So, you want to better understand the difference between espresso-based drinks such as latte, latte macchiato and flat white. Great! You have come to the right place.

It is time to stop being intimidated by coffee house menus and learn the simple, but essential, distinctions between three delicious coffee beverages. As a bonus, we have included some authentic recipes, in case you want to test your barista skills at home.

Just remember that while making a latte does not require the use of dark magic, it will be helpful if you have a good espresso brewing system and a coffee grinder at home.

READ MORE: Cappuccino VS Macchiato VS Mocha


What is a Latte/Café Latte

A latte is perhaps the most popular and often mistaken for something else, coffee-based drink in America. It is made with a shot of espresso and steamed milk that resembles a sweet and mellow flavor.

In order to achieve an authentic and delicious café latte, mix a single shot of espresso with 6 ounces of steamed milk and then cover it with foam (up to 1cm). Since most drinks in America are oversized, compared to Europe, most lattes are made with a double shot of espresso and 10 to 12 ounces of milk.

Just remember, when making a latte, the espresso goes at the bottom of the cup. Only then, you pour the warm milk, while holding back the foam with a spoon.

Use the following espresso to milk ratio:

  • A single shot of espresso
  • 6 ounces of milk
  • 1 cm of foam on top

You can always add an extra 2 ounces of milk in order to get a sweeter taste.

Lattes are quickly gaining popularity in North American cafes due to baristas’ increasing skills to etch swirls and spirals in the form. This is also why lattes are the most posted photographs on Instagram.

What is Latte Macchiato

Latte macchiato literally means stained milk. The origin of the name comes from the fact that the milk is stained (or marked) by the addition of espresso.

Any aspiring barista should know that, even though latte macchiato has the same ingredients as a regular café latte, they actually differ greatly in preparation. To begin with, the former needs to be served in a tall glass, as opposed to a short cup.

Also known as a layered drink, latte macchiato is most often made with half a shot of espresso that is added to the milk. Therefore, beginning to form a different layer. The foam is then added to the top, forming the final layer of the beverage.

In simple terms, in latte macchiato, the emphasis is on milk, rather than coffee.

Best preparation practices include frothing milk and pouring it into a glass, together with the foam. The espresso is then carefully added over the back of a spoon so it can form a layer between the milk and the foam.

What is a Flat White

If it looks like a latte, but it is smoother, with a velvety texture and with a stronger taste, it’s a flat white.

First, let me say that a flat white is not a small latte. It is also not a cappuccino with less froth. My ears burn every time I hear baristas or coffee house customers bring up these arguments.

Second, flat white does not have stiff froth. Instead, it comes with a very thin layer of velvet microfoam. In basic terms, this foam is formed from the steamed milk found on the bottom of the pitcher. It is the silkiest and texture-rich portion of the milk.

In addition, the microfoam elegantly tops the beverage with a “flat” layer, hence the name. In contrast, lattes usually have a top layer of 5mm to a centimetre of steamed milk.

Free poured milk is a must in order to make this drink right. This is the only way the foam can be folded through the entire drink, therefore, eliminating the chance for discernable layers between the espresso and the foam.

Lastly, flat white is made with a double shot of espresso. So, a flat white should always be stronger than a latte, when made using the same coffee ground. Also, the former should be served in a cup no larger than 160ml (6oz), while lattes can be served in 240ml (8.11oz).

Key differences between a latte and flat white:

  • The texturing of the milk.
  • The amount of espresso (single shot for a latte and double shot for a flat white).
  • Aesthetics – a flat white is topped by a thin layer of microfoam, while a latte has up to 1cm of steamed milk on top.

Final Thoughts

Perfecting any of these three espresso-based beverages takes time. But, now that you have the essential knowledge, you can start experimenting with your own recipes. Just because a drink was originally invented to be made with a single shot of espresso, does not mean you cannot make it with a double.

The most important thing when it comes to lattes, latte macchiatos and flat whites, is to actually enjoy their rich flavor and taste.