In the SCA research of 2017-2018, a latte was named the most favorite coffee drink in the U.S., with almost 70 million orders during that time frame. But what’s in a latte that makes it to be the most favorite American drink? What is the difference between latte and coffee? The answer is — milk.
Latte consists of two ingredients — coffee (more precisely, espresso made in a coffee machine) and steamed milk. Alternatively, it may be topped with a layer of milk foam. In Italy, where the drink “latte”, or to be more precise, “caffé e latte” originated from, this word means regular milk and is a component of the names for all milk drinks. Be sure not to forget to mention the word “caffé” in Italy while ordering. Otherwise, you will get a glass of milk.
The first time when caffé e latte appeared in a book was in the 1860s when W. D. Howells, an American novelist, mentioned it in his essay while traveling in Italy. Mixing coffee with milk was common for Europeans since the 17th century (though we do not know for sure when Europeans started to add milk to their drinks). Similar names can be found in other European languages, where they all mean the same.
Modern latte is associated with an espresso machine, rather than brewed coffee. This is where the difference between café au lait and latte may be seen. But before jumping right in, let’s find out what’s a latte first.
Though the name and origin of this drink belong to Italy, some consider modern latte an American invention. The drink became popular in Seattle in the 1980s and was widespread across the country by the 1990s.
The traditional latte ratio is 6 to 8 ounces of milk to one ounce of espresso (referred to as a shot), topped with little foam. Usually, this drink is served in a tall 8-ounce cup. As the U.S. tends to serve larger portions, it became common to add two ounces of espresso (so-called double shot) to fit a minimum 12-ounce cup.
Unlike other coffee drinks with milk, a modern latte is a standardized drink made in an espresso machine. Hot steamed milk is usually poured in a cup following a shot of espresso, while other coffee drinks with milk, such as French café au lait do not require a strict order of adding ingredients. They also use brewed coffee (typically filtered, rarely made in a French press) instead of espresso. In latte, milk is steamed and not necessarily hot. In café au lait, it is the opposite. Milk is heated almost to 100°C and then added to a cup of coffee. Additionally, café au lait proportions of ingredients differ from those of latte though they are not that strict. Usually, the proportion is 1:1 while in latte proportions are 1:6-8 coffee to milk.
To make café au lait vs latte case clear, the former café au lait is what anyone can make at home by adding little hot milk to their morning coffee.The latter Latte is a standardized drink where ingredients order and amount do matter.
What Is In a Latte
Coffee and milk are basically what make latte a latte, but they are not the only ingredients the drink may contain. Over the years, it has seen many changes following coffee trends, starting from various extras, such as flavorings, sweeteners, and syrups, to non-dairy alternatives and even substitution of the coffee with matcha or chicory. Modern latte may be served iced when a drink is poured over ice. Sometimes ice is crushed for a smoother texture and more even consistency of the final drink.
Among new coffee trends in the U.S., cold brewing is probably the most widespread. In 2018, orders of cold brew coffee were 42% higher than those of iced coffee. Latte fell under the trend too. In a cold brew version of the drink, coffee is produced by a special technology, when beans of coffee are firstly ground and then soaked in lukewarm water for more than 12 hours.
A traditional latte has a creamy, little sweet taste due to the steamed milk it contains. A thin layer of foam for presentation adds some extra flavor to the drink. The foam is typically thin, but it is not a strict rule. In many places where latte is served, the foam would be arranged in various shapes of flowers, hearts, birds, or even portraits. Coffee taste is subtle, with the bitterness being balanced by the sweetness of the milk, which may mislead about the caffeine amount in the drink.
Does latte have caffeine? Well, yes, and much.
Espresso has more caffeine than brewed coffee (over 60 mg per ounce), but it is usually served in smaller portions. One espresso shot that is present in most of the traditional coffee drinks is only one ounce. However, bigger serving sizes, double espresso shots, and soft taste encouraging people to drink more make the drink a leader when it comes to the caffeine amount.
Latte Vs Macchiato
Sometimes, the word “latte” may appear in the names of drinks that are not exactly what we call a latte. One of those drinks is a latte macchiato, which originated from a caffé macchiato. With the little knowledge of Italian and history, the difference between latte and macchiato becomes obvious. In Italy, the word “macchiato” is used to say “marked”. Originally, the name was used to distinguish an espresso (caffé) from espresso with foamed milk (caffé macchiato). The caffé macchiato ratio of espresso to milk is the highest among coffee drinks with milk.
On the contrary, in latte macchiato, the milk is “stained” with a small volume of coffee. Unlike a traditional latte, a macchiato is more about the milk than coffee. Usually, a shot of espresso (often half a shot or less) is added to milk, which often features more foam. The order of adding ingredients makes the final drink layered, and not mixed like other coffee drinks with milk.
No doubts that latte is a coffee drink number one for many people across the world. The smooth creamy taste and sweetness of the milk are what most of us like in it. But there is one more reason for its popularity. Latte is a blank canvas that anyone can adapt to his preferences. It appears in hundreds of tastes depending on the flavors, sweeteners, and other extras a person chooses. Latte is among the most customizable coffee drinks in the world, and who knows, maybe it is our wish for self-expression that makes latte so yummy?