Brewing Guides

What is the difference between flat white and cappuccino coffee drinks?

Anyone who has been inside a coffee shop has probably heard of a cappuccino before, but what about a flat white? Have you ever heard of or had one of those? Do you know what the difference between a flat white and a cappuccino is?

Flat whites and cappuccinos are both made with espresso shots but the difference is in the milk quantity and preparation. In a flat white, the espresso is topped with microfoam. In a cappuccino, the standard is 1/3 espresso, 1/3 steamed milk and 1/3 foam.  As a result, the cappuccino is slightly stronger as the espresso is less diluted.

The short answer is that the type and amount of foam in a flat white and a cappuccino is very different, but there is a little more to it than that. Let’s take a more in-depth look at what the differences are between a flat white and cappuccino coffee drinks. 

What is a flat white? 

A flat white is a small espresso based coffee drink with microfoam covering the top of it. The flat white is a lighter, less dense, drink than either a cappuccino or a latte which are also espresso based drinks. The espresso flavour of the drink is quite strong as the smooth milk foam is meant to be complimentary of the espresso and is not meant to mask or overpower it. 

Microfoam is made when milk is frothed with a steam wand. The consistent speed and temperature of the wand keep the foam in the milk without allowing it to rise to the top resulting in milk foam with tiny bubbles. These milk bubbles are then free poured over the top of the espresso creating a delicate silky texture with a naturally sweet flavour. 

A flat white doesn’t taste as strong as a cappuccino, because there is more milk in it. 

What is a cappuccino? 

A cappuccino is also an espresso based coffee beverage, but this one has an equal ratio of espresso, steamed milk, and frothed milk. To make a cappuccino the barista, heats the milk and pours it into the espresso, the foam is held back and poured on top. 

A cappuccino is a larger drink than a flat white and has more foam on the top of it. The foam on top of the cappuccino is often described as dry especially compared with the silky mouthfeel of the flat white. A well-made cup of cappuccino has three separate layers, the rich espresso 1/3 on the bottom, 1/3 steamed milk on top of that, and 1/3 light airy foam on the top.

Where did the Flat White come from?

Both Australian’s and New Zealanders claim that they are the ones who first created the flat white, albeit in different years, but the truth is that the flat white was likely created by both of these individuals in their respective countries. The popularity of the flat white is still fairly recent in coffee shops around the globe. 

Australian’s claim that Fraser McInnes made the first flat white in 1989, in a Wellington coffee shop. New Zealanders on the other hand claim that the flat white was first made by Derek Townsend at the DKF Cafe in 1984. No matter who made it first the flat white is a delicious espresso based drink that you can now find in coffee shops everywhere. 

Where did the Cappuccino come from? 

The cappuccino is an Italian coffee beverage and has become increasingly more popular at coffee shops around the world as espresso machines were made more popular. When cappuccino was first introduced in Italian coffee shops it was called cappuccino after the Capuchin friars since the colour of the beverage closely resembled the colour of the brown hoods they wore. 

There is another story about the origin of the cappuccino as well. This story claims that in the 1700s Viennese coffee shops began serving a drink called the Kapuziner. The kapuziner was strong coffee topped with whipped cream and spices. It is quite possible that both of these stories are true, and contributed to the cappuccino becoming the drink that we know and love today. 

After World War II, improvements to the espresso machine led to an increase in the drink’s availability, and it was served across Europe as a breakfast beverage. After World War II, the Italian coffee shops replaced the whipped cream with frothed milk. In the early 1980s, cappuccino beverages became popular in the United States where they are served in a variety of sizes and all day long. 

Which drink is right for you? 

You may be wondering which drink you should order the next time you head to your local coffee shop and that just depends on the type of drink that you prefer, but rest assured both of these drinks are delicious! 

How much do you enjoy foam? 

If you really like a lot of foam on the top of your coffee beverage then a cappuccino might be your drink of choice. Flat whites only have a small amount of microfoam on the top of it, and the feeling is silky and creamy not frothy or foamy. 

How much milk do you like in your coffee drinks? 

Both the flat white and cappuccinos have milk that is mixed with espresso to make the drink, but the flat white has less than the cappuccino. 

Do you want a lighter drink or a more decadent one? 

If you are looking for a lighter drink then the flat white is probably the drink that you are looking for, because cappuccinos are rich and thick. Flat whites are also slightly less acidic than a cappuccino is. 

Now that you know all about the flat white and the cappuccino, and their rich and flavourful history you may be wondering how to make these amazing drinks at home, or even if you can. If you have an espresso machine with a milk frother, or an espresso machine with a separate milk frother or steaming wand you can make flat whites and cappuccinos at home anytime you like. 

How to Make a Flat White at Home

To make a flat white at home you will need one or two shots (based on your preference) of freshly brewed espresso. If you would like your drink to be stronger try two shots. After your espresso is made, it is time to froth your milk to pour over the top. Approximately 4 ounces of milk should be enough to get the desired texture for your milk. Keep the nozzle of your steaming wand in the milk for several seconds being sure to give it plenty of air. To pour the milk in start pouring up high with a thin milk stream, then lower the pitcher and speed up the flow of milk until the cup is filled.  Find the best home coffee machine here!

How to Make a Cappuccino at Home

If you have ever watched a professional barista make a cappuccino you will know that they start with steamed milk, pour the espresso on top of that, and then put the milk foam on top of the drink with a spoon. However, if you are making an espresso at home the order will be a little bit different. 

Start by making your espresso and pouring it into the bottom of your mug. While your espresso is brewing you can go ahead and steam your milk. Pour the steamed milk into the espresso, and then pour the milk froth on the top. If you would like to start experimenting with latte art (making designs on the top of the drink with the milk), try dusting the top of the espresso with cocoa powder before you begin pouring the milk. It takes practice, but it is very impressive, if you master it you will be the go to barista for all of your friends. 

Now that you know all about the flat white and cappuccino which will you choose the next time that you visit your local coffee shop? The foamy, decadent cappuccino, or the smooth and silky flat white? Have you ever tried to make either of them at home with your espresso machine? If so, do you have any flat white or cappuccino making tips to share?

Have you heard about piccolo coffee? Know more about it here! Or, you can familiarise some coffee words & jargon next!

Sophie is a barista and coffee enthusiast who has owned and ran a coffee truck in her remote community since 2017. She wants to cut the jargon and make brewing coffee enjoyable for everyone.