As much as you’d like to order a takeout latte every day, that doesn’t always jibe with that whole maintaining-a-budget thing (ugh). But when you try to make it at home, it always tastes…lackluster. We’ve been struggling with that same problem. That’s why we reached out to expert barista and director of education Allie Dancy of Devoción to find out what we’re doing wrong—and how to step up our game. Read on for her advice, and for a guide on where to buy the beans from our favorite coffee shops in NYC.
An NYC Barista Reveals How to Make a Latte That Rivals Your Fave Coffee Shop
First, it’s helpful to have a breakdown of what, exactly, a latte is. Sure, you know there’s espresso and milk in it, but what separates it from a cappuccino is that lattes tend to have the highest milk-to-espresso ratio. A cup size is between 8 and 12 ounces, which would give you a serving similar to one at a specialty cafe.
For espresso-based drinks like lattes, finely grind your coffee. Espresso grinds are usually close to the finest settings on the grinder, a notch or two from where the grinder is at its finest setting. There are a few ways to go about making the coffee or espresso for your latte, based on what type of coffeemaker you own.
- Fill the bottom decanter of the Moka Pot with water and boil.
- Using a scale, weigh 20 grams of coffee and insert into the top of the vessel and return the coffee to medium-high heat.
- Wait until the water percolates to the top of the vessel and turn off the heat when it starts hissing.
- Carefully use oven mitts when unscrewing the top vessel. Pour espresso into a mug.
- Using a scale, weigh 20 grams of ground coffee.
- Tamp the coffee so the grounds are secured in the portafilter.
- Brew using a manual button and start your timer. Stop the brew when the espresso begins to turn blonde. This should happen between 24-28 seconds.
- If it happens too quickly, adjust the grinds to a finer setting (if using pre-ground coffee, add a 0.5 gram more to slow down flow).
- If it happens too slowly, adjust the grinds to a coarser setting (if using pre-ground coffee, take off a .5 gram more to speed up flow).
- The final result should be an espresso that weighs between 28-32 grams.
French Press Brewing:
Don’t have a Moka Pot or espresso machine? While a French press won’t produce a condensed enough base for lattes because there is no pressure or percolation to create crema (the reddish froth that sits on top of espresso, which indicates a well-pulled shot), you can still give it a go, says Dancy:
- Brew 30 grams of coarsely ground coffee (cold brew setting is perfect) to 330 grams of water in the French press.
- Steep for 4 minutes then strain completely.
An Aeropress, Nespresso or Keurig are other alternate options for making espresso, says Dancy. Just make sure the coffee you are using pairs well with milk, and follow the manual’s instructions.
How To Make That Froth:
To get that thick, cloudlike café-quality froth, use milk that is higher in fat content. Organic milks, whole milk, soy milk, oat milks have enough fat and sugars to froth nicely. Milks that are higher in water content (coconut, almond, fat-free dairy) are harder to froth and burn quicker.
- If you have a steam wand, be sure to keep the tip of the steam wand right below the surface of the milk to froth then lower the steam wand into the center of the milk pitcher to mix and heat the milk properly.
- If you don't have a fancy machine, heat up the milk on the stove top (about 6-8 ounces should be fine) until it reaches 145-155 degrees F. Pour the heated milk into a French press and plunge up and down till froth is created. Give it a good stir, then pour.
- Get more mileage out of your cocktail shaker: Heat milk on the stove until just before boiling. Using oven mitts, pour milk into a cocktail shaker. Shake vigorously until you have a foam. (Be extra careful here, so the milk doesn’t spill out and potentially burn you!)
Give the milk a good, final stir and pour immediately into your cup so that the froth doesn't separate.
Now that you know how to make the perfect latte, all you need are some high-quality beans. Here are our favorite places to buy them.