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Flat White vs Cappuccino:
How Different Are They Really?

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By Matt Woodburn-Simmonds

Over the last decade, the flat white has taken the coffee world by storm. From its humble beginnings in Australia and New Zealand, it’s become a beloved classic and top choice in coffee shops worldwide. But the exact nature of a flat white isn’t the easiest thing to pin down. And how does it compare to that other titan of milky coffee, the cappuccino?

Flat white vs cappuccino comes down to how the milk is prepared. A flat white is 1/3 espresso with 2/3 textured milk and little to no foam. A cappuccino is 1/3 espresso, 1/3 textured milk, and 1/3 firm, dense microfoam. This means the flat white tastes slightly sweeter than a cappuccino as it has more textured milk diluting the espresso.

Having been around the coffee block a fair few times, including working as a Barista for many years, we’re here to dispel all the

We’ve dug into all things espresso and milk to see how flat white vs cappuccino shakes out.

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What Exactly is a Flat White?

A flat white is an incredibly popular espresso based drink.

It is made by combining espresso and textured milk with very little foam, usually in a ratio of 1:2. So, as it’s generally made from a double espresso, you’ll have 2oz of espresso and 4oz of textured milk making the total volume of a flat white around 6oz.

The milk should be glossy like wet paint with only the thinnest layer of foam on top.

Whilst the origin of the flat white is hotly contested, this delicious coffee is almost definitely an invention of Australian baristas in the 1980s. However, New Zealand baristas also claim to have invented the flat white in the 1980s. So, for your own safety, we recommend just not mentioning it if you’re visiting one of the many coffee shops down under.

Man's hand holding a flat white
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What About the Cappuccino?

A cappuccino is made by layering 1/3 espresso, 1/3 textured milk, and 1/3 foam. Thanks to the density of the components, they’ll naturally layer themselves with espresso on the bottom and foam on top.

A cappuccino’s foam should be firm and dense, allowing you to sip the espresso and textured milk through it.

Whilst there’s no rule as to how big it should be, a cappuccino is usually made with a double espresso. This makes it the same size as a flat white but in this case, the 6oz drink is broken up into 2oz espresso, 2oz textured milk, and 2oz foam.

However, if you’re buying a monster-sized cappuccino in your local coffee store it’s likely that the overall drink will be more diluted. So rather than a ratio of 1:1:1, it’s more likely to be 1:2:2 or even less in the case of Starbucks’ venti drinks.

Depending on who you believe, the cappuccino is one of the many amazing coffees to have originated in either Italy or Vienna. It was originally made by topping coffee with cream before the days of espresso and steamed milk (not dissimilar to the espresso/whipped cream combo of the espresso con panna.)

It is widely drunk early in the morning before everyone moves on to espresso coffee for the rest of the day.

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How are They Similar?

These two popular coffees have many things in common from their size to their base components:

Espresso to Milk Ratio

When made properly, both the flat white and the cappuccino have twice as much milk as brewed coffee. I say ‘properly’ because there are plenty of coffee shops that eyeball their quantities or that use way more milk in their cappuccinos to create bigger, more mellow coffees.

Where they differ is how that milk is made up:

With a cappuccino, the milk is split into textured milk and foam so you get a third of each component. Whereas, the flat white uses one-third and two-thirds textured milk. Overall, this means you get the same overall coffee-to-milk ratio from both drinks.

They Both Start With Espresso

A cappuccino can start with either a single or double espresso. Whilst a flat white should always be made with a double. But it’s always espresso for both.

Just to mix things up, there are coffee variations that use ristretto as their base instead. For example, magic coffee – essentially a flat white made with ristretto instead of espresso.

Psst… Want to discover more espresso variations? Check out our full guide:


Both a flat white and a cappuccino should be 6oz in total. They should be made from 2oz of espresso and 4oz of milk (just that the milk will be in different forms).

But this obviously depends hugely on where you order your coffee. You can get 20oz cappuccinos from the big coffee shops, or larger even. However, your flat white is a standard size and should really only come in the 6oz size.

So, in theory, they are identical in size. However, reality doesn’t always match up to theory. So the cappuccino can be found in many sizes whereas the flat white isn’t. Or, at least, it shouldn’t be.

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Differences Between Flat White and Cappuccino

If you find yourself staring at the coffee shop menu, unsure of what to order, then understanding the big difference between these 2 drinks is a great place to start:

Infographic comparing flat white vs cappuccino

Milk Foam

A flat white has little to no foam, hence the “flat” in the name. A cappuccino however has firm, dense microfoam as a third of the drink. This is the main difference between the two coffee drinks.

If you prefer a milkier coffee, then the flat white is ideal.

If you like a good amount of foam with your espresso and milk, then the cappuccino is better suited to you.

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Is One Sweeter than the Other?

A flat white will taste sweeter than a cappuccino.

This is because there is more milk and less foam.

A cappuccino dilutes the espresso in a 1:1 ratio with textured milk, then adds foam on top. While the foam does help to sweeten the drink a little, it still results in a coffee with less sweetness than one made with the equivalent volume of textured milk.

Want to dig a little deeper into some other big names on the specialty coffee scene? Check out these guides:

Mocha vs Latte | Cortado vs Flat White | Frappe vs Frappuccino | What is a Breve Coffee? | Cortado vs Cappuccino
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Which Drink is Stronger?

Both cappuccino and flat white are made with the same amount of espresso so they’re the same “strength” in that regard.

However, the cappuccino will taste stronger as it has less textured milk and more foam. In other words, more drinkable milk.

I’d personally say that it tastes “more intense” rather than “stronger” but that’s me being pedantic.

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Does Cappuccino or Flat White Have More Caffeine?

A flat white and a cappuccino should have the same amount of caffeine.

Since both coffees are made with a double shot of espresso, the caffeine content should be the same.

This will be around 125mg of caffeine in total. However, this obviously varies depending on the type of coffee beans used, how they have been roasted, extraction time, etc.

But – and it’s a big but – cappuccinos regularly flaunt this rule. As it’s possible to get them in different sizes from the coffee giants like Starbucks, you could be getting a lot more caffeine from your cappuccino.

So if your cappuccino is larger than 6oz, it will have more caffeine than a normal flat white.

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Which Should you Order?

If you’re looking for a rich coffee with a velvety texture then the flat white is the one for you.

Those who would prefer a slightly stronger espresso flavor but with a creamier mouthfeel will want to order a cappuccino.  


Matt Woodburn-Simmonds

Matt's coffee obsession started in 2006 when working as a Barista. A tendency to turn up to work hungover kickstarted his coffee journey which quickly turned into a love affair. As he moved on to work as a Restaurant Manager and Sommelier, the obsession continued to grow. Now, his passion is helping others to enjoy better coffee at home.

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