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Flat White vs. Cappuccino: A Head-To-Head Comparison

Updated: Oct 4, 2023

In the world of coffee, where every cup has its unique flavor and aroma, two leading coffee drinks stand out yet differ in their own way—Flat White vs. Cappuccino. These two favorite espresso-based beverages, often confused for their similarities, have distinct characteristics that make each a peculiar coffee experience. The flat white and cappuccino have their origins, compositions, and devoted followings.


This blog will reveal the story behind flat white vs. cappuccino. We will learn where they came from, what they are made of, and how they taste. Whether you are a coffee lover looking for the perfect cup or just curious about these drinks, join us on this exciting journey and find out which suits your taste buds best—Flat White or Cappuccino.


Before delving into the difference between flat white and cappuccino, let us first understand what flat white and cappuccino is.


What is Flat White Coffee?


The flat white, a coffee favorite from Australia and New Zealand, is a simple and delightful brew. It begins with a double shot of espresso poured into a cup, and then a small amount of silky steamed milk is added without any foam or fancy toppings. Its strong espresso flavor sets the flat white apart, making it bolder than other coffee varieties. It is like the coffee takes center stage, with just the right touch of creamy milk. A classic flat white is typically 5 to 6 ounces, with two shots of espresso and just a hint of foam. The primary difference between a flat white and a cappuccino is that the flat white has less foam, making it a smoother, more coffee-forward drink.


What is a Cappuccino?


The cappuccino is a well-loved coffee choice known for its perfect mix of espresso, steamed milk, and creamy foam. It is typically served in a small cup with an equal quantity of espresso, steamed milk, and foam on top. Making a great cappuccino is about getting the milk's texture and frothiness right. The foam should sit nicely on the espresso without mixing too much, so you get a tasty combo of coffee and smooth foam with each sip.


Originally from Italy, cappuccinos have been enjoyed for a long time, especially in the morning or as a quick snack. They became popular in the United States about 25 years ago and are now common in coffee shops worldwide. People from all over love cappuccinos and that's led to different versions, like iced cappuccinos with cold-frothed milk or ones with added flavors like caramel or vanilla.


In the next section, let us clarify what is a flat white vs. cappuccino.


Difference Between Flat White and Cappuccino


Flat White vs. Cappuccino: What's the Difference?

1. Flat White Vs. Cappuccino - Origin


Flat White


The story of where the Flat White coffee was born is a bit like a mystery tale involving two countries, New Zealand and Australia, both claiming its origin. One version says it was created by Derek Townsend in 1984 at DKF Cafe in New Zealand. But Australia disagrees and says Fraser McInnes came up with the name in 1989 in Wellington, New Zealand, to describe poorly made cappuccinos. This debate has become a source of national pride, and the absolute truth might always remain a mystery. There's even a legend about Derek Townsend making a whopping 1,500 Flat Whites per hour, which is like 25 drinks every minute—something that's pretty hard to imagine!


Cappuccino


The Cappuccino, in contrast, has a less debated history. Its name likely comes from Italy, where the coffee's light-brown color with cream and sugar reminded people of Capuchin monks' robes. Another idea is that the Cappuccino is Italy's version of Vienna's "kapuziner" drink, a basic mix of coffee, cream, and sugar. Even though we can only partially be sure which story is true, there is something charming about the monk tale.


2. Flat White Vs. Cappuccino - Composition


Flat White


A Flat White is a simple coffee drink, but it is made in a particular way to give it its unique flavor and texture. There is no one perfect recipe for a Flat White, but most Flat Whites are made with the following ingredients:

  • Size: A Flat White is usually served in a 5.5 to 6-ounce cup.

  • Espresso: It features a standard double shot of espresso, which amounts to approximately 1.5 ounces.

  • Milk: Steamed milk is a crucial component, making up the majority of the beverage, often ranging from 4 to 5 ounces.

  • Microfoam: Here, it differs from the Cappuccino—the Flat White typically has minimal to no microfoam, giving it a smooth, milky texture.


A traditional flat white is a harmonious balance between rich espresso and silky, steamed milk with just a hint of foam.



Cappuccino

A cappuccino is a classic coffee drink known for its perfect combination of espresso, steamed milk, and creamy foam. So, let us explore what goes into making a Cappuccino and understand its ingredients.

  • Size: Traditionally, a cappuccino is served in a 5-6 ounce cup.

  • Espresso: It comprises a double shot of espresso, similar to the Flat White.

  • Steamed Milk: Steamed milk accounts for one-third of the beverage, creating a creamy and mellow base.

