January 08, 2019 3 min read
The perfect latte is delicious; both rich and delicate. There’s a reason it’s one of the most popular caffeinated drinks in the world! Here’s a look at its history, how it is defined, and how it’s made.
You might think that lattes were created by and for Italians, but that’s only half-true. They were in fact created in Italy, but they were meant for American tourists, who found espresso to be too intense. The full name, caffè latte, is attributed to essayist William Dean Howell, who authored Italian Journeys in 1867.
The drink has different names in other countries: in France, it’s called a café au lait, and in Latin America, it’s a café con leche. It’s also made slightly differently around the world, but the base is the same.
The emergence of the latte also gave rise to latte art, which is the art of using foamed milk to create designs in the coffee’s crema. Depending on who you ask, latte art first began in either Italy or the United States. What we do know, though, is that the art form’s incredible popularity can be accredited to David Schomer, owner of Schomer’s Espresso Vivace in Seattle. He’s responsible for the creation of the rosetta, one of the most popular designs. Of course, latte art has advanced quite a bit from there; you can now find championships around the world, and people are always finding ways to take their tools and techniques to the next level.
Lattes are made of a double shot of espresso paired with milk microfoam. They have a rich, creamy, even texture. The ratio of milk to coffee can vary quite a bit from café to café, so it’s best to ask your barista how they make lattes to make sure you’re getting what you want.
Generally, a small latte (around 8 oz.) will have a single shot of espresso with around 6 to 7 ounces of milk, while a medium or large latte (around 12 oz.) will have a double shot of espresso with 9 to 10 ounces of milk. That said, some places, both here and abroad, will only serve one size of latte.
Despite the differences, the key to a good latte is always the microfoam. It takes time and practice to master, and unfortunately, if it’s not done well it will completely ruin the drink. The microfoam needs to be liquid (but not as liquid as milk), rich (but without bubbles), consistent, shiny, and slightly sweet.
Want to improve your home barista technique? Check out our latest book, the Guide to Latte Art. It talks about the different grinds and roasts, as well as advice on the best equipment. And of course, we share our instructions and technical tips for creating nine latte art designs right at home!
We also have a French-language Guide to Latte Art playlist on YouTube that shows you how to create popular latte art designs.
There are latte art competitions around the world, including right here in Quebec! For instance, we’re home to the Feminista Barista Jam and the Natrel Latte Art Challenge.
Click here to learn more about all the different types of coffee.
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