A simple breakdown of the differences between a latte, cappuccino, flat white, coratado (and more) including the milk to espresso ratios.
As the name of this post indicates, there are many espresso-based coffee beverages that come with a seemingly endless array of names and variations. This may leave some people confused and occasionally vexed. Here I’ll break down what these names mean at our cafes.
One astute former world barista champion from the UK once simplified his menu to eliminate confusion. His approach was straightforward, offering only three options: espresso with 2 oz of steamed milk, espresso with 4 oz of steamed milk, and espresso with 6 oz of steamed milk. The beauty of his system lay in inviting guests to specify their preferred milk texture. While this approach is splendid, it may not be the norm in most cafes. More often than not, you'll need to either be well-versed in coffee lingo or rely on the kind staff to clarify your options.
Nonetheless, there are nuances that set these drinks apart. Let's focus on those that primarily feature espresso and milk, saving the exploration of more complex drinks with more ingredients for another time.
Latte: (Double shot of espresso with 5 oz of thinner steamed milk in a ceramic cup)
In North America, the latte is a beloved classic. It comprises a double shot of espresso with steamed milk poured generously over it, resulting in a larger beverage. The milk, when steamed properly, has a slightly thinner texture and integrates microfoam throughout. Think of it like the viscosity of wet paint – ideal for crafting intricate latte art.
Cappuccino: (Double shot of espresso with 3 oz of thick steamed milk in a ceramic cup)
The cappuccino stands as one of the most iconic coffee classics. In its traditional form, it consists of equal thirds espresso, steamed milk and a top layer of drier, thicker foam. Modern high-end cafes often opt for a cappuccino with milk that's been steamed to integrate the foam and steamed milk into velvety thick texture. These "new style" cappuccinos offer luxurious mouth feel and a robust coffee flavor. (In our shop the new style is the norm but we are also happy to make traditional capps on request)
Flat White: (Double shot of espresso with 3 oz of thinner steamed milk in a ceramic cup)
Hailing from Australia, the flat white is a personal favorite. It's essentially a drink the size of a cappuccino but made with milk textured like a latte.
Cortado: (Double shot of espresso with 2 oz of thinner steamed milk in a glass)
Equal parts espresso and warm, steamed milk define the cortado. The Spanish term "cortar" (to cut or dilute) perfectly encapsulates the concept – balancing the strong espresso flavor with milk. While the milk texture is similar to a latte or flat white in our shop, it may vary elsewhere.
Gibraltar: (Double shot of espresso with 2 oz of thinner steamed milk in a glass)
The Gibraltar is essentially the same as a cortado but served in a Gibraltar-style cocktail glass. We use Gibraltar glasses in our café, so if you ask for a Cortado or a Gibraltar, you'll receive the same preparation. The gibraltar has a heavy bottom that retains heat nicely.
Piccolo: (Double shot of espresso with 2 oz of thinner steamed milk in a glass)
Yet another variation of a smaller, more intense espresso and steamed milk drink. The term "piccolo" is Italian for "small," and some may refer to it as a piccolo latte. In our shop, it is prepared in the same manner as the Cortado and Gibraltar.
Notes in Italics are how we serve these drinks in our cafes. You may find different variations at other shops.
It's vital to note that regional differences and interpretations abound, so these definitions are not set in stone. At our establishments, we encourage staff and customers to engage in a bit of dialogue when someone seeks a specific off-menu drink. Ultimately, our aim is to harmonize the elements of total volume, coffee-to-milk ratio, and milk texture to deliver the exact coffee experience our guests envision, regardless of the name they use.