The taste of a well-made latte is heaven on your tongue, but do you know how a latte is actually made? You can’t just pour espresso and warm milk in a mug and be done with it! A real latte takes practice, it is a form of art. Luckily, you have come to the right place to learn how to make an artisan latte from your own kitchen.
Using Quality Ingredients
Creating a barista-style latte is difficult regardless of the method you use if you don’t have the right ingredients, to begin with. It is true that balancing the espresso texture with the milky coffee flavour and just the right amount of foam requires skill. But, if you lack quality ingredients you, that skill alone will not be enough.
Picking Coffee Beans
A latte starts out as an espresso, before adding the milk and the signature foam. But that does not mean you should use the same beans for an espresso as you would for a latte.
Typically, a classic espresso is drunk without milk. Therefore, you can use pretty much any strength coffee bean to create different flavours in your espresso. A strong bean flavour for a tobacco bite, or a medium roast to pull out beautiful earthy or fruity notes, for example.
For a latte, however, you need to pick beans that will complement the milk (as in a typical latte the ratio of coffee to milk is 1:3) and not clash with it. Good coffee beans to use for a latte include:
- Medium-dark roasts with rich undertones (nutty, caramel, chocolate etc.) – New York JO Medium-dark Roast Organic Ground Coffee
- Smooth, creamy tastes and a high crema ability to really melt with the milk.
- Well-rounded blends with a body that doesn’t leave you with a bitter aftertaste.
Dark roasts will clash with the milk while light roasts will be hard to taste all the creaminess.
Which Milk To Use
In your latte, there will be 3 parts milk to 1 part espresso, with just a dab of foamed milk on top. Now, that you have explored the world of high-quality coffee beans, you need to make sure you pick the right milk to top it off.
The best milk that’s renowned by baristas and coffee connoisseurs is Jersey milk. It is made from Jersey cows, and it is proven to have a higher percentage of fat and protein compared to other dairy products. This milk is not cheap, but it makes a noticeable difference to the taste of your latte.
The fat content in milk is what determines the consistency of the foam too; the more fat, the more creamy your foam will be. And of course, hot creamy milk poured with the espresso will better compliment the coffee notes than a low-fat milk.
Use full-fat milk or lactose-free milk (the fattiest you can find) for the ultimate, creamy milk foam. As for other dairy alternatives such as almond, soy and rice milk, you’ll end up with a light foam with larger bubbles and a less-creamy taste.
Those dairy-free kinds of milk will also interact with your coffee beans in a different way. Soy milk has quite a light flavour so best to avoid the darker roasts from the medium-roast aisle, for example.
The Ultimate Latte Recipe
To make a latte at home without all the high-tech barista equipment, you will need:
- Your choice of high-quality coffee beans – freshly ground is always better!
- Full fat milk (check the use-by date before beginning; the fresher the better).
- Latte sized cup (6oz to 8oz, usually a wide ceramic cup and saucer rather than a tall mug).
- French press or Aeropress, unless you have an espresso maker.
- Cup and microwave, unless your coffee machine has a frothing arm.
To start with, your coffee beans need to be ground finely to make a high-quality espresso, if you’re making the espresso without an espresso maker, follow these steps:
- Grind coffee beans when you’re about to make the coffee, not in advance. If you don’t have a coffee grinder, use a mortar, pestle and all the strength you can muster to get a fine coffee grind.
- Add boiling hot water, brew for several minutes and filter out the grounds. Using a French coffee press with micro mesh filters is the easiest way to achieve a great espresso – see our list of the best French coffee presses here.
- While your coffee is brewing start preparing the milk using the steps below so everything will be ready to pour at the same time.
- Pour the espresso into the bottom quarter of your cup.
Next, you need warm milk and froth, which is quite easy to achieve without any frothing equipment. Just follow these steps:
- Pour your chosen milk into a microwaveable cup. Make sure you pour at least 3 times the amount of espresso you are making so you can have enough milk to foam up too.
- Quickly whisk or beat the milk with a fork until it’s foaming at the top.
- Without missing a beat, pop the milk into the microwave and set it for half a minute. If the milk has not doubled in size and really frothed up, set it for another 30 seconds. If you still have no luck after a full minute in the microwave, your milk is likely not high enough on fat. If you believe your milk is of high quality, then you either did not whisk for long enough or the temperature of the microwave failed to reach 150F. Hotter than 170F and you have ruined the milk.
Now, all that’s left is putting it all together. Your espresso and milk should be ready at roughly the same time, so now we make the latte.
- Using a spoon to hold back the foam on your milk, pour in the warm milk onto the espresso.
- Once your cup is very nearly full, spoon on a little of the foam. If you have strong coffee with more foam than milk, you’ll end up with a cappuccino (1:2 coffee milk ratio with a tonne of foam). It may take several attempts with whisking and microwaving to certain degrees to get the right latte texture and proportions.
If you want to get serious with your latte pouring technique and display, check out how to pour and serve a latte like a pro at the end of this article.
Using a Latte Machine
Many espresso machines will have programmable latte making abilities included. In this regards, the method of creating a latte is somewhat simplified and standardized.
This is a generic step by step guide to making a latte with an espresso machine, but the actual method will depend on your espresso maker. Any good espresso maker should come with an easy to follow guide that explains how to make lattes.
- Grind the coffee using a burr grinder, pestle and mortar like the method above, or directly in the espresso maker if it can grind beans for you.
- Steam the milk using a steaming wand. Don’t push the wand right to the bottom of your milk jug, instead, let it rest just under the surface. You want very small bubbles, like a foam rather than a bubble bath. Steam the milk until it is 150F or 66C. If you get above 170F or 76C you have scorched the milk. Start again.
- Set your espresso machine to the finest setting (zero) and add 2 espresso shots worth (depending on your machine) spread evenly for good saturation.
- Pour together your espresso and milk using the method above, or the method below for something fancier.
How to Pour and Serve a Latte Like a Pro
Disappointed that your cup doesn’t look like the latte you usually get from that slightly conceited coffee barista? It’s all in the wrist pouring action!
- Hold the cup at a slight angle in one hand, with the milk in the other. It’s important you use a container with a pouring lip for the milk if you want to create those lovely swirls.
- Pour the warm milk slowly into the cup with a slight swirling motion to mix the milk with the espresso.
- Once all your milk is in there, tip the milk jug further and lower it so the spout is almost touching the coffee, allowing you to control the flow of milk foam.
- As you’re pouring in the foam and dragging the tip of the jug to create shapes and patterns, slowly tilt the cup back to a level position so as not to spill any coffee.
Remember, less foam is best for a latte, so don’t get carried away with your swirling and patterns.
Lastly, don’t get frustrated if your latte doesn’t look great the first time. If you have followed our tips on picking the high-quality ingredients, we guarantee it will taste amazing anyway!
READ MORE: Try any of our top-rated single serve coffee makers.
Anthony is a professional barista in the city of Chicago. He has written for many online publications on various topics related to coffee.