What are the differences (and the similarities) between mocha vs latte vs cappuccino?
In this article, we set out to teach you everything there is to know about these three popular milky coffee drinks, because there is plenty of confusion – even among coffee lovers – as to what differentiates these three popular coffee recipes from each other.
While all three drinks are composed of the same basic ingredients, which are espresso and milk, this is roughly speaking where the similarities end, since mocha, latte and cappuccino all combine these two ingredients in different proportions, and all have different textures and flavors. In other words, mocha, latte and cappuccino are far from being interchangeable with each other, as some might think.
There is no reason to feel bad if you are not yet knowledgable about what sets a mocha apart from a latte or a cappuccino – it isn’t like we are taught any of this in school, or even in the coffee shops where we order our coffee.
At a glance it might seem like the different names for the three espresso based drinks we are going to be discussing here are trend based, as mocha, latte and cappuccino look very similar visually. But the truth is that one sip of either of these three milk based coffee drinks will tell you that they aren’t exactly the same.
What’s more, there is quite a bit of background and history behind many coffee drinks, including the mocha, the latte and the cappuccino.
So, are you ready to learn more about your milky coffee favourites? Then let’s begin.
Anatomy of milky coffee beverages
Before we get into the particulars of what makes a mocha vs a cappuccino, let us talk for a moment about the main similarities and differences – let us start with the bones, before we flesh out your understanding of what makes each of the different espresso based drinks what they are.
Each of the three milky coffee drinks we are talking about here is made from a combination of milk, milk foam and espresso.
All milk foam is made from steamed milk, which has been whipped into a finely textured foam – you’ll usually find a frothy layer of foam on top of any professional, well-made coffee. It is the foam on top of most artisan coffees that distinguishes them visually. But while all milk foam is created the same way – specifically by whipping steamed milk – it is not all the same. The foam on top of your coffee can also vary wildly in texture, as the way in which the milk was whipped determines its texture and level of smoothness.
There are two main categories when it comes to milk foam – microfoam and dry foam.
Microfoam is a type of milk foam that has air bubbles so tiny they can hardly be seen with the naked eye. Because of its ultra-file texture, microfoam is known for having an incredibly soft and smooth mouthfeel.
Another kind of foam it is important to know about because it dramatically impacts and defines the feel and texture of your coffee is dry foam. Dry foam is, in short, the opposite of microfoam – it has many large air bubbles, which gives it more volume but less softness. As a besides, if you’ve ever overheard someone at your local coffee shop ordering a bone-dry coffee drink, for example a dry cappuccino, they were requesting large air bubbles in their milk foam!
Now that you have a better understanding of what milk foam is and what characterises the two main types of foam, it is easy to see how the type of foam used to create any of your favourite popular coffee drinks can have an enormous impact on their taste and texture. Mocha, latte and macchiato all use milk foam, but different types of foam are used for each coffee beverage, and the foam is even used in different proportions, as is the milk and the espresso itself.
Speaking of which, it is time for us to get into the nitty gritty of precisely what makes a mocha, a latte and a macchiato.
Mocha, sometimes called Cafe Moca or Mocaccino, is the perfect milk-based drink for chocolate lovers.
Mocha is really a variation over the classic latte, but it is a much sweeter drink and, because of the hot chocolate it involves, much more indulgent. The reason why so many coffee lovers swear by the Mocha is that it is capable of satisfying both a craving for caffeine and a sweet tooth at the same time.
The Mocha drink traces its roots and takes its name from a port town in Yemen of the same name, as this town is famously known for being the birth place of coffee. The mocha drink itself has a long and distinguished history. It first became popular throughout Europe back in the 1500s when the coffee industry really started cranking into gear. Because coffee beans were first being exported en masse and became widely available throughout Europe, coffee drinks soon became incredibly popular.
Many previous versions of the mocha exist, including one called Bavareisa, which consisted of a blend of hot chocolate mixed with coffee, and with a thick layer of cream on top. While the Bavareisa gained huge popularity in Turin and Venice, other parts of Italy became enamoured of a similar coffee based drink which they called Bicerin. Bicerin was made using a combo of French press or drip coffee with hot chocolate. The Bicerin coffee drink still exists today, but not in its original form – since espresso was invented around the turn of the 20th century, Bicerin has been composed of a layer of hot chocolate followed by an espresso, topped with either frothed milk or whipped cream.
Generally speaking, the word Mocha or (Mocha Latte, Cafe Mocha, or Mocaccino) today refers to any coffee-based drink that also involves hot chocolate.
To prepare a perfect cafe quality mocha, you are going to need a double shot of espresso, steamed milk, and hot chocolate – whipped cream is optional, and if you want to be extra, some cocoa powder to sprinkle on top of your masterpiece at the end.
When preparing mocha, most coffee shop baristas use set proportions of espresso, hot chocolate and milk that are similar to the proportions of a coffee latte or cappuccino, and many use a home-made chocolate ganache for the hot chocolate.
