Flat White vs Cappuccino: Understanding The Difference

Flat White vs Cappuccino

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Coffee drinks come in many shapes and forms, which can leave you confused about how they are different from each other. When looking at flat white vs cappuccino it’s easy to say they’re the same. Wrong.

To save you some embarrassment if you originally thought there wasn’t much difference, we’ve compiled everything you need to know. That way, if the question ever comes up again you can flex your knowledge to everyone in the room.

The quick answer to Flat White vs Cappuccino

A Flat white contains a higher amount of milk, this makes the overall flavor of the coffee less strong. For a cappuccino, less steamed milk is added to the drink increasing the strength of the coffee taste.

When it comes to microfoam being added to the top of the drink, there is also a considerable contrast. Cappuccinos have a lot of microfoam, adding a thick creamy layer to the drink. However, flat whites only have a tiny touch of microfoam that’s hardly noticeable.

If you regularly drink cappuccinos but find the taste overbearing, then switching to flat whites may be the best option. And vice versa if it’s the other way around.

The history of the great flat white

The origin of the flat white is a little similar to the cappuccino, not in terms of the story but that no one can agree on how it was first made.

New Zealand claims it was created for the very first time at DFK Cafe by Derek Townsend and Darrell Ahlers back in 1984.

Some individuals don’t like this version, and instead say the flat white was a label used by Fraser McInnes to describe a poorly made cappuccino in 1989 (in New Zealand).

Alan Preston, who added the flat white to his Moors Espresso Bar in Sydney in 1985 said the origins of the drink came from Queensland. According to him, there were certain cafés that offered flat whites during the 1960s and 1970s.

There are also others that have claimed to be the first to create and offer this beverage; however, these three stories seem to have the most support.

How a flat white is made

Coffee making is typically seen as an art that differs depending on who’s making it. With that being said, when a survey was carried out asking coffee enthusiasts to describe a flat white, they said the following :

The drink size should be between 5.5oz to 6oz (70% of participants said this)
Espresso used in the drink needs to be a double shot (59% said this)
Using a cappuccino-size ceramic mug is the best way to consume it (51% agreed)
The foam should be barely visible with hardly any being added (65% voiced this)

Put all the information together and you get a 5.5oz to 6oz drink that has two shots of espresso and a very small amount of foam on top.

If you’re planning on ordering a flat white this is what you’ll likely receive.

How the flat white tastes and its texture

When compared to a standard latte, the flat white is a little stronger with the espresso counting for approximately 25% of the drink.

Moving back to flat white vs cappuccino, it’s safe to say the big difference is the milk. With only a thin layer of microfoam, the overall texture of the drink is very smooth. This impacts the flavor too with it being a lot sweeter than a traditional cappuccino.

Why has Starbucks changed the flat white?

Starbucks is all too familiar with mixing things up and creating new versions of existing drinks. When it comes to the flat white, they’ve done exactly that.

First of all, the size is different. If you order the drink you will be given the option of 12oz to 20oz sized cups. Secondly, two ristretto shots are used making the flavor very different. You can expect a tangier version rather than the traditional taste.

Unfamiliar with what ristretto is? It’s basically a concentrated espresso. Coffee grounds are needed in the same quantity, although the difference lies with a finer grind being used during the extraction process and half the amount of water.

That’s why you receive a much stronger flavor than if a normal espresso shot (or two) is used.

The history of the great cappuccino

Alongside the taste and texture differences when looking at flat white vs cappuccino, their origins are quite independent. First let’s look at the cappuccino’s history, well the two stories that come with it:

One story says that the cappuccino was created by the Italians and the original recipe was coffee that had cream and sugar. The reason it was called this was that the color of the cappuccino was similar to clothes worn by Capuchin monks that were local to the area.

Story number two is that the cappuccino was Italy’s answer to the kapuziner drink (made from coffee, sugar, and cream) that was from modern-day Austria.

It’s hard to determine which one is correct. So, pick your favorite and share that one with your friends!

How a cappuccino is made

In its simplest form, a cappuccino is made from ⅓ of espresso, ⅓ of steamed milk, and ⅓ of microfoam. Usually, it’s served in 5oz to 6oz cups. There’s also the option of having chocolate or cinnamon sprinkled on top.

Cappuccinos and how they’re made have changed quite a lot. The introduction of the espresso machine revolutionized the drink to what we all drink today. However, this version is relatively new with it being created in the mid-20th century.

How the cappuccino tastes and its texture

The cappuccino has a much stronger taste compared to the flat white. It’s easy to see why by looking at how it’s made. With a 3rd of the drink being dedicated to foam on the top, there’s less milk to mix with the espresso.

The texture is dramatically changed by this as well. You can expect a fluffy and creamy top layer before getting to the espresso and steamed milk mixture.

Starbucks and their version of the cappuccino

Unlike other drinks on their menu, Starbucks keeps in line with the standard recipe. The only significant difference is the size. Walking into one of their shops and ordering a cappuccino will leave you with the option of having a cup size in the range of 12 to 20 ounces.

In our opinion, the microfoam tends to be below the bar when compared to others that have creamier types. Although, Starbucks is known to make changes to the drinks they offer so this could be completely different in the future…But at least for the time being the drink is similar to the way it was intended!

What’s better to make at home?

Flat white vs cappuccino: which is better to make when you’re at home, you ask? Both flat whites and cappuccinos can be made pretty easily at home. However, you will need the following equipment:

  • A coffee grinder
  • An espresso machine

The hardest part you’ll most likely find is getting the foam right. In many cases, this will take quite a few attempts to nail. So, we’d have to give the edge to a flat white being the easiest one to make, which makes sense as only a tiny bit of foam is used compared to making a cappuccino.

How does a latte fit the equation?

A latte, also known as “caffé latte” is traditionally served in a tall glass and only has 1 shot of espresso, unlike the flat white that normally has two. The amount of microfoam and steamed milk used in a latte and a flat white is pretty much the same.

Overall, you’ll receive a smoother coffee from a latte that is suited for those who aren’t a big fan of the espresso taste. Also, it’s common for syrups to be added to further increase how sweet the taste is. A big no-no for the other drinks mentioned.

Can you use alternative milk options for these drinks?

Although the main differences between a flat white and a cappuccino are the quantities of the ingredients in them, they all typically use the same milk: diary.

With that being said, there’s no reason that this can’t be substituted for others, for example, almond or oat milk.

Our advice would be to experiment with the different options available at your local coffee shop or look for recipes online with the combination you want. We may even have the one you’re looking for in our coffee guides.

Our opinion on flat white vs cappuccino

As regular drinkers of coffee, The Coffee Bros came together to decide (collective) our favorite.

And the winner is… Cappuccino!

What is yours? Let us know below.

We’ve reached the end

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