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Cappuccino vs Flat White: What’s the difference?

If you are a coffee lover who thinks E=Milk*Coffee2, getting this difference will change the way you see and taste coffee.

The main difference between a flat white and cappuccino coffee is basically in the espresso-milk-foam ratio. While cappuccino is a perfect third of each with an optional sprinkle of cinnamon on top, a flat white is a double shot of espresso -half a cup- with micro-foamed milk -the other half.

Flat White vs Cappuccino, 2 cups on a table

But, what does this mean?

The milky way is the right way

Just like most coffees, cappuccino and flat white are based on espresso and milk.

However, as it happens with most milk-based coffees, the espresso only changes in terms of ratio while milk provides different consistency, texture, and flavor to the mix.

In other words, it will influence the flavor. The flat white will have twice as much espresso, a little bit more free poured milk and around 50 mm of foam, which provides a much deeper contrast than a cappuccino.

On the other hand, a cappuccino will have a smoother taste and texture. The microfoam will soften the bitterness of coffee and introduce the bed of thick mix of steamed whole milk mixed with coffee.

In that sense, they are similar but not quite the same. Cappuccino has a more European taste, in which the milk and froth elevate the flavor of bitter espresso, while the flat white is based on the perfect balance of two flavors.

Foam for flat white

If you are going to order a flat white, make sure there is micro-foam on top of it. This is the key to get a perfect flat white and, after getting used to it, you’ll easily see the difference.

The idea is to get a consistent milk froth with incredibly tiny bubbles. If you want to go DIY, the important thing is to keep the foam into the milk during the process instead of letting it get to the top.

The steaming wand will be an essential asset, so try to leave it still in a 90-degree to the floor while you move the liquid inside the jar.

When you nail the process, the free poured milk will generate a silky texture while both the espresso-base and milk mix together. At the same time, it will lead to a swirl on top of the base, which will provide an amazing look.

Froth for Cappuccino

The distinctive characteristic of cappuccino is the airy milk foam on top of a bed of thick, textured milk and espresso.

In order to achieve this result, the ratio of frothed milk, steamed milk and espresso should be as close to a perfect balance as possible.

That is why it is important to keep the steamed milk below 65 degrees. Once it is ready, you can pour it over the espresso while holding back the foam, which should be poured on top.

Remember, the froth should never be mixed with either the milk or the espresso until the end and it should cover a third of the cup. The milk, on the other hand, should not overpower the flavor of the espresso.

Go for it!

If specialty coffee mochas (makes) you crazy and you want to practice your barista skills, an espresso machine will probably be handy.

Check out our handy buyer’s guide which will help you decide which would be the best espresso machine to make a flat white or cappuccino.

Even though the steaming wand and brewing system are the base of the machine, nowadays there are some new versions with amazing features that will help you along the process.

However, if you are not ready to take the leap yet, there is no problem. Just keep reading and make sure you know what you are ordering at your coffee shop or at a restaurant.

Cappuccino? More like Cappucci-yes!

The Italian perspective

Although the cappuccino raised its popularity in the 80s, this fancy-named infusion dates back to the 16th and 17th centuries.

An Italian myth states that it was invented by Marco d’Aviano, a Capuchin friar, member of a Franciscan order of monks, and the name remained to honor his holy house.

According to the story, these monks mixed espresso, warm thickened milk, coñac -or brandy- and a sprinkle of cocoa or cinnamon to receive exhausted and freezing wanderers and travelers who were passing by and asked for a warm night in their Italian monastery.

Nonetheless, he -or anyone else for that matter- recorded having invented this coffee, and considering their missionary work was dedicated to simplicity, austerity, and poverty; it is difficult to conceive they would make such an elaborated drink -by the time.

The Viennese version

Other people believe it was invented in Vienna because the name “Kapuziner” appeared for the first time in the 1700s coffee houses.

The name was used to condense the meaning of “coffee with sugar and cream” at the beginning of the next century, while spices were added to the recipe somewhere in the middle of the 1800s.

Apparently, it was named after the Capuchin friars in Vienna because the mixture of coffee with milk resulted in a brown color that was very similar to their robes.

In addition, a similar beverage called Franziskaner popped up more or less at the same time and it was named after the Franciscan monks because they had lighter brown robes and this version had more milk, which made the brown look lighter.

But this happened so long ago and there are almost no records or information about it and many people simply do not believe it.

The Cappuccino as we know it

There might be tens of stories, but only one is actually registered and contains the full backed information.

After the invention of the espresso machine in 1901, the beverage was filed in the 1930s.

Cappuccino became gradually popular in Italian cafes and restaurants, but not as much at homes because the machine was bulky and expensive.

So Italian people started sitting around specialized cafes to enjoy espressos, lattes, and cappuccinos while reading or engaging with other people.