If you want to prepare and enjoy your own mocha at home, it is important to be aware of the fact that not all hot chocolate is created equal, and some kinds of hot chocolate will mix better with your espresso shot than others. You should use a high quality chocolate to ensure the best outcome.
A simple way of ensuring that your chocolate is going to blend easily with your shot of espresso is to use a chocolate syrup. Another easy way to go about it is to dissolve some chocolate coins or squares of your favourite chocolate with hot water in order to turn it into a suitably liquid hot chocolate. If you are feeling adventurous, you can experiment with different types of chocolate – light, dark, white, and even flavoured chocolates or chocolate syrup with flavors such as mint or vanilla.
The preparation itself is fairly simple. Start by pulling a double shot of espresso into a mug, then blend in the chocolate. Use about the amount of chocolate that would be equivalent to one espresso shot.
Your next step towards preparing the perfect mocha depends on your personal preferences in terms of milk foam texture. It is up to you whether you want to froth your milk latte or cappuccino style. Once you’ve got your milk foam, carefully pour it into your cofee and chocolate mix. Use slow and gentle hand movements to make sure that the ingredients blend well together.
Et voila! Your mocha is ready to enjoy.
Flavor profile and mouthfeel
A mocha is always sweet, rich and indulgent. We recommend using a micofoam, for the softest, most velvety texture to complement the taste.
The flavor profile of your mocha is going to differ depending on the type and quality of the espresso you have used, and whether you have used cow milk or a substitute, such as almond or oat milk. Finally, the chocolate or chocolate syrup you use is going to have a great deal of impact on the flavor.
The latte, also called the cafe latte, is, beyond a doubt, one of the most popular milk-based coffee drinks worldwide. In fact, would coffee bars even exist without lattes?
Anyone who has ever had a sip of latte will testify to the fact that latte has a mild and pleasant taste, with just enough of the coffee taste and caffeine hit to make it addictive. Coffee lovers adore it because of its moreish drinkability. The primary difference coffee drinkers will notice between the cappuccino vs the latte is that the latte is both softer and sweeter. Another thing that can set the latte apart from the cappuccino is the skilful latte art that most coffee shop baristas will craft when serving a latte but not a cappuccino.
Every latte is made from a base consisting of a double shot of espresso blended with steamed milk and topped off with an indulgent layer of microfoam. It is the latter which gives the latte its characteristic soft and velvety mouthfeel.
The texture of latte foam is what makes or breaks the drink – it takes a good barista, or at least a bit of practice, to get it just right. The ideal latte combines the intensity of a well-balanced double shot of espresso with the creaminess of perfectly steamed and textured milk.
Lattes originated in Europe, where it is still extremely popular to this day. Since the turn of the 20th Century, the latte drink has been gaining popularity in the United States as well.
Flat white, latte macchiato, piccolo latte and beyond
Because the classic cafe latte is so popular, many different delightful bastardisations and variations over the latte exist and can be ordered at most coffee shops. A few examples include the flat white, the latte macchiato and the piccolo latte.
The flat white is a very popular milk-based espresso drink in the UK. It is similar to a classic cafe latte but is characterised by a greater proportion of espresso in relation to the milk and foam, because of its much smaller overall size. A flat white still starts with a double shot of espresso, followed by smaller portions of steamed milk and microfoam.
Another latte-adjacent espresso drink worth trying is the latte macchiato, which is only different to a standard latte because of two things: It only requires one espresso shot and the espresso, milk and foam are poured in a different order. When preparing a latte, you always want to start with the espresso, but when preparing a latte macchiato, you start with the steamed milk instead. A single espresso is added to the layer of steamed milk, and then topped off with a small layer of microfoam. The results is a visually pleasing coffee drink with three distinct layers – this also explains why the latte macchiato, unlike the latte, is usually served in a transparent glass cup. In terms of taste, the latte macchiato is very similar to the latte, but milder.
The piccolo latte is yet another example of a latte-inspired espresso drink that has become quite popular. The piccolo latte is essentially a very small latte, typically served in a four ounce mug. Instead of an espresso shot, the piccolo latte is made from a short ristretto shot, which is still very concentrated and brightly flavoured. Steamed milk and microfoam are added next.
To prepare a classic cafe latte, you need just three components – a double shot of espresso, six to eight ounces of steamed milk and perfectly textured microfoam. It is no secret that when it comes to preparing the perfect latte, getting the foam right is the hardest part.
Start by pulling a double shot of espresso. Pour steamed milk into your espresso, and add a roughly 1cm thick layer of microfoam on top. Latte art is optional and shouldn’t be your first priority.
The cafe latte coffee drink has mass appeal thanks to its mild and soft flavor profile, which allows just enough of the double shot espresso intensity to come through the milk ratio to satisfy hardcore espresso lovers as well as those who have a weakness for the indulgent softness of milky drinks.
As with any coffee drink that combines espresso and milk, the coffee beans and the milk you use impact the ultimate texture, flavour and mouthfeel of your caffe latte.
For a smooth and soft latte, using a darker blend with chocolatey taste notes tends to work extremely well with the richness and softness of the milk.
