What is a Latte? (And How to Make One)
A latte is an iconic coffee based drink that comes in a wide range of variations. Millions of coffee shops around the world sell lattes in one form or another, and it’s no wonder when you think about how the silky smooth milk combines with the sharp, punchy espresso.
But, what exactly is a latte and how can you make one from the comfort of your own home? Well, let’s find out!
What is a Latte?
A Latte is a coffee drink consisting of a double shot of espresso (typically made from medium roasted beans) and plenty of hot, steamed milk. This is then topped with a thin layer of foam, and is typically served in coffee cup size between 8 oz and 12 oz. A latte uses ⅓ espresso, to ⅔ steamed milk.
Lattes are so popular mainly because of their silky smooth milk, topped with a light helping of foam which makes for some spectacular latte art!
A latte also strikes a great balance between rich, aromatic espresso and luscious, velvety milk. It just hits the spot between being strong enough to still taste the underlying coffee flavors, and being mellow enough to enjoy appreciating the milky smoothness. This combination creates a luxurious drinking experience!
Why is it Called Latte?
The origins of the latte begin in the heart of European coffee, Italy! The idea of combining coffee with hot milk is nothing new, and has been present throughout the entire history of coffee.
There has been mention of the original cappuccino back in the 1700s, but the common term for latte did not come into the mainstream lexicon until the mid 1800s. According to the Wikipedia page for the latte, the first reference to caffe e latte came in the essay “Italian Journeys” by William Dean Howells.
How to Make a Latte (Step by Step)
There are a few steps to follow if you want to make the perfect, barista style latte from the comfort of your own home.
Finely ground, Medium roasted espresso coffee beans
⅔ Cup/8 oz of milk
Milk steaming wand
(Alternatives): Aeropress/French Press/Milk Frother/Moka Pot/Percolator
Here is a simple step by step method to help you make a luxurious latte for yourself!
Step 1: Choose Your Coffee Beans
The first step in making a great latte from the comfort of your own home is to pick the perfect coffee beans.
Traditionally, lattes are made using medium roasted coffee beans. This gives the drink a more mellow flavor compared to using a dark roast bean, which would give the latte a sharper, more bitter taste.
Therefore, picking a medium roasted coffee bean that is well balanced and has distinctive nutty or chocolaty flavor notes, which works perfectly with the silky smooth steamed milk.
Step 2: Brew Your Espresso
Next, you’ll need to brew your double espresso.
To do this, grind your coffee beans finely if you have a grinder at home. Alternatively, look out for ground coffee that is labelled as espresso grind, as this will be fine enough to use in your espresso machine.
Simply add your ground coffee to your portafilter, distribute evenly, tamp and away you go!
If you don’t have an espresso machine at home, you could also use a moka pot, percolator or aeropress to brew strong espresso.
If you don’t have a fancy espresso machine at home, check out these 7 alternative ways to make espresso-like coffee!
Step 3: Prepare Your Steamed Milk
Once your espresso is brewed, it’s time to steam your milk.
If you are using an espresso machine with a built-in milk steaming wand, simply turn the setting on to activate this and your steaming water will automatically heat up through your coffee machine itself.
Simply pour your ⅔ cup of milk into a metal steaming pitcher, place the steaming wand into the pitcher and let it sit just below the surface for a few seconds, to incorporate some air.
Gently bring your pitcher upwards so your steam wand is fully submerged, and a small whirlpool or vortex is formed.
When it is too hot to touch, just keep the wand in the milk for a few more seconds, and then it will be nicely textured.
You only need to steam your milk for a short period of time, until it is starting to warm up and a few small bubbles appear on the surface.
To create the foam, simply move your milk pitcher down so that the tip of the steaming want is touching the surface of the milk itself. When making a latte, there is only a small amount of foam involved in a latte, so you can simply pour this over the top of your steamed milk, or practice your latte art!
