Is a Cappuccino Sweet? Here’s All You Need to Know


Espresso-based drinks have risen in popularity dramatically in the United States over the past decade. While a regular coffee used to reign supreme as the most popular coffee beverage, it fell behind its espresso competitors in the past few years. Coffee lovers have endless options from a caffè latte to a frappe, but in this post, you will learn all you wanted to know about a cappuccinos.

What is A Cappuccino?

A cappuccino is an espresso-based beverage that contains steamed milk and a thick layer of milk foam. This is one of the most popular coffee beverages but surprisingly, not many people know what makes a cappuccino unique. Keep reading to learn all about cappuccinos!

Round wooden table on top of which are four cups of cappuccino. Each cappuccino has different art created in the milk foam. The background is gray.

What Does the Name Cappuccino Mean?

The name “cappuccino” differs from most Italian espresso drinks whose names have a literal meaning describing what the drink is. For example, a caffe latte means “coffee with milk.” Cappuccino is derived from the Italian word “capuchin.” This refers to the a Catholic group of Franciscan friars known as the Capuchin Friars. The traditional attire worn by this group consisted of light to medium brown robes, and these men would often shave the top of their heads, revealing a pale scalp. Somewhere along the way, the brown espresso with milk reminded people of these friars’ appearance, and thus, “cappuccinos” were named. 

How Are Cappuccinos Made?

How is Espresso Made?

A great cappuccino begins with a base of espresso. Unfortunately, most standard coffee makers cannot make espresso. 

To make espresso, specialized espresso machines force steam from hot water through a puck of finely ground coffee beans contained in a basket known as a portafilter. This produces a concentrated strong coffee known as an espresso shot. 

Portafilter baskets come in different sizes to produce different amounts of espresso. Usually these sizes are single, double and triple, which produce single, double or triple shots of espresso respectively. 

You might be wondering what exactly a shot of espresso is. A shot of espresso refers to the amount of espresso. A single shot of espresso is typically 1 fluid oz, whereas a double shot of espresso is 2 oz, and a triple shot of espresso is 3 oz. 

For reference, most 8-12 oz espresso drinks contain one shot of espresso whereas a 16 oz drink will usually contain a double shot. 

How to Make a Cappuccino

A classic Italian cappuccino requires only three ingredients: espresso, steamed milk and milk foam. A standard cappuccino contains 1 part espresso, 1 part steamed milk, and 1 part milk foam. 

What is the Difference Between a Wet and Dry Cappuccino?

Cappuccinos can be ordered “wet” or “dry”. The difference comes down to the proportion of milk foam to steamed milk. As mentioned above, traditional cappuccinos contain espresso, steamed milk, and milk foam in a 1:1:1 ratio. Wet and dry cappuccinos differ in their proportions of steamed milk and milk foam although the sum of these two ingredients should still only equal 2/3 of the total beverage. 

A wet cappuccino has less milk foam and more steamed milk whereas a dry cappuccino has more milk foam and less steamed milk. There are also “bone dry” cappuccinos which have virtually no steamed milk and only contain a thick layer of milk foam. 

If you prefer more volume to sip on, you’re better off ordering a wet cappuccino. Wet cappuccinos will use more steamed milk and less milk foam so you will end up with more total milk in your drink. This is because milk foam is less dense and therefore contains less milk. This might be beneficial if you want more calories in your drink. If you are looking to cut down on calories, a dry cappuccino will have fewer calories. 

Does Coffee or Espresso Have More Caffeine?

You might be surprised to find out that a standard cup of regular drip coffee has a higher caffeine content than a shot of espresso. Drip coffee contains 94 mg per 8 oz cup, whereas a shot of espresso contains 64 mg of caffeine. 

How Many Calories are in a Cappuccino?

An 8-oz cappuccino contains 65 calories. Do keep in mind that there are many factors that can influence the amount of calories in a cappuccino. These factors include the fat content of the milk (skim vs whole milk), any sweeteners added, and the proportions of milk to foam. 

Is There Dairy in Cappuccino?

Yes, cappuccinos are traditionally made with cow’s milk. However, they can be made dairy-free or vegan using dairy alternatives. Keep in mind that certain vegan milks work better for frothing due to their protein content. 

To understand how frothing works, we must first understand protein structure. Proteins are made from many smaller particles called amino acids. These amino acids link together and fold into unique clusters known as proteins. Heating proteins causes them to denature (unravel) and lose their shape.

Steam wands produce the hot milk required for cappuccinos. These steam wands heat and introduce air into the milk. This causes the milk proteins to unravel and subsequently wrap around the air bubbles. This process causes the air bubbles to hold their structure and produces frothed milk. 

Two hands are holding a silver milk carafe. In side the carafe, there is milk that is being frothed with a steam wand.

What Are the Best Milk Alternatives to Use In Cappuccinos?

We live in an age where non-dairy milks are abundant. There are some vegan milks that work better than others for cappuccinos. Cappuccinos, as mentioned above, have a thick layer of foam. This can be hard to achieve with non-dairy milks because they don’t usually produce foam quite as well as regular cow’s milk. If you order a non-dairy cappuccino, you may end up with a drink that is more similar to a latte, which contains less milk foam. 

