Know the difference between caffe latte, cappuccino, latte macchiato etc

Today there are no limits as to how you differentiate your coffee and make it unique. Just like in the fantastic world of cocktails the number of coffee varieties has risen exponentially the last couple of decades. A possible reason for this could very well be the global market of today, which helps create a demand for these amazing goods. In this article I will introduce some of the most common types of coffee drinks, along with their characteristics and recipes for making them.

The list is not even close to being complete &em; and given enough time (and space) it could probably go on forever &em; but these coffee drinks are some of the most popular types in most of Europe and the Americas. And I sincerely hope that when you have finished reading this article, that you will be better equipped to know the difference between them.

Plain filter coffee

The ordinary cup of plain, black filter coffee has all but died out in most coffee shops. Most places today you will need to ask for a caffe americano, simply because filter coffee is not on the menu. A Caffe Americano is 1/3 espresso and 2/3 hot water.


Black, as we all know it.


Espresso dates back to Italy in the early 1900’s. It is usually served in a small cup (not unlike a shot). At its most simple, espresso is “just” concentrated coffee and is slightly stronger in taste and aroma, compared to filter coffee.

To avoid the bitterness in the coffee, some people sweeten their espresso with raw cane sugar or refined sugar, but most of the times espresso is used as an ingredient in other coffee varieties &em; like in the coffee drinks mentioned below (caffe latte, latte macchiato and cappuccino.


Black, thick in its consistency and served in a small cup, usually with a top of brown/reddish crema (foam)

You can read much more about espresso on Wikipedia.

How to make the perfect espresso

How to make the perfect espresso »

Caffe Latte

Caffe Latte, or just “Latte” as most of us prefer to call it, also originates from Italy or quite literally translates to “coffee with milk” (technically it translates to “coffee milk” but who’s counting). A Caffe Latte kan be made just as fast as an Americano since it’s made from 1/3 espresso, approx. 2/3 hot milk and top it of with a layer of foamed milk.

Caffe Latte is steadily growing more and more popular in most of the world, and you can find it in almost any coffee shop, no matter where you are. Prices vary a lot around the globe and a study from 2010 showed that Copenhagen in Denmark has the most expensive caffe lattes in the world, beating other expensive cities like New York, Paris and London.

I have not been able to find an updated study that is more recent, only one from Wall Street Journal that looks at Star Bucks’ prices specifically, where Oslo in Norway runs of with the first prize for the world’s most expensive caffe latte. However there are no Starbucks in Copenhagen so it can’t really be used as a eligible source.


Creme coloured, foamed milk with a thickness the size of a fingers width and often with artwork created in the foam.

Latte Macchiato

Latte Macchiato is a lot like a caffe latte, since it is made from a lot of hot milk at the bottom and a small amount of espresso added on top. This coffee drink is very popular in Germany where it is the coffee of choice in most coffee shops. The mix of ingredients in this drink makes it ideal for serving up in a tall glass, with the ingredients layered beautifully. The layering can be a bit tricky at first but if you pour with ease it’s perfectly possible.

Latte Macchiato translates into something like “milk with marks” and depending on where in the world you order it, the milk/coffee ratio differs, some baristas literally just add a couple of coffee marks on the hot milk while other make it more like a caffe latte with extra milk.


Light coloured, coffee in the bottom and a couple of coffee marks/spots at the top. Ideal for people who doesn’t like coffee but love the coziness that comes with the caffe latte.


The Cappuccino was very popular a decade ago, and also originates from Italy (there’s a pattern here, eh?). It is made from 1/3 espresso, 1/3 hot milk and 1/3 foamed milk. Many coffee shops also serve cappuccinos with a drizzle of chocolate or cocoa powder on the top, which some like and some don’t – feel free to find your own favourite.

If you like to experiment with your servings, the thick layer of foam on a cappuccino is the perfect canvas for making beautiful coffee art, using syrups, sauces, powders, nuts and whatever comes to mind – only your own imagination sets the limits.


Creme coloured with a thick layer of foam, usually served in a large cup. Served with chocolate/cocoa powder on top or some artistic motif.

5 great reads on making great coffee

If you want to learn more on how to make the kind of coffee, your guests will talk about long after the’ve visited you, here are 5 great books on coffee. They include background information, history, tips and recipes, and are both fun and full of interesting knowledge.

Enjoy them with a good cup of coffee!

