There are a lot of different espresso-based drinks, sometimes this much variety can be confusing. I have a friend who admitted that she didn’t like to go to a coffee shop. She couldn’t choose between macchiato, latte, cappuccino, mocha, and many others because she didn’t know what they were. She was embarrassed to ask the barista what the differences were, so she started to buy a different coffee drink every day.
What makes these coffee beverages different from each other? What are their distinctive characteristics?
All the coffee-based drinks in coffee shops are a mix of two base ingredients, espresso, and milk. These are also called espresso-based drinks for this reason. Some recipes call for extra ingredients such as cocoa, chocolate, ice, sugar, vanilla, etc… Espresso and milk-based drinks are great for people with a sensitive stomach because the milk tones down the coffee. Caffeinated beverages such as latte, mocha, and cappuccino are also a great way to break the daily coffee routine or to be served at parties. Espresso drinks are usually made using an espresso machine, which is the traditional method. This is what you are buying from a coffee shop. However, you can make your latte at home using cheap equipment, if you want to ditch your barista.
Cappuccino vs Latte vs Mocha
Here are the major differences between latte, cappuccino, and mocha:
- Cappuccino – 1/3 espresso, 1/3 steamed milk, 1/3 foamed milk
The espresso is toned down with milk, but the coffee taste is still featured. Full cappuccino recipe.
- Latte – 1/6 espresso, 4/6 steamed milk, 1/6 foamed milk
This is a milk-based drink with just a little coffee. More about latte…
- Mocha – 2/5 espresso, 2/5 chocolate, 1/5 steamed milk
A strong coffee with a chocolate flavor. Full recipe here.
- Flat White – 1/3 espresso, 2/3 frothed milk
Very similar to a cappuccino, but the milk is micro-foamed and it doesn’t have the dry foam top.
- Mocha latte – 1/8 espresso, 5/8 steamed milk, 1/8 foamed milk, 1/8 hot chocolate
A latte with a hint of chocolate.
- Mochaccino – 1/3 espresso, 1/3 steamed milk, 1/3 frothed milk, 1 tbsp chocolate syrup
A cappuccino with a hint of chocolate.
- Cappuccino – 1/3 espresso, 1/3 steamed milk, 1/3 foamed milk
Yes, lattes and cappuccinos are made with an espresso machine. People use various recipes for lattes because the amount of milk sometimes covers the coffee taste. However, for an authentic cappuccino, real espresso is the best choice.
For low budgets, an inexpensive semiautomatic machine is the best choice. They have a milk steamer and a 15bar pump and they are decently reliable.
The next step up is a mid-range semiautomatic, with larger portafilters, better heating elements, and more expensive materials. With these machines, you get more consistent results when pulling the shots, and you can pull more shots in a row.
An automatic espresso machine will get you convenience and consistency, but you will have to adjust your price accordingly. The best part is that you don’t need to learn any barista skills.
What Is Latte?
Latte is an espresso-based milky drink with a 1 to 3, up to 1 to 9, espresso to milk ratio.
- 1 or two shots of espresso (1 shot = 1 oz)
- Around 5 to 6 oz. steamed milk, (around 5-6 oz.)
- Top up the cup with a thin layer of frothed milk.
- Add flavorings as desired.
Latte is nothing else than milk with coffee, and it originates in Italy, where it is called café latte. Latte is very popular because the coffee content is very diluted, and the recipe can be tweaked by adding various flavorings, making latte a dessert. The frothed milk layer allows baristas to create beautiful drawings.
What Is Cappuccino?
Cappuccino is an espresso-based drink, of Italian origin, with 1/3 espresso, 1/3 steamed milk, and 1/3 wet foamed milk. The difference between a latte and a cappuccino is the milk content. Latte has a lot of milk, whereas cappuccino is a strong coffee. The coffee to milk ratio in a cappuccino is around 1 to 1.5, considering that foamed milk is at least double in volume compared to steamed milk. Cappuccino has a rich and bold taste, as any espresso would, but is toned down by the steamed milk.
A standard cappuccino should contain:
• 1 shot of espresso, (cannot be instant or drip coffee). Cappuccino is not drenched in milk so that the espresso is the featured taste.
• 1 oz steamed milk
• 1 oz microfoamed milk
So once again, the recipe for a cappuccino is mixing equal volumes of espresso steamed milk and frothed milk.
