How-To Guide: Making a Cafe Latte (With or Without an Espresso Machine)

How To Guide Making a Cafe Latte With or Without an Espresso Machine

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Cafe latte – or simply latte – is a coffee-based drink made primarily from espresso and steamed milk. The word comes from the Italian caffè e latte, caffellatte, or caffelatte, which means ‘coffee and milk’. 

Origins

Since the 17th century, coffee and milk have been a part of European cuisine. Café au lait, Milchkaffee, café con leche, and caffè e latte are domestic terms of traditional ways of drinking coffee, typically as part of breakfast in the home. Public cafés in Europe and the United States seem to have no mention of the terms until the 20th century, although Kapuziner is mentioned in Austrian coffee houses in Trieste and Vienna in the 2nd half of the 1700s as ‘coffee with cream, sugar and spices’. 

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the term caffè e latte was first used in English in 1847 (as caffè latto) and in 1867 (as caffè latte) by William Dean Howells in his essay, Italian Journeys. However, in Kenneth Davids’ Coffee: A Guide to Buying, Brewing and Enjoying, he says that “At least until recently, ordering a ‘latte’ in Italy got you a puzzled look and a hot glass of milk. The American-style caffè latte did not exist in Italian caffès, except perhaps in a few places dominated by American tourists… Obviously breakfast drinks of this kind have existed in Europe for generations, but the caffè version of this drink is an American invention.” 

From 1900 onward, the French term café au lait was used in cafés in several countries in western continental Europe, while the French themselves started using the term café crème for coffee with cream or milk. The Caffe Mediterraneum in Berkeley, California claims that Lino Meiorin, one of its early owners, invented and made the latte a standard drink in the 1950s. In the early 1980s, the latte was popularized in Seattle, Washington and spread more widely in the early 1990s. 

In Scandinavia and northern Europe, a similar ‘trend’ started in the early 1980s as café au lait became popular again, prepared with steamed milk and espresso. Around 1996-1997, caffè latte started replacing this term, but both names exist side by side, and are usually more similar than different in preparation. 

How To Make a Latte at Home Without an Espresso Machine 

Your latte craving shouldn’t be limited to just a coffee shop treat or dictated by expensive gadgets. While you may not be able to make café-quality latte, you can still craft a delicious cup of coffee even without an espresso machine. 

Ingredients and Equipment

Before you start making your perfect cup of latte, here are some of the ingredients and equipment you need to prepare.

  • 2% or nonfat milk
  • Espresso or strongly brewed coffee from an Aeropress
  • Cocoa powder (for garnish)
  • Spoon
  • Jar with lid
  • Shallow, wide coffee cup

Instructions

  1. Make your espresso or strongly brewed coffee.
    Any strongly brewed espresso from a capsule machine like Nespresso or from a home espresso maker will do. Or, you can use strongly brewed coffee from an Aeropress, not diluted with any water. 

  2. Froth the milk.
    Pour milk into the jar; fill no more than halfway. Then, screw the lid on tightly, and shake the jar as hard as you can (around 30 to 60 seconds). Do this until the milk is frothy and has somewhat doubled in volume.
     
  3. Microwave the milk.
    Take the lid off of the jar and microwave it for 30 seconds. The foam will rise to the top of the milk and the heat from the microwave can stabilize it.
     
  4. Pour warm milk into the espresso.
    Pour the coffee or espresso into a shallow, wide coffee cup. Then, using a large spoon to hold back the milk foam, pour as much warm milk as you would like into the espresso.
     
  5. Add foam.
    Add as much milk foam as you would like onto your café latte. If desired, you can also sprinkle it with nutmeg or cocoa powder on top of the foam. Enjoy it while it’s hot! 

How To Make a Latte at Home With an Espresso Machine 

If you’ve got an espresso machine at home, making a café latte should be a breeze. New to the world of coffee? Here’s a step-by-step guide to make a latte at home with an espresso machine. 

  1. Grind the coffee.
    Espresso uses very finely ground coffee – the coffee grounds should be about the size of the grains of table salt. The coffee grounds will stick and clump together when they are the correct size. 

  2. Prepare the milk.
    For a single, small café latte, you’ll need around 6 ounces of milk. A good rule to follow is that you’ll need 6 ounces of milk per ounce of brewed espresso.
     
  3. Steam the milk.
    Pour your desired amount of milk into a metal pitcher. Then, insert the steam wand diagonally into the milk, resting it just below the surface. This will create the froth required for a good latte by allowing air to get into the mix along with the steam.
     
  4. Measure the coffee for your café latte.
    Each espresso shot needs a specific amount of coffee. Most café lattes are made using a double shot of espresso. For each shot of espresso, measure out 18 to 21 grams of ground coffee – you can do this by putting the espresso machine’s portafilter on a kitchen scale.
     
  5. Tamp the coffee.
    This is when you compress the ground espresso into the machine’s portafilter with the use of an espresso tamper. Tamping the coffee will create a ‘puck’ of coffee – it’s important that this is evenly compressed so that the espresso will brew evenly.
     
  6. Make the espresso shots.
    Lock the portafilter into the group head on the espresso machine, then press the ‘Brewing’ button to start making the espresso shots. A perfect espresso shot has a dark to medium brown with a minimum body and a small amount of foam or cream on its surface.

  7. Pour the steamed milk over the espresso.
    When pouring, use a spoon to control the flow of the foam – make sure no foam enters the drink until you are about ¼ inches from the top, where you can remove your spoon. The froth with pour smoothly and will blend well with the espresso cream. 

The Bottom Line 

You don’t have to be an expert barista to brew a delicious cup of café latte at home – you don’t even need those expensive machines to satisfy your latte craving as long as you’ve got some handy devices to prepare your drink! Just make sure to follow the instructions above and you can enjoy a delicious cup of café latte at home – with or without an espresso machine.

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