There are probably a million articles on this out there, but how about one more?
It is true that typically Crystal malts were made in Europe, and Caramel Malts in the US. This seems to be the only difference. According to a Briess article on the topic, that is the main difference. Most people are using the term interchangeably. The malt producers at least stick to the distinctions, but no one else seems to care. Not sure if we do either. Indeed, one of our main distributers has us order “Briess Crystal 10L,” but when the bag arrives it says “Caramel 10L.” We have crystal/cara/caramel malts from 6 different maltsters from around the world, so we enjoy tasting all of the options and making the decision based on our goals.
Most Crystal/Caramel malts are made by stewing grains at temperatures that achieve saccharification, and then roasting them at temperatures above 300F to produce a hard crack type caramel, or “crystallization” of the endosperm.
There are some caramel malts that are produced using a kiln, but the maximum temperatures possible with a kiln are about half of what a roaster can do, so this requires more time, and is generally less consistent than roasting.
The only for sure way to tell, is to visit the websites for each major malster, and read up on what processes/techniques they use. Briess is probably the most helpful here. We’ll attach links to the malt companies that we use most, and furnishing a more detailed report would be a good project for the future.