How to Make a Latte

The modern day Latte was not invented by Starbucks.

A cafe in Berkeley, California, Caffe Mediterraneum, claims to have put the word on its menu in the 1950s. And even earlier than that, caffe latte in Italy, café con leche in Spain, and cafe au lait in France were staples of cafes, restaurants and homes going back to the 18th century in some cases.

Starbucks did, however, popularize the latte to the point where everyone knows what it is. It’s safe to say that, if not for Starbucks, the latte would not be a staple on North American cafe menus today.

But what is the latte? What kind of How To will we run here? Will we just tell you how to make a “Lattay Grand-ay”, the way Starbucks does, in all its 20 fluid ounce glory? Detail the diminutive caffe latte of Italy? Show how both are made?

Naw, we’re going to demonstrate the best possible latte recipe you can make today: a beverage that is definitely milk forward (because that’s what lattes are supposed to be), but with a great balancing act performed by the espresso. This is the kind of latte every cafe worth it’s specialty badge should be serving.

The CoffeeGeek Latte is a sub 240ml drink, aiming for a 1:3.5 balance of espresso to steamed milk and microfoam; if you want a bigger latte, everything doubles up. The beverage does have a bit of microam on top — not much, around 5mm — and of course could feature latte art. It’s served in a 240ml (8oz) wide porcelain cup, and shouldn’t be hotter than 65C (150F).

We’ll cover the how to first, then get into a bit of latte history and discussion after.

For this How To, we’re using the Breville Barista Express (available in Canada from idrinkcoffee; in the USA from Amazon) because even though it’s an entry level espresso machine and grinder combo, the steam performance on the machine is quite impressive and well suited to latte microfoam creation. For coffee, we’re the Kenya AB selection from Batdorf and Bronson one of my preferred coffees for use in lattes and other milk espresso drink builds.

Let’s get to the How To!

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Choose your milk
Everyone’s got their favourite milk, and you can froth just about any milk out there (well, skim’s a bit tough). But for a milk forward drink like the latte, only whole milk will do; if you can’t get whole (or standard) milk, go for 3.25% homogenized.
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Optional: Add 10% cream
Optionally, and as a way to really kick up this drink’s flavour component, consider adding some 10% cream to your milk: we like a 6:1 ratio of milk to cream.
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Preheat machine and cup
Before preparing your shot, make sure your espresso machine’s grouphead and portafilter are hot, flushing it with brewing water if necessary, and splash some hot water into your 240ml (8oz) cup.
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Grind your coffee
After wiping the portafilter dry, grind your dose into the portafilter; we are using a 17g double dose here, but depending on your machine, anything from 14 to 19g is acceptable.
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Tamp your coffee
This is where a lot of people get espresso wrong, so we wanted to highlight it. You can tamp with 5kg of pressure, or 15kg (or more); it doesn’t really matter other than getting a compressed puck of coffee. But where people get it wrong is, the bed of coffee has to be absolutely dead level. Make sure front to back, side to side, your bed of compressed coffee is perfectly level.