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Latte VS Cappuccino VS Macchiato

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Have you ever wondered where the cappuccino takes its name from? Or how is it different to a latte? Since the espresso machine was invented in 1903 there has been an explosion of espresso-based coffee drinks. Most of them are a combination of espresso shots and steamed milk. But what tells them apart? To answer this question, we will compare the famous cappuccino with a latte and a macchiato. 

But first let’s take a quick look at how coffee first arrived in Europe. It is said that the first coffee houses opened in Venice during the 17th century. The famous venician Caffè Florian still holds the reputation of being the oldest coffee house in Europe. However, it was Vienna and not Venice that embraced the coffee house culture like no other European city had. 

Cappuccino

The earliest reference to the cappuccino dates back to the early 19th century and is defined as coffee with cream and sugar. Back then there was no espresso machine and coffee houses in Vienna would use filter coffee instead. Viennese coffee houses would serve drinks such as the franziskaner, the wiener melange and the kapuziner, which was named after Capuchin friars whose robes had a distinctive brown colour that matched the coffee. 

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A century later, in 1903, the espresso machine was invented by the Italians, who changed the coffee’s name from kapuziner to cappuccino. For many years it was served in a Viennese fashion, topped with whipped cream.  But as the years were going by, the espresso machine kept evolving. Newer models allowed for a controlled way of steaming the milk and thus create the perfect crema. 

Ever since then, coffee shops around the world serve the modern-day cappuccino: a shot of high quality espresso topped with steamed milk and a layer of foam. And don’t forget a dash of chocolate or cinnamon powder for that bit of sweetness!

Latte

The history of the word ‘latte’ is much less complex as ‘latte’ is the italian word for milk. When the Viennese first tried coffee, they found it a very bitter sort of drink. In order to make it sweeter they started experimenting with sugar and milk. Each country created its own version of coffee with milk: Germans had the ‘milchkaffee’, Austrians the ‘Wiener melange’ and the French loved drinking a ‘café latte’. Again this was before the espresso machine was invented so filtered coffee was used instead. 

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The invention of the espresso machine radically changed the way we drink coffee today. The modern version of the latte became popular around the 1980s in Seattle. It features a shot of espresso, steamed milk and a thin layer of foam on the top, known as the crema. The idea was to create a drink that wasn’t as heavy as the cappuccino. The only real difference between the two drinks is that the cappuccino features a much thicker foam layer on top. 

It is true that a latte and a cappuccino may look visually similar these days but the latte has evolved in a way the cappuccino has not. Many people enjoy adding a bit of syrup in their latte, resulting in drinks such as the caramel latte or the vanilla latte. In other cases coffee isn’t even part of the equation as many people prefer a matcha latte or a chai latte, thus substituting coffee with tea. Then again there is of course the turmeric latte too. One thing is certain, lattes are not just for coffee lovers!

Macchiato

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The macchiato is a much more modern drink than a latte and a cappuccino. It was invented during the 80s, by Italian baristas that were looking to craft an espresso drink with only a drop of milk. A similar drink in Portugal is called coffee pingado. The word macchiato itself is Italian and means ‘stained’. The idea was to ‘stain’ the espresso shot with a bit of milk on top. As such it differs from the cappuccino and the latte, since the milk is not mixed with the espresso shot but just sits on top instead. 

Another difference with the other two drinks is that a macchiato contains much less milk and thus the coffee flavour is much more intense. However, it is not clear to this day how much milk a macchiato is supposed to contain. Some baristas pour a tiny bit of steamed milk on top of the espresso shot and top it with a bit of foam. Others use only the foam. Whatever the case may be, it is seen as a sweeter alternative to an espresso but a much less heavy drink than a cappuccino and a latte. 

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But what about a latte macchiato? This drink seems to be a pretty recent invention and it most likely originated in a Starbucks coffee lab. As the name suggests, it really is something between a latte and an espresso macchiato. However, this time the espresso is not mixed with the steamed milk but it’s poured on top of it instead. So imagine a cup filled with hot steamed milk and on top a shot of espresso that stains it. It’s sort of like a reverse macchiato. A popular variation of the drink contains syrups like caramel. 

What about the caffeine content?

One similarity between these three coffee drinks is that they are all espresso-based. Espresso shots are usually either single or double. A single shot is 30ml and has a caffeine content of 30-50mg, while a double shot is 60ml and has a caffeine content of 60-90mg. To give you some perspective, an average healthy adult could consume up to 400mg per day. However, it is important to listen to your body and understand how much caffeine is affecting you on a daily basis. 

Now what?

So, now you know that a cappuccino has more foam than a latte and a macchiato is just an espresso with a drop of milk. But what does this mean for you? It’s all about knowing how you like your coffee. If you’re someone who’s looking to taste the strong notes of an espresso with a bit of sweetness then an espresso macchiato is definitely for you. If you like your coffee to taste milky then you can try a latte, a cappuccino or a latte macchiato and find out which one is your favourite. Or even better, you don’t have to have a favourite, just follow your mood!

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Vasileia, is a barista and a big coffee nerd! Her articles take you on a journey into the fascinating world of coffee! She loves making coffee, drinking it and definitely has a passion for writing about it! To read more about her coffee adventures, check out her blog thewanderingbean.net! Aside from coffee beans, Vasileia enjoys reading, dancing, travelling, exercising and cooking for her family.