Lattes are simple yet enjoyable beverages, more elegant than coffee and very easily personalized to fit your tastes. As everyone has very specific preferences, the best latte is ultimately the one you make yourself.
A basic latte consists of espresso and steamed milk-no powder, no syrup, nothing else added. The drink contains espresso first, then steamed milk, and a bit of foam from the milk.
Ideally, you will have an espresso machine complete with steam wands to steam the milk, but read on for ways to make a similar drink if you are lacking in these tools.
Before you prepare the espresso, steam the milk. Shots of espresso can ‘go bad’ if left for more than 8-15 seconds depending on how your machine pours, but your milk will stay hot and frothy for minutes.
If you have a machine with a steam wand, pour a bit more milk than you think you’ll need into a pitcher. Place a thermometer into your pitcher and begin steaming the milk. Do not begin to steam until the steam wand is already completely submerged in the milk. Gently pull the pitcher downward so that the steam wand gets a very small bit of air, making a slight ‘sucking’ noise. Do this for a few seconds to make some foam for your latte, then fully submerge the steam wand again.
Steam the milk 140 to 180 degrees, depending on your preferences. Milk below 130 degrees can produce bacteria once it starts to cool, so be sure to always steam at least at 130 degrees. This is the recommended temperature for a child’s beverage as well.
When the milk is done, pull your shot or shots of espresso. Methods vary greatly depending on the type of machine you use, so be sure to read your instructions carefully.
For a twelve ounce or smaller cup, most people prefer one shot of espresso in their latte. For a larger cup, add two or more shots. You may have the shot pour right into your larger cup, into a small espresso cup, or into a shot glass. Once the espresso is in the cup, add the steamed milk as soon as possible to prevent the shot from going stale. If this happens, your drink will have a bitter, expired taste to it.
When you are finished pouring your milk into the cup, add a small layer of foam to the top of your beverage using a wide spoon.
If you don’t have an espresso machine at home, don’t worry! You can still make a beverage called a misto, which is similar to a latte. To make a misto, add one half cup steamed milk and a quarter inch of foam to a cup already half filled with your favorite coffee or tea (be sure to remove tea bag first and make sure that the tea is fully steeped). These are known as a coffee misto and tea misto, respectively.
To steam milk without a milk steamer, use a small saucepan on the stove. Though you will sacrifice foam, the heated milk will be a close second to milk steamed with a wand.
Once you’ve mastered the basics of making a latte, it’s time to get fancy! Add a few pumps of your favorite syrup to the bottom of your cup before you put in the espresso or decorate the top of your foam with sauce or thick syrup. You can also add cinnamon or nutmeg sprinkles or shavings to give your drink an added flavor.
Experimentation is the best part of latte creation. Determine what you like best and tweak your beverage to become a true master of the latte.