Caffe Latte

May 30, 2007

The latte or cafe latte is one of the most popular coffees. It is, just like the cappuccino, an espresso based drink topped with milk.

The difference between the cappuccino and the latte is mainly the amount of foam. Sometimes there is a difference in size, the latte is usually a slightly larger drink. The technique used for steaming the milk should be the same however.

An important thing to think about is the size of the cup. To achieve a good balance between milk and espresso you usually need a cup the size of 5 to 6 oz (150 to 180ml), but this is dependent on your espresso base. The best way to find out is to simply try.

Usually you use a porcelain cup but some places have lattes in glasses. The porcelain cup keeps the drink warmer and is usually preferred by the consumer. Make sure that you pre-warm the cups, keep them on top of the espresso machine.

The most important ingredient to a perfect Latte is the espresso. Consult an expert to find you the best espresso. Price is an important factor here, good espresso usually cost a bit more. Just make sure that your espresso is fresh and still hot before you pour the milk in to the cup. You will need an espresso that has the right characteristics to ‘break through’ the milk.

Steaming of milk is an art. You have to concentrate and be very precise when you steam milk. It is a skill that you can learn very quickly when it is shown right. You know that you have steamed the milk right when you can’t see any bubbles in the milk. There are 2 things that are very important when steaming milk: the foam and the temperature. Your aim is to create foam that is smooth and shiny without any visible bubbles, a little bit like yoghurt. Then you must make sure that you have the right temperature and you will learn this by trial and error. You can of course use a thermometer, aim for a temperature between 65 and 70 degrees Celsius. However, you will learn after a while by touch what the right temperature is. Always be careful that you don’t overheat because this will change the taste of the milk.

Use a clean, stainless steel jugwith a pronounced spout and add just the right amount of cold milk. Any milk will do, you can get foam out of all milk (skimmed, semi-skimmed and full fat milk). All milk will foam but not all milk will give you the same foam. Full fat milk will have a soft and creamier foam because of it’s higher fat content. Just remember that any milk with protein will foam. Fresh, cold milk that has been stored well will foam the best.

Purge the steam wand to clean out any condensation that has been build up. Then insert the steam wand in to the milk and turn it on all the way. One important thing to remember is that you get the best foam when the milk is cold, below 100F. Foaming above 100F will give you harder bubbles which you rather not have.

You start with foaming the milk which you do by having the tip of the steam wand just breaking the surface of the milk. Always apply full presure to the steam wand which is 1 bar. You should hear a slight sissing, high pitch, chirping sound. You should hear the foam being created but you shouldn’t see any bubbles appear. We are talking about millimeters here when you are stretching the milk. It is best to hold the pitcher with two hands so that you have maximum control over the movement of the pitcher. For a single latte you should only have to stretch the milk for a few seconds.

After the foaming comes the texturing. Texturing is when you create a whirlpool inside the pitcher. This movement of the milk makes sure that all the air inside mixes with the milk and it breaks larger bubbles into smaller ones, creating a shiny and smooth foamy milk. Think about the milk and foam as one, not as two separate things. Turn off the steam wand when you have reached the right temperature before taking it out of the milk.

Pour the milk as soon as possible in the espresso. Do not let the milk sit for a while, keep it spinning in the pitcher. Start by pouring the milk slowly in to the espresso. When you have the cup just about half full you can wiggle the pitcher slightly to get the foam out. This movement takes practice and can lead to Latte art.

Try to get the crema of the espresso to the top of the cup by pouring the milk slowly in to the cup.

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