I was inspired to talk about making an authentic cafe latte at home today after having so much fun playing with my new espresso machine. With about a decade of barista experience under my belt, this is definitely one subject I can speak confidently about.
You may not know this about me, but I ran a very high-traffic location of a certain famous coffee shop for about ten years before I moved to our farmhouse and started this blog. Actually, my time there was really the basis of so many of things that I’m interested in today, from cleaning and organizing to creating beautiful and elevated treats to share with friends and family. I always found it so satisfying to make the perfect cafe latte or cappuccino for all of our wonderful regular customers and I’ve actually been dying to get back behind an espresso machine for the 12 years since I stopped working in the coffee industry. I’ve wanted to try an at home espresso machine, but I was nervous that I’d be disappointed in the experience after being so used to working with high-powered commercial machines. After reading the glowing reviews for the Casabrews machines though, I thought this machine was worth trying. Whether you have the same machine as I do, or another type of home espresso maker, today’s post on making an authentic cafe latte will tell you what you need to know to create a beverage masterpiece of your own. I actually laughed when I took my first sip of the first latte I made at home because it really did taste exactly the same as one from a cafe.
Cafe Latte vs. Cappuccino vs. Machiatto vs. Cafe Mocha
First, a little bit of a terminology lesson, because this seems to be the first thing that trips people up. You need to know the name of the type of beverage you’d like to order or make before you can actually ask for it. You’ve probably heard a few different coffee beverage names thrown around and after this mini lesson, you’ll know exactly what each of them describe.
First of all, the cafe latte, or simply just “latte” as it’s usually called. This describes a beverage made up of a shot of espresso in the bottom of a cup, then topped up with steamed milk and a bit of foam on top. The final beverage is about 7/8 full with liquid milk, and has the top 1/8th of the cup filled with foam.
A cappuccino is nearly the same as a latte, but foamier. A shot of espresso is poured into the bottom of a cup, then the cup is filled 1/2 full with steamed milk and the top half is filled with thick, fluffy foam. This results in a stronger coffee flavour and also a bit more of an indulgent experience because of all the foam.
When you hear the word “macchiato” this simply means “marked”. So if you hear someone say “espresso macchiato” that refers to a shot of espresso that has been marked with a dollop of foam. You may have heard of a “latte macchiato” before and that’s simply a latte where the shot of espresso is poured on top of the cup that has already been filled with milk and foam. The shot of espresso marks the top layer of foam. You could add a drizzle of caramel sauce, chocolate sauce, or even butterscotch sauce to the top of your latte machiatto if you’re feeling creative and create a chocolate macchiato or a butterscotch macchiato. The options are endless.
A cafe mocha is basically just a chocolate flavoured latte, often topped with whipped cream or chocolate shavings for extra decadence. Chocolate sauce is added to the bottom of the cup, then the espresso, and finally the milk, foam, and toppings. Absolutely a must-try beverage once you get comfortable making the basic cafe latte.
Now that you know the differences between all the basic espresso-based beverages, you can get to work learning to perfect your cafe latte skills.
Step 1: Pour the Espresso
The machine I’m using here is the Gense 5700 From Casabrews and I’ve found it to be super easy-to-use, but also powerful enough to make the whole process quick and enjoyable, even for someone with a lot of experience with a commercial espresso maker. Actually, I find this machine can make a latte just as quickly as any of the commercial machines I’ve used, which was really surprising. If you’re using a different machine, the steps to making a latte will be the same, you may just find that you need to get a bit more practice with what habits work best for your with your particular machine in terms of efficiency and cleaning.
Once your machine is turned on and pre-heated, dispense the proper amount of espresso for a single shot into your filter holder. My machine has a built-in grinder that you pour whole bean coffee beans into. I have it set to dispense the perfect amount for a single shot, based on the set-up instructions for my machine and my own experimentation to make sure the espresso shot is exactly to my taste. If you use pre-ground coffee in your espresso machine, make sure it’s finely and freshly ground for making espresso. You’ll need about 1.5 tbsp of ground coffee for a shot of espresso, but this amount can be changed slightly based on your own personal preferences.
