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Flat White Vs Cappuccino: Understanding The Distinctions

Flat White Vs Cappuccino

Flat White Vs Cappuccino

Flat White vs Cappuccino: Discover the differences between a flat white and a cappuccino, from their origins to their unique ingredient ratios.

A flat white and a cappuccino on a table. While the cappuccino is a classic espresso-based drink, the flat white is a more contemporary option. Both feature espresso and milk, yet they provide distinct coffee experiences.

Explore this guide to determine which drink to choose on your next coffee shop visit.

Flat White vs Cappuccino

What Is a Cappuccino?

A cappuccino is a popular coffee drink made with espresso, steamed milk, and milk froth. Traditionally, it includes equal parts of each component – typically a double shot of espresso, 2 ounces of steamed milk, and 2 ounces of milk froth, all served in a 6-ounce cup.

You can customize your cappuccino by adjusting the ratio of steamed milk to froth. A dry cappuccino has more froth, while a wet cappuccino contains more steamed milk.

A cappuccino in a lovely mug on a colorful table cloth

Many baristas consider the cappuccino one of the most challenging espresso-based drinks to perfect. Achieving the ideal milk texture and properly pouring the steamed milk to maintain the foam requires skill and experience.


The cappuccino’s origin dates back to 18th-century Vienna with a drink called the Kapuziner, named for its color, which matched the robes of local Capuchin friars. The term “cappuccino” emerged in the 19th century. These early versions were quite different from the modern cappuccino, as they existed before the invention of the espresso machine.

The modern cappuccino – espresso with steamed and frothed milk – evolved in Europe around the mid-20th century. Its popularity soared after WWII with the spread of espresso machines.

What Is a Flat White?

A flat white is a relatively new coffee drink that features a single or double shot of espresso topped with velvety microfoam milk and a very thin layer of milk foam, giving it a “flat” appearance. While it can be made with one or two shots of espresso, double shots are more common in contemporary cafes.

Many coffee shops prefer using ristretto shots instead of standard espresso to create a flat white with a more intense coffee flavor.


The flat white has a much shorter history compared to the cappuccino. It first emerged in coffee shops in Australia and New Zealand during the 1980s, with both countries claiming to be its originator.

Australia appears to have a stronger case, as an Australian newspaper referenced a “flat white” in 1983. Conversely, a cafe in Wellington, New Zealand, attributes its creation to a “failed cappuccino” in 1989.

Regardless of its exact origins, the flat white quickly gained popularity, spreading to the UK and eventually to the US and Canada. Starbucks added the flat white to its U.S. menu in 2015, cementing its status as a staple in the world of modern coffee drinks.

What Is the Difference Between a Flat White and a Cappuccino?

The key difference between a flat white and a cappuccino lies in the amount and type of steamed milk, which significantly impacts the texture and flavor of each drink.

Cappuccino: A cappuccino is made with equal parts espresso, steamed milk, and milk froth. The generous layer of frothed milk on top creates a light and airy texture. Professional baristas often discourage creating latte art on a cappuccino to maintain its traditional composition.

Flat White: A flat white, on the other hand, consists of espresso and steamed milk topped with a very thin layer of milk foam. This drink features silky microfoam, resulting in a much creamier mouthfeel compared to a cappuccino. The smooth microfoam also makes it ideal for pouring latte art.

Expert Tip: “Cappuccinos should have a certain composition. Trying to make fancy latte art might ruin the balance. The quality of steaming milk should go first.”

Is a Flat White Stronger Than a Cappuccino?


Surprisingly, despite having similar amounts of coffee and milk, a cappuccino typically boasts a stronger coffee taste compared to a flat white. This difference in flavor arises from the varying ratios of coffee to steamed milk. The additional steamed milk in a flat white tends to dilute the espresso flavor more than the froth topping in a cappuccino.

Caffeine Content:

Both the flat white and cappuccino offer comparable caffeine content, assuming they are prepared with the same amount of espresso. Here’s a breakdown of the caffeine content based on the number of espresso shots:

  • Single Shot:
    • Cappuccino: 40 – 60 mg
    • Flat White: 40 – 60 mg
  • Double Shot:
    • Cappuccino: 80 – 120 mg
    • Flat White: 80 – 120 mg

Calories and Nutrition: Which is Healthier?

Nutritionally, both the cappuccino and flat white are quite similar, containing 2 ounces of espresso and 4 ounces of milk. However, variations may occur depending on regional serving customs. For instance, some regions serve cappuccinos with an additional topping of whipped cream and flavorings like cinnamon or cocoa, which can increase the fat, sugar, and calorie content relative to a plain flat white.

Typically, traditional flat whites and cappuccinos are served in 6-ounce portions made with whole milk and no added sugar. This results in a beverage containing approximately 83 calories, 4 grams of fat, 6 grams of sugar, and 4 grams of protein.

The Verdict

Both the flat white and the cappuccino offer a robust coffee experience with a creamy texture, making them ideal choices for coffee aficionados seeking a balance between bold flavors and milky indulgence. So, which one should you opt for? Here’s a guide to help you decide:

Choose the Cappuccino if…

Choose the Flat White if…

Ultimately, whether you opt for the cappuccino or the flat white, you’re in for a delightful coffee treat that perfectly balances rich coffee notes with luxurious milkiness.


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