Lattes and coffee are two beverages that always cross over in the mix of business, social gatherings, and plain consumption. As these hot beverages enjoy inter-related popularity, some people still have difficulty distinguishing them from each other. Lattes and coffees couldn’t be more different while providing a similar taste and aroma.
What is Coffee?
The general understanding is that coffee results from brewing roasted and ground beans from the coffee plant with hot or boiling water. Major types of coffee beans are Arabica, Robusta, Liberica, and Excelsa which are responsible for much of the world’s coffee, each providing a slight variation of sweet and bitter tastes.
Coffee is one of the most popular drinks in the world, grouped with the likes of water and tea. Coffee consumption gained popularity around the early 18th century when tea dominated as the primary hot beverage of leisure. The expansion of trade and travel, allowed coffee consumption to spread and thrive because it was affordable, addictive and energizing.
In modern days, not much has changed. Coffee is still highly regarded and consumed around the world. There have been new variations of coffee created by adding and removing some aspects from the brew, sometimes resulting in a whole new drink altogether. Coffee can morph into many different forms with the addition of milk, sugar, foam, syrup, ice, whipped cream, and other enhancers.
The original and natural brew acts as a base for drinks like iced coffee, mocha, americano, macchiato, cappuccino, breve, flat white, cortado, cafe au lait, latte, and last but not least, the most popular coffee drink in the world: expresso.
Coffee is Not Just Espresso
There is a misconception that coffee and espresso are the same when they are not. Espresso is actually a type of concentrated coffee made and served to promote a rich flavor and potent boost of caffeine in a small dose.
Espresso is made by forcing steam through ground coffee beans to get a strong dark color and bitter taste. The method differentiates it from regular coffee by using high water pressure and finely ground beans to make a small, concentrated shot. Coffee is not restricted to one specific brewing method and is versatile in its preparation and results.
Coffee Brewing Techniques
Brewing is the method of preparing roasted and grounded coffee beans for drinking. Brewing techniques involve pouring or infusing boiled water with coffee beans.
Brewing is the process of extracting the soluble material in roasted and ground coffee to make those materials and nutrients easy to consume. Hot water seeps through the ground coffee, absorbs its essential chemical compounds, and then passes through a filter. The used coffee grounds remain in the filter while the brewed coffee collects in a container.
People have consumed coffee for centuries, but modern brewing methods began around the 16th century when the Turks created the current technique known to man. They invented the Ibrik method, which still stands today and owes its name to the small pot that brews and serves the coffee. In the Ibrik, the coffee is grounded and mixed with water, spices, and sugar.
The coffee is then brought to the near-boiling point before being cooled, reheated several times, and finally poured into a cup.
In the 17th century, coffee houses opted to use a wide bottom coffee pot for brewing. It had better heat absorption and a sharp spout, intended to help stop the bulk of the coffee grounds from being poured out. Sometime after, someone was crazy enough to pour hot water through a sock with ground coffee.
That created the first instance of filtered coffee, and people began to filter coffee with cloths. Cloth filters, however, had the issue of poor drainage and slow brewing. In 1780, there was an attempt to commercialize coffee brewing filters by creating Biggins pots. These have three or four parts where a tin filter or cloth bag sits under the lid.
Europe soon developed metal filters in the late 18th century, with most of them having similar features, such as a combined metal filter with a rammer to compress the coffee grounds. The creation of siphon pots and percolators founded techniques that involved steam compression.
Siphon pots cause pressure to build that forces water through the siphon so that it can mix with the ground coffee. Percolators have a metal filter filled with coffee grounds at the top, and as the water boils, it rises over the coffee grounds to seep back through the filter, leaving brewed coffee.
Coffee brewing via steam pressure paved the way for many inventions such as the drip brewer, the espresso machine, and even instant coffee.
While there are several methods for brewing coffee, nearly all involve infusing ground coffee beans with water over time. The coffee brewing technique or method depends on the filter, container, and desired result. The resulting concoction is often named after the brewing technique, some of which include the French press, Moka pot, and pour-over drip.
Created in the 1950s, the French press coffee brewing method is still used today. The popularity of the Frech Press comes from its old-school simplicity and rich flavor. With the french press method, the grounds stay at the bottom of the beaker throughout the process, creating an oily and bold taste because the bean extraction never ends.
The French Press works by mixing hot water with coarsely ground coffee. The mixture soaks only for a few minutes as a metal plunger separates the coffee from the used grounds, making it ready to pour and serve.
The French Press method is suitable for anyone that desires a recognizable flavor, not too strong coffee, and a vintage feel.
