What is a Latte

What is a Latte

To a lot of people like me, having a morning cup of coffee is a ritual that can’t be missed. But not everyone likes a strong black coffee in its nascent form. Don’t worry, as you can go in for Caffe Latte with a lot of milk in it and enjoy its creamy feel along with your daily dose of caffeine.

Let’s dive in and learn more about how to indulge yourself in a fulfilling drink that provides a perfect balance between espresso coffee and steamed milk! 

What is a Latte

Caffe latte, caffè latte, caffè e latte, or simply latte is a drink that is thought to have an Italian origin and made with espresso coffee and steamed milk as the main ingredients. Many variations are popular with changes in the beverage base and the type of milk and are discussed in the later sections.

History of Latte

The term Latte comes from the Italian word “caffellatte,” which has the literal meaning of “coffee and milk.” If you order just a “latte” in Italy, you may end up receiving just a glass of milk.

In Northern Europe and Scandinavian countries, the use of the term “café au lait” is prevalent. In France, the term café crème was used to describe coffee with milk or cream. In Germany, the term “Milchkaffee,” while in Spain, “café con leche” is used. These espresso drinks have been part of the tradition in these countries as a breakfast drink at home.

However, the Latte in its modern form did not originate in Italy. In olden times, the caffe` latte in Italy was a drink with a home-brewed coffee on a stovetop moka pot mixed with milk warmed in a pan. If you order it in a coffee shop, you will get a shot of espresso topped over a glass of milk, which is modern-day latte macchiato.

When espresso began spreading around the world, a nascent espresso was an intense, bitter, and extraordinary experience for most. The steamed or frothed milk was added to reduce the bitterness. In lattes, more liquid steamed milk was added to make the flavor less intense.

In America, coffee shops use textured steamed milk and a small layer of foam on top of it. The drink adapted well to a variety of milk and the addition of syrups. In the 1990s, 75% of the sale of espresso drinks in many cities in the USA (like Seattle, Washington, etc.) was accounted for by Lattes alone. In a survey, a large part of these coffee drinkers were discovered to be college-educated people in the age bracket of 18 to 34 years.

Where are Lattes Most Popular?

Lattes and its variants are the most popular hot beverages in many parts of the USA. They are popular in the UK, Canada, Australia, and many European countries.

What is a latte made up of?

In Italy, still, Latte is mostly prepared at home in the stovetop moka pot and then poured into a glass of hot milk. It is consumed only during the breakfast. In a coffee shop, you must ask for a latte macchiato to get American-style Latte.

Outside Italy, the hot latte drink is prepared in 8 US fl oz or 240 ml cups or glasses in coffee houses. The preparation includes pulling standard shots of espresso from the espresso machine (single or double shot 30 or 60 ml) and filling the glass with steamed milk. This is followed by a layer of foamed milk about 8 mm thick on top of the steamed milk. The drink is heavily sweetened.

A variant that is hugely popular in Australia and New Zealand is the flat white, also known as the wet cappuccino. It uses warmed milk without the foam and is served in a ceramic cup.

A latte may have a serving size anywhere between 240 and 600 ml, with one or two shots of espresso and milk ratios varying between 1:3 to 1:9.

What is a Latte & its Recipe

Milk Handling for a Perfect Latte Cup

What separates many drinks with espresso base is the milk. So, equal care is required for milk handling as given to the espresso extraction to have the best coffee cup.

While selecting the best milk and its proper handling is a subject in itself, you can see some important guidelines in this article.

The fat content in the milk adds to the texture, after-taste persistence, and appearance and contributes to the mouthfeel and flavors. It also distributes the fat-soluble components of the coffee flavors. These abilities of the milk are further enhanced in the espresso drinks, and this is what has contributed to their popularity.

Their combination is magical when you use milk in the foamed form. Both fat and proteins are essential in milk for foam development. Do you know that skimmed milk has more proteins compared to low-fat or whole milk and foams much better? Fat helps you to maintain the stability of the foam.

Pasteurized milk in refrigerated storage maintains its foaming ability during the storage period of about 14 days.