Also, if you found this article useful, kindly rate it and share it with friends 🙂

22 Responses

  1. Andre says:

    You forgot to mention Machiato. Single espresso with a bit of milk froth in a single espresso cup, which brings me to the next step. Walk in to a coffee shop in the uk and ask for a latte machiato, you just might end up with a machiato. Latte and machiato are 2 complete different things. “Latte Machiato” does not exist.
    I tell you why, “Latte machiato” may start as layered when you get it, but as soon as you start drinking it the layers mix up and turn the drink into a latte. (or add sugar mix the sugar, you end up with a Latte). So technically “Latte Machiato” does not exist! Unless you plan on just looking at the drink instead of actually drinking it

    • Hi Andre,

      a fair point, but wouldn’t this line of thought also invalidate (almost) every layered drink served in bars and clubs?


    • Leon Buijs says:

      I’m sorry, but I have to disagree. As pointed out in the article, ‘macchiato’ means the coffee was added to the milk (‘staining’ it). If this is done slowly, like when poured from an espresso machine, the coffee will float on the milk, much like a layer. If you take a sip, at first you will get mostly coffee in your mouth. It will be quite bitter. If you drink on without stirring, the rest will be mostly milk. This will taste quite bland, specially after the coffee, which explains why so most people will stir their macchiato before they drink it: You don’t order a latte to drink fairly strong coffee and then a lot of milk. You want a mild coffee. The layered way of serving just looks more pleasing to the eye.

      The same counts for most layered drinks. They look cool, but most people don’t actually drink the creme de menthe and orange juice cocktails without stirring. The mix tastes much better.

    • John says:

      A latte macchiato made properly does not mix when you drink it (if you add sugar the stirring will make it mix and become indistinguishable from a caffe latte with sugar). The first sips allow the taste of strong coffee through the foam but the final sips are almost pure milk counterbalancing the earlier strong coffee taste. Use whole milk.

      • Leon Buijs says:

        That’s correct (the official way to serve a macchiato is with the coffee floating on top of the milky part), but the point is that in the countries I have been, virtually nobody drinks a macchiato without stirring it first, even the non-sugar drinkers. Often, there is so little coffee used that this wouldn’t work as described anyway.

        That also explains why one often gets it served already mixed in non-coffee-specialized places: People are fine with it already mixed, because they don’t order it for the ‘two tone taste’ anyway.

        When you’re in Germany (since the article mentions Germany in particular) or Austria, you’ll notice that the macchiato is often made with so little coffee and so much milk, that the milk hardly colors. Even if the coffee would be on top, the top layer would be too thin to taste much of it.

        • John says:

          If you add sugar a latte macchiato does turn into a caffe latte. However if is made well and left unsweetened, drinking a latte macchiato begins with the strong coffee being softened by a hint of foam. As the drink is finished, the final mouthfuls are predominantly milk with a hint of coffee.

        • John says:

          Having drunk latte macchiatos frequently in Germany I have been fortunate to always have at least a full shot of espresso in each cup and the coffee is always strong not bitter and along with almost everyone I know it is never stirred. Perhaps my experiences are unusual- if so I guess I am just lucky.

          • Warsrevenge1 says:

            I must be lucky too! I’ve never stirred. Wouldn’t that defeat the purpose? If you want a latte, order one lol! Macchiatos layers are for contrasting the flavors.

    • Ebbe says:

      Good that you mention the Machiato Andre, but yes the Latte Machiato does exist. The Latte and the Latte Machiato is technically the same, the difference between making a Latte and a Latte Machiato means that you will put the Espresso shot in the glass first and the milk afterwards, there you have a Latte. Latte Machiato is the opposite. Machiato means “dot” on Italian, so by putting the milk in the glass first and the Espresso shot afterwards, will naturally make a dot in the top foam. And there you have it, a Latte Machiato! 😉

      • John kitchen says:

        Macchiato does indeed mean dot or ‘marked’ which requires a very small amount of milk to be dripped onto the espresso to ‘mark’ it. Latte macchiato therefore is latte (I.e. Milk) marked by the coffee being added afterwards. For any coffee purists or snobs out there – if you want a German-style latte macchiato in Starbucks (I’m not afraid to mention their name in this column) ask for a latte affogato style with the hot milk being put directly below the coffee as it brews. It works despite the strange use of terms.

    • Giovanni says:

      First of all, it is spelt ‘Latte macchiato’.

      Secondly, whilst many people in the UK have never heard of a latte macchiato, that is because they are ignorant and have terrible coffee.

      ‘Macchiato’ is an Italian word meaning ‘stained’ or ‘marked’. Latte means ‘milk’. Ask for a ‘Latte’ in a coffeeshop in Italy and you will be served with a glass of milk.

