what is a latte

Caffè latte (Italian: [kafˌfɛ lˈlatte][1][2]), often shortened to just latte (/ˈlɑːteɪ, ˈlæteɪ/)[3][4] in English, is a coffee beverage of Italian origin made with espresso and steamed milk. Variants include the chocolate-flavored mocha or replacing the coffee with another beverage base such as masala chai (spiced Indian tea), matematchaturmeric, or rooibos; other types of milk, such as soy milk or almond milk, are also used.

The term comes from the Italian caffellatte[5] or caffè latte, from caffè e latte, literally “coffee and milk”; in English orthography either or both words sometimes have an accent on the final e (a hyperforeignism or to indicate it is pronounced, not the more-common silent final e of English). In northern Europe and Scandinavia, the term café au lait has traditionally been used for the combination of espresso and milk. In France, café latte is from the original name of the beverage (caffè latte); a combination of espresso and steamed milk equivalent to a “latte” is in French called grand crème and in German Milchkaffee or (in Austria) Wiener Melange.


Origin and history

Latte art

Coffee and milk have been part of European cuisine since the seventeenth century. Caffè e latteMilchkaffeecafé au lait, and café con leche are domestic terms of traditional ways of drinking coffee, usually as part of breakfast in the home. Public cafés in Europe and the USA seem to have no mention of the terms until the twentieth century, although Kapuziner is mentioned in Austrian coffee houses in Vienna and Trieste in the second half of 1700s as “coffee with cream, spices, and sugar” (being the origin of the Italian cappuccino).

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the term caffè e latte was first used in English in 1867 by William Dean Howells in his essay “Italian Journeys”.[6] Kenneth Davids maintains that “…breakfast drinks of this kind have existed in Europe for generations, but the (commercial) caffè version of this drink is an American invention”.[7][dubious – discuss] The French term café au lait was used in cafés in several countries in western continental Europe from 1900 onward, however, the term café crème was used in France for coffee with milk or cream.

The Austrian-Hungarian empire (Central Europe) had its own terminology for the coffees being served in coffee houses, while in German homes it was still called Milchkaffee. The Italians used the term caffè latte domestically, but it is not known from cafés such as Florian in Venice or any other coffee houses or places where coffee was served publicly. Even when the Italian espresso bar culture bloomed in the years after WWII both in Italy, and in cities such as Vienna and London, espresso and cappuccino are the terms used and latte is missing on coffee menus of that time.

In Italian, latte (pronounced [ˈlatte]) means “milk“—so ordering a “latte” in Italy will get the customer a glass of milk.[8][9]

In Spanish, the phrase café con leche (coffee with milk) is used, which is by default served in a medium or large cup whereas the similar cortado (coffee with less milk) is served in a small cup.

In English-speaking countries, latte is shorthand for caffelatte or caffellatte (from caffè e latte, “coffee and milk”), which is similar to the French café au lait, the Spanish café con leche, the Catalan cafè amb llet, or the Portuguese galão.

The Caffe Mediterraneum in Berkeley, California claims that one of its early owners, Lino Meiorin, “invented” and “made the latte a standard drink” in the 1950s. The latte was popularized in Seattle, Washington in the early 1980s [10] and spread more widely in the early 1990s.[11][12]

In northern Europe and Scandinavia, a similar “trend” started in the early 1980s as café au lait became popular again, prepared with espresso and steamed milk. Caffè latte started replacing this term around 1996–97, but both names often exist side by side and generally are more similar than different in preparation.

Current use

In Italy, caffè latte is almost always prepared at home, for breakfast only. This coffee beverage is brewed with a stovetop moka pot and poured into a cup containing heated milk. Unlike the “international” latte drink, generally, the milk in the Italian original is not foamed and sugar is added by the drinker, if at all.

Outside Italy, typically a caffè latte is prepared in a 240 mL (8 US fl oz) glass or cup with one standard shot of espresso (either single, 30 mL or 1 US fl oz, or double, 60 mL or 2 US fl oz) and filled with steamed milk, with a layer of foamed milk approximately 12 mm (12 in) thick on the top. In the USA, a latte is often heavily sweetened with 3 % sugar (or even more).[13] When wanting to order this beverage in Italy, one should ask for a latte macchiato.A cup of latte, served at Merewether Beach, Australia

The beverage is related to a cappuccino, the difference being that a cappuccino consists of espresso and steamed milk with a 20-millimetre-thick (0.79 in) layer of milk foam. A variant found in Australia and New Zealand that is similar to the latte is the flat white, which is served in a smaller ceramic cup with warmed milk (without the layer of foam). In the United States this beverage is sometimes referred to as a wet cappuccino.

Iced latte

In the United States, an iced latte is usually espresso and chilled milk poured over ice.[14] Unlike a hot latte, it does not usually contain steamed milk or foam.[15] Iced lattes often have sugar or flavoring syrups added, although purists prefer them to consist simply of coffee and milk; they also are served blended with ice.[16] The espresso can be pre-chilled (sometimes as a mixture of espresso and milk) or frozen in advance to avoid warming up the drink.[17]

Caffè latte vs. latte macchiato

A glass of latte macchiato

Serving styles

A cup of latte made with matcha, called green tea latte, is a popular variation of latte found in East Asian countries.