Dry cappuccino is a variant that has more of the dry foam, and less of the steamed milk. An interesting variation is the bone dry cappuccino, nicely explained by Thomas.
Mocha coffee is an espresso-based coffee with a strong chocolate flavor, containing 2/5 espresso, 2/5 hot chocolate, and 1/5 steamed milk. Mocha breve is a variant with 1/3 espresso, 1/3 hot chocolate, and 1/3 half & half cream.
Mocha Coffee Recipe
Mocha coffee is actually a type of coffee beans with a natural chocolate flavor. These coffee beans originate in Mocha – Yemen. In order to enhance the chocolate taste, baristas have added a little chocolate to the mocha recipe. If we were to compare latte vs mocha, the latte is a very light drink, with little coffee per ounce of milk, whereas mocha is even stronger than a cappuccino.
Mocha coffee recipe, as we find it in most coffee shops is a combination of three elements as follows:
- 2 espresso shots
- 2 oz hot chocolate
- 1 oz steamed milk
- Optional, a thin frothed milk top layer
Mochaccino is simply a cappuccino with some chocolate syrup, or a few squares of chocolate added.
Mocha latte is simply a latte with chocolate added. If you want to go with your mocha recipe a step further and add a hint of booze the beverage. You can add Sambuca, Baileys Cream, Cognac, Metaxa, or coffee liqueur. The Italian way to booze your coffee is with Sambuca.
Breville BMF600XL Milk Frother
For those who want to make a latte at home, one of the biggest challenges is frothing the milk. Nailing a perfect texture and temperature of your foamed milk is not that easy, and many give up before even trying. There is the super-automatic route, but not everybody affords an expensive machine. The manual frother works, but you still have to know how to use it, and it does take some effort from your part.
One of the best options on the market is the Breville milk frother. The unit comes with separate frothing disks for latte and cappuccino, and it automates the process to pressing a couple of buttons and adjusting the dial button. Pretty neat…
Become a Home Barista – Make Your Latte at Home
When my cousin asked me a couple of weeks ago: “What is the best latte machine?” I didn’t have an answer on the spot. When it comes to coffee brewing, obviously, all friends and family rely on my expert advice. I was a bit disappointed by myself for not being prepared for this question. In my defense, I am not a latte drinker. I can fix a perfect one, I can even throw in some latte art if I’m in good mood, but it never occurred to me that many people are actually using the espresso machine to make exclusively lattes… Read More »
Milk for Espresso-Based Beverages
All coffee-based beverages require steamed or frothed milk, and sometimes cold milk. It might seem unimportant, but using the right type of milk makes a great difference between various recipes. The milk density is different, hence the volume ratios are changed, and the texture is definitely different. Here are a few tips on how to prepare steamed and frothed milk.
Frothed Milk vs. Steamed Milk
To obtain steamed milk and frothed milk you need to use either the steam wand of an espresso machine or a special milk frother. The frothing device blows steam into the milk, heating it up, and incorporating air into it. The major difference between various foamed kinds of milk is the amount of bubbles introduced. Frothed milk is milk foam with a volume doubled by the air bubbles, whereas steamed milk less foamed, with a volume increased by a third.
For steamed milk, you will put the steam wand in the milk, around 1 inch in, and position it in an angle, so that the steam creates a vortex. When the milk reaches the right temperature, (145 to 155 °F), stop steaming.
Frothing milk is very similar, we place the wand so it creates a vortex, and as the milk gets foamed on the surface, we need to advance the steaming wand inch by inch, until the bottom of the cup. Don’t steam too long in one place, when the froth has formed, the volume expands, and you need to go further to the bottom.
This is just a basic guide, for a comprehensive read the frothing guide from Coffeegeek.com.
Manual Milk Frother
This is a manual milk frother, very simple, reliable, that produces a great frothed milk. It is made of stainless steel, and it’s a sturdy device, and the price makes it so much more attractive. The frother is perfect for preparing any coffee based recipes such as cappuccino, latte, mocha, or macchiato. The genius of it is that it doesn’t need power. The HIC milk frother makes a very dense, creamy froth. You will get microfoam for your flat white, and you will also get some less dense, fluffier foam.
You can read our article about manual milk frothers, where we compare plunger style frothers, with battery operated whisk frothers.