavor) or Oat milk (more eco-friendly)

Americano

What is Americano

Americano, also called caffè Americano, is basically a diluted espresso drink. I have heard many theories as to how the name Americano came about. However, my favorite is the one about the American soldiers stationed in Italy during World War II. The story goes that the soldiers added hot water to their Italian espresso to make it taste more like filtered coffee (just like back home).

While the amounts and ratios of water to coffee vary from one country to another, an Americano always has hot water and espresso as the two ingredients.

What You Need To Prepare Americano

  • Espresso machine
  • Espresso ground coffee
  • Hot water

How To Make It:

  • Pour an espresso shot or two (depending on your strength taste) into the cup.
  • Pour hot water over the top to fill the cup.

Café Au Lait

What is Cafe Au Lait

This literally translates to “coffee with milk.” Café au lait, which is pronounced café-oh-lay, is a French invention that comprises of hot milk and filtered coffee. The coffee is prepared, often using a French press and combined with an equal part of hot milk. Many European countries have their own Café au lait version, but call it by another name.

What You Need To Prepare Café Au Lait

  • French press/coffee brewer
  • Vessel or saucepan to heat milk
  • Filter ground coffee
  • Hot water
  • Milk

How To Make It

  • Set the French press up and add the coffee – brew it for seven minutes.
  • While it’s brewing, heat some milk up using either a saucepan (on the stove) or an espresso machine steam wand.
  • When both are ready, take the cup and fill it halfway with coffee and the other half with milk. This drink is typically served with sugar.

Cappuccino

What is Cappuccino

The Cappuccino is the King (or Queen) of the espresso milk drinks! There are many different forms of this classic drink, and every version contains between one and two ounces (30-60ml) of espresso coffee and textured milk. Cappuccinos often come topped with a dusting of chocolate powder. The main difference between a Cappuccino and a latte is that the textured milk for a cappuccino is a bit thicker than that of a latte.

What You Need To Prepare A Cappuccino

  • Espresso Machine
  • Espresso ground coffee
  • Milk steaming pitcher or jug
  • Milk
  • Chocolate powder (if desired)

How To Make It

  • Load the portafilter and pull a double shot
  • Steam the milk, so you get a nice, creamy, textured micro-foam. You want to go thicker than the latte microfoam.
  • Pour the milk into the espresso
  • Top with a minute amount of chocolate powder.

If you’ve done the micro-foam right, you’ll be able to pour a tulip, love heart or rosetta.

Espresso

What is Espresso

The espresso is where it all began!

It’s essentially a puck of compressed finely ground coffee loaded inside what’s known as a portafilter. The portafilter is inserted into the grouphead of the espresso machine. The rubber gaskets around the grouphead create a seal; then hot water is pushed through the puck of coffee, extracting about 20 percent of the coffee’s soluble material.

An espresso shot can vary significantly in size. Baristas will use 20 grams of coffee to create 40 grams of espresso, while others will use the same amount of coffee to produce 60 grams of espresso. A pretty standard way of making espresso is using 20 grams of coffee to produce 40 grams of espresso – a 1:2 ratio. (1 part coffee to 2 parts water).

What You Need To Prepare Espresso

  • Espresso Machine
  • Coffee ground for espresso

How To Make It

  • Load the portafilter up with its capacity with coffee.
  • Tamp then load into the espresso machine.
  • Pour a shot with a 1:2 ratio.

Flat White

What is Flat White

The beloved flat white is loved and claim by residents of Australia and New Zealand. During the 1980s, there were invention claims by several baristas from various cafés in these countries. However, credit tends to go to Australia. A flat white is a double shot of espresso and finely textured micro-foam milk.

What You Need To Prepare A Flat White

  • Espresso machine
  • Espresso ground coffee
  • Milk steaming picture or jug
  • Milk

How To Make It

  • Pull the double espresso shot.
  • Steam the milk to create a very light micro-foam and texture. You do not want the milk to come out frothy or foamy. Instead, it needs to come out creamy.
  • Pour the milk over the espresso.

Get a little fancy but making it a swan or tulip!

Latte

What is Latte

This is a finely textured micro-foam milk that’s poured into espresso coffee. The latte is in the middle – its milk is slightly thicker than a flat white and a bit thinner than cappuccino.

What You Need To Prepare A Latte

  • Espresso machine
  • Finely ground espresso coffee
  • Milk steaming pitcher or jug
  • Milk

How To Make It

  • Prepare the espresso to your desired strength (we suggest a 1:2 ratio).
  • Steam the milk to a middle of the road texture (similar to what you’d see when pouring cream.
  • Pour the milk over the espresso.

Go fancy and do a tulip or swan!

Long Black

What is Long Black

The only difference between an Americano and long black is the order in which the two ingredients go into the cup. With the Americano, the coffee goes first, then the water. This mixes up the espresso and breaks up the creama. With a long black, the water is added first to the cup, and the espresso shots are poured on top. This leaves the crema intact, which makes the drink taste bolder and stronger than the Americano.