  • Microfoam: The defining feature of a cappuccino is the thick and dense microfoam, which constitutes another one-third of the drink.

The cappuccino's unique texture and intense coffee flavor arise from this balanced mixture of espresso, steamed milk, and creamy microform.



3. Flat White Vs. Cappuccino - Taste and Texture


Flat White: Smooth and Mellow


The Flat White is celebrated for its mellowness in the world of coffee. With espresso making up approximately 25% of the drink, it maintains a strong coffee flavor without overpowering the palate. However, the distinguishing characteristic of the Flat White is its smooth and slightly sweet steamed milk, which imparts a gentle creaminess without the richness of microfoam. The minimal to nonexistent microfoam allows the coffee's essence to shine through, resulting in a medium-strength coffee with a milky, velvety texture.


Cappuccino: Bold and Creamy


Cappuccino lovers enjoy the bold flavor of their drink. In a showdown of cappuccino versus flat white, the cappuccino stands out with its robust flavor. It maintains an even coffee-to-steamed milk ratio, making it stronger than the Flat White. This balance between coffee and milk gives the cappuccino a medium to medium-strong intensity and a well-rounded taste. What sets the cappuccino apart is its luxurious, creamy microfoam, which imparts a velvety texture to each sip. In the battle of cappuccino versus flat white, the cappuccino is the best choice for coffee enthusiasts who want a rich and perfectly balanced coffee experience with that distinctive cappuccino taste.


4. Flat White Vs. Cappuccino - Starbucks' Influence


Flat White


Starbucks, famous for its creative coffee drinks, has Flat White and Cappuccino versions. But these versions have surprised some coffee experts.


The Starbucks Flat White, even though it has the same name, is quite different from the usual one. It uses two ristretto shots, which are shorter and tangier espresso shots, and it comes in bigger sizes, like 12 to 20 ounces. This change from the regular Flat White has left some coffee lovers puzzled. They wonder why Starbucks decided to change something that was already well-loved.


Cappuccino


However, Starbucks' cappuccino is made with a 1:1:1 ratio of espresso, steamed, and foamed milk, the same as the classic cappuccino recipe. However, some say Starbucks' cappuccino does not have as much creamy microfoam as those served at specialty coffee shops. This is why many coffee lovers prefer the smaller, more traditional cappuccinos served at specialty coffee shops.


5. Flat White and Cappuccino: Which to Choose?


Choosing between a Flat White and a Cappuccino depends on your taste preferences. Here's a simple guide:


Strength Preference:

  • Do you like your coffee milder and smoother? Go for the Flat White.

  • Do you want a bolder, more intense coffee? Pick the Cappuccino.


Texture Preference:

  • If you enjoy creamy, fluffy foam, the cappuccino is your choice.

  • If you like a smoother, milkier drink with a touch of foam, go for the Flat White.


6. Making Coffee at Home

  • You can make both at home, but mastering the foam in a cappuccino takes practice.

  • Remember, high-quality coffee beans make a big difference in taste, whether you choose a flat white or a cappuccino. It all comes down to what you personally enjoy in your coffee.


Conclusion

In the timeless debate of Flat White vs. Cappuccino, it is clear that while these two coffee drinks share some similarities, they are different in their ways. The flat white, with its milky smoothness and subtle coffee undertones, serves those who crave a milder coffee experience. In contrast, the cappuccino, known for its bold espresso flavor and luscious microfoam, appeals to those who savor the strongness of their brew.


Whether you sip a flat white or savor a cappuccino, the world of coffee never fails to amaze you with its depth and diversity, making every cup a tasty adventure for the senses. So, the next time you are faced with the choice between these coffee classics, utilize the opportunity to enjoy the nuances of flavor and texture that make each sip a moment to remember.


More From Jorge Armando Ciciliani

 

About The Author: Jorge Armando Ciciliani

Jorge - Coffee Expert

Jorge is a seasoned coffee professional with a lifelong passion for all things coffee. For over a decade, he has fervently immersed himself in the world of coffee, mastering its preparation, understanding its societal impact, and uncovering its cultural significance. Starting as a barista at the young age of 15 and later managing a coffee roastery, this journey led him to work as a quality control manager for a green coffee importer.


Traveling across countries in Central and North America, Jorge has explored various coffee traditions and honed his skills through Specialty Coffee Association courses. As a QC Cupping coffee connoisseur and sensory skills enthusiast, Jorge is a true expert in the art of brewing and savoring the perfect cup. Consider him your trusted Fika expert.


 

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