Once the ground coffee is in the filter holder (you may have also heard this called a “portafilter”), you’ll want to spread it out evenly within the filter and then tamp it down firmly in the filter so that when the water flows through, it flows through evenly and slowly and extracts the espresso from the coffee grounds perfectly. The Casabrews machines all come with two little tools that work brilliantly for these two steps: One to evenly distribute the coffee, and then a tamper to use immediately after to tamp everything down in the filter for a perfectly brewed shot every time.
Attach the filter holder into its spot under the spray heads of your machine, place your cup under the pour spouts, and press the button for a single shot of espresso. If everything has gone perfectly, you’ll see your single shot of dark espresso pour out into your cup, and when the brewing process has finished, there should be a thin layer of lighter coloured “crema” on top of your espresso as well.
Step 2: Steam the Milk
This is where the magic happens, in my opinion. Pour your choice of milk, either dairy or non-dairy, into the steaming pitcher. You’ll need enough milk to fill the cup or mug you’re using about 2/3 full. The volume of the milk will increase as you steam it and create a bit of foam. As for which type of milk is best, that’s up to you to experiment and find which ones you like most! I like to try different non-dairy milks, and I find that any kind that you find in the refrigerator section of the store steams up so much more nicely than most of the shelf-stable varieties of milk for some reason, regardless of fat content or calorie density. I was amazed to find that a basic, unsweetened almond milk actually made a thicker, fluffier, more velvety foam than a shelf stable oat milk, even though the oat milk seems much creamier when it’s cold.
When steaming your milk, hold the pitcher in both hands so you can feel the temperature of milk as it rises. Turn on the steam wand and bring it right up to the surface of the milk to start to create foam. The goal is to make teeny tiny bubbles to get that sweet, dense, frothy micro-foam. You’ll know you’re doing it perfectly when you hear a high-pitched suction noise and see the volume of milk expanding without any big bubbles forming on top. When the milk has reached the desired temperature, usually just below boiling, turn off the steam wand and set your pitcher of milk aside. Don’t forget to wipe your steam wand with a damp cloth and purge it by turning the steam back on for a few seconds.
If you’re craving a flavoured specialty coffee for your caffeine fix, like a vanilla latte, add the syrup into the mug at this point along with the espresso, before finishing up with your latte.
Finishing Up Your Cafe Latte: Pour and Present
To finish your latte, simply pour the steamed milk into your cup over the espresso, filling the cup up with mostly milk, and topping with a bit of foamed milk. Technically, as we mentioned before, the “correct” ratio is 7/8 liquid to 1/8 foam, but you can definitely add a little extra foam on top if you have some leftover, and maybe even a sprinkle of nutmeg if you’re fancy.
And there you have a perfect, simple, delicious cafe latte at home! Once you try making your own lattes with a real espresso machine like this Casabrews Gense 5700, you’ll instantly recognize how much better they are than just adding milk to regular brewed coffee and hoping for the best. If you really want that authentic cafe experience at home, this is how to do it.
MORE IDEAS LIKE THIS
- Homemade Crock Pot Chocolate Sauce
- Plant-Based Homemade Caramel Sauce – Dying to make a caramel latte with this one day soon!
- Lavender Chocolate Chip Cookies
- Plant-Based Ginger Molasses Cookies
- The Creek Line House Food and Recipes Archives
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Courtenay Hartford is the author of creeklinehouse.com, a blog based on her adventures renovating a 120-year-old farmhouse in rural Ontario, Canada. On her blog, Courtenay shares interior design tips based on her own farmhouse and her work as founder and stylist of the interior photography firm Art & Spaces. She also writes about her farmhouse garden, plant-based recipes, family travel, and homekeeping best practices. Courtenay is the author of the book The Cleaning Ninja and has been featured in numerous magazines including Country Sampler Farmhouse Style, Better Homes and Gardens, Parents Magazine, Real Simple, and Our Homes.