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Flat White vs. Cappuccino: What is The Difference?

Flat White vs. Cappuccino

Flat white and cappuccino are two espresso-based beverages that are often confused because besides looking pretty much the same, they are also made from similar ingredients.

However, the truth is that these are quite different beverages that will differ in everything from their taste to the number of calories that they pack. Hence, before you order one at your local café or make it at home, it is important to know exactly what to expect.

In this piece, we provide overviews of these amazing coffee beverages including their pros and cons and also highlight some of their main differences to help you decide which one will appeal to your taste buds most.

Flat White Overview

Flat White

The flat white is a relatively newer coffee beverage type when compared to others like cappuccinos, and it is often thought to be the Australian and New Zealand version of a cappuccino.

This milk-based espresso beverage will allow you to taste the strong flavor of the espresso while still getting a creamy mouthfeel from the steamed milk.

Unlike cappuccinos, flat whites are much less dense, and instead of milk froth, they will include microfoam, which is one of the best ways to tell these two beverages apart.

And the microfoam is what gives this beverage the amazing feel on the mouth. Although the serving style will differ from one country to the other, a typical flat white will often be served in small tulip cup, but in some instances, a regular ceramic cappuccino cup is used.

In most instances, the flat white will typically have more calories than cappuccinos, which means this might not be the best drink for individuals watching their weight. However, the good news is that this is still an easy issue to fix by using skimmed milk or non-dairy milk.

Pros:

  • Relatively easier to make
  • Strong and rich espresso taste
  • Nice microfoam

Cons:

  • Relatively more calories

Cappuccino Overview

Cappuccino

Cappuccinos are the most famous and most popular milk-based espresso drink, and this has been the case since its invention back in the 18th century. And like almost all popular espresso drinks, it originates from Italy.

While flat whites will offer you a silky mouthfeel and an amazing texture, cappuccino gives you a smoother and creamier beverage that feels more balanced.

Because cappuccinos are more well-balanced, they are often more bearable for all coffee lovers, even for those that prefer not to sweeten their beverages, which should explain their immense popularity.

And like flat whites, they are quick and easy to make, and the only thing that will probably come with a learning curve is the milk frothing and steaming. Better yet, you can also finish the cappuccino with some nice art just like you would with a latte.

Cappuccinos will be typically served in relatively larger cups than the flat whites because a typical one will have at least an ounce of beverage more.

For those that prefer the stronger coffee taste, cappuccinos are not always the best choice because all that steamed milk can easily overwhelm the espresso, which leads to a milder or medium strength coffee.

Pros:

  • Smoother and creamier
  • Well-balanced drink
  • Quick and easy to make
  • Nice, stiff foam

Cons:

  • A little milder coffee taste

Comparison Chart


Flat White

Cappuccino

Origins

New Zealand, 1980s

Italy, 18th Century

Beverage Ratio

1,5 oz espresso, 4 to 5 oz steamed milk and 0.5 oz microfoam

2 oz espresso, 2 oz steamed milk and 2 oz milk foam

How It Is Made

A double ristretto espresso shot is topped with steamed whole milk

1 or 2 shots of espresso topped with steamed milk and a thick layer of foam

Strength

Medium to strong

Medium and more balanced

Typical Beverage Size

5 to 6 oz

6 oz

Ideal Serving

Small ceramic cup

Ceramic cup

Caloric Intake

170 per 12 fl oz serving

120 per 16 fl oz serving

Flat White vs. Cappuccino

If you are not sure which beverage between these two will appeal most to your taste buds, the wise idea will be to try them both a few times and choose what works for your specific tastes. But, if you do not have the time or do not want to go through all this, here are few points to help you out.

1. Origins

To truly understand these two beverages and what they have to offer, it is always a great idea to first know where they come from and their origins. And contrary to what many coffee lovers are quick to assume, they are not all from Italy.

Flat White

Flat white is a relatively new addition to espresso-based beverages as it has only been around for a few decades now, but it is now among the most popular options out there with leading coffee chains like Starbucks making it part of their menu.

There are conflicting accounts on its origins with both Australia and New Zealand claiming the beverage. However, many coffee experts and historians seem to agree that the beverage came from New Zealand, where it was first made by Derek Townsend in 1984.

But, the Australians claim it was invented by Fraser Mclnnes in 1989. Which story is true is something that we will likely not know, but what is clear is that the beverage originated from that region before spreading to the rest of the world.

Cappuccino

For cappuccino, there are no conflicting accounts on the origin because it is clear that like most other espresso-based beverages, it originated from Italy.

Cappuccinos, came into being when many Italians started adding sugar and cream to their coffee to lighten it and make it less bitter in the 18th century. But, the beverage as it is today, only came into the picture in the mid-20th century when the espresso makers came into the market.