What You Need To Prepare A Long Black

  • Espresso Machine
  • Hot water
  • Espresso ground coffee

How To Make It

  • Add hot water to the cup. How much you add will depend on the cup size. You want to use enough that fills up the cup.
  • Pull a double espresso shot onto the water, and you’re done!

Macchiato

What is Macchiato

The Macchiato, or the espresso macchiato, caffe macchiato or short macchiato, is an espresso-based drink with a minute amount of hot milk (a teaspoon or two) and a stain of micro-foam textured milk on top. The drink first came about in Italy, when baristas stained the crema of espresso with milk as a way of letting waitstaff know there was milk in the espresso.

The milk acts as both a sweetener and diluent, which takes the bitterness out of the espresso. There is a long variation of the macchiato, simply named long macchiato. This is basically a long black with a stain of micro-foam, and a small bit of milk added.

What You Need To Prepare A Macchiato

  • Espresso machine
  • Milk steaming pitcher or jug
  • Coffee ground for espresso
  • Hot water
  • Milk

How To Make It

  • To create a short macchiato, you pull the espresso shot to your desired ratio and volume (30ml is standard).
  • Micro-foam texture a bit of milk to create a latte style.
  • Pour two teaspoons of milk into the espresso. Using a teaspoon, scoop one teaspoon of the thicker top layer of milk from the milk pitcher and drop it on top of the espresso, which stains the crema with the milk.

Mocha

What is Mocha

A mocha, also called caffe mocha, is the perfect blend of chocolate and coffee. If you don’t like the idea of adding chocolate to your coffee, think of it as drinking hot chocolate with a couple of espresso shots mixed in.

Mocha is an espresso plus milk drink that includes chocolate blended into a latte style milk that’s then poured into the espresso.

What You Need To Prepare Mocha

  • Espresso Machine
    Milk steaming pitcher or jug
  • Espresso ground coffee
  • High-quality chocolate powder or cocoa
  • Milk

How To Make it

There are several ways to make a mocha – using syrup or adding in chocolate to the coffee and mixing it before adding in the milk.

  • Pull a double espresso into a cup.
  • Pour about 200ml of cold milk into the pitcher.
  • Add a few scoops of chocolate powder (how much you add depends on the powder being used and how much you like chocolate).
  • Heat and texture the milk as you would a latte.
  • Pour the chocolate blended milk into the espresso.
  • Top with additional chocolate powder.

3 Commonly Asked Questions About Making Espresso Drinks

Why Does My Milk Have Bubbles?

If your milk has bubbles, it’s because air is being added into the milk too late in the heating process. Try adding the air in in minute amounts until the milk steaming pitcher becomes warm to the touch. You don’t want to add in any air after that. This will let the milk to spin and work the bubbles out.

Why Is My Milk Thin?

Thin milk means you’re not adding enough air into the milk while it’s steaming or you’re using a milk that doesn’t have enough fat content to it. Try adding in more air. If this doesn’t work, then you need to try another kind of milk with a higher fat content.

How Do I Steam Milk?

You want to use cold milk. As a rule, you don’t want to move the milk pitcher up and down to add in the air. Instead, just start with the tip of the steam wand submerging slightly in the milk. As the milk spins and steams, this lets air get into the milk. Once the pitcher is warm, submerge the tip of the steam wand further into the mixture, so no more air is added. Heat until you get your desired temperature.

How about Asia Coffee Drinks You Say?

Yes, let's explore some of the popular coffee drinks found in Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong.

Kopi - Origin: Singapore

What is Kopi

One of the most popular coffee drinks found in Singapore. It is brewed with a sock strainer and coffee kettle.

Kopi-O - Origin: Singapore

What is Kopi-O

The Singapore version of the Americano/Long Black coffee with sugar.

Kopi-O-Kosong - Origin: Singapore

What is Kopi-O-Kosong

The Singapore version of the Americano/Long Black coffee without sugar.

Kopi-Gao - Origin: Singapore

What is Kopi-Gao

The bitter, thicker and stronger brew of Kopi.

Kopi-Po - Origin: Singapore

What is Kopi-PO

The lite version of Kopi.

Kopi-Siu-Dai - Origin: Singapore

What is Kopi-Siu-Dai

Getting your dose of caffeine with less sugar.

Kopi-C- Origin: Singapore

What is Kopi-C

The Singapore coffee shop version of latte. Basically it’s a combination of coffee, evaporated milk (using a popular local brand of evaporated milk known as Carnation) and water.

Yuan Yang - Origin: Hong Kong

What is Yuan Yang

Love coffee and tea? Now you can get the best of both with Yuan Yang, a popular blend of coffee and tea originating from Hong Kong. Also commonly found in Singapore or Malaysia.

Want to brew your own coffee at home or work instead?

Be sure to check out our other handy coffee guides below:

Your Turn.

Tried any interesting coffee in your travels? Share your findings in the comments below.

Americano Cafe au lait Cappuccino Espresso Flat White Latte Long black Macchiato Mocha Kopi