The fancy machines at your local coffee shop and well-trained baristas make crafting a latte seem easy, but if you have ever attempted to make your own latte at home or with the office coffee machine, you probably already know that it is not as easy as it looks. There are many ways to make something close, but in order to make the perfect latte at home or in the office, here are some things for you to consider before you even hit the start button.
What is a Real Latte?
Most think it’s just coffee and milk. This is technically incorrect. Milk and coffee is an Au Lait, and tastes surprisingly different. A latte contains anywhere from one to three ounces of espresso with six or more ounces of steamed or lightly frothed milk (if hot), or cold milk and ice.
So what’s the difference between espresso and coffee?
Espresso is a darkly roasted coffee bean that is nearly powder-fine ground, and which is exposed to super-hot water for a maximum of 28 seconds. This maximizes the bold flavor while extracting a relatively small amount of caffeine.
Coffee is coarsely ground and can be anywhere from lightly to darkly roasted. It’s exposed to hot water for 3-5 minutes, which extracts more caffeine than espresso, contrary to popular belief.
To create the perfect latte, you need a strong coffee that’s finely ground. You can buy a bag of whole beans and ask for it espresso ground at your favorite cafe.
How do I Steam the Milk?
There are many ways to accomplish the daunting task of steaming milk. One way is to purchase a high-end latte machine that does it for you internally. There are several machines available that produce professional-quality espresso shots and steam the milk for you.
You can also purchase a separate frother, which will foam your milk for you with a simple touch of a button. Or you can do it the old fashioned way.
Use a Latte Machine
Using a machine with a steaming wand, you can use any metal pitcher with a heat-resistant handle to aerate the milk properly. Even if you do not want foam on your drink, in order to know that you are properly steaming milk, it’s a good idea to at least get a little foam on top of the milk you are warming up. This means it is properly aerated and will mingle better with the espresso for a more even flavor.
Make sure that the aerating holes at the tip of the steaming wand are properly cleaned before use. Submerge the steaming wand with your milk before you start, and slowly pull the steaming pitcher out until you get that good, frothy milk sound (you’ll know it when you hear it).
Some machines have internal thermometers that will stop at the recommended temperature, but if yours doesn’t, you will need to keep a cooking thermometer handy. Professionals recommend between 140 – 160 degrees Fahrenheit.
Using Your Stove
Steaming milk on the stovetop can be a little more complicated and requires more attention to detail. If you do not keep the milk moving while you heat it, the milk will likely form a thick “crust” or top layer of curdles due to rapid heating. Fill your sauce pot with the desired amount of milk for your latte. Take a whisk and stir constantly, creating bubbles in your milk to help aerate it. Use a cooking thermometer to keep an eye on the milk’s temperature.
Use Your Microwave
This will simply heat, not steam, the milk, and is not recommended for best results. However, we all have busy schedules, and sometimes a quick fix can work wonders.
Just keep in mind the two important parts of a latte – proper espresso and properly steamed milk. Follow these simple guidelines, combine your two products, and enjoy the perfect homemade latte.