The Café au Lait
In this article, we’ll walk you through a timeless classic in the coffee world, café au lait. Transport yourself to a Parisian cafe without ever leaving the house.
If you treat your morning coffee as nothing more than an essential caffeine boost, the caffe latte is exactly what you need to learn the beauty of great coffee. With the caffe latte, you get that much needed boost, but more importantly you get a delicious, creamy coffee drink that is one of the easiest espresso-based drinks to prepare.
The caffe latte’s roots are often disputed. However, coffee and milk have long been enjoyed together, since at least the 1600s in Europe. Whether you call it caffe latte, café au lait or café con leche, coffee with milk is one of the most popular – and delicious – flavor combinations around.
Various people and cafes across the world claim to have been the first to introduce the caffe latte to the modern world. The Caffe Mediterraneum in Berkeley, California is one of them. They say one of their early owners, Lino Meiorin, invented the drink in the 1950s.
Wherever it was invented, and no matter who came up with it, the caffe latte saw popularization in second wave coffee shops throughout the 1980s and 1990. It still proves to be popular today, and so it’s no wonder that you want to know how to make one at home!
There are a few ways to make coffee with milk and they don’t all yield a caffe latte. If we take the caffe latte in its most traditional, and therefore most Italian form, it’s very different to the latte you might order at your local café.
In Italy, a caffe latte is a breakfast drink, almost exclusively. The Italians use their favorite coffee maker, the moka pot, to create a strong coffee base. They then add this to a cup of heated milk, which usually isn’t foamed. They may or may not add some sugar to sweeten it up.
However, when you hear someone talking about a caffe latte, your mind might instantly jump to a large cup with foamed milk and some fancy latte art on the top. These are what you’ll tend to find in cafes outside of Italy, and they often use espresso for the coffee base, along with some foamed milk.
The size may vary, with 8 fluid ounces being a fairly standard size for a coffee shop caffe latte. One or two shots of espresso feature here, with some steamed milk to make up the rest of the volume. The drink is usually topped with around half an inch of foamed milk, and some nice latte art is usually added to make things look extra special.
In Italy, this kind of drink is usually called a latte macchiato, but in your local cafe it’s just known as a latte. Because there are a few different ways of interpreting what a caffe latte actually is, there are a few different ways to make it. Let’s start with a traditional, Italian caffe latte.
To make an Italian caffe latte you’ll need:
The moka pot is its own wonderful creation and could have an entire article devoted to it. But for the sake of this tutorial, we’ll assume you’ve used one before, and at least know the basics of making a nice coffee with a moka pot.
The moka pot can create some very strong and delicious coffee, but it does take some practice to get it right. Some people prefer to use very fine grinds with their moka pot, and others prefer a coarser grind. It’s therefore a matter of what you like, and you might have to do some experimenting.
In terms of dose, it’s usually best to fill your moka pot’s basket, and level it off. There’s no need to tamp it down as you might with an espresso basket.
The next step is to brew your coffee with your moka pot over the stove. You want to start with hot water. If you start with cold water, it can take so long to heat up that the coffee itself heats up, leading to some nasty extraction issues.
While your coffee is brewing, you want to jump to step 3. However, you will know your coffee is ready when bubbles start to pour out of the top of your moka pot. When this happens, take it off the stove and place a bowl of cold water or a damp towel around the base of the moka pot to stop the extraction.
You then want to heat your milk, and you can do this in whichever way you prefer. You might want to use a steam wand if you want a little foam, or you can even just heat it up in the microwave! Just make sure to do this gradually so it heats up evenly, and don’t heat it too much or too fast or it’ll burn.
Pour your coffee from your moka pot into your cup of hot milk and enjoy your traditional Italian caffe latte!
If you’re looking to create the latte that you might find at your local café, you’ll need to use an espresso machine. Everything you need to do this includes:
The first thing you want to consider when making an espresso-based latte is the espresso itself. Whether you go for a double or a single shot depends on how large you want to make your caffe latte. The coffee to milk ratio should be around 1:8. This means a double shot (2oz) pairs well with around 15-16oz of steamed milk.
However, you can choose to go for less milk if you want it a little stronger, or more milk if you prefer it weaker. The important part to get right with a latte is the foam. You want around half an inch of foam on the top, as if you get much more it becomes less like a latte and more like a cappuccino.
The steaming of the milk is often the hard part of the caffe latte, provided you can create a good espresso. But the key things to note are to keep the temperature of the milk below 150oF and to make sure to introduce some air into the milk before you get it going. This will help generate the nice foam you’re looking for on the top of the latte.
As with the moka pot method above, we won’t go into detail about the espresso making process here. Just note again that it’s up to you whether you use a single or a double shot, and you can prepare the espresso according to your own taste. Start brewing once you’ve started steaming your milk.
Before you start steaming, give your steam wand a quick purge. Then, place the wand under the surface of the milk and open the valve. This introduces some air into the milk, but after a few seconds lower the steam wand and to the side of your milk jug.
This will generate a bit of motion throughout the milk, and this helps to heat it up evenly. Stop before the jug gets too hot to touch, or around the 145oF mark if you’re using a thermometer.
Once you have your espresso ready, give your milk jug a tap on the counter to disperse any large bubbles. Then, starting from about an inch or two above your cup, pour your milk into your espresso.
Bring the jug closer to the top of your mug as you pour, while also steepening your pouring angle. Make sure to get a nice layer of foam on the top, and if you know what you’re doing feel free to apply a bit of latte art too!
You can now enjoy your espresso-based caffe latte at home! Make sure you log what you do in the Good Fika app so you can make it just as delicious next time!