Guidelines for Streaming the Milk

  1. Stram the milk only for the current drinks.
  2. While aerating the milk, a tight microbubble structure with a glassy surface and no visible bubble must be created.
  3. The final temperature of the milk must not exceed 150 to 160 Deg F.
  4. The tip of the steam wand must be below the milk surface at the center of the pitcher. Hold the wand at an angle of 10 to 30 degrees from the vertical.
  5. The pressure allowed by the steam wand must depend on the quantity of the milk.
  6. The stretching phase, also known as frothing, must begin immediately and finish before the temperature of the milk crosses 100 Deg F. You will not be able to produce quality froth beyond this temperature. Be careful that the tip is below the surface and no visible bubbles form. You should hear a very consistent and subtle sucking noise while doing this step.
  7. Once the stretching phase is complete, raise the pitcher to dip the wand in the milk further and ensure that the milk rolls till the final temperature is reached.
  8. If you find that your steam wand froths the milk quickly, you may have over frothing unless you decrease the pressure or dip the tip of the wand deeper into the milk.
  9. The drink must be planned so that the steamed milk does not have to wait for more than 30 seconds after steaming.
  10. Serve drinks before they separate.

Preventing milk separation

The mouthfeel of the drinks with espresso and steamed milk will go down substantially after the milk separates. To see the separation, use a spoon and push the froth back. If you can see the full depth of the froth, your milk has separated. Whatever you do, the separation will eventually happen, but you can follow the below guidelines to delay it and have your drink before it happens to get the best feel.

  1. Streaming: Create a tight micro bubble structure with no visible bubbles. Overstretching and overheating will degrade the texture.
  2. Pouring: Ensure proper flow. Using the spoon method will delay the separation. If the coffee is not ready to pour the milk after the steaming is done, the milk has to be spun in the pitcher to delay the separation.
  3. Serving: The beverage must be served and consumed at the earliest to avoid separation.

The texture of the Caffe Latte

Caffe Latte should have moderately aerated milk with a depth of the froth after the separation of about 8 mm or a little over 1/4 inch. The moderately aerated milk is much more viscous than its cold form but offers no resistance to spinning in a pitcher.

Pouring of the Milk

Milk pouring can be done using two methods – Free poring and the spoon method. Free pouring is more widely used as the spoon method requires much more practice and skill but prevents milk separation for a longer period than free pouring.

Serving Styles & Variations in Latte

The common serving styles and the popular latte variations are:

  1. In some places in Europe, it is served in a bowl and referred to as café au lait, particularly in Scandinavia.
  2. It may be served in a glass or saucer with a napkin.
  3. The drinks usually have a latte art at the top of the coffee.
  4. Flavorings like vanilla, chocolate, and caramel are added to enhance or suit the taste.
  5. Lactose intolerant and vegans may prefer the drink with oat or soy milk, which can foam like cow milk. Almond milk and coconut milk are also becoming popular as dairy-free options.
  6. Iced Latte: It consists of an espresso shot combined with cold milk, ice, sugar, or flavored syrups without the steamed milk or milk foam of a hot latte. It can also be served without stirring so that you can see the coffee floating on top of your glass.
  7. Many variants use tea combined with steamed or frothed milk and are known as “Tea lattes.” You can now see hot or iced versions of matcha, masala chai, Earl Grey, and Royal milk teas. These are more popular in Southern & Eastern Asia and North America.
  8. Rooibos tea is used in South Africa to prepare a red latte as a caffeine-free alternative.
  9. Taiwanese international cafe chain 85C Bakery Cafe invented the sea salt latte that uses salted milk foam.
  10. A layered latte can be created by pouring espresso over a glass of hot milk. The German holidaymakers coming to Italy in the earlier days of espresso drinking were particularly attracted by the theatrical transformation in color.
Iced Latte

How is Café Latte Made at Home?

While you might have had a Caffe latte at the coffee shops before, you can quickly see how to prepare the drink at your home in this section.

Ingredients & Equipment

  1. 0.5 to 0.75 oz (16 to 23 g) of finely ground coffee beans.
  2. Double espresso Shot (1.5 to 2 fl. oz), 45 to 60 ml.
  3. Pasteurized 2% skimmed milk – 180 ml or six fl oz.
  4. A teaspoon of sugar, or to taste.
  5. Espresso machine or moka pot.
  6. Steam wand or Milk frother.
  7. Digital measure.