      What is commonly called a ‘Macchiato’ in the UK is actually a ‘Caffè macchiato, or stained coffee. This is the inverse to a ‘Latte macchiato’.

      Let’s summarise:
      Caffè macchiato – ‘Stained Coffee’, Espresso ‘stained’ with a little milk
      Latte macchiato – ‘Stained Milk’, Hot milk ‘stained’ with a little coffee.

      Somehow the English butchered the two terms completely and think they’re ever so cultured and posh using Italian words for their god awful creations – citizens of the UK, just stop please. Stick to tea.

      • John says:

        I have had awful coffee in Italy – and I mean truly awful. I have had excellent coffee in the UK. Coffee snobs from any country are intolerable. Remember – the best coffee in the world is the one you like the most no matter where it is grown, no matter where it is brewed or who brews it!

    • Ruth says:

      I’m in Italy and just finished drinking a latte macchiato. So I can assure you it does exist.
      The technique is to stir the mixture before drinking.

  2. Leon Buijs says:

    You write that espresso dates back to the early 1900’s of Italy, but the espresso machine was invented by a Frenchman called Louis Bernard Rabaut in 1822. Somehow Italy is more romantic for stories I guess. Coffee in general is often presented as typically Italian, while they don’t even grow it. The Arabs brought coffee to Europe, the Ethiopians have known it even longer. Of course, Italy was the stepping stone for the rest of Europe so that might explain it.

    Just like eating pasta is supposed to be typically Italian. However, the Italians generally don’t eat it as a main course, but as a starter, a hors d’oeuvre, or as a side dish. Also, Marco Polo mentions lasagna-like pasta in his book about his travels to China. Does that make the Chinese the inventors of pasta? It’s more likely that the Chinese and Italians both discovered how to make pasta from grains. It’s not that complicated after all.

    • Just Steve says:

      Look the “latte macchiato” is an invention of Starbucks, specifically carmel macchiato. A macchiato is espresso with a topping of steamed milk foam. Simple as that.

      One more thing. Asian noodle is totally different from italian noodle, both countries have many different types of noodle with different ingredients to make them. Isn’t it possible that people from different parts of the world would make similar items? ie corn tortilla, flour tortilla, pita, bread,

      • Leon Buijs says:

        I think you just want to make conversation, since everybody knows Starbucks is just serving coffee since 1971. People are drinking boiled milk with strong coffee for centuries, even in the rural parts of Netherlands where I live. Steaming with espresso machines can also be done since the early 1900’s. Since Americans don’t even know what the term ‘macchiato’ really means, it’s highly unlikely they came up with the name either.

        As for the noodles. Of course you are right that it’s plausible that noodles are probably invented on more than one place. I already mentioned that. What I meant is, that what the general public thinks, is not always how it really is. Like Italy is known for it’s coffee, but they Dutch drink eight times as much coffee per person (graph in English) :

        • AJ says:

          What a class response! I like your arguments Leon.

          Leon – that’s French right? Just kidding 🙂

  3. Tushar says:

    Leon, I am not a coffee drinker as such, but curious to know a thing about Cafe Macchiato. I have read few posts about the drink. Some say, milk is poured at the bottom and Espresso is stained at the top. Some post suggest otherwise, Espresso at the bottom, and steamed milk at the top. What is the correct claim?

    • Kris says:

      Latte means milk. Cafe means coffee. Macchiato means spotted. So, we have two different drinks possible, a Cafe Macchiato (spotted coffee) and a Latte Macchiato (spotted milk). With the Cafe Macchiato, an espresso shot is put into a small cup and then ‘spotted’ or stained with a spot of milk foam on top. The Latte Macchiato is made with milk put into the cup first, then the espresso is poured through the milk leaving a small brown spot on top of the milk. Cafe Macchiatos are much smaller (maybe 3.5 ounces), where as the Latte Macchiato is usually much larger (8+ oz?). I hope that helps some.

    • Warsrevenge1 says:

      Macchiato: espresso with a little milk.
      Latte Macchiato: Steamed Millk with a shot of espresso layered on top.

  4. Mike says:

    I heard that the origin of espresso macchiato was so that the bartender knew that a particular coffee in a line of coffees was different – hotter or stronger or decaf – so it was marked – macchiato – with a tiny bit of milk foam. The term has been around for a long time apparently, so some say the milk would not have been textured or foamed, as the term predates espresso machines – but of course even heating milk in a saucepan makes it go a bit foamy. So it was to mark out that coffee, not to alter its taste. Any thoughts? Obviously a latte macchiato is a totally different drink and has resulted in considerable confusion.

  5. tushar says:

    Happy new year guys!!!

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