Top Tip: The milk used for a latte is up to you. Typically, whole milk is used as it gives the most velvety and smooth texture when filled with micro air bubbles. However, if you want to reduce the calories, go for a skimmed or semi skimmed milk. If you are lactose intolerant, then using a milk alternative also works well. Just make sure it is a ‘barista’ style milk alternative, so there is enough creaminess to replicate the fat content of whole milk.
Step 4: Serve and Enjoy!
To finish off your perfect latte, simply pour your steamed milk over your double espresso, and top it off with some of your foam!
Latte Compared to Other Coffee Drinks
Whilst lattes are a classically popular espresso based coffee drink, there are also a number of other coffees that use steamed milk to create a delicious coffee delight!
A cortado is stronger and more intense than a latte, due to the lower volume of milk used. Where a latte uses a 1:3 ratio of espresso to steamed milk, and just a dash of foam on top, a cortado uses a 1:1 equal ratio of espresso to lightly steamed milk.
This makes a cortado even stronger and more intense than a flat white, let alone a latte.
The flat white is often thought of as the ‘baby latte’ due to the lower volume of steamed milk and foam used to make it.
The main difference between a flat white and a latte is the volume of the milk used. A flat white tends to be served in a 6 oz cup, whereas a latte tends to be served in a 8, 10 or 12 oz cup.
This gives a flat white the creamier, thicker mouthfeel as a latte, but makes it more intense and gives it a stronger ‘coffee’ flavour. A flat white sits between a cortado and a latte in terms of strength and volume of milk used.
A cappuccino differs from a latte due to lower volume of steamed milk, but higher volume of froth. A latte and a cappuccino tend to be served in similar sized cups, but where a latte uses around ⅔ milk to ⅓ espresso, a cappuccino is made from equal parts espresso, milk and foam.
A cappuccino therefore has a more velvety smooth texture and is a bit of a longer drink than a latte.
Different Latte Types
Whilst the step by step recipe above gives you an idea of how to make a traditional latte, below are a number of variations according to the Cortado Wikipedia page.
The iced latte has become an incredibly popular variation of the original, and is arguably more widely consumed than the hot version! It is made following a similar recipe to a regular latte, but of course, incorporates cold milk and ice as opposed to steamed milk.
If you would like to learn more about iced lattes, check out my article on what iced lattes are and how to make them, along with 39 iced coffee drinks that every coffee lover should try!
Flavored lattes are also incredibly popular, due to the endless customization available! The likes of Starbucks, who’s coffee tends to taste quite bitter, have popularised both hot and iced lattes with flavors such as caramel, vanilla, pumpkin spice and cinnamon.
Perhaps a less commonly known but equally delicious variation of the standard latte is the breve latte.
A breve latte is made by steaming up a ‘half and half’ rather than regular milk. As The Spruce Eats points out in their article from July 2019 by Lindsey Goodwin “Defining Caffè Breve Lattes”, this is an Americanised version of the original latte recipe, that is even more frothy and adds to the silky texture.
Half and half is simply a combination of whole milk and heavy cream, so it is more calorific and much more luxurious than regular whole milk.
There are actually a number of coffee alternatives that take the form of a latte, including Matcha lattes and Chai lattes. These flavored, tea based substances are often combined with steamed milk to create a silky smooth drinking experience with an alternative flavor!
Overall, a latte is an incredibly popular coffee beverage for good reason! The combination of high quality, rich espresso and silky smooth steamed milk makes for a delicious and pleasurable drinking experience!
Lattes come in a range of different varieties and flavors, but the step by step guide above can be used as a base for any latte combination that takes your fancy!
What Exactly is a Latte?
A latte is a coffee based drink that is made from a double shot of espresso and topped up with ⅔ of a cup of steamed milk and a thin layer of foam to finish. Lattes tend to be finished with ‘latte art’ patterns made by highly skilled baristas.
Is a Latte Really Coffee?
Yes, a latte is a type of coffee. Whilst there are many different takes on the original, a latte is still a coffee at heart.
Is a Latte Stronger Than Regular Coffee?
A latte is the same strength as any ‘regular coffee’ made from a double shot of espresso, but because of its high volume of steamed milk, the coffee itself may taste slightly less pronounced than it would in an americano for example.