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The Art of Specialty Coffee: What’s the difference between a latte and a flat white anyway?

The Art of Specialty Coffee: What’s the difference between a latte and a flat white anyway?

We get asked for it in our cafe all the time. “Can I have a large latte, please?” We’ve gotten used to quickly explaining that we only have one size of latte (or cortado, cappuccino, flat white, etc.) because we use the traditional ratios of espresso to steamed milk in the original recipes for these drinks. We’ve even gone so far as to include a great little illustration on our menu to show the differences.

There is nothing wrong with wanting a bigger latte, but generally, when one orders these in a large chain coffee shop, you’re just getting more milk. Again, no one can tell you it’s wrong if that's what you enjoy! We certainly never would. We serve our specialty espresso drinks based on traditional recipes not because we are sticklers for tradition, but because we think they taste the best. These recipes have evolved over decades and they are perfectly balanced and textured for even the most discerning coffee drinker. 

That being said, we aren’t here to gatekeep coffee and only serve what we think is “best.” We believe in “Coffee for All” and that’s why, after two years of getting asked “Can I have a large latte, please,” we are introducing 16oz drinks to our menu!

Why? Because people want it! They must like it, so who are we to tell them “no?” This is also a GREAT opportunity to drop a bit of coffee knowledge here in the SG Blog. Let’s dive into the differences between lattes, flat whites, cortado, and all the other specialty coffee drinks on our menu and why some coffee shops don’t have different sizes for these drinks.

Latte: The Drink That Took Over the World

The latte is a coffee shop classic popularized during the '90s yuppie movement (ever watched Friends?) It features a harmonious balance of espresso and steamed milk. Traditionally, a latte consists of one 2oz shot of espresso and 10oz of steamed, textured milk, resulting in a creamy and silky texture. With a heavy milk-to-espresso ratio, a latte offers a smooth, mellow flavour profile that isn’t too coffee-forward. Because it’s more mellow and heavy on milk, it lends itself well to adding flavours and syrups like vanilla, pumpkin spice and our made-in-house “fireball syrup.” It’s a staple for a reason.

Cappuccino: Classic and Sophisticated

The cappuccino is a timeless favourite characterized by its equal parts of espresso, steamed milk, and foam. The result is a trifecta of flavours and textures – the intense espresso, the velvety milk, and the airy, foamy top layer. The balance between these elements creates a drink that is both rich and light, catering to a wide range of palates. We use a 2oz shot of espresso and 6oz of milk in our cappuccino resulting in a more robust coffee flavour and that traditional dry foam on top. Elder millennial point of reference for cappuccinos: it’s what they drank in the cafe on Frasier. 

Flat White: The Silky Elegance from Down Under

Hailing from Australia, the flat white brings together the best of both a cappuccino and a third wave latte. We serve ours with the same ratio of milk to espresso as a cappuccino. The key distinction lies in the microfoam – velvety, finely-textured milk crucial to the flat white's appeal. Where a cappuccino has a dry, stiff foam, a flat white is super smooth and beautifully silky. With a higher ratio of coffee to milk than a latte, the flat white showcases a strong espresso flavour complemented by its creamy and indulgent texture for a bold, yet sophisticated drink that is quickly gaining global popularity. It’s actually the second most popular Australian import in B.C. behind Whistler ski instructors. 

Cortado: Bold and Balanced

For those who appreciate a bolder coffee flavour, the cortado is a perfect choice. Originating from Spain, the cortado often has an equal ratio of espresso to steamed milk, creating a balanced blend of intense coffee and silky milk. At our cafe, we add 3oz of steamed milk to a 2oz shot of espresso, so it’s slightly more milk-forward than the traditional recipe but we think it achieves the perfect balance of bold, vibrant espresso and sweet, silky milk. The minimal milk content allows the rich and robust character of our Show Pony Espresso to shine, making it an ideal choice for those who prefer a stronger coffee profile. It also requires a really nice, balanced espresso shot as there isn’t a lot of milk to hide the flavour.  It’s a personal favourite of many of the regulars in our Chilliwack coffee shop, but probably only appears in obscure Spanish-language indie films. 

Macchiato: A Tale of Two VERY Different Coffee Drinks

This one is a little more complicated. There’s a traditional version from Italy that means “spotted” and refers to the fact that it’s a 2oz shot of espresso and just a touch of milk that is traditionally spooned into the cup. We have that version available in our coffee shop, you just have to ask for it as it’s not on our menu display.

The other “macchiato” was popularized by a certain big chain coffee shop as a “caramel macchiato.” The majority of people in North America have come to understand this version as the macchiato.  It’s more like a latte, with some caramel added and often topped with some extra caramel and/or whipped cream. We have this version on our menu (without whipped cream) and it’s very popular! Our caramel macchiato is now available in 16oz too. Just ask the barista for a “Big Macc.”

Being a third wave cafe, there’s often the notion that we can only serve traditional coffee drinks in the “proper” way. But, that’s not who we are. We’re not here to judge. We want everyone who walks through our doors to get exactly what they enjoy - whether that’s a sweet, milky caramel macchiato or a bold, rich traditional macchiato. 

The macchiato conundrum is a great representation of our motto Coffee For All. We love coffee and we put a lot of time and work into learning about every aspect of it. But, that doesn’t give us the authority to tell anyone what’s “best.” It gives us the opportunity and the privilege to help our customers navigate the often overwhelming landscape of specialty coffee to find the perfect drink that they will love.

Hopefully, this helps shine a light on the menu at our Chilliwack cafe. And next time you come to our coffee shop and ask for a large latte, we can happily say “You got it!”


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