What is a Cafe Latte: Everything You’ve Ever Wanted to Know

What is a Cafe Latte

Cafe lattes– I’m sure you’ve seen them. From social media to coffee shop advertisements, pictures of lattes are everywhere these days. The latte’s sudden celebrity is due in no small part to the cute and often intricate patterns baristas make in the foam, known affectionately as latte art.

From simple hearts to detailed animal faces, latte art has elevated into an art form as a beverage. But there is plenty more to this hip coffee than meets the eye.

From its very beginning, the latte has proven irresistible to casual and seasoned coffee drinkers.

What Is It?

The cafe latte (or simply “latte”) is a coffee-based drink made of espresso and steamed milk. The cafe latte is famous for the thick layer of rich foam that forms on top of the drink during the brewing process.

For a standard latte, the foam is about 1 cm thick. While the drink is traditionally unsweetened, some modern versions of the latte include the addition of sugar.

A latte is a great option for those who like the strength of espresso, but want a drink with a more mellow coffee flavor and creamy texture.

Cafe Latte VS. Cappuccino: What’s the Difference?

There is a great deal of confusion about what makes a latte different from a cappuccino. Some people may even argue that there is no real difference at all. Of course, those people would be wrong.

While the latte and cappuccino are admittedly similar, there are still a few significant differences that make the coffee drinks distinct from one another.

First, the similarities. Both the cafe latte and the cappuccino are espresso-based drinks. Both drinks include the addition of steamed milk and foamed milk.

The differences between the two drinks are the ratio of milk to espresso and the preparation of the drinks themselves.

A standard cappuccino is made with equal parts steamed milk, foamed milk, and coffee. A latte, on the other hand, has a higher amount of steamed milk and a lighter layer of foam.

The ingredients of a latte are also blended, creating the latte’s distinctly smooth consistency. Whereas, a cappuccino is created by layering one ingredient on top of the next.

The flavors of the latte and the cappuccino are quite different. While both drinks contain the same amount of espresso, the coffee flavor of the cappuccino is much more pronounced. This is due to the smaller amount of milk in the cappuccino.

The History of the Cafe Latte

It was William Dean Howells who first used the term “caffe e latte” in his 1867 essay “Italian Journeys”. While the espresso machine had not yet been invented then, Howells enjoyed a version of the latte simply made with coffee and milk.

According to coffee historian Kenneth Davids, “…breakfast drinks of this kind have existed in Europe for generations”.

But it wasn’t until the invention of the espresso that the latte came into its own as a drink. While the espresso machine was invented in 1884, a version of the latte similar to the drink we know and love began to appear around Western Europe around 1900.

Most countries referred to the coffee drink as the café au lait, while the cafe creme was served in the French coffee houses. It was in Italy, however, that “cafe latte” became the common name for the drink.

For the Italians, the latte was exclusively a breakfast drink, and still is to this day. The latte is even prepared in the same way. The coffee is brewed in a Moka pot on the stovetop, before being poured into a cup of heated milk. 

Variations of the Cafe Latte

The latte is a highly versatile and customizable drink. Thanks to coffee chains like Starbucks, the American public has become accustomed to many different flavors of lattes, from the infamous pumpkin spice to the more classic mocha.

But, when it comes to traditional variations of the cafe latte, there are mainly two: the iced latte, and the latte macchiato.

The Iced Latte

In the U.S., “iced latte” typically refers to a shot of espresso and cold milk poured over ice. The iced latte differs from the traditional hot latte in that it contains neither steamed milk nor foam.

While iced lattes are commonly prepared with sugar or sweet syrup, traditionalists tend to prefer them without any additional sweeteners.

The one constant is the addition of ice. Often the espresso is either chilled or frozen in advance to avoid warming the drink.

The Latte Macchiato

While they may look similar, make no mistakes– the latte and the latte macchiato are two different drinks.

The differences in flavor and consistency between these two drinks come down to the preparation. In a standard latte, milk is added to espresso.

In a latte macchiato, espresso is added to milk. While this difference may seem trivial, the order in which espresso is added to a drink makes a big difference in the flavor.

In a standard latte macchiato, espresso is poured through the foamy top layer of steamed milk, creating a distinctly layered drink wherein the espresso sits on top of the milk beneath the foam.

It helps to think of a latte macchiato as a cup of milk with espresso added to it, as opposed to a standard cafe latte, which is more of a shot of espresso with milk added to it.

The latte macchiato has a much lighter coffee flavor than a cafe latte.

How to Make a Cafe Latte

To make a cafe latte, you will need to first make an espresso. A regular cup of brewed coffee simply won’t do for this drink.


  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 3 oz. espresso


1. In a saucepan or small skillet, warm milk over medium-low heat. As the milk warms, whisk it briskly with a wire whisk until it begins to foam.

2. Brew espresso and pour it into a 12 oz. mug or glass.

3. Pour milk over the espresso, holding back the foam with a spoon.

4. Gently spoon milk foam over the top of the latte.

How many calories does cafe latte have?

One serving of cafe latte has about 63 calories. Of course, this will depend on the amount of sugar or milk added to the coffee. If you want to lower the calories, you might want to use low-calorie sugar substitutes, such as stevia.

How much caffeine does cafe latte have?

Cafe latte has about 128 mg of caffeine. If you want a stronger brew, you can add more espresso shots.