What Does a Latte Taste Like: Plus All the Latte Variations

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Introduction: What Do Lattes Taste Like?

Americans love a caffe latte. A basic latte can please coffee lovers and even people who don’t like coffee due to all the different ways it can be flavored. It should come as no surprise that this creamy coffee drink is the most ordered beverage at coffee shops, even beating out standard drip coffee. The question is, why are lattes so popular and what do they taste like? 

Here we discuss exactly what makes a latte so delicious and what all the variations of a latte taste like. 

What Does a Latte Taste Like?

Caffe lattes contain a high proportion of milk compared to the espresso. This makes for a rich and creamy beverage that has a subtle yet distinct coffee flavor. The high volume of milk also makes this drink a popular choice for breakfast time, as it is much more filling than other espresso drinks. 

Because there is so much milk, the coffee flavor is diluted and the bitterness of coffee is neutralized. The milk lends a hint of sweetness to the drink, but they can also be sweetened with added sweeteners. If a latte also contains flavored syrups the espresso flavor is even more subtle. This makes it an excellent choice for those who do not like the taste of coffee.

The roast of coffee beans also impacts the taste of a latte. Dark roasts taste more bitter and strong than a lighter roast of coffee such as a blonde roast. If you do not like the strong taste of coffee, a light roast of coffee may be a better choice.  

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 Latte?

To understand what a latte is, let’s discuss the origin of the word. In Italian, “latte” simply means “milk.”

Now obviously, the lattes we drink in the United States are far from a simple glass of milk. 

What most people think of when they think of a latte is a caffe latte, although there are many variations of a latte, which we discuss below. 

What is a Caffe Latte?

A caffe latte is what most people think of when they think of a latte. 

These espresso-based drinks contain a single or double shot of espresso, a generous amount of steamed milk, and a layer of milk foam on top. 

Of all the espresso drinks, lattes have the highest proportion of milk to espresso. Most cafe lattes have at least a 3:1 ratio of milk to espresso. In the US, the proportions can be much higher than this. For example a tall latte at Starbucks is 12 oz and contains a single shot of espresso, which is about 1 oz of liquid. A more traditional caffè latte might be served in an 8 oz cup and contain two shots of espresso. 

How is a Latte Prepared?

Caffe lattes start with finely ground coffee beans that are pressed into a device called a portafilter. This portafilter is attached to an espresso machine and the machine uses steam and pressure to force hot water through the ground espresso into a cup. This process is called pulling espresso shots. 

Next, a steam wand is immersed in a metal pitcher that contains fresh milk. The steam emitted into the milk causes small air bubbles to form. The heated proteins stabilize these air bubbles and produce microfoam. If you do not have an espresso machine that has a steam wand, you can use a handheld milk frother like this one, or a French press to make the frothed milk. 

The espresso is poured into a latte mug, and the steamed milk is poured over the top. A skilled barista often makes latte art with the milk during this step. 

​There are many latte variations that all follow a similar process, but often use a different flavoring agent than espresso. 

What do Popular Latte Variations Taste Like? 

Caffe Mocha

A caffe mocha starts with a base of espresso and steamed milk, similar to a caffe latte. The difference is that a mocha contains either regular chocolate or white chocolate mocha sauce. This results in a coffee drink that tastes similar to a regular caffe latte, but is sweeter, and has a rich chocolate flavor. They are often called a “mocha latte.”

blue-green mug containing a mocha. The mug is sitting on a napkin on a wooden cutting board with cocoa powder sprinkled on the napkin and cutting board.

Flat White

The origin of flat whites is not completely known, but they are thought to have originated in New Zealand or Australia. 

Sometimes referred to as a “mini latte,” flat whites contain 2 shots of espresso with only about 6oz of steamed milk. Flat whites have a very thin layer of milk foam on top and have stronger coffee flavor because they have the same amount of espresso as a latte, but less milk. 

Chai Tea Latte

Chai tea lattes do not typically contain any espresso or coffee (see below). These tea-based beverages contain black tea, mixed with several warming spices including cardamom, black pepper, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, mace and star anise. They also contain a sweetener such as sugar or honey. Chai tea lattes can be made with a tea blend, or a chai concentrate. The sweet tea and spice mixture is mixed with steamed milk, similar to a caffe latte, and results in a warm, creamy beverage that has a sweet yet spicy flavor. 

Some chai lattes do contain coffee, and are referred to as “dirty chais”. A dirty chai contains an espresso shot, which not only adds a coffee flavor, but also increases the caffeine content. An 8 oz chai tea latte contains only 22 mg of caffeine. Adding one shot of espresso increases the caffeine content by 64 mg.

image depicts an aerial view of a white cup that contains a chai latte with a star anise pod that is floating on the top. The cup is sitting on a marble background and there is a cinnamon stick on the table.