The third and final milk-based coffee drink we are going to be talking about here today is the cappuccino.
A version of the cappuccino called the kapuziner first rose to popularity in Venice in the 1700s, and its origins are kind of interesting. Because high quality coffee beans were in short supply, and because the espresso machine hadn’t been invented yet, the coffee the Italians of the 18th Century were able to brew wasn’t of the standard we would expect today. As a result, the Venetians got inventive and added plenty of milk and sweeter to their coffee drinks in order to make them more enjoyable. Once better coffee beans became commonplace, and once the espresso machine was invented and became more widely available, it was no longer necessary to add milk and sweetener to coffee to make it delicious – but many still liked to do so, and thus the cappuccino was born.
The cappuccino you can walk into a coffee shop and order today is really nothing like the cappuccino of 18th Century Venice, but it is still uses a standardised version of the the same basic components, namely espresso, steamed milk and milk foam in equal proportions, often with a dusting of cocoa or cinnamon powder on top.
Cappuccinos are often served with elaborate latte art on top, which is something coffee lovers everywhere are able to appreciate.
What really sets a cappuccino apart from a latte or any other espresso drinks is the density of the milk foam, which can be either a microfoam or dry foam. There is no set rule, so a cappuccino might have either a soft and velvety mouthfeel if it is made with microfoam, or a dry mouthfeel if it is made with dry milk foam. The cappuccino is a great choice of coffee drink if you like milky coffee, but find lattes to be too mildly flavoured for your liking.
In a cappuccino the flavor of the espressos shots used come through a lot more, since less milk and less foam are used to prepare cappuccino.
It is generally accepted among professional baristas that the perfect cappuccino involves espresso, steamed milk and milk foam in a 1:1:1 ratio. Having said that, some baristas like to vary these proportions slightly, which is how you end up with a ‘wet cappuccino’ or a ‘dry cappuccino.’
Because the cappuccino uses less steamed milk and milk foam than a latte, the flavor of the espresso beans used to brew the espresso shot comes through much stronger, so while it is always recommended that you use the best coffee beans you can for your coffee, good quality coffee beans are even more important when it comes to preparing a great cappuccino.
As you would if you were preparing a latte, you start your cappuccino by pulling a double shot of espresso, followed by steamed milk and milk foam. In the end, you might also want to use a bit of cinnamon or chocolate powder to add an extra hint of sweet and interesting flavor.
The cappuccino is the perfect middle ground for those who like the velvety softness of a latte, but want a little more of an intense espressos flavor hit.
Like any coffee drinks, cappuccinos can very wildly in flavor and texture depending on the coffee beans and the milk that has been used. Generally speaking, however, cappuccinos combine an intense espresso flavor with a soft, smooth mouthfeel that comes from the dense foam.
Mocha vs latte vs cappucino FAQ
Which is better, mocha or cappuccino?
Whether mocha or cappuccino is the better espresso-based drink totally depends on your own preferences.
A mocha is a great option of you are a coffee lover with a sweet tooth, as it involves hot chocolate or chocolate syrup blended into a base of espresso and is topped with a rich, indulgent layer of foam or whipped cream.
A cappuccino is a little simpler and decidedly less sweet, as it combines just three ingredients ingredients in equal proportion to each other – espresso, steamed milk and milk foam. Cappuccinos are sometimes, but not always, topped with a light dusting of cocoa powder or ground cinnamon.
Is mocha stronger than latte?
The classic caffe latte is the softest and mildest espresso-based drink there is, so yes, mocha is much stronger.
Mocha is a much sweeter drink as well, as it involves hot chocolate or chocolate syrup in addition to the espresso, steamed milk and milk foam that also go into preparing a latte.
Which is stronger, cappuccino or latte?
Cappuccino is decidedly stronger and more intense than latte.
The reason for this is simple – while a latte and a cappuccino both start with a double shot of espresso, and while both further consist of steamed milk and microfoam, a cappuccino is much smaller and uses less milk and foam.
What is the difference between mocha and latte?
The main difference between mocha and latte is that mocha includes hot chocolate or chocolate syrup as part of its makeup, whereas latte only involves espresso, steamed milk and milk foam.
You’ve made it to the end of this article and now possess all of the knowledge you need to be able to prepare your favourite gourmet milky coffee drinks at home. Alternatively, learning more about three of the most popular espresso-based drinks might have inspired you to try something different than your usual latte next time you visit your favourite coffee shop.
When you are not sure about which espresso-based drink to pick, consider two things: How much milk foam would you like your coffee drink to have, and how strong and intense would you like your espresso to come through?
If you have a sweet tooth and are a fan of soft, velvety milk-based coffee drinks, you can hardly go wrong with a mocha. If, on the other hand, you like a soft and mild milk-based drink with a caffeine hit at the core, a latte is always a good choice – and don’t forget that there are plenty of variations over the classic caffe latte for you to try out, including the latte macchiato and the flat white. Finally, a cappuccino is the ideal option if you are in the mood for something a little shorter and more intense than a latte.