Every latte lover worth his beans understands the beauty of starting the day with a warm cup of caffè e latte. A good latte—this must be emphasized—doesn’t have to mean expensive or store-bought because even the most gorgeous café au lait can be whipped up at home—yes, even without an espresso machine.
What makes the latte an intimidating coffee to make at home is achieving the perfect balance between rich, bitter espresso and steamed milk, explains Artificially Awake. Add to it the pressure of carving delicate latte art into the soft milk foam because the best latte, after all, is both caffeine and art in a cup.
To help convince you that it is both easy and possible to make a latte without an espresso machine, let us first break it down into its components.
Espresso is the foundation of every decent cup of latte. While it can be attained without an expensive espresso machine, its process cannot be rushed. The espresso’s depth of flavor is produced by nearly boiling water thoroughly seeping through tightly packed coffee grounds, extracting its rich oils and releasing an aromatic crema on top.
What an espresso machine does is apply a ton of pressure onto the coffee grounds, allowing it to produce rich, flavorful espresso in just a few seconds.
What this means for regular households with no espresso machines is just a little more work in a tad bit more time. Home gadgets you can use to make espresso are Moka pot, drip coffee maker or French press.
A Moka pot is a good implement to own if you constantly crave espresso-based coffee because it is efficient, durable and significantly more affordable than a fancy espresso machine. If you’re having second thoughts about getting a Moka pot, this article from The Hungry Mouse will convince you how easy it is to use—and on the stove, nonetheless.
A good espresso is at the base of an exquisite latte, but without decent steamed milk, you can kiss your latte-at-home dreams goodbye. Milk is a perfect accompaniment to the bitter espresso because of its natural creaminess and sweetness. Steaming the milk, on the other hand, introduces air to create that gorgeous foam and enhances its sweetness.
According to Clive Coffee, there is a science behind steamed milk. The secret behind the perfectly steamed milk is arriving at the right temperature, which is between 120°F/49°C and 140°F/60°C. As milk arrives at the desired temperature, the proteins break down to yield that coveted milk foam.
The best way to steam milk is with the use of a steaming wand but if you don’t have this at home, you can also do so on the stove or the microwave. Begin with milk straight out of the fridge and watch closely as its temperature rises, making sure not to overheat the milk as this will result in burnt lactose, causing a flat texture and a cloying sweetness.
With much practice, you’ll be able to determine how long it takes for milk to reach the proper temperature but if you’re new to this, it is recommended that you get a kitchen thermometer.
What is a latte without that soft, velvety foam? The process of making the foam is essentially linked to the process of steaming milk. This step does not take much work but pays high rewards.
If you are steaming milk on the stove, quickly whisk the milk as it approaches the desired temperature. To create a stable and long-lasting foam, whisk the milk as fast as you can. If you are “steaming” milk in the microwave, Emma Christensen of kitchn has an easy hack: pour into a Mason jar, shake vigorously and pop in the microwave.
Putting Together Your Latte
Once you have accomplished the 3 components above, you are ready to finish off your latte and reap the rewards. Pour espresso to 1/3 of your coffee mug; pour steamed milk to the remaining 2/3 of the mug; and lastly, spoon milk foam onto the top of your creation. You can tweak the espresso-milk ratio according to your taste but the traditional ratio is 1/3:2/3.
To make your latte coffee shop-fancy, you can top off with chocolate shavings, ground nutmeg or cinnamon. If you wish to make your latte more flavorful, you can pop 1/8 teaspoon of your desired flavor oil into the mug before you pour the espresso.
Don’t go crazy on the flavor oil as oils are adequately strong and if you put in too much, it might overpower the delicious flavor of the espresso.
Do you want to take it up a notch and create latte art? If you’re feeling brave enough, here is the key to creating latte art: one steady, fluid motion as you pour milk into the mug. You can create patterns by moving the mug in certain directions while pouring the milk—feel free to experiment! Enjoy!