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What Is a Latte? The Complete Guide

latte art with a heart

When it comes to coffee around the world, the latte is one of the most popular and known in every country. But what is a latte? Many people drink this coffee every single day, and it’s their go-to drink, but not many people actually understand what it is and how it’s made. 

Whilst the drink is made the same everywhere, the types of coffee beans used, the type of milk used, and added syrups will affect the taste drastically. So when you order a latte in a different country, it could taste completely different from what you are used to.

Let’s take a look at the latte in a bit more detail, and make sure you check out a latte vs flat white to really see the difference in coffees.

What Is a Latte?

A latte is an espresso-based coffee drink coupled with rich and creamy steamed milk. The term latte is a shortened version of the Italian word “caffé e latte” which means coffee and milk. 

The standard size for a cup of latte is around 12 ounces and is a perfect blend of 1/3 espresso, 2/3 steamed milk topped with a small layer of milk foam. This coffee drink is perfect for people who like coffee but are not so fond of the strong flavor of espresso. 

The best thing about the latte is that it can be personalized depending on what the coffee drinker wants. You can either add other flavors like cinnamon, caramel, or other milk alternatives like almond, soy, or coconut. That’s without getting into the iced variants, too.

The iced latte is essentially the same drink but made with ice instead. It is more refreshing to drink on a hot day and is a creamier coffee compared to cold brew and black iced coffee.

When considering the latte vs cappuccino, did you know that the ingredients are actually the same?

History of the Latte

Since the 17th century, the combination of coffee and milk existed in European cuisine, and it was usually consumed as part of the morning meal. Despite the fact that it started in the 17th century, lattes were only mentioned later in the 20th century by cafés. 

As coffee and milk were consumed centuries ago, the term caffè e latte didn’t arrive until 1867. The term café au lait, which is French, was used across Europe, and it translates to coffee with milk. It wasn’t actually until the 1900s that the latte made its way to the USA. 

According to Wikipedia the Caffe Mediterraneum in Berkeley, California claims that Lino Meiorin, who was one of its early owners, was actually the person that invented the latte. It is claimed that that is what made the latte a standard drink in the 1950s. 

In Seattle, Washington in the early 1980s, the latte became more popular and spread more widely in the early 1990s. The actual term latte or café latte wasn’t popular until the late 1990s, whereas now it exists in almost every culture, even if it goes by a different name. 

In other countries, the term caffé latte is referred to as: 

  • Café con lechein Spanish 
  • Café au lait in French. 

What is Latte Art?

Latte art is a form of art that showcases a barista’s skill in making shapes and designs on the surface of the milk foam while pouring steamed milk into it. It is a way for baristas to show how much passion and skill is exerted into making the coffee drink, and a display of their one-of-a-kind signature. 

The story behind how latte art was formed started in the late 1980s in Seattle. One man wanted to upgrade his customers’ coffee experience with skillfully thought out art, and this man is David Schomer. 

David Schomer first perfected the heart pattern in 1989 which became a signature at Schomer’s Espresso Vivace. Later in 1992, he developed and polished off the rosette pattern, which was a recreation from a picture he saw in Italy at Café Mateki.  

In order to create the perfect latte art, you first need to master how to make the perfect microfoam. The easiest and fastest way to make microfoam is to use the steam wand of the espresso machine. It offers accurate control of the timing and infusion of air. In the absence of a steam wand, a barista can use a milk frother as an alternative. 

Before the latte art can be made possible, crema from the espresso shot is vital for the process. The brown creamy surface of the crema is a perfect contrast to the white and milky microfoam.

Here are some amazing latte art designs:

Latte Variations Around the World

Café au lait is one latte variation that originated in France, which simply means coffee with milk. Café au lait is an even balance between steamed milk and coffee, which creates a delicate coffee drink.

In Spain and Latin America, a latte is known as café con leche which is a blend of equal parts of coffee and milk. Sometimes, sugar or any syrup is added to the drink to make it sweeter. Café con leche in today’s time is consumed as part of the breakfast meal. 

Milchkaffee is another latte variant that originated in Germany. It is said that in 1660, the Dutch ambassador to China, Johan Nieuhof was the first person to drink coffee with milk. Milchkaffee literally translates to “milk coffee” the same with café au lait which means “coffee with milk”.

Another latte variations are Café com Leite which is a popular drink in Portugal and Brazil. Tejeskávé is white coffee, most common in Hungary. The version of café latte in Poland is called kawa biala which means milk coffee. 

The best thing about the latte is not that it has numerous latte variations from around the world, but it also has different latte flavors like vanilla, hazelnut, peppermint, caramel, almond, cinnamon, when you add syrups.

Heard of a breve coffee?

Popular Types of Latte Flavors

Most people that drink lattes prefer to avoid the strong coffee taste and want to have a sweeter drink with the same caffeine kick. There are some that have a sweet tooth and add syrups, creams, sugars, and other fancy items. Some popular latte flavors include:

Adding these syrups to your drink can create a very sweet and enjoyable cup of milky coffee. They are generally preferred in the fall and winter times, however, it is also common to see them added to iced coffees. The iced latte can be more bitter than its hot counterpart, so adding syrups allows people to enjoy the drink more.

Coffee Beans Are Key

Although the latte is a worldwide known coffee and is pretty much made the same way everywhere, the types of coffee beans used can seriously alter the flavor.

A prime example of this is the popular coffee chain Starbucks. They offer a variety of different coffee beans and in particular a popular favorite of ours, the Blonde Roast. When ordering a blonde roast latte compared to the house blend, you get a slightly sweeter and lighter taste. 

This flavor profile would be different with every type of coffee bean used. The taste change is not drastic, but it can be noticed. For people that drink lattes to avoid the bitter taste of coffee, if the coffee is strong enough it could overpower the milk, but adding sugar or syrups can counter that.

How to Make a Latte

If you want to make a latte at home, you will need to have access to a coffee machine or a milk steamer for the best results. There are various methods that prepare the milk in different ways, but you might not get the best results.

  • Brew Time: at least 30 seconds
  • Calorie Count: 190 calories
  • Water Temperature: about 150 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Caffeine Content: 75 mg
  • 16g of ground coffee
  • 10oz of milk

There are only two ingredients that are vital to make a latte, all you need is a shot of espresso and milk. The standard ratio for making the perfect latte is 1/3 espresso and 2/3 milk, with a little milk foam on the surface. 

  1. The first thing you need to do when creating your latte is to prepare the grounds for the espresso. Grind the beans and tamp the coffee ready for the espresso. 
  2. Start the process of the espresso pour whilst you move onto the milk steaming.
  3. Steaming the milk can require some level of skill, see the video below to help.
  4. You can then add the milk slowly into the cup with the espresso.
  5. At the end, scrape the foam out on top, and you have your latte.

If you are feeling really confident, you can also try your hand at some latte art. Have a look online for some tutorials on how to do this!

The Final Sip

The latte is a milky/creamy coffee drink that is perfect for those who don’t like the bitter taste of coffee. It has many popular variations, with the pumpkin spiced latte in the fall and the iced latte in the summer. You need a coffee machine to make a proper latte at home, so it’s best to buy one from a coffee shop!

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