Invented in Italy in 1933, Moka pot coffee has been described as a tamer expresso. In a Moka pot, steam travels through the coffee grounds from the lowest chamber of the pot to create your brew. The result is a thick, robust, hearty coffee that may taste ‘burnt’ to some.
The Moka pot produces coffee with a strong flavor that beats the others in terms of caffeine, and while not as strong as espresso, Moka pot coffee is more concentrated than regular drip coffee.
The Moka Pot technique is for those who desire strong coffee with a deep, rich flavor and high caffeine content.
Pour Over Drip Coffee
The local coffee scene has embraced pour-over drip coffee as of late. Something interesting about this method is that it has more than one way of brewing—two examples such as using a coffee cone and a Chemex as filters.
Using a plastic or metal coffee cone filter and a paper filter is one of the most cost and time-efficient ways to brew coffee. In the drip method, hot water is poured over coffee grounds in a paper filter, dripping slowly and directly into a container.
The Chemex is a pour-over glass flask designed in 1941. It uses a special paper filter that is heavier than other filters. Then, you pour hot water over the coffee grounds in a filter, and the brewed coffee drips into the bottom of the flask.
The pour-over drip technique is great for those who want accentuated intricate coffee flavors, in small or single-serve quantities.
What is a Latte?
Often shortened to ‘Latte,’ the Caffè latte is a coffee made with espresso and hot steamed milk. Lattes are often considered an introductory coffee drink because the acidity and bitterness of regular coffee decreases by the amount of milk in the beverage.
As its popularity has exploded in the passing decades, flavoring syrups such as chocolate, hazelnut, and vanilla and others, are commonly added to the latte for a sweeter finish and taste.
Adding flavoring creates lattes like the mocha latte, vanilla latte, cinnamon latte, pumpkin spice latte, reserve hazelnut Bianco latte, and even the caramel macchiato, which despite the name, is a latte.
What makes this latte so loved is the hint of caramelized sugar sweetness provided by the steamed milk essence and the 1cm microfoam that creates a smooth and creamy drink surface. Even though the sweet milk is present, the savory and rich coffee flavor is still there, pleasing both casual and dedicated coffee drinkers.
Why is Microfoam Better?
Microfoam is the finely textured milk used for making espresso-based coffee drinks, especially lattes. The decorative application of microfoam is called latte art, which involves making patterns on the surface of the drinks.
It is essential for this as microscopic bubbles give definition and stabilize the patterns on the drink’s surface. Microfoam will always be better since macrofoam cannot be used to perform these feats because they disperse more readily and mix with the beverage.
Latte Brewing Methods
The brewing method for a latte starts with a simple base of espresso regardless of desired flavor variation. Using a single or double shot of espresso for a latte will depend on the desired beverage size and taste.
The espresso shot is combined with several ounces of steamed milk to create a rich, creamy beverage to reduce the bitter taste. The latte then gets topped with a layer of foam. The foam topping completes the preparation and sometimes is whipped or shaped into an eye-catching pattern.
You can create variations of Lattes by using half and half instead of streamed milk in what is known as the caffè breve. You can even vary the Espresso To Dairy Ratios to your preference.
The Differences Between Coffee and a Latte
Many characteristics set the two apart. Primary differences include:
- Lattes have added milk, whereas coffee has no milk.
- A latte typically comprises ⅓ espresso, ⅔ steamed milk, and a layer of foam, while coffee’s main ingredient is hot water and coffee grounds.
- A latte has a smooth, creamy texture, while coffee is usually robust, bitter, and acidic.
- A latte has toppings, while coffee has none.
- Coffee contains virtually no calories, while a latte has at least 110 due to the fats and oils in the beverages.
- Coffee is cheaper than a latte.
- When brewed, coffee contains little to no add-ins, while you can’t make a latte without sugar, milk, foam, and syrup.
- Coffee has more caffeine than a latte (ounce for ounce).
Is a Latte Stronger than Coffee?
Naturally, a latte is weaker than coffee. A latte contains less caffeine compared to a regular coffee ounce for ounce, and lattes contain flavor add-ins that affect the strength of the brew. A latte has a low-medium strength, while coffee has a medium-high strength.
Lattes also use specific grounds when seeking a unique flavor, while coffee can require less complex grinds (mostly raw and natural dark roasts). The latte preparation method also contributes to the strength of the beverage. Coffee has many brewing methods, and latte brewing methods pale in comparison.
Both lattes and coffee have a reputation that is far-reaching. Both beverages are widely consumed in kitchens, office spaces, and cafes worldwide. Lattes and coffee share similar origins but differ in taste, preparation, and caffeine content. As a consumer, the best way to settle the latte vs. coffee debate is to see which is best for you. Both beverages offer rich aroma and taste, so the ultimate decision comes down to personal preference.