There are so many kinds of lattes out there! There are pumpkin spice and maple lattes in the fall, caramel and vanilla lattes year round, peppermint mochas, almond milk miels, and tea lattes to warm you up in the winter, herbal drinks like lavender lattes and chai lattes, and countless other flavors and flavor combinations.
These days, we can’t really hang out in our favorite java joints. Since most of us are therefore making and drinking our coffee at home, I think it’s the perfect time to make lattes more accessible to everyone. I want to show you all how simple they really are to make, and give you the information you need to make them from the comfort of your own home.
And for any baristas reading this – I’m definitely not trying to make light of the job by pointing out how simple lattes are to make. Making one latte at a time is easy, but remembering the cacophony of drink recipes and working through a long line of very different drinks incredibly quickly while modifying them to customers’ tastes, running to get food, and checking people out is a lot!
So, if you’re not a barista, don’t forget to tip yours when you do visit a coffee shop, even after you’ve discovered how easy making lattes yourself can be!
All that said, let’s get started:
What Makes a Latte a Latte?
If you order a latte or a cafe latte (or caffe latte) in a coffee shop, then you’re ordering a plain latte. And a plain latte consists of two ingredients: espresso, and milk.
In a hot latte, the milk is steamed (or heated) while the espresso is brewing, and then added to the espresso, topped off with about 1/4 cup of milk froth, and then stirred. The amount of espresso in the drink depends on size and personal preference (coffee shops often default to one shot for a small and two for a medium and large, but you can always order that more be added in).
Any flavored latte is made the same way as plain lattes, just with flavored syrups added to the drink. So a vanilla latte, for example, is just vanilla syrup, espresso, and steamed milk. It’s the same deal with famous lattes like pumpkin spice – all it is is pumpkin spice sauce, espresso, and steamed milk.
Additions like whipped cream, (which many people add to their pumpkin spice lattes), additional spices, and caramel or chocolate drizzle are extras that some menu makers and customers specifically choose to add, often just to specific flavors of latte. Those additions aren’t what makes the drink a latte; they’re extra, and they’re very, very optional.
Iced lattes are basically the same, but the milk isn’t steamed and ice is added to the drink instead. That’s it; lattes are incredibly simple.
What Makes Mochas and Cappuccinos Different?
Both mochas and cappuccinos are super similar to lattes! All three drinks consist, at their core, of steamed milk and espresso.
The only difference between a latte and a mocha is that a mocha is made with chocolate instead of another flavored syrup (like latte’s often have) mixed into the drink. Whipped cream is often added, and some coffee shops also add a bit of chocolate drizzle over the top. These are common additions, but not required- really, the core difference is just that the flavor in a mocha is chocolate.
The difference between a latte and a cappuccino is even more slight – all that’s different is the amount and type of milk foam used. Lattes have about a 1/4 cup of milk froth at the top of the drink. Cappuccinos, however, consist of about half steamed milk/espresso and have milk foam.
Like lattes, if you order a cappuccino without specifying a flavor you’d like added in, you’ll probably get just that – espresso, steamed milk, and milk foam, without any flavor or anything remotely sweet added in. A lot of coffee-shop-goers don’t know this, so some baristas will preemptively ask if you’d like flavor added to your drink. If the barista doesn’t ask, though, and you want your drink flavored or sweet, make sure you do ask for that.
How to Make a Hot Latte at Home
How you make a hot latte at home various significantly depending on the barista tools that you own. To make a true latte, you need an espresso maker and a milk frother. Whole or 2% milk are typical standard milks used in coffee shops, but the type of milk you use really depends on personal preference.
- First, start making your espresso.
- If you have a milk frother, steam your milk, and try to create a bit of foam as well. Try not to get heat it past 140 degrees Fahrenheit, because that’s when it starts to be overdone.
- Add any flavoring to the bottom of your coffee mug.
- When it’s ready, pour the espresso over the syrup, swirling the cup a bit to incorporate the flavor into the coffee.
- Add milk until the cup is about 3/4 full. Top with milk foam.
- Stir, and enjoy!
If you don’t have either a milk frother, an espresso maker, or a specialty coffee bar, you can improvise a bit.
If you don’t have a milk frother, then use a microwave or a pot on the stove to heat up your milk instead.
If you don’t have any kind of espresso maker, you can’t make a true latte, but you can get make something somewhat similar. If this is your situation, then make the strongest, boldest coffee you can. Mix with any flavoring you want, and make sure that you don’t fill your cup more than halfway with coffee, so you still have plenty of room for the steamed milk and milk foam.
Without espresso, the drink isn’t technically a latte – instead, you’ve actually made yourself a café au lait, or a cafe misto (which is the same thing: coffee and steamed milk. The name most commonly used just depends on where you live).
How to Make an Iced Latte at Home
Iced lattes are way easier to make than hot ones!
- Start making your espresso.
- Add any desired flavored syrup to the bottom of your cup.
- Fill to the top with ice.
- Add espresso to the cup.
- Stir, fill the rest of the way with milk.
- Top with whipped cream and drizzle if desired, and enjoy!
Just like with hot lattes, if you want to make a real iced latte, you still need an espresso maker. If you don’t have one, I recommend using cold brew coffee instead. If you don’t have cold brew, then just use the strongest, boldest coffee you can find, and make sure not to fill the cup more than (at the very, very most) halfway.
The café I worked at didn’t make cold foam for iced drinks, but I prefer my iced lattes with cold foam instead of whipped cream. You can get perfect cold milk foam with a milk frother, but you can also thicken it a little by shaking it in a sealed container if you don’t have that frother.
Do you make specialty coffee at home? What tools do you use, and what tricks do you have to avoid using the ones you don’t?
Please, share your experiences and leave any remaining questions below!