Let's talk about milk beverages...?

Hey everyone,

There’s something that’s been bothering me for quite some time and I don’t think I’m the only one…

Can we agree that the cappuccino and latte are becoming less and less relevant today from a specialty coffee standpoint? We’re seeing more and more menus that simply state something like ‘espresso + milk’ as opposed to a laundry list of milk beverages. These E + M drinks might come in a couple of sizes even, but typically use milk that’s been textured in order to pour art (not saying latte art here is very intentional… :wink: ) and is probably closest to a flat white over anything else, no? Even the WBC has switched from calling it a cappuccino to a milk beverage in competition over the past couple of years.

I get that there’s the customer side and someone will say ‘our customers want latte’s, so that’s why we keep them on the menu’. Great, keep doing you! I don’t want to change the world here, I’m just looking for some good feedback and conversation.


If customers know the anatomy of milk drinks then sure, I find that I enjoy fine tuning someone’s order based on the “steps” of conventional drinks. For instance, if someone is equivocating between a latte and a cappuccino, I’ll pull a foamier latte, or a wetter cappuccino. I agree with you on this matter, and aside from all the names we give these drinks, they’re really just arbitrary stops on a spectrum of coffee/milk total volume and ratio. I can see some advantages to this graded way of considering milk drinks over the conventional and often confusing name-based way we’ve grown accustomed to. This would also probably curb people’s buying of the trendy new cool drink they just heard of just because they just heard of it. Maybe it’d be better to go based on actual preference instead of repeating what you’ve heard: What kind of coffee? How much? What kind of milk? How much? Foam? Steam?


i work at a shop with no cappuccino or latte on the menu, we have the aforementioned espresso and milk listed instead, in a couple of different sizes. i like the theory behind this a lot; we are moving further from italian tradition and further solidifying the current coffee movement, honing in on what the movement generally agrees are enjoyable quality crafted drinks.

it does prove to be confusing for customers at times, you would be surprised at how many customers say, so you don’t do lattes here? and when i say, that would be our espresso and milk, they say, oh thats what a latte is? i can only hope that it doesn’t come across as pretentious. i would say never does the conversation progress to a point where i am able to explain the reasons behind the shop avoiding certain italian words.


Shawn/Joe/Adam 3 - Cappuccino/Latte - 0


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Never having been much of a fan of “blended drinks” myself, the complexity and “caché” of having twentyseven variations on the same theme, all named and priced differently, has always seemed more than a bit pretentious to me. I remember my first cafe con panna (spelled properly?) when some friends and I stumbled into what appeared to be a true Italisn style shop in San Francisco one night after dinner at Wong’s, our preffered shoop haing closed whilst we gorged on their amazing food. that was a fine drink, but I enjoyed the straight espresso shot that I got afterward just as much. Different, equally good.

I think the concept of considering all the espresso and milk/dairy drinks as essentially the same thing on a continuum is pretty accurate, though not as eaey to deal with quickly as each customer might describe their preference differently. To reduce it to a formula of percentages of which type of dairy might be considered too harsh or lacking in “class”, though it would be most effective and simple. DOuble restretto with thirty percent full cream, expanded… not very romantic, I should think.

Methinks the whole thing is a trickledown effect coming originally from the folks with the pet green mermaid who had to standardise things to save everyone’s sanity AND preserve the bottom line. It were THEY who trained everyone to think along these lines. I am glad to see at least some “breaking the green mould” and finding out what THIS cllient wants and producing it for THAT ONE, custom, as if he were a dinstinguished guest in our home. Now THAT will gain stong following once it seems “acceptable”.

