Table Of Contents
- About This Guide
- What Is A Latte?
- What Is Espresso?
- Making Espresso At Home
- Making Steamed Milk At Home
- Frothing The Milk
- Finishing Touches
- Wrap Up
About This Guide
Those of us who have come to see a latte as part of our required indulgences generally rely entirely on our favorite barista. Most of us have all we need at home to brew fine coffee, but espresso drinks, particularly lattes, are things we get from a café because that professional machine and barista-touch just seem beyond us.
As much as we would like to make a latte at home, the expense of a professional espresso maker makes this seem impossible, but this just is not the case. There are ways to make fantastic lattes at home. In this guide we will look into how you can make a latte at home without an espresso machine.
What Is A Latte?
For the sake of understanding exactly what we are learning to do, we should distinguish a latte from a cappuccino. A cappuccino consists of espresso and mostly foamed milk. It is the foam that is difficult to achieve without a steaming wand.
A latte is made up of espresso and steamed milk. A latte generally has a layer of foam at the top, but the milk is primarily just steamed and layered on top of the espresso. This is much easier to create with the common kitchen tools at hand and a stove-top or microwave.
What Is Espresso?
It is easy to get lost in this part of the process because we tend to think espresso can only be made using the familiar espresso machine. The real features which make espresso what it is and what gives it that singular flavor and consistency are the grind and the roast.
Espresso is a dark roasted coffee bean. We can find it as French Roast, Italian Roast, and of course Espresso Roast. The dark roast brings flavorful oils of the coffee bean to the surface and makes for that familiar bitter flavor. Dark roasted coffee is then ground extra-fine. This fine grind makes for the strong and pungent taste we have come to love in espresso.
A dark roasted and finely ground coffee can be brewed at home to make the basic espresso for a latte. This part is actually fairly easy. It is the steamed milk which becomes tricky, and there are a number of tricks you can use without an espresso machine to overcome this.
Making Espresso At Home
The ideal way to begin this process is to grind your espresso roast coffee right when you are ready to brew. This ensures the freshest grind and maintains all of the flavors and rich oils so characteristic of espresso.
Use a burr grinder to grind your beans. A burr grinder will give you the fine grind you require without pulverizing the beans. A blade grinder will not get the grind fine enough for a proper espresso.
The best option for brewing espresso on the stove is the Mokka pot. A Mokka pot is simply a stove-top brewing method that makes espresso by forcing the hot water through the ground coffee in way that is similar to a professional espresso machine.
These things are fantastic and well worth the roughly 20 dollars you will lay out to buy one. They are sturdy metal and portable, so you can take them camping. They have three basic parts and are easy to clean and maintain.
The Aeropress is another tool for making espresso without the machine. An AeroPress espresso maker simply forces the hot coffee and grounds through a filter mechanism by hand. The espresso is pressed directly into a cup, so make sure you are using a sturdy cup when making espresso using this method.
Making espresso in a French press is yet another option. The French press will brew coffee that has that creamy consistency of espresso. While not quite as ideal as the Mokka pot, the French press is great because, as we will see, it can be used to steam milk for your latte.
For a more comprehensive overview, check out our exhaustive guide on how to make espresso without a machine.
A Brief Note
The ideal shot of espresso consists of the rich coffee with a nice layer of creamy on top, or crema, at the top. It is possible to take this part of the process to extremes.
The designers of high-end espresso machines have studied approximately 800 scientifically-detectable chemical components in a single shot of espresso. You just want the rich, thick coffee with the signature crema.
Making Steamed Milk At Home
The steamed milk we get from our barista is really just heated milk. All you really need is a sauce pan and a thermometer. This last item is to ensure that the temperature of the milk is precise.
Getting the milk to the proper temperature without scorching it is the real trick here, and steaming generally prevents scorching.
About Milk and Foam
While shaking and agitating the milk does produce bubbles, the foam that comes with properly steaming the milk is actually a function of the protein, carbohydrates, and fatty acids present in the milk. This is why different types of milk produce variable foam. Dairy products are vastly different than dairy alternatives such as soy and almond milk.
