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The first? Thou shalt not pronounce espresso with an X. And the second: Thou shalt not touch thine milk with spoon. So want a bad latte? Just ask a barista for one with eXpresso… and If you want a show, say Expresso 3 times fast to a barista and their head just might explode. As for the spoon thing, well as far as I’m concerned what you do in the privacy of your own home, that’s up to you, but in a good cafe the spoon will never touch milk in a frothing pitcher.
So how do you screw up a latte?
Well, order a latte in Italy and you probably won’t get what you were expecting - unless what you wanted was plain milk. In Italian, latte means milk. If you want some espresso in that milk what you need to order a is caffe latte. the “Caffe” part means coffee. And bonus tip for Italians milk-based coffee beverages like a cafe latte or cappuccino are served as a morning beverage only.
So purist shun the idea of adding flavors to a latte. They prefer to taste the coffee and let the milk compliment its’ flavor. There’s bad coffee that needs milk to cover flaws, and good coffee with plenty flavor and character. Everything from the dark chocolaty finish of fine italian style espresso blends to the berry notes of high altitude single origins.
Order a latte to go and it usually comes in a tall paper cup. Turns out that’s the worst way to serve a latte. Tall cups cause micro-foam to break down quickly destroying the creamy mouthfeel. A wide ceramic cup is the way to go. Espresso and that finely textured milk mix better, microfoam lasts longer, preheated cups means warmer drinks and of course with a wide ceramic there’s more canvas for latte art.
And speaking of art, to pour it on a latte requires a very finely textured frothed milk. That frothed milk is responsible for the rich and creamy mouthfeel. But what you get from the big chains and fast food joints, you know mermaids and arches well, all too often it’s usually some hot milk and a thin layer of airy froth on top. No finely textured froth means no sweet creamy mouthfeel.
And speaking of hot milk, my biggest latte pet peeve is milk that’s just too damn hot. Heating milk increases its’ apparent sweetness - but only to a point. The sweet spot for milk temperature is 140 to 150 degrees. Go much hotter than that and sweetness quickly fades. So my theory on why milk is so often too hot? I think those newer to lattes expect a drink that’s as hot as a cup of regular coffee and complain when it’s not.
So what do you do if you want a really good latte. Well, go to a good independent cafe. If they roast beans on premises that’s usually a reliable indication that they really care. Of course, the other option is to make it yourself. Now if you’re new to it, check out our most popular videos on milk-based espresso beverages to learn how to do it yourself.
Thanks for reading. I hope you’ll come back soon for more of the good stuff on everything coffee from Whole Latte Love.