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@tionico if you used a spectral system – with numbers or so, you could indicate – either explicitly through something like a menu or chalkboard or implicitly through barista judgement – where common orders like “latte” fall. For instance: an espresso could represent a 0, and on the other end, a steamer a 10. I guess if you wanna get really nerdy/alphanumeric, you could make your sizes or flavorings letters :nerd_face:. “Uh yeah lemme get an S5 type H”, small hazelnut latte. That might be a little overboard though :laughing:

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Adam, that is hilarious. You fleshed out in nerdspeak precisely the point I was after!!! Maybe in Silicon Valley or perhaps Austin, maybe even Portland, OR, such a scheme would fly, if only because it would come across as the “latest ahd greatest tech accurate we do it here and nobody else does it… yet” meme. Maybe even a cartoon graphic showing the graduated scale of colour between that doulbe restretto and full skinny milk with one CC of espresso shot tossed in just so you can call it a “coffee drink”. Number the scale on the wall, let customers “dial in” their custom blend. uUse theletter code to call out which type of “whitener” one prefers… from skinny milk to full fat heavy cream, and wander off into goat, almond, coconut, macadamia, rice, and the everpresent wretched soy… maybe even a grass fed option!!


Espresso + milk is the equivelent of calling a capricciosa pizza just a mushroom & ham pizza. I feel like it takes the pretentiousness away so the guest knows what they are getting. It’s a failing of us as an industry that guests don’t know what’s in their drink

Yes, its a failing if we have the luxury of time (and the willingness of the guests) to explore the differences in their coffee.

Otherwise, I think it helps people make better decisions and is a great way to remove any barriers.

P.S. i run a mobile coffee cart. Queues move faster when we reduce our menu to “black coffee” & “milk coffee”, although it is highly dependent on the crowd. Though I do find our guests more proactive with a simple menu.

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Do you give any indication of ratio and sizes for your “black coffee”, “milk coffee” menu? I was talking with a barista who was talking about reducing his menu to one like that.

Latte comes from caffé latte which is literally italian for “coffee with milk”. We’ve lost meaning in a lazy translation to latte. I hope we can get back there

Not with most events. We’re usually at corporate events where we get swamped by caffeine craving folks who just want coffee. So we just do 1 size cups (8oz).

Even at slower paced events, we’d only get 1-2 guests who specifically want a flat white.

Maybe if we were a specialty cafe set up with guests who are interested in coffee as a craft / topic, the narrative would be different.

I understand the desire as a barista to want to serve the ‘right’ drinks, but I would say the first factor would be to identify what the guests want?

I find this very interesting. It’s been quite frustrating for me to see so much variation and confusion about what milk beverage is what ratio of microfoam to steamed milk to espresso, and no one seems to agree on anything. Do words still make sense when people order large single shot flat-whites or dry lattes with cinnamon? Where I work, we use those names with customers but our pricing simply comes down to “black” or “white” coffee, with extra for a large.
But I have always wondered what would happen if you deconstructed a drink for a customer who orders the same thinh everywhere they go. Do they know how many shots are in the drink? Do they realize the size changes wildly from café to café or even from a normal cup to a take-away cup? Have they tried different drinks or do they just order out of tradition / habit?
I tend to avoid making my milk beverages too dry by default, and prefer to let people ask for extra foam if it es their preference.
I’ve actually thought of starting a little project of documenting visits to local cafés and taking note of whtlat they serve if asked for a “standard flat-white”. I expect the results to be very different.

Sorry if this makes no sense, it’s just a bunch of thoughta I had about the subject for a while.

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What is a “dry latte”?

It would be a latte with a lot of foam.

Apart from the absurd choice of adjective; how is a “dry” latte different from a cappuccino?

Drinks are going to be different from place to place - so there’s no point asking whats the difference between one place’s cap and one place’s latte. This is an issue we’ll never fix, because my shop like our short 5oz flat whites, where as lots of other places still opt for 8oz which is basically double the milk. If a customer prefers ours they will come back, if they don’t then fair enough.

We only give them naming conventions for familiarity with customers. We’ve got italian words and tradition drinks now overlapping with the Antipodean vairants and that’s where the confusion comes in.

End of the day if the customer asks for a Cap, and you serve them your cap - then in their mind they will have a cap, and probable enjoy it - and that’s all there is to it.

Coffee is really confusing if we come closer. There are many drinks were there is just a slight difference between quantities of different portions. At Fried Coffee, I saw over 40 types of different coffee drinks and they still say that it’s almost complete.
It’s true, different areas have different recipes making the whole coffee system a large giant.

I think the E + M beverages have really been expanding here lately with the growing popularities of different milks. 10 years ago did anybody order Oat Milk? Nooope.