We love our iced coffee in the summer, but fall and winter belong to the latte. We love to sit inside on a chilly day with a hot, frothy latte or cappuccino. But a latte shouldn't just be a coffee shop treat. Even without an espresso machine, a milk frother, or other toys of the trade, you can make a pretty decent latte at home — and yes, it will have a beautiful cap of foam.
Here's how we do it when we want a latte at home, to sip in the morning, or with a visiting friend.
What's the Difference Between a Latte & a Cappuccino?
But first, let's talk terms.
- A latte is a coffee drink that is normally made with espresso, steamed milk, and milk foam.
- A cappuccino is very similar, but it has a greater percentage of foamed milk to steamed milk.
- A macchiato has no steamed milk added to the espresso, but a little cap of milk foam.
- Cafe au lait has only warm steamed milk added to coffee (sometimes espresso) and no foam.
All of these coffee shop drinks are actually on a continuum. A very "wet" cappuccino with a lot of steamed milk is sliding into latte territory, and what one coffee bar calls a cappuccino might actually be a macchiato elsewhere.
The point is, the ratio of espresso, warm milk, and milk foam can all be adjusted to your precise liking when you make a drink at home, and you can call it whatever you like in the privacy of your own kitchen.
Learn this classic Italian espresso from Vincenzo Amato. Watch the video —->
What About the Espresso?
The thing common to all the drinks above is espresso, which is coffee brewed under steam pressure that forces the water through coffee grounds. It's intense, oily, and rich, and these qualities balance out the quantity of milk used in these drinks. Adding steamed milk to weaker American-style coffee doesn't quite give you the real flavor and experience of a latte or cappuccino.
Of course, if you have an espresso setup at home, great! And if you have a one-touch espresso machine, like a Nespresso, you can use that to create drinks like this too. But personally, I use extra-strong coffee from an Aeropress, which for me presents a good balance between cost and quality. It makes coffee strong enough to almost (not quite!) be called espresso, but it doesn't cost very much or require technical skill to use.
You can see more about the Aeropress here:
If you don't have an espresso maker, Nespresso, or Aeropress, then try this with strongly brewed coffee.
What About the Milk Foam?
It's true — you don't need a fancy foamer to make frothy milk at home! It's actually really easy to make it in the microwave. All you do is shake nonfat or 2% milk in a jam jar until it's foamy, take off the lid, and microwave it for a few seconds. You get spoonfuls of foam, plus warm milk to pour in your latte.
We explain how to do this below. You can also see it step-by-step here:
Make your espresso or strongly brewed coffee: As mentioned in the notes above, any strongly brewed espresso from a home espresso maker or a capsule machine like a Nespresso will do.
How To Make a Latte Without an Espresso Machine
Makes 1 drink
What You Need
Espresso or strongly brewed coffee from an Aeropress
2% or nonfat milk
Cocoa powder, to garnish
Wide, shallow coffee cup
Jar with lid
- Make your espresso or strongly brewed coffee: As mentioned in the notes above, any strongly brewed espresso from a home espresso maker or a capsule machine like a Nespresso will do. Or use strongly brewed coffee from an Aeropress, not diluted with any water. I usually start with about 1/3 cup espresso, but this is up to you.
- Froth the milk: Pour milk into the jar. Fill no more than halfway. Screw the lid on tightly, and shake the jar as hard as you can until the milk is frothy and has roughly doubled in volume, 30 to 60 seconds.
- Microwave the milk: Take the lid off the jar and microwave uncovered for 30 seconds. The foam will rise to the top of the milk and the heat from the microwave will help stabilize it.
- Pour warm milk into the espresso: Pour the espresso or coffee into a wide, shallow coffee cup. Use a large spoon to hold back the milk foam, and pour as much warm milk as you would like into the espresso.
- Add foam: Spoon as much milk foam as you would like onto your latte (or perhaps it's a cappuccino at this point!). Garnish, if desired, with a sprinkle of cocoa powder or nutmeg on top of the foam. Sip immediately!
- Flavoring the latte: If you want a sweetened or flavored latte, stir in some syrup with the warm milk, before adding the foam.
- Flavoring ideas: You can add a teaspoon of vanilla or almond extract, or a sweetened flavored syrup such as this one: Homemade Caramel Syrup for Your Coffee. Maple syrup is also delicious.
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(Image credits: Leela Cyd; Faith Durand)