Cafe Con Leche vs Latte: Is There a Difference?

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Introduction: What is the Difference Between a Cafe Con Leche and a Cafe Latte?

Lattes and cafe con leches are both hot coffee beverages that are made with hot milk. While these two beverages are quite similar in their core ingredients, they have some key differences that set them apart.

Latte vs Cafe Con Leche: History and Origin

What is a Latte? 

A latte begins with an espresso base. A regular latte typically contains 1-2 shots of espresso and a generous amount of steamed milk. Lattes have a thin layer of milk foam on top that is ideal for making latte art. 

There is a latte with latte art in a to-go cup. Next to this cup, there is a small succulent. These two items are sitting on a marble table.

What is a Cafe Con Leche?

A cafe con leche is a milk and coffee beverage that typically contains equal parts coffee and milk. With that being said, in Spanish cultures there are many variations of this drink and the ratios of coffee to milk can vary drastically depending on how you like your coffee. 

Because café con leches are made with milk and are therefore more filling, they are often consumed with breakfast. If no milk is desired, coffee buyers might order a café solo, which is plain coffee without milk. 

Where Did Lattes Originate?

Lattes originated in Italy but have become an extremely popular choice in the United States. The caffe latte surpassed regular black coffee in recent years as the most popular coffee beverage ordered at coffee shops in the United States. 

Where Did Cafe Con Leches Originate?

Cafe con leche, also known as a Spanish latte, originated in Spain but has since spread to other Spanish-speaking countries including Cuba, Mexico, and much of Latin America. 

It is thought that this popular drink became popular due to Italian influence. After all, espresso originated in Italy.

Where Do Lattes Get Their Name? Where Do Cafe Con Leches Get their Name?

Lattes, also known as cafe lattes, can be translated from the Italian words meaning “coffee with milk.” Cafe con leches come from the Spanish words meaning “coffee with milk”. As you can see, the literal English translations of both of these coffee drinks are the same. The difference between their names is that they are derived from different languages. 

Latte vs Cafe Con Leche: Flavor and Preparation Methods

Classic lattes and cafe con leches are both made using a combination of steamed milk and espresso however there are several differences in their preparation that contribute to their differences. 

How Are Cafe Con Leches Made?

Cafe con leches contain equal parts of espresso and steamed milk. A common recipe contains 1 espresso shot, equal to 1 oz of espresso, and 1 oz of steamed milk. 

Step 1: Brew the Coffee

The coffee is made with either an espresso machine, or a stovetop espresso maker known as a moka pot. These coffee makers do not make true espresso, but they do make a great substitute for espresso if you do not have an espresso machine. You can also use a french press and make a stronger cup of coffee, but this brewing method produces coffee that is less similar to espresso and the result will not be as authentic. 

There is a close-up view of the top of an open mocha pot that contains brewed coffee.

Step 2: Steam the Milk

Cafe con leches use steamed milk, similar to a latte. However, the milk is heated to a higher temperature resulting in scalded milk. 

To heat the milk, place the milk in a saucepan over medium and heat until steaming and very hot, just before it boils. 

The boiling point of milk is similar to that of water, however the exact temperature will depend on the altitude at which you live, as well as the type of milk you are using. This is because different types of milk, such as skim vs whole milk, have different proportions of fat, protein, sugars, and water. All of these factors have an impact on the boiling point of the milk. 

The easiest way to tell when your milk is done is to watch for small bubbles to start appearing around the edge of the saucepan. Once you see these bubbles, remove the milk from the saucepan and pour it over your brewed coffee in your favorite coffee cup. 

If you want to produce more milk froth, you can also use an electric frothing wand while the milk is heating to produce more froth. 

How Are Lattes Made?

The preparation of a café latte is very similar to that of a cafe con leche. 

Step 1: Brew Espresso

Brew your shot of espresso in an espresso maker. Use a moka pot to brew an espresso-like coffee that has a similar robust flavor to espresso.

There is a close-up view of a small blue cup under the spout of an espresso machine. There is brewed espresso being dispensed in the cup.

Step 2: Steam the Milk

Use a steam wand to steam your milk. Typically, the milk for lattes should not be heated above a temperature of 170F. Milk becomes scalded at a temperature of 180F and will experience a change of flavor due to the proteins denaturing above that temperature. 

What do Lattes Taste Like?

Lattes have a creamy and smooth texture with a mild to moderate coffee flavor. The strength of the coffee flavor depends on the coffee roast and the number of espresso shots used in the latte.

Various sweeteners and syrups can be added to sweeten them and compliment the flavor of the coffee.

What does Cafe Con Leche Taste Like?

Cafe con leches have a strong coffee flavor that is typically bitter and slightly burnt tasting. The addition of hot milk offsets this flavor. 

In comparison to a latte, cafe con leches have a stronger flavor than a latte. Lattes also have more of a creamy texture due to the higher amount of milk that is used. 

