What is a Latte?

by Brodie Inguaggiato Updated: August 25, 2023 6 min read
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Updated for 2022

The latte, also known as caffè latte in other parts of the world, is a milk-based coffee beverage that features a thin, top layer of foam. The word “latte” comes from the Italian phrase “caffè e latte” which translates to “coffee and milk.” When referring to the drink in English, the accepted name is often shortened to just “latte.”

To make a proper latte, a common ratio of coffee and milk is 1/3 espresso, 2/3 steamed milk. When ingredients are combined, the resulting beverage is an exquisitely balanced coffee that is both visually pleasing and decadently delicious.

If the milk is properly frothed, a velvety micro foam will also be created. This foam can be poured on top of your beverage and used to make latte art.

A main draw of the latte is how many variants of it can be created. Some include the addition of flavoring like in the case of the wildly popular pumpkin spice latte, while others incorporate other types of milk, such as almond milk, soy milk or other non-dairy milks.

As for the origins of the latte, they’re not entirely clear. People have been combining coffee and milk for centuries so it’s hard to pinpoint where and when the latte we know today comes from. However, the delicious beverage that millions of people enjoy now is believed to have originated in America and entered the mainstream in Seattle, Washington during the 1980’s.

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How To Make a Latte

  1. Pull a double shot (2 oz) of espresso.
  2. Froth 4 oz of steamed milk and .05 oz of milk foam.
  3. Pour the steamed milk into the cup containing the espresso.
  4. Top with milk foam. This can be used to create latte art.

Latte ingredients (in order from top to bottom of beverage): .05 oz milk foam, 4 oz steamed milk, 2 oz espresso

How to Froth and Steam Milk for Lattes

Watch the video at the end of this section for a beginner's guide on how to froth milk and pour latte art. If you're also in the market for a premium frothing pitcher, we've got you covered.

When frothing and steaming milk for a latte, wand position and how much air is introduced is vital. No matter the drink you intend to make, remember to start with an espresso with a good crema layer and use cold milk and a cold pitcher as it’s much easier to get air into milk when it’s chilled.

  1. Start by placing the wand in the center of your pitcher, using the spout as a guide. Imagine the pitcher broken up into thirds and slightly tilt the pitcher to one side, placing the spout on one of the third-lines.
  2. Submerge the tip about ½ inch into the milk. The goal is to hold this position without having to move the wand too much while steaming.
  3. Turn on the steam to full power, and immediately lower the pitcher very slightly until you hear a ripping noise from the wand, which sounds like paper tearing. This indicates that you’re injecting air into the milk.
  4. Continue aerating until the pitcher starts to feel warm on the outside. Once you feel it getting warm, raise the pitcher just enough to submerge the tip of the wand and stop introducing air. This will create a whirlpool of milk that is rapidly spinning and mixing, which helps break up any larger bubbles and create a uniform texture throughout the pitcher.
  5. Aim to heat the milk until it reaches roughly 140 degrees Fahrenheit. You could use a thermometer to measure the milk temperature, but an easy way to get close is to touch the pitcher with your other hand. Once it starts becoming too warm to hold, shut off the steam, remove the pitcher, wipe down the wand, and purge it to remove any remaining milk inside.
  6. Give the pitcher a couple taps on the counter to break up any remaining large bubbles and a swirl to mix up the milk and prevent separating.

How to Make Latte Art

For a visual guide on how to make latte art, check out the video above or click here.

Please note that like most forms of art, it will take a while to become an expert, so don’t get discouraged. Please also remember that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so just because your latte art doesn’t look like what you wanted, it’s still a work of art (and delicious!)

Once your milk is properly steamed, the fun can begin. Follow these steps to create your very own latte art heart!

  1. Start by tilting the cup you will be pouring into at a 45 degree angle. Next, begin pouring slowly and directly from the pitcher into the center of the cup, holding the pitcher about 4 inches high. Now, move your pour location away from the center of the cup and continuously move it around the surface of the beverage to evenly mix it with the crema.
  2. Once the rising liquid almost reaches the edge of the cup, and the cup is around two-thirds full, stop pouring, but keep the cup tilted. Bring the pitcher down as close as you can to the center of the espresso and begin pouring again, this time faster than before.
  3. As the cup fills, tilt it back to level. This will prevent any overflowing and also push your design to the proper spot. At this point, slow your pour down, slightly raise the pitcher, then strike through, trying to keep everything as centered and symmetrical as possible.
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What’s the difference?

Cappuccino vs Latte

How to make a cappuccino: Pull a double shot (2 oz) of espresso. Steam 2 oz steamed milk and 2 oz of frothed milk. Pour 2 oz steamed milk into the cup containing the espresso. Top with foamed milk.

Cappuccino ingredients (in order from top to bottom of beverage): 2 oz foamed milk, 2 oz steamed milk, 2 oz espresso

Note: Cappuccinos have a more stiff and airy foam than lattes. This type of foam does not interact well with crema to make art, unlike lattes.

Macchiato vs Latte

How to make a macchiato: Prepare 2 oz of both steamed milk and milk foam, similar to a cappuccino. Pour into a clear glass and pull a double shot (2 oz) of espresso directly into the milk for a beautiful layering of coffee and milk.

Macchiato ingredients (in order from top to bottom of beverage): 2 oz foamed milk, 2 oz espresso, 2 oz steamed milk

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Latte Recipes

Pumpkin Spice Latte

Pumpkin spice is one of the most popular latte flavors, especially in the fall. If you don’t want to spend an arm and a leg at a coffee shop and prefer to make the perfect pumpkin spice latte yourself, we’ve got you covered with a trio of recipes.

  • Recipe One (Make-Your-Own Spice Mix): Combine 1/4 cup ground cinnamon, 2 tablespoon ground ginger, and 2 teaspoons each of ground cloves and ground nutmeg to make your spice mix. Once the ingredients are together, shake to mix. Add a half teaspoon of the spice mix to your espresso. You can also add sugar for additional sweetness. Stir and top with a finely micro foamed milk.
  • Recipe Two (Prepared Syrup): If you don't want to make your own spice mix and would rather use a prepared syrup, we recommend using Monin’s Pumpkin Spice syrup or something similar. This is often what you get when ordered at a coffee shop. Add the syrup to your espresso up to about 1 ounce. Add a few drops of pure vanilla extract or a prepared vanilla syrup for added flavor. Stir and top with micro-foamed milk.
  • Recipe Three (Real Pumpkin): If you want to go the organic route, you can combine the spice mix from recipe one with actual pumpkin, maple syrup, and palm sugar for a sweet, refined sugar-free treat! This recipe contains about half the calories of a Starbucks pumpkin spice latte and the pure maple syrup really ups the fall flavors.

Pro Tip: Add a splash of dark rum to any of the recipes mentioned for an extra kick and a little added warmth!

Additional Latte Recipe Ideas

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There you have it; hopefully we’ve been able to help answer some of your most pressing latte-related questions!

For even more in-depth content and information regarding lattes and everything else coffee and espresso, we recommend checking out our blog catalog, recipe collection, video library and support center.

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