If you love coffee, you’re not alone. There are millions of people around the world who are as passionate about coffee as you. In fact, 83% of American adults drink coffee, according to a 2013 survey conducted by the National Coffee Association USA. What’s more interesting is that the same survey found out that gourmet coffee beverages stood steady at 31% consumption, even as consumption of traditional brands took a hit from 56% down to 49%. Are you familiar with gourmet coffee? If so, do you know the differences between latte vs cappuccino vs machiato vs café au lait?

 Gourmet Coffee for the World

Contrary to what’s implied by its name, gourmet coffee is not just for gourmets or those with highly discerning tastes. These beverages have cut across political, social, economic, and geographic barriers – they’re simply that good.

This is not to say, of course, that plain coffee is lacking, in itself. It’s just that gourmet coffee puts a little touch of excitement and extra flavor in your coffee that makes such beverages a delight to drink.

What are the typical gourmet coffee preparations? Currently, there are four that deserve a great deal of attention for their popularity among coffee drinkers.  In fact, they’re so popular that many fans of these special preparations don’t just leave their cravings at the mercy of the numerous coffee shops that abound nearly everywhere – they even go out to buy their own coffee machines so that they can prepare these four types of gourmet coffee at work or at home: latte, cappuccino, machiato, and café au lait.

But the question is, which is better and what are their differences?

Latte vs Cappucino

Both of these coffee drinks make use of steamed milk, although in different ways. Latte literally means “milk.” What makes this preparation stand out is how it makes use of robust espresso and in milk that’s steamed, then topped with foam.


In most coffeehouses, latte is a preferred drink by the patrons because of its simplicity. The aroma and strong flavor of espresso (coffee that’s brewed by using pressure, forcing a low level of almost boiling water to pass through finely ground beans) combines with the sweetness of the milk to produce an exquisite, yet still-down home taste.

Latte is very comforting and calls to mind traditional homegrown values, and that could be why something which started out as having strong and inventive Italian influences, eventually became considered as having an American origin (specifically for the addition of foamed milk on top).

As such, when latte goes head-to-head with cappucino, the comparisons that arise in a latte vs cappucino match will naturally call to mind their commonly accepted origins. Yet, beyond where these concoctions came from, are differences that while somewhat subtle, can still strike their respective fans as being critically important.

For example, cappucino makes less use of steamed milk, compared to latte. In latte, it’s possible to substitute tea for the coffee cappuccino(note however,  that purist latte fans will be among the first to say that doing so means taking the innovation a little bit further than what they want).

Like latte, cappuccino is also made of espresso and steamed milk, but the milk foam that goes on top is much more than that in latte. Also, cappucino lovers can attest that one of the qualities which makes drinking the preparation so enticing is the “latte art” that is “drawn” on top of the foam. Cappuccino requires the creation of small air bubbles into the milk, which provides the milk’s velvety texture. It was named after the Capuchin friars, with reference to the color of their priestly robes.

Comparing Ratios

  • Latte is a 1:3 to 1:5 ratio of espresso vis-à-vis milk, and some foam on top.
  • Cappuccino has slightly less milk, but more foam, with about 1/3 espresso, 1/3 steamed milk, and more than 1/3 foam.

Best Cappuccino and Latte makers on the maket


How about for machiato and café au lait? What are the differences?

Machiato vs Café au Lait

Machiato gives a powerhouse coffee flavor. It is basically espresso that’s topped with some foam, but hardly any milk per macchiatose. The name is Italian for “stained” or “marked.” Depending on where you buy your machiato, baristas may serve you your drink with whipped cream substituting for the foam. If you prepare your machiato at home, you are, of course, entitled to prepare it with either milk or whipped cream, just be sure that the espresso flavor stands out. Otherwise, it’s no longer machiato.

By comparison, café au lait is basically made of one half brewed coffee and one half warm milk. In essence, with café au lait, the skill required to come up with the ideal preparation, is to be able to balance the flavor of the strong coffee with the creamy taste of milk.

Café au lait is a name of French origins. Sometimes, it is confused with latte, because of the way that milk prominently figures in their names. However, in comparison with latte, café au lait, to be true to its French roots, has to be traditionally served using a white porcelain cup, or even a small, white porcelain bowl. The American latte, on the other hand, is traditionally served using a kitchen glass.


Of course, such manners of serving are only for traditional drinking and serving environments. Most modern coffeehouses or coffee shops no longer practice such traditions.

Going back to machiato vs café au lait, one another thing that clearly distinguishes one from the other is that in a machiato, the milk foam is placed directly in the coffee cup, then coffee is poured into it. For café au lait, the coffee goes in first, followed by the scalded or warmed milk.

Comparing Ratios

  • Café au lait has a 1:1 ratio of brewed coffee and milk.
  • Machiato is basically 1 espresso shot with foam depending on the drinker.

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And that’s it for the differences between latte vs cappuccino vs machiato vs café au lait. If you’re still unsure, do yourself a favor, and try them all, one a time –  on different days, of course. Enjoy!



photo credit: cosmocatalano and lokeshdhakar