When making a latte, I've seen baristas make it:

  1. With espresso shot first and then milk and art on top (served in a normal cup)
  2. Milk first and espresso shot poured on top (served in a long glass with a handle)

Are both of these technically lattes or is the second way something different entirely?

3 Answers 3


Oh, the famous latte!

Apparently hardly anyone knows that it simply means "milk" in Italian, so technically calling a coffee drink "latte" is pure nonsense.

So where does the coffee shop staple get his name from?

In Italy, a latte macchiato ("stained milk") is basically an espresso in a glass of hot (steamed) milk, pouring the espresso last leads to the distinct layers.

A caffellatte ("coffee with milk") is an espresso or coffee from a moka, topped with a generous dose of hot milk. No layers in this cup or glass.

So depending on whether your coffee shop makes caffellatte or latte macchiato, you get milk first or coffee first, layers or none.

  • 1
    Interesting! I heard of someone go to a coffee shop in Italy, order a latte, and feel a bit stupid when they got a glass of milk! Commented Jun 27, 2017 at 19:55
  • 1
    @marcellothearcane well, that was to be expected - getting milk, not feeling stupid. But that's why we travel: we lean a lot!
    – Stephie
    Commented Jun 27, 2017 at 20:31
  • You're being a bit cruel / snobbish to claim most people don't know latte means milk in Italian. In English latte has come to mean espresso with steamed milk; people are just fitting into their local context. As for a latte vs a macchiato, you're ignoring the size distinction
    – Unrelated
    Commented Sep 8, 2017 at 19:28

Thanks Steph I see what you mean. The answer is really that there is no clear answer because it is a question of nomenclature and there is no 'technical' definition of 'latte' in this context that I know of. What you are really asking is what is the best option or something like that? It seems to be a feature of language that people think of terms and words in relation to what they consider ideal or 'normal' cases, other factors cause terminology to vary widely and there is no Academie francais or ISO body to pronounce on this one. Even if there was usages would still vary as Academies and language mavens everywhere eventually learn. Ingredients or components often become names for foodstuffs or well used items, 'latte' being the best example, "chili" another, "canvas" on sailing ships yet another.

Nomenclature regarding coffee in my extensive experience varies widely but is often taken very seriously 'locally' you might say. So it depends where you are, even then there is not agreement. In London for example experienced Italian Barristas disagreed with local coffee shop owners: whose opinion do you take? I normally use the 'when in Rome rule' but didn't in this case, considering the barristas to make a better result and nodding to that I guess?

I was served once, in Cardiff Wales in Cardiff Central Market when I ordered 'Cappuccino', a large mug of lukewarm instant coffee with a 'head of synthetic cream from an aerosol can and some fake cocoa sprinkled over it, mostly on the handle. As a linguist professionally the question is interesting to me as to whether this abomination should be included within the range of the term "Cappuccino". Any takers? Same applies to 'latte' over all I don't think you can relly on much more than getting milk in some form or in some quantity with your espresso.

  • Tudor Eynon, welcome to the site! As I see it, milk and foam plus espresso might be a cappuccino - or something else, depending on the ratios. Unfortunately I don't see a clear answer to the original question here, but that is the first rule when answering. Please take the tour and browse our help center to learn more about this site and the Stack Exchange system in general. If you want, you can always edit your post.
    – Stephie
    Commented Aug 24, 2017 at 21:05
  • I edited in accord with your comment Stephie; thanks for pointing that out to me. Commented Aug 26, 2017 at 14:28

It's a matter of proportion. Traditional cappuccino is divided into 3. 1 third espresso, 1 third milk and the rest is foam - so it will be served in a "normal" cup that would hold the ratio. As mentioned before, "latte" comes from the word "milk" in Italian, so it's mostly milk and some foam with some espresso in a larger glass.


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