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Espresso vs. Cappuccino – What Is the Key Difference?

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The critical distinction between espresso and cappuccino is that espresso is a concentrated shot of coffee, while cappuccino is a combination of espresso, steamed milk, and milk foam.

This leads to differences in taste, strength, and texture between the espresso and cappuccino. Plus, there is a big difference in the visual appearance as well.

So how do you choose? Let’s have a closer look at espresso vs. cappuccino to find out which one of the two drinks (or both!) will accompany you the next time you need a break, a quick pick me up, or while you are hanging with your friends.

Espresso vs. Cappuccino - What Is the Difference?

Espresso vs. Cappuccino: The Ultimate Showdown

The debate between espresso and cappuccino has been ongoing for years, with no clear winner in sight. I personally prefer making and indulging in both drinks.

One of the main differences is that espresso is a highly concentrated coffee beverage that is brewed under intense pressure, and cappuccino is a crafty blend of espresso, steamed milk and fluffy foam.

Despite both beverages sharing a common foundation of espresso, the variances in flavour profile, texture and ingredient ratios make them distinctly different.

Understanding Espresso

Espresso is a concentrated coffee brewed using high-pressure extraction. It’s got an intense flavour and aroma. Espresso is enjoyed alone or in various coffee-based drinks like lattes and cappuccinos.

Difference Between Espresso and Cappuccino


The history of espresso can be traced back to Italy in the early 20th century. The first espresso machines were developed by Luigi Bezzera in 1901, and they quickly gained popularity in Italy and throughout Europe.

Today, espresso is enjoyed all over the world, and it has become an integral part of the coffee culture in many countries.

Brewing Process

Espresso is brewed using high-pressure extraction techniques (espresso machine). The process involves forcing hot water, under high pressure, through finely-ground coffee beans.

This results in a strong and concentrated coffee beverage that is usually served in small shots.

Flavor Profile

One of the key characteristics of the espresso is its intense flavour and aroma. This is due to the high-pressure brewing process, which extracts more of the coffee’s oils and flavours from the beans.

Espresso also has a distinctive crema, which is the layer of foam that forms on top of the shot. The crema adds to the richness and complexity of the coffee’s flavour.

Unraveling Cappuccino

A cappuccino is a delicious and satisfying espresso-based coffee beverage that is enjoyed around the world for its unique texture, flavour profile, and mouthfeel. It’s the perfect blend of espresso, steamed milk, and milk foam.

Cappucino and Espresso Differences


The origin of the cappuccino can be traced back to Italy in the early 20th century. The name “cappuccino” is believed to have originated from the Capuchin monks, an order of Franciscan monks who wore brown hoods.

The coffee drink was named after the similarities between the colour of the monk’s brown robes and the frothy foam on top of the coffee.

Ingredients and Ratio

To make a cappuccino, a ratio of 1/3 espresso, 1/3 steamed milk, and 1/3 milk foam is typically used.

The espresso is brewed using a machine and is poured into a cup. Then, a small amount of hot milk is added, followed by a generous amount of milk foam, which is created by frothing milk with a steam wand.

Texture and Mouthfeel

The balance of espresso, steamed milk, and milk foam creates a smooth and velvety texture that is both satisfying and indulgent. The foam on top of the beverage is creamy and thick, adding a luxurious element to the overall drink.

The flavour profile of a cappuccino is characterized by the rich, bold taste of espresso, which is complemented by the sweetness of the milk and the smoothness of the foam.

When to Choose Espresso or Cappuccino

Choosing between the two espresso drinks can be hard. I get it. That’s why I recommend drinking them both! But here is how to determine when and where to drink them.

Cappuccino vs Espresso

Choose Espresso When:

  • You Crave Intensity: If you’re looking for a strong, intense coffee flavour, espresso is the way to go. Its concentrated nature packs a robust punch that’s perfect for those who love a powerful coffee experience.
  • Limited Time: When you’re in a rush but still need your caffeine fix, espresso is your best friend. It’s quick to make and can be consumed swiftly, making it ideal for busy mornings or a mid-day pick-me-up.
  • A Blank Canvas for Flavor: Espresso provides a clean slate for tasting the nuances of different coffee beans. It’s a great choice if you want to explore the distinct flavours and aromas of various single-origin or speciality coffees.
  • Minimal Additions: If you prefer your coffee without a lot of milk or foam, espresso is the way to go. It’s unadulterated coffee in its purest form.

Choose Cappuccino When:

  • You Desire Creaminess: Cappuccino is a delight for those who enjoy a creamy, velvety texture in their coffee. The combination of espresso, steamed milk, and milk foam creates a luxurious mouthfeel.
  • You Want a Balanced Flavor Profile: Cappuccino strikes a balance between the intensity of espresso and the smoothness of milk. It offers a rich, well-rounded flavour that’s not overpowering but still full-bodied.
  • You Need A Relaxing Moment: If you have the time to savour your coffee and appreciate the experience, cappuccino is a great choice. It’s a drink to be enjoyed slowly, allowing you to fully immerse yourself in its flavours and aromas.
  • You Desire Artistic Expression: The layered nature of a cappuccino allows for artistic presentations. Baristas often create beautiful latte art on the foam, adding an aesthetic dimension to your coffee experience.
  • In a Social Setting: Cappuccinos are often associated with leisurely coffee breaks and social gatherings. Choosing a cappuccino can be a great way to enjoy coffee with friends or family in a relaxed environment.

Remember, personal preference plays a significant role in this decision as well. That’s why experimenting with both espresso and cappuccino will help you discover which one aligns best with your taste and lifestyle.

And don’t be afraid to try variations like lattes, macchiatos, and flat whites, which offer their own unique coffee experiences.


Understanding the differences between espresso and cappuccino is important in order to make an informed decision. I hope this guide was helpful!

If you’re looking for a thicker, creamier texture cappuccino is the right choice, while if you want a strong hit of caffeine, espresso is the way to go.

Nonetheless, both drinks are full of flavour and can be enjoyed as a hot pick-me-up or as part of an artfully prepared “coffee creation” like latte art. Why not try whipping up one at home now?

While you are here, why not learn about the difference between espresso and americano? You’ll be surprised!

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Author: Ivan Brozincevic

Ivan fell in love with everything about espresso while he was in college back in 2010, so much so that he decided to quit his education and pursue a career as a barista. Today, Ivan has extensive knowledge about espresso, espresso gear, and everything else related and loves sharing it with others who share his passion.

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