The temperature differences we see in creating the ideal steamed milk depend on the chemical content of the milk products we use. Each of these create foam at different temperatures, and they burn at different temperatures.
In the case of dairy, the milk contains a protein called casein. As the milk is broken up by shaking and heat, the casein tends to break apart and form a shield around the bubbles that are formed. That is why the foam tends to stick together and remain in place even after it is removed from heat.
This is important to bear in mind because the milk alternatives will have a different protein content than dairy. As a result, these milk alternatives will produce a different type of foam. This does not mean it is of lesser quality. It is just different.
The optimum temperatures you look for depend on whether or not you are using dairy or some other type of milk. The guides are as follows:
Milk: 150˚ F (65˚C)
Soy Milk: 140˚ F (60˚ C)
Almond Milk: 130˚ (54˚ C)
Heat the milk in a sauce pan on the stove. Use your thermometer to pay close attention to the temperature. When it is at the proper temperature, pour the hot milk directly onto your brewed espresso. If you want to froth the milk, there is another step and few tricks to go with it:
Frothing The Milk
There are three great ways to froth your milk. These range from using things you already have around the kitchen to tools which require some small investment. As a fan of working with what is at hand, I will start there.
Using a Ball Jar
Yes. An ordinary Ball Jar, or any other glass jar that comes with a tight-fitting lid.
Simply pour your hot milk into the jar, tighten the lid, and shake it up. You will need to fill the jar about one third of its volume with milk. You want to be able to agitate the milk without it spilling over the top. Shake until you see the frothy bubbles that you like on your latte.
With the milk frothed, just pour it over you fresh-brewed espresso and you have a professional tasting (and looking) latte.
Using A French Press
Obviously, this requires purchasing a French Press. The advantages to this are two-fold: A French press is a great way to make your espresso at home without an expensive espresso machine. You can also steam and froth your milk with a French press and a microwave, as follows:
- Fill the glass beaker with milk to about one third the volume.
- Pump the plunger for roughly 20 seconds until the milk doubles in volume.
- Make certain to remove the lid and plunger, along with any other metal parts.
- Place the beaker in the microwave for about 30 to 45 seconds.
You will have frothed milk and foam, perfectly prepared for a latte. Just pour it over and enjoy.
Using A Steaming Wand
There are steaming wands available for use on stove-top. These will require a little expense, but if you get in the habit of making lattes at home, just do a little math to see what you spend in a week or month at your favorite café on lattes and balance it out.
For less than $100, these things can give you steamed and frothed milk that rivals the professional grade machines in a café. They require a little more time than the traditional espresso machine steaming wand, but with patience it is easy to master.
A bonus for this tool is that they advertise it as easily portable and safe to use on a camp fire. Imagine pulling off a professional latte in the woods!
At this point, you have yourself a latte. Spice it up any way you like. Syrups and other flavorings are an obvious thing to try, but look around your spice cabinet and baking supplies for more traditional things that will add flavor to your latte. Some things to try include
- Cocoa powder
- Ground ginger
- Vanilla extract
- Almond extract
Go easy on the flavors until you get a sense of what you like. Some of these things, especially the extracts, can be quite potent.
If you are making a latte to wind down for the night, why not include one of your favorite spirits? The traditional Irish coffee, for example, becomes an Irish latte with a little splash of Irish Whisky. Some Cognac or Grand Marnier can be equally delicious.
Latte art is really just a simple trick of pouring the steamed milk over the espresso. It involves a technique whereby you layer the milk onto the espresso so that a coffee/milk mixture emerges toward the top and the foam pours gently over top. It just takes practice.
The best way to achieve this at home is by making your espresso with a Mokka pot and steaming the milk using the French press method. In order to properly make latte art, you will want to transfer the steamed and frothed milk from the French press beaker to a small metal pitcher. There are plenty of demonstration videos on YouTube that will walk you through this if you’re interested in trying your hand at some latte art.
With this guide you will be able to start making great lattes at home without laying out the $5000 necessary for a professional quality espresso machine. You should use all of the information in this guide as it suits you. Experiment with it and refine it as you see fit. Everything in this guide came from old methods, experimentation, and trial and error. Feel free to add to the pool of knowledge on the art of making lattes at home.