Since then, the drink has gone on to evolve into various variations such as dry and wet cappuccino depending on the kind of milk used to make it.

2. Beverage Ratio

Another crucial element that sets the flat white and cappuccino apart is the ratio of ingredients used because despite both being made with espresso and milk, it will be in different ratios. Also, the kind of milk used differs.

For the cappuccino, the three main ingredients which are espresso, steamed milk, and milk foam are in equal proportions. In most instances, the cappuccino will be made with 2 ounces of espresso, 2 ounces of steamed milk and 2 ounces of milk foam to form a 6-ounce drink.

With the flat white, there will be more steamed milk than espresso and microfoam. A typical flat white will consist of a double ristretto, 4 to 5 ounces of steamed milk and about 0.5 ounces of microfoam.

3. How It Is Made

Even if you prefer to buy café shop coffee or do not have the time to make your brew at home, it is always nice to know how your favorite beverage is made. And the good news is that both flat white and cappuccinos are quite straightforward to make at home.

Flat White

Step 1: Start by pulling double shots of ristretto espresso which is a more concentrated shot type

Step 2: Add milk to frothing jug and start steaming and frothing

Step 3: Steam the milk to around 65 degrees centigrade

Step 4: When foaming the milk make sure it has a finer and silkier texture with very fine bubbles, and to do this, you need to steam it less than you would with cappuccinos

Step 5: Now add about half a centimeter of the microfoam to the espresso to create the flat white 

Cappuccino

Step 1: Start by pulling 1 or two shots of espresso into a ceramic cup

Step 2: Add milk to a frothing jug and start steaming and frothing

Step 3: Make sure the milk has more texture than what you would use on flat white, and steam it to around 75 degrees centigrade.

Step 4: Next pour the steamed milk over the espresso while holding back the foam

Step 5: Finish by adding about one centimeter of foam over the steamed milk to complete the multilayer cappuccino structure

4. Strength

Good coffee is all about strength, and because different drinkers will have different preferences when it comes to strength, you cannot overlook it when choosing between flat white and cappuccino.

While both have lots of milk, you can still feel the espresso, which is a great thing for many espresso fanatics.

However, the perfect blend of milk and espresso gives the flat white a stronger taste. Nevertheless, many baristas claim that the addition of more milk tones down the espresso, and hence making it milder. Hence, overall it is fair to say that the flat white will have a medium to strong taste.

With cappuccinos, the taste will also be milder or medium because of the addition of both steamed milk and milk foam, but it will be a more balanced beverage than flat white.

5. Typical Beverage Size

The beverage size for both cappuccino and flat white will largely depend on where you are buying them from. Some coffee shops like Starbucks are known for making relatively larger beverage sizes.

When buying from Starbucks, the typical brew size for the flat white will be between 12 and 20 fluid ounces while cappuccinos will average around 16 fluid ounces.

However, traditionally the flat white is a smaller drink than cappuccino because in many instances it will be between 5 and 6 ounces while the cappuccinos tend to be at least 6 ounces.

But, with both beverages, there are no limits for the brew sizes as you can make them as small or as large as you want as long as you get the ratio of the ingredients right.

6. Ideal Serving

Like the brew size, the beverage serving is another element that will be highly dependent on where you are buying because different countries and coffee shops have their preferred methods of serving their beverages.

But, in many places, both beverages are served in ceramic cups. However, the difference comes from the size of the cup used to serve the coffee drink.

In many instances, the flat white will be served in a tulip cup which is a significantly smaller ceramic cup than the regular ceramic cup used to serve cappuccinos.

However, it is also common to find cappuccinos and flat whites being served in a shot glass like other beverages such as lattes.

7. Caloric Intake

The number of calories that you get with milk-based beverages like cappuccinos and flat whites will largely depend on the kind of milk used to make them because regular coffee and espresso have almost no calories.

Using Starbucks drinks for example purposes, you will take in around 170 calories per 12 fluid ounce serving of flat white which is their standard size. For cappuccino, the caloric intake will be around 120 for their standard 16 fluid ounce serving size.

Flat whites have significantly higher calorie count, but you can make both these beverages healthier by using skimmed milk instead of dairy milk or even other healthier alternatives like almond milk which has fewer calories.

Conclusion

Flat white and cappuccino are two espresso-based beverages that you cannot get enough of as they are just amazing, which should explain their popularity across the globe.

But, many coffee aficionados including the more experienced ones tend to confuse the two given the obvious similarity of ingredients used to make them. However, the two differ in various aspects from their origins to how they are made and even the strength and taste.

If you do not want to have to try out both before deciding which to buy, you need to understand the differences highlighted above.

Using these differences, the flat white will be perfect when you want a strong, smooth and less frothy beverage, while cappuccinos are perfect for those looking for something well-balanced and creamier.