  • In some establishments, lattes are served in a glass on a saucer with a napkin to hold the (sometimes hot) glass.
  • Sometimes a latte is served in a bowl; in Europe, particularly Scandinavia, this is referred to as a café au lait.
  • Increasingly common in the United States and Europe, latte art has led to the stylization of coffee making, and the creation of which is now a popular art form. Created by pouring steaming, and mostly frothed, milk into the coffee, that liquid is introduced into the beverage in such a way that patterns are distinguishable on the top of coffee. Popular patterns can include hearts, flowers, trees, and other forms of simplistic representations of images and objects.
  • Often iced latte is served unstirred, so that coffee appears to “float” on top of white milk in a glass cup.
  • A variation of the iced latte, known as the “bootleg latte”, “ghetto latte”, or “poor man’s latte”,[18] is an iced espresso ordered in a larger than normal cup that will be filled up with free milk from the condiment station.[19] The beverage has spawned debate at coffee shops where an iced espresso is considerably cheaper than an iced latte.[20][21][22]
  • In South Asia, East Asia, and North America, local variants of teas have been combined with steamed or frothed milk to create “tea latte”. Coffee and tea shops now offer hot or iced latte versions of masala chaimatcha, and Royal Milk Tea. An Earl Grey latte is known as a “London fog“.
  • Other flavorings may be added to the latte to suit the taste of the drinker. Vanilla, chocolate, and caramel are all popular variants.
  • In South Africa a red latte is made with rooibos tea and has been known as a caffeine-free alternative to traditional tea or coffee-based latte.[23]
  • An alternative version of latte may be prepared with soy milk or oat milk, as both have the ability to foam in the same way as cow milk, with soy milk versions being more prevalent. Such alternatives are popular among people with lactose intolerance and vegans.
  • The Sea Salt Latte, a famous variation of the traditional style latte made with a salted milk foam over an espresso-based coffee, was invented and popularized by Taiwanese international cafe chain 85C Bakery Cafe.[24][25]

Soy milk latte with latte art


Calling people “latte drinkers” pejoratively has become a common political attack in some Western cultures. The popularity of espresso drinking in large cities, especially among more affluent urban populations, has caused some to consider it elitist behavior. In the United States, conservative political commentators have been known to call their opponents “latte-drinking liberal elites“.[26][27][28][29] In Canadian politics, latte drinking is used to portray people as out-of-touch intellectuals and the antithesis of the Tim Hortons coffee drinker who is considered representative of an ordinary Canadian.[30][31]

According to a 2018 study, 16% of liberals in the United States prefer lattes, whereas 9% of conservatives, and 11% of moderates do.[32] The study states further that the overwhelming majority of people, whether they are liberal, conservative, or moderate, express a preference for regular brewed coffee.[32]

Cappuccino vs. latte…wait, what’s the difference? If you’re a bit confused about what’s on offer at your local coffee shop, we don’t blame you. The fact is that certain big names in the business (ahem, Starbucks) have taken some liberties when it comes to the definitions of classic Italian espresso drinks, so you might find yourself a little lost when working from a menu at a more traditional cafe. Fortunately, we spoke to Fabrizio Franco—a professional barista and the owner of Room No. 205, a Brooklyn-based espresso bar—to settle the matter once and for all. Here’s what you need to know about these two coffee beverages.



A latte consists of espresso, combined with a relatively large amount (i.e., 7 or more ounces) of steamed milk. What makes a latte distinct is the texture of the milk, which Franco says should be steamed until it has the shine and consistency of fresh paint. The end result is a beverage in which the velvety steamed milk blends completely with the espresso, with only a small layer of fine foam on the surface of the drink.

Cappuccino vs Latte 2



A cappuccino, on the other hand, uses only half as much milk as a latte, but the volume of the liquid doubles in size due to a different steaming technique in which more air is introduced to the milk. As such, Franco tells us that a generous amount of microfoam—sort of like the head of a beer—forms on the surface of the steamed milk and the finished product, usually served in a 5 or 6-ounce size, consists of three distinct and equal layers: Espresso at the bottom, steamed milk in the middle and rich, airy froth on top.


Based on the above descriptions, it’s safe to say that the most notable difference between a cappuccino and a latte is the texture of the milk, in that the steamed milk of the latte is thinner, while a cappuccino is full of froth. Another key distinction is that cappuccinos use less milk than lattes—namely because cappuccino milk fluffs up so much from all the aeration, and the drink is intended to be served in a smaller size.


Due to the smaller amount of milk used when making a cappuccino, the beverage will taste stronger than a latte. That said, both drinks typically contain the same amount of espresso, so the caffeine content is identical; strength here is simply a measure of how much you taste the bite of the espresso in the beverage. In other words, the milky latte has a far mellower flavor by comparison.


This one is tricky—namely because there’s nothing necessarily unhealthy about milk. Still, if calories and fat content are the primary concern, then a latte could be considered the less ‘healthy’ option between the two, given the quantity of milk involved. (But again, one beverage isn’t really healthier than the other.)


Per the pro, when milk is steamed, its natural sweetness shines through. Thus, because of the high ratio of milk to espresso, a latte will taste sweeter than a cappuccino. It’s worth noting, however, that neither of these beverages are traditionally served sweetened—so the amount of sugar you add at the coffee bar is completely up to you.


You’ve got the full scoop—but to sum things up, all you really need to know is that a latte is a larger, milkier and milder espresso-based beverage, while a cappuccino is smaller, far foamier and packs a stronger punch. Now go forth and get the caffeine fix you’re craving.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.