Cappuccino VS Espresso – 3 Differences Separating Two Iconic Drinks

Coffee can sometimes be confusing, but the classics are a must-know. This is where the differences between cappuccino and espresso come in.

Both drinks are a classic, and knowing them will help you out in figuring any drink menu out there.

So let’s get to basics, and see the differences.

Espresso VS Cappuccino

Cappuccino VS Espresso

The main difference between cappuccino and espresso, is that cappuccino has milk while espresso does not.

A cappuccino uses a shot of espresso and steamed milk, while espresso is just coffee, without anything else.

An espresso is always smaller than a cappuccino, and a cappuccino will have beautiful latte art.

These differences and more are discussed below in greater detail. I also explain how to choose between an espresso and a cappuccino, depending on what you’re looking for.

1. Espresso is pure coffee, cappuccino contains milk

The first and foremost difference you’ll notice between the two is the coffee. The taste, the color, the overall feel of them will be different.

An espresso – more on that here – is the most basic coffee drink ever. It’s what every barista will use to make a flavored triple mocha cloud swirl (or something similar), since ti’s the building block of almost all coffee drinks.

There’s 12 basic drinks, and cappuccino is one of those. Nearly all of them use espresso as a base.

This is because espresso is pure coffee. Beyond pure coffee, it’s actually coffee concentrate.

To a very small amount of water (a little over 1 oz/33 ml) you add 7 gr (or more) of ground coffee. And through the power of hot water and high pressure pumps, you get an espresso.

It’s done in a few seconds, and you get a very powerful though tiny, cup of coffee.

It tastes strongly of coffee, the crema on top is going to look rich and luxurious, and it will brighten the room with its smell.

A cappuccino does contain an espresso, but also milk. Lots of steamed milk, and milk foam.

This results in a much milder coffee taste, and won’t feel like a caffeine punch (even if it does have caffeine).

A cappuccino is often chosen over a simple espresso, because it’s usually flavored or at least tones down the coffee.

And it’s a good drink to get started with when drinking coffee, since it’s easier to handle than a pure espresso.

2. Cappuccino builds upon an espresso, and has latte art

So you know now that cappuccinos are based on an espresso.

Simply put, you get one shot of espresso – usually a standard shot – and 4 times more steamed milk, plus a thick layer of milk foam on top.

This means that you absolutely need an espresso, both for its bold flavor, and for its thick layer of crema on top.

When the milk foam comes into contact with the crema, it becomes the canvas for latte art. You know those beautiful swirls baristas try to make as complicated as possible.

cappuccino foam

It’s a skill, and it can’t be done without an espresso. There wouldn’t be anything for the white milk foam to contrast with.

On the other hand, an espresso is a stand-alone drink. It needs nothing to be an espresso, other than itself.

Of course, you can always add a little milk and sugar to your espresso and tone it down a little. But the overall tone of strong coffee will still be there.

3. Espressos are much shorter than a cappuccino

Serving size matters, ad there’s no denying that a cappuccino is always going to be larger than an espresso. It’s impossible for it to not be.

One cup of cappuccino is a 5 oz cup. It contains 1 oz espresso, 4 oz steamed milk, and 1 oz milk foam mingled with crema. Most often it comes with a dome head, since the foam will tend to rise a little above the edge of the cup.

For comparison, one espresso is one ounce of drink. That’s it.

It’s packs a big punch, and it’s very small.

Of course, if you order a ristretto, you get half an ounce of espresso, but just as strong as a standard shot.

You can also get a double or triple shot. This means that the volume is still 1 oz/33 ml, but you get a much stronger drink.

All in all, if serving size is what you’re looking for, then go with a cappuccino.

How to choose between a cappuccino and an espresso

Choosing between these drinks is going to be very simple, if you know what you’re looking for.

Most of the time when people go out, they’re not looking for something specific. But when presented with a list of options, they’ll figure out on the spot what seems the most appealing.

Or, the 2-3 options that don’t seem unappealing. Either way, here’s a guide to help you figure out which is best for your case.

If you’re looking for a caffeine kick

Both cappuccinos and espressos have the same caffeine kick. Shocker ?

Shouldn’t be, when we remember that a cappuccino always has a shot of espresso as a base. Which means they both have about 60-90 mg of caffeine per shot (1 oz/33 ml).

It also means that both of them can become double or triple espresso shots, upping the ante on the caffeine.

Though if you’re looking for more caffeine, you should check out filter coffee, or French press.

If you’re looking for a milder taste

If strong tasting coffee isn’t really your thing, you’re better off with a cappuccino.

I say this because not only does it have the highest milk content, but it’s also a bit creamier, given the steamed milk and the milk foam on top.

Which again, will help get you a milder taste.

There’s also the coffee to milk ratio to consider. if you were to add a bit of milk to an espresso, the coffee would still be overpowering.

In a cappuccino the milk is 80% of the drink, meaning the coffee’s flavor will be there, but much subtler.

If you want a quick drink

If just grabbing a quick coffee and heading out the door is more your style, consider an espresso. It brews in half a minute, and you can drink the whole thing in less than a minute.

That’s it, you’re don in 2 minutes since thinking about coffee. There’s no coffee that’s going to get faster than that.

It’s both because of the small serving size – 1 oz/33 ml – and because of how fast it brews.

For a cappuccino you also have to wait for the milk to steam and the drink to be poured.

Final thoughts

Whichever drink you get, remember that both cappuccino and espresso have their role. Espresso seems ti be the base of almost every coffee drink out there.

And cappuccino is one of the world’s favorites, actually it’s right there after latte.

Next time someone asks you to break down the difference between espresso and cappuccino, you’ll be ready.

If you want to know more about coffee or tea, feel free to check the related articles below. Who knows what else you might find ?