Grab your wetsuits, we're taking a deep dive into some of our favorite café drinks. This time out, we’re familiarizing you with the ever-popular caffe latte.
Definition: A beverage containing espresso and four to six ounces of steamed milk
First known usage: Italy in the 17th century. Popularized in Seattle, Washington in the 1980’s
What Is a Caffe Latte?
Caffe Latte (also known as latte) has been a popular fixture on café menus in the US since the 1980s, but what’s the difference between a latte and any other espresso and milk combination?
Let’s go back to what we know about the flat white and macchiato. Just like those drinks, a latte is an espresso diluted with steamed milk. A latte is most commonly made with a ratio of one to four parts espresso to steamed milk.
In comparison to what we’ve learned about the flat white and macchiato, a latte could be considered a “weak” coffee beverage. The ratio of milk to coffee reduces the intensity of coffee flavor.
History of the Caffe Latte
While the classic Italian macchiato or cappuccino took off in popularity across Europe, these drinks presented as overly rich for most American palates. So, for American tourists the cappuccino was modified to include more milk and no foam. This later became commonly known as a caffe latte — quite literally, coffee milk.
When espresso culture was popularized in the US in Seattle, the latte became a popular fixture on the menus, and often included additional flavoring or sugar. The popularization of this coffee drink caused people to get creative with flavored syrup for a flavored latte and using the steamed milk foam for latte art.
How it’s Made
When the caffe latte was first popularized in Italy, the way the milk was steamed was to create a distinct separation between hot milk and foam. In the latte, hot milk was added to espresso to the appropriate dilution level, which is usually one to four parts espresso to milk.
In modern US coffee shops, the caffe latte has become such a fixture that there is slightly more technique to get a decadent finished drink. Using the technique to make microfoam as with the flat white, air is gently forced into cold milk and integrated as it heats up to 135 to 140 Fahrenheit.
The milk should have a smooth texture of warm milk, with a glossy finish that is fully incorporated into the milk. This type of milk will retain its sweetness and have structural integrity — pairing perfectly with an espresso. Six to ten ounces of milk are then poured into the espresso.
While the common dilution level is usually one to four parts, the appropriate dilution level is whatever the person drinking it wants! However, to be considered a caffe latte, it should be at least that ratio. Anything tighter would indicate a stronger coffee flavor, which would be antithetical to the latte.
This ratio of espresso to milk creates a smooth and sweet interpretation of the richness of espresso, as if pulling the espresso apart and allowing the most decadent aspects of it to shine in the milk. The latte is as approachable as it is delicious.
If you’re craving a latte, but want a little less milk than usual, opt for a cappuccino. If you love your lattes, but want to drink filter coffee, choose a café au lait, which is a brewed coffee with the addition of steamed milk.
How to Make it At Home
To make a caffe latte at home, first make espresso and dilute it with steamed milk to taste. Dilution should be at least three to four times the volume of the espresso shot.
Pro tip: Latte is strictly an Americanized menu term, so if you’re abroad, make sure to order a caffe latte, or you’ll likely be served a cup of steamed milk.
For a light roast caffe latte
Stay Golden’s Paubrasil has a dense chocolate sweetness with a texture that makes it a perfect companion to milk. Love milk coffee, but not a super-strong coffee taste? This is a lighter roasted coffee that is anything but delicate.
Stay Golden Paubrasil ($17)
For a traditional caffe latte
Oren’s Italian Roast is a window into history. This is a delectable representation of a traditional blend that delivers deep, dark roastiness and plenty of caramel sweetness that shines in milk.
Oren's Italian Roast ($15.50)
For a versatile caffe latte
Methodical’s Costa Rica La Pastora tells a story in two parts. In milk, a syrupy texture and bold nutty sweetness. Without milk, plenty of juicy plum, lemon candy, and toasted nuts. This smooth and classic cup will stand up to anything you decide to add (or not add) to it.
For a decaf caffe latte
It’s hard to believe something this rich and decadent is decaf! Decaf Brazil from Atomic is dense and creamy with brown sugar and chocolate sweetness that translates to caramel in milk.
Atomic Decaf Brazil ($16.50)
— Photo Credit: David Dewitt