While looking through the search terms that led people to my site, I noticed an interesting pattern: lots of people are searching for one drink “vs.” another drink, I assume to find out what the differences are so they know which one they want. Since I’ve spent over ten years trying to break down and simplify these things so people understand them more easily, I figured I should do some posts comparing drinks one-on-one. And I’ll start with the comparison that got me by far the most hits last quarter: Misto vs Latte.
Let’s start with the latte. The most “basic” espresso/milk drink, it’s just espresso, steamed milk, and a little bit of milk foam on top. If it’s iced, it’s espresso and milk mixed with ice. It’s not very sweet on its own; many people sweeten it with sugar or some kind of flavored syrup like vanilla or hazelnut. When breaking down the entire espresso drink lineup, this is the drink I start with, because a lot of other drinks can be described by how they differ from the latte.
The misto, however, is not an espresso drink. You may see it referred to more often as a cafe au lait, a “coffee with milk”. This drink is half regular brewed coffee (not espresso) and half steamed milk. Or in its iced form, which is less common, it’s coffee and milk with ice. There are two things that make this different from just getting a regular coffee and adding milk on your own: first, there’s as much milk as there is coffee, instead of being mostly coffee with a little milk added; and second, the milk is steamed, so the drink as a whole stays nice and hot. Like the latte, this drink is not sweet unless you add something sweet to it.
The difference between the latte and the misto/au lait is that the latte uses espresso where the misto uses regular coffee. Espresso is stronger and has a slightly different flavor, so while the actual volume of coffee in a latte is smaller the coffee-ness is just as strong.
Which one should you pick? I’m a latte junkie personally, so it’s usually my first choice. It’s also better if you want to add flavors to your coffee, or if you prefer the taste of espresso. However, if you prefer the taste of regular ol’ joe, or if you really want to savor the taste of the specific coffee being brewed, get the misto. The misto is also lower in calories than the latte, generally, because more of the volume of the drink is low-calorie coffee instead of higher-calorie milk.