Green Tea Latte

Green tea lattes have contain green tea in steamed milk and have two main variations. They are prepared with either green tea bags, or with matcha. When made with matcha, these drinks are commonly called matcha lattes.

The main difference between these two drinks, is that in a green tea latte made with tea bags, the tea is steeped through a filter bag and no leaves remain in the drink once the tea bag is removed. On the other hand, a matcha latte contains a special type green tea that is ground down into a fine powder, called matcha. The matcha tea is mixed directly into the steamed milk and therefore contains the actually tea leaves in the beverage. Because of this, matcha lattes usually taste stronger of green tea than lattes made with tea bags.

London Fog

London fogs contain earl grey tea that is steeped into steamed milk, and vanilla syrup is added to sweeten it. 

Earl gray tea is one of the most popular types of tea. It has a distinct flavor due to bergamot, which is used to scent the black tea leaves in earl gray tea. The bergamot oil used in earl grey tea is derived from a citrus fruit called the bergamot orange. It has a distinct flavor that tastes fruity and slightly citrusy. When I first tried earl grey tea, I thought it tasted subtly of the breakfast cereal Fruity Pebbles. 

Iced Latte

While often served as a hot beverage, any variation of a latte can be served over ice. They do not contain any steamed milk, but rather cold milk is poured over the ice and flavoring agent to produce a cold milk-based drink. Iced lattes taste similar to an iced coffee but have a more creamy flavor.

Iced latte in a plastic to-go cup sitting on a marble table with a small succulent in the background.


What Is the Best Milk for a Latte?

The best type of milk for a latte is whole milk or 2% milk. Most coffee shops only offer whole or skim milk. While skim milk froths very well due to its high protein content, it will not taste as rich and creamy as whole milk. 

What are the Best Alternative Milks for Lattes?

The best non-dairy milks for lattes are oat milk or soy milk. These options have a subtle taste and steam well. Nutritionally, soy milk is most similar to regular cow’s milk. Almond milk and coconut milk are also popular options, however, coconut milk does not froth well due to its high fat and low protein content. 

While these are some of the more popular coffee non-dairy milks, you can try using whatever non-dairy milk you have at home. Some newer vegan milks include cashew nut milk, pea protein milk, and even banana milk. 

Why are Lattes So Popular?

Lattes are so popular because they are versatile and can appeal to both coffee lovers and people who do not like coffee. Cafe lattes have a much more subtle coffee flavor compared to other popular coffee drinks. They also have several different variations due to the numerous different flavors of syrup that are often added, such as Starbucks pumpkin spice lattes. Popular flavored syrups include:

  • Pumpkin spice syrup 
  • Lavender syrup
  • Vanilla syrup
  • Caramel

For people who don’t like coffee, chai tea lattes, london fogs, and even ube lattes can be a great choice. 

Is a Latte Stronger than Coffee?

Because they are mixed with milk, lattes often don’t taste as strong as regular black coffee. However, this depends on how many shots of espresso the latte contains. 

An 8 oz cup of coffee contains 96 mg of caffeine, whereas a single shot of espresso contains only 64 mg. 8 oz lattes contain either one or two shots of espresso and so how strong a latte is in comparison to regular coffee depends on how many espresso shots are used to make the latte. A latte made with one shot will not be as strong as regular coffee, but a latte with two shots will be more strong (at least in terms of caffeine). 

What Tastes Sweeter, Cappuccino or Latte?

Lattes taste sweeter than a cappuccino because lattes have much more milk than a cappuccino. The naturally occurring lactose in milk, which is a type of sugar, lends a mildly sweet taste to the coffee beverages. Since the espresso in and of itself is not sweet, the milk is what makes these coffee drinks taste sweet. That being said, you can add sugar or any flavored syrup to either drink if your taste buds desire a sweeter drink. 

What Can I Use to Sweeten a Latte?

  • ​Sugar
  • Brown sugar
  • Coconut sugar
  • Honey
  • Agave
  • Maple syrup
  • Flavored syrups
  • Chocolate sauce

What is the Difference Between a Caramel Latte and a Vanilla Latte?

Caramel lattes and vanilla lattes only differ in the type of syrup they are sweetened with. Vanilla lattes contain vanilla flavored syrup and caramel lattes contain caramel sauce. 

Should I Use Whole Milk or 2% for Latte?

Whole milk and 2% milk both work well for lattes. Most coffee shops use whole milk for a traditional latte, but if you are looking to cut down on calories, 2% milk has less fat and fewer calories. Whole milk contains 150 calories per 8 oz cup whereas 2% milk contains 120 calories per cup


Lattes rose in popularity significantly in recent years. There are many ways to make a great latte, whether you like coffee not. If you are new to drinking coffee, caffe lattes are a great way to get used to the flavor of coffee because the milk dilutes the flavor. The next time you visit your favorite local coffee shop, you may consider ordering this popular drink and experiment with all the different flavors and variations it has to offer. 

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