Spanish Coffee Beans

Part of the reason cafe con leches are often more bitter and stronger than a latte is because of the coffee beans that are used in cafe con leches. 

In Spanish culture, the coffee used is often a very dark roast and is often described as a burnt and bitter taste. This reputation is due to the type of coffee that is often used, referred to as torrefacto. 

These torrefacto beans are named for the roasting process, not for the beans themselves. “Torrefacto” translates from Spanish to English to mean “roasted”. 

In the torrefacto roasting process, coffee beans are coated with sugar, typically toward the end of the roasting process. This sugar coating makes the beans shiny and lends to the burnt flavor often associated with them. 

Historically, this technique helped preserve the beans and mask the flavors of lower quality coffee beans in the 20th century when the country experienced political and economic hardship due to the Spanish Civil War. 

Although this process results in coffee that many find unpalatable, this style of coffee has remained a popular choice due to cultural influence. In fact, most coffee purchased in Spain today will have a blend of torrefacto beans and regular coffee beans.

Cafe con Leche vs Latte Variations

There are many variations of both of these popular coffee drinks. Latte drinkers and cafe con leche drinkers alike have many options to customize their coffee drinks to suit their preference. 

Variations of Lattes

  • Mocha latte: Add a small amount chocolate mocha sauce
  • Iced latte: Sspresso is added to a glass. Cold milk and ice is poured over the espresso.
  • Latte macchiato: Similar to a regular latte, this drink differs in how the ingredients are layered in the glass. In a latte macchiato, the steamed milk is added first, then the espresso, then the thin layer of milk foam on top. This produces a visually appearing layered coffee drink.
  • Sweetened latte with various flavored syrups
    • Common flavors include vanilla, peppermint, pumpkin spice, and lavender
Iced latte in a plastic to-go cup sitting on a marble table with a small succulent in the background.

Variations of Cafe Con Leche

  • Add a pinch of salt
  • Sweetened: this variation is typical in Cuba and is often referred to as a Cuban café con leche
    • Add a teaspoon or two of sugar 
    • Add a spoonful of sweetened condensed milk
  • More milk and a small amount of coffee:  Café leche manchada
  • Less milk: cortado

Best Non-Dairy Milks for Cafe Con Leche and Lattes

Although dairy milk is typically used for both lattes and cafe con leches, there are several good vegan milk alternatives that can be substituted. Oat milk, almond milk, and soy milk are the best options in terms of flavor and their ability to produce frothed milk. However, feel free to experiment and find the milk alternative you like best.   


What is Cafe au Lait vs Latte vs Cafe con Leche?

Many European countries have their own versions of hot milk coffee drinks. Coffee enthusiasts that visit these European countries will likely find themselves offered one of these latte-like drinks. It is helpful to know the difference between these variations if you ever find yourself ordering one of these beverages. 

If you walk into a French Cafe, you will likely see a cafe au lait on the menu. This drink translates from French to English as “coffee with milk.”

Unlike a latte or a cafe con leche, cafe au laits do not contain espresso. Rather, they use strong coffee combined with steamed milk.

A cafe au lait is similar to a cafe con leche in that they both contain equal amounts of coffee and milk. Cafe con leche has a bolder flavor than a cafe au lait due to the stronger coffee beans that are used.

There are two coffee to-go cups side by side. The left one is taller, the right one is shorter. They are sitting on a concrete table. In the background there is a park with grass.

Is a Flat White Like Cafe con Leche?

Flat whites and cafe con leches contain the same ingredients: espresso and steamed milk. Flat whites have a thinner layer of milk froth and contain less milk overall than a latte, but more milk than a cafe con leche. 

Is Café con Leche Strong?

Cafe con leche is a strong coffee drink. It typically contains espresso made from very dark roast coffee beans that have a bitter or burnt flavor. For this reason, cafe con leches are often sweetened to offset the harsh coffee flavor. 

Is Cuban coffee the same as cafe con leche?

Cuban coffee is a variation of a cafe con leche that contains a sweetener. This can be a small amount of added sugar or a spoonful of sweetened condensed milk. 


Cafe con leche and latte are very similar drinks with several key differences: 

Latte vs Cafe con Leche Similarities:

  • Both contain espresso and steamed milk
  • Typically served hot
  • Usually contain whole milk

Latte vs Cafe con Leche Differences:

  • Lattes have a greater ratio of milk to espresso (at least 3:1), whereas cafe con leches have a 1:1 ratio of espresso to milk
  • The milk for cafe con leches is typically heated higher and is scalded, whereas lattes should not contain scalded milk
  • Cafe con leche often is made with Spanish coffee beans, which have a distinct burnt, bitter flavor. 

Bottom Line: 

Whether you should have a latte or a cafe con leche is a matter of personal preference. 

For coffee lovers who prefer a strong coffee flavor and less milk, a café con leche is an excellent choice. If you like your coffee sweet, consider ordering a Cuban cafe con leche. 

If you prefer a coffee beverage with more milk and a milder coffee flavor, a latte is a better choice. 

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