Images from that time show how similar cappuccinos were to both Viennese and Italian versions, a coffee with whipped cream and chocolate or cinnamon shavings.

Evolution of the Cappuccino

After WWII, the Cappuccino was already popular in almost all Europe and the stage was perfect to take its flavor to the rest of the world.

From that moment and on, the latte art of a perfect one-third balance of frothed milk, crema and good espresso is placed in a preheated porcelain cup to provide meaning to the modern espresso.

The incredibly tasty and texturized beverage was accepted and learned in Australia, South America, and the remaining European countries.

It was not until the 80s that this coffee started to be seen in America and the 90s that it became popular, thanks to the cafe culture.

Nowadays, it can be seen in almost every single country because the most important food chains, like Starbucks, have permanently included it in their menus.

Change of habits

In Italy, there is a tradition of drinking Cappuccino in the morning, but never in the afternoon.

Mostly, because there is a popular belief that it would ruin digestion -to the point that waiters may refuse to bring you a Cappuccino after a meal “for your own health.”

For Italians and many other European countries, milk is in itself a meal. That is probably the main reason why they don’t have other food than a cappuccino.

However, this trend is starting to change in some European countries like the UK, Germany, Ireland and even France and Spain.

These countries are starting to drink cappuccino throughout the day, instead of saving it only for breakfast.

Flat white to turn on the light

There is a huge debate about the origins of flat white. Australians claim it is theirs and so do New Zealanders, but this is not something new between both countries.

In fact, they also debate about a number of other different things, including pavlova, the origin of the racehorse Phar Lap and even the nationality of the actor Russel Crowe.

However, now that this coffee has become part of the Starbucks worldwide menu -increasing its raising popularity-, the discussion has intensified.

New Zealand’s point of view

The barista Frank McInnes -from Wellington, New Zealand- claims having invented by pure accident the incredibly delicious flat white everyone orders today.

According to his version, he made a mistake at the end of the 1989’s summer: a client of Cafe Bodega -located on Willis Street- asked for a cappuccino, but the milk didn’t have enough fat to create a rich froth, so he apologized to his customer saying: “Sorry, it’s a flat white.”

The Australian version

On the other side of the ring, Alan Preston -originally from Sydney- opened a cafe in 1985 and states he first coined flat white. According to his statement, the name and coffee were originated in the mid-’80s, after he opened his own coffee house in Sussex Street: Moors Espresso Bar.

This place was inspired in Queensland -his home state-, where cafes offered a different type of espresso called “white coffee – flat” in the 60s.

His story was backed up with a picture from that time in which the words flat white where written on a menu board. In addition, he also has a website that entirely focuses on his version of the story.

Two were not enough

As if two people fighting over the creation of a coffee wasn’t enough, there are more people who claim having coined and created the flat white.

In Auckland, Derek Townsend and Darrell Ahlers from Cafe DKD claimed having invented the perfect mix as a new version of an Italian latte, while Craig Miller, author of “Coffee Houses of Wellington,” claimed it his own.

But Ian Bersten, who authored a book on coffee brewing history, believes it was most likely created in the 50s, most probably in England. According to his expertise, this falls in the patterns of the time, when people wanted larger sizes of cappuccino and resulted in frothier blends.

Going deeper into the flat white

Australia and New Zealand are large consumers of fresh, organic milk and the specific type their free-range cows produce makes it difficult to froth milk aggressively without making it stiff, almost like a marshmallow.

That’s the main reason why cappuccinos in these two countries are mostly stiff foam with almost no liquid milk. In that sense, they created this new “erratic” version that would taste much better and has a smoother texture.

The secret lies in the process of frothing the milk. Baristas have to gently heat the milk if they want to get a nice silky texture.

The result will be a stronger coffee than a latte, but not as strong as a cappuccino. A perfect middle ground that has taken it across the globe.

Cappuccino vs. Flat White

Both of these coffees have a pretty distinctive flavor and aroma, but they are yet adaptable to the individual taste. So, the main difference is the texture.

Even though both of them have dubious origins, they both come from very different parts of the world and the reasons to create them were are not precisely similar.

Cappuccino seems to have way more history, but the flat white is nothing more than its own evolution and adaptation in one way or another.

While flat white is based on little foam and velvety of milk, the cappuccino will provide a taste and texture quite dry, almost like drinking bubbles on top of a bed of espresso and milk.

Obviously, there is no final winner. Both of them are excellent coffees, but each one of them has its own characteristics. The decision will mainly rely on the way you feel and what you are looking for in a perfect coffee.

Now that you know exactly how these two coffees should look like, talk to your local barista the next time you go to the coffee shop. It will definitely be a game-changer.

What are you waiting for? Which one is your favorite? We’d love to know your answer!