In my experience using non-dairy milks, oat milk or soy milk work best. Almond milk is also a popular choice and is typically lower in calories than oat and soy milk.

Many brands also offer “barista blends” of their vegan milks. These milk alternatives are formulated to work better for espresso drinks. 

Please comment below what your favorite vegan milk is!

Cappuccinos can also be made with lactose-free milk for those who are lactose intolerant. Very few cafes and coffee shops offer this option, though. Also keep in mind that lactose-free milk is not safe for people who do not consume dairy due to milk allergies. Lactose-free milk still contains milk protein and can cause an allergic reaction.  

What Does A Cappuccino Taste Like?

Cappuccinos are a milk-based espresso beverage and therefore have a creamy texture. A good cappuccino tastes strongly of coffee, but should not be excessively bitter. The creamy milk balances the strong espresso flavor and produces a palatable and enjoyable beverage. 

In comparison, cappuccinos are not as creamy and naturally sweet as a latte, which contains more milk. The natural sugars and fat in whole milk off-set the bitterness of the espresso. Because of this, you might find cappuccinos slightly more bitter than a latte. 

Are Cappuccinos Sweet?

A traditional cappuccino is not sweet on its own other than the natural sweetness from milk. However, most specialty coffee shops offer various types of sugar, syrups and flavors to customize your cappuccino. As an example, if you order a Starbucks cappuccino, you can ask your barista to flavor your cappuccino with any of their flavored syrups.  

Many cappuccino makers found at convenience stores offer sweetened cappuccinos.

Best Sweeteners For Cappuccinos

How you sweeten your cappuccino is a matter of personal preference, but the options are endless. You can keep it simple with natural sugar, or you can get more creative with your sweeteners. Some popular sweeteners for cappuccinos include:

  • White sugar
  • Brown sugar
  • Simple syrup
  • Honey
  • Chocolate syrup
  • Caramel sauce
  • Chocolate Powder
  • Flavored syrup (e.g. lavender, pumpkin spice, or vanilla)

You can also try topping your cappuccino with a dusting of cinnamon or cocoa powder, or a sprinkle of chocolate shavings. 

There are two dishes. The dish on the left contains a small white bowl of brown sugar. On the right, there is a cappuccino with a silver spoon.

What is The Difference Between a Cappuccino and a Latte?

Lattes are now the most-ordered coffee drink at coffee shops, beating out the standard cup of Joe. There is often confusion about how lattes and cappuccinos differ.

Lattes and cappuccinos are very similar in that they both contain espresso and steamed milk and milk foam. Cappuccinos differ from lattes only in their relative proportions of these ingredients. Lattes are made with a high proportion of steamed milk and a thin layer of milk foam. Cappuccinos, on the other hand, have a thick layer of milk foam and a smaller amount of steamed milk. Cappuccinos are typically made with a ratio of 1:1:1 parts of espresso, steamed milk, and milk foam.

What is the Difference Between a Cappuccino and a Flat White?    

Flat whites are another popular drink that have made their way onto the menu in many coffee shops in North America. This beverage actually differs from most espresso drinks because it originated in New Zealand and Australia. 

Flat whites, lattes and cappuccinos are all made with espresso, steamed milk, and milk foam. Flat whites are very similar to lattes, but have a few subtle, yet key differences- the amount of milk foam, and the size of the drink relative to the amount of espresso.

 In contrast to lattes, flat whites typically have an even thinner layer of foamed milk. They also typically contain less steamed milk for the same amount of espresso compared to a latte (meaning lattes have less espresso by volume). Flat whites are known for having an intense coffee flavor and a silky texture.

Iced Flat White vs Cappuccino vs Latte

You may be wondering what the difference is between an iced cappuccino, iced latte, and iced flat white. 

As previously discussed, lattes, flat whites, and cappuccinos differ only in how they are prepared when hot (i.e. their recipes require different proportions of steamed milk and milk froth). Because of this, there is no difference between the two drinks if you order them iced. Iced lattes and iced cappuccinos are both made by brewing espresso and pouring ice and cold milk over the espresso.

Cappuccino vs Latte vs Flat White: Which is Sweeter?

Flat whites, cappuccinos, and lattes all do not have any sweeteners on their own and therefore are only sweet if sugar is added. Cappuccinos are less naturally sweet than a flat white or latte because they have less milk, which adds some natural sugars.


The next time you hit up your favorite coffee shop, there is a good chance you will see one of these popular coffee drinks on the menu. It can be very confusing seeing so many types of coffee drinks and having no idea what the heck the difference between them is. You can skip that regular cup of coffee and instead partake in a delicious espresso-based coffee drink (and know what you are ordering!) Don’t forget to add in your favorite sweeteners if you prefer your coffee a bit sweeter. There are many options to make your cappuccinos sweet and customized to your preferences.

If you enjoyed learning about cappuccinos, you may enjoy these posts:

Iced Lattes vs Iced Mochas: Which Drink is Best?

Regular Mochas vs White Mochas

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