What is a Latte: Coffee Drink Description

You’ve probably heard the name of this classic coffee drink numerous times. But do you actually know what is a caffè latte and how it compares to a, say, cappuccino?

In this post, you will find an ultimate drink description that covers all you need to know: from the classic Caffè Latte to the Latte Macchiato and the Spanish latte.

Furthermore, you’ll find out what’s this caffeinated beverage like when offered at large coffee chains such as Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts.

Without further ado, let’s dive in!

What is a Caffè Latte: Definition

Among different cafes and coffee shops, there may be a slight difference in the way a latte is made and served.

Nevertheless, there’s a classic drink definition that all the variations are based upon.

So here’s what’s a caffè latte:
A caffè latte (commonly referred to as a Latte) is a coffee drink, made with a shot of espresso, steamed milk, and it’s topped with a milk microfoam layer of around 0.2 to 0.4 inches (0.5 to 1 cm).

A Latte is served in an 8 fl. oz. to 12 fl. oz. (240 ml. to 350 ml.) cup.

It’s usually topped off with latte art (such as the classic design of a heart, tulip, or a rosetta).

“Latte” actually means milk in Italian. If you go to Italy and you want to order a latte, always ask for a Caffè Latte. If you only use the word “Latte” to describe the coffee drink you want, you will likely end up getting a cup of plain milk.

Compared to a latte, a cappuccino has a smaller serving size (5 fl. oz. to 7 fl. oz.), contains less steamed milk, and has a thicker milk foam layer (around 0.4 inches, 1 centimeter).

A cappuccino also has a better-pronounced coffee flavor.

Related post: The Difference between a Latte and a Mocha

When espresso started spreading around the world, many people found its flavor a bit too bitter and intense. The Caffè Latte originated with the necessity of having the shot diluted and the flavor – mellowed down.

Latte art started spreading in the 1980s in Seattle, years after the introduction of steam wands and the practice of producing textured milk (i.e. smooth and silky steamed and foamed milk).

David Schomer is the one who popularized the technique of pouring the milk in a way, which results in beautiful patterns that we now call “latte art”.

In most coffee shops you can also get an iced latte, which consists of a shot of espresso, diluted with cold milk, served over ice cubes in a glass.

If you want your latte to have a better-pronounced coffee flavor, or you need an extra caffeine kick, order it with a double espresso shot.

Even though the classic latte recipe consists of whole milk, you can have this component substituted with plant-based milk such as soy or oat milk.

Furthermore, if you want, you can ask the barista to prepare a skinny latte, which involves using nonfat milk.

Nevertheless, you should keep in mind that you can’t really get the same creaminess and microfoam texture with a non-fat or a plant-based alternative to regular milk.

Now that you know what a classic latte is made of, let’s move on to the following questions that may arise.

What is a Latte Macchiato?

A Latte Macchiato is an espresso-based coffee drink, served in a 9 fl. oz. to 10 fl. oz. (270 ml. – 300 ml.) glass.

Unlike the classic caffè latte, a latte macchiato is made by pouring the espresso shot on top of the steamed and frothed milk.

This way the top milk foam layer gets stained with the espresso.

Macchiato in Italian actually means ‘marked’ or ‘stained’.

So it makes sense why this coffee drink is named Latte Macchiato – this literally means ‘stained milk’.

What is a Spanish Latte?

A Spanish Latte is usually served in a 10 fl. oz. (300 ml.) cup and it’s made of a shot of espresso, whole milk, and sweetened condensed milk.

When making a Spanish latte, the barista pulls an espresso shot and then mixes sweetened condensed milk and cold milk in a jug.

After that, the mixture in the pitcher gets steamed, frothed, and poured on top of the espresso.

Therefore the Spanish latte is pretty much the same as the classic caffè latte, with the sole difference that the latter doesn’t contain sweetened condensed milk.

At most places where they offer this sweet and creamy espresso-based beverage, they also offer its iced version.

The iced Spanish latte is made with espresso, and a mix of cold whole and sweetened condensed milk served over ice cubes in a glass.

What about the Piccolo Latte?

The Piccolo Latte (often referred to as “Piccolo”) is a smaller version of the original Caffè Latte.

It is made in a small 3 fl. oz. (90 milliliters) to 4 fl. oz. (120 milliliters) glass by diluting an espresso shot with steamed and textured milk.

Just like the regular latte, the Piccolo is usually topped off with latte art.

‘Piccolo’ actually means ‘small’ in Italian.

This beverage is perfect for those who enjoy a better-pronounced espresso flavor. It’s also perfect for you if you feel a bit heavy or bloated when you have a full-sized latte.

Lattes at Starbucks and Dunkin’

If you go to Starbucks or at Dunkin’ you will see that there’s an impressive variety of latte coffee and tea drinks that you can choose from.

At Starbucks you can, in fact, get a classic latte by ordering a “Caffè Latte”.

It’s made of a shot of espresso, and steamed and frothed 2% milk.

It’s worth noting that at mainstream coffee chains there’s a difference in the serving sizes – they are generally larger compared to the classic caffè latte.

At Starbucks, you can get a short (8 fl. oz.), tall (12 fl. oz.), grande (16 fl. oz., made with 2 espresso shots), or a venti (20 fl. oz., made with 2 espresso shots) serving.

Have in mind that asking for an additional espresso shot is always an option, as well as ordering your drink with non-fat or plant-based milk.

With that being said, if you want to have a sweeter coffee beverage, you can get one of the flavored latte drinks, made with syrups, sauces, and toppings of your choice.

For example, the Cinnamon Dolce Latte at Starbucks is made with the flavorful cinnamon dolce syrup and it’s topped up with whipped cream.

There are also other insanely popular flavored lattes, such as Starbucks’ Pumpkin Spice Latte. You can check out how to make it at home by clicking here.

There are also iced versions of these flavored latte drinks at Starbucks. The cold coffee servings are: tall (12 fl. oz.), grande (16 fl.oz.), and venti (24 fl. oz.).

Related Post:Iced Honey Vanilla Latte Recipe

There are also keto-friendly lattes that you can order from Starbucks.

Tea Lattes

What’s also worth noting is that there are tea-based lattes, such as the Chai Latte, London Fog Latte, Golden Latte or the Matcha Latte.

Related post: Matcha vs. Coffee

The tea-based lattes don’t usually contain espresso. Nevertheless, some people enjoy adding an espresso shot to these coffee-free tea beverages.

A tea latte that is made with the addition of an espresso shot has the word dirty added to its name

For example, if you order a Dirty Chai Latte, you will get a Chai Latte that also contains a shot of espresso.

Final Words

I hope that you now know what a caffè latte actually is and how it compares to the latte macchiato or the cappuccino.

I’m sure that this guide will eventually make it easier for you to choose the espresso beverage that suits your taste and needs best.

Leave me a comment below if you have any questions or simply share which one of these latte drinks is the one that suits your taste the most! I’d love to find out!

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