Preparing the Latte

  1. Prepare the double shot of espresso (60 ml) using either the espresso coffee machine, if you have one, or the stovetop moka pot.
  2. Pour it into the final glass or cup.
  3. Steam about 6 oz of 2% skimmed milk in the pitcher to 140 – 150 Deg F, as explained above. The size of the pitcher must be 16 oz or more.
  4. Pour the milk over the coffee keeping the pitcher very close to the cup and coffee surface. Use a gentle side-to-side rocking motion without lifting the pitcher.
  5. Aim for a 1/4-inch layer of foam.
  6. Serve the coffee immediately to avoid the separation of the foam from the milk.
A Cup of Latte Coffee

What is Latte Art

As you may know, latte art is created by pouring the micro-foamed milk into the espresso in such a way that a pattern or a design appears on the top of the coffee. The mixture of two colloids forms it.

  • Crema – An emulsion of coffee oil and coffee.
  • Microfoam – Foam of air in milk

None of these two colloids are stable, with crema dissipating slowly and microfoam separating into dry foam and liquid milk as the liquid in the foam slowly drips back into the liquid milk. The latte art thus lasts briefly.

While called latte art, it is equally applicable to beverages with milk foam, like hot chocolate and Cappuccino.

To pour latte art, a fresh espresso shot with a decent crema and steamed milk with a smooth texture (no visible bubbles) are important prerequisites.

Making Latte Art

Poring the milk at the required pace without lifting the pitcher from the surface of the milk is very important. Beginners commit both these mistakes. The milk tends to separate in the pitcher by slow pouring, with less aerated milk getting poured first and more aerated milk staying in the pitcher due to gravity.

This will lead to an under-aerated beverage, and pouring the latte art will be increasingly difficult. Lifting the pitcher from the surface increases the speed of the milk as it falls into the cup, causing it to go deep into the drink instead of staying on the surface.

Who is a Latte For?

Latte is consumed more during breakfast as it contains more steamed milk than other coffee drinks and tends to be fulfilling and heavy. It is usually preferred with a higher quantity of sugars. As a result, it has a higher amount of calories and sugars, as we will see in the next section.

It is more popular among the age group of 18 to 34-year-olds who want a caffeine kick but do not prefer the strong and intense taste of direct espresso shots and want it to be toned down with a lot of milk and sugar. The velvety texture of the thin layer of the foamed milk adds to the experience.

Caffeine & Nutritional Facts

The average caffeine content in single and double-shot espressos is 63 mg and 126 mg. At Starbucks, this increases to 75 mg and 150 mg, respectively. The average caffeine content in a latte should be the same unless you are adding dark chocolates or other ingredients with caffeine.

The nutritional facts of the caffe latte at Starbucks are:

  • Short (8 oz) – 100 Calories and 9 g sugars
  • Tall (12 oz) – 150 Calories and 14 g sugars
  • Grande (16 oz) – 190 Calories and 19 g sugars
  • Venti (20 oz) – 250 Calories and 23 g sugars

The Major Differences Between a Latte & Cappuccino

The main differences between a latte and a cappuccino are

  1. The ratio of milk. Both drinks can have one or two shots of espresso, but the latte has a much higher milk quantity as compared to the cappuccino. There are no strictly laid-down ratios for cappuccinos. A constant debate goes on whether the espresso, milk, and foam should be in the ratio 1:1:1 or 1:2:2. The ratios for a latte, however, can be anywhere between 1:3 to 1:9, depending on the drinker’s preference.
  2. Serving Size: Lattes have a much larger serving size due to the same amount of coffee and much higher milk content.
  3. Milk Aeration. Cappuccinos have a very aerated milk, while the lattes require a moderately aerated milk.
  4. Depth of the foam. While the depth actually depends on the style and the dimensions of the cups, and the size of the drink, the depth of foam in the cappuccino is usually double the depth in the latte.
  5. Flavors: Lattes have a milder but creamier coffee taste. The Cappuccino, on the other hand, has more defined layers of coffee, hot milk, and foam.

We have dealt with all these differences in more detail in a separate article on the topic.


Hopefully, you have obtained enough information from the article above to prepare a caffe latte at your home for you and your family. Do share your experiences with our readers in the comments section below.

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