A latte (also referred to as a café latte, and sometimes erroneously spelled “latté”)
is a type of coffee drink made with hot milk.
In Italian, latte is simply the word for milk. What in English-speaking countries
is now called a latte is a short form or shorthand, abbreviated from the longer name
"caffelatte" or "caffellatte" ("caffè e latte"), as the beverage is still known in
Italian. The long Italian form literally means "coffee and milk", similar to the
French cafe au lait and the Spanish cafe con leche. Caffelatte is today part of the
defined international coffee menu, which also includes cappuccino and espresso.
The Italian origin is still the inspiration, but international methods of serving
may differ greatly from the original (for example, by the darkness of the roast,
the use of espresso, and the foaming of milk). In Europe, it is also common to use
the French term café au lait, although in the United States this is defined as regular
coffee with warm milk, often served in a bowl. As recently as 1980, if one ordered
a "latte" in an Italian coffeehouse in North America, one would expect to get a glass
of milk — and if one ordered a "caffelatte," one would get a beverage very similar
to what is called a "latte" by today's standards.
Steamed milk, one of the primary ingredients of a latte.
In Italy, caffe latte is almost always prepared at home, for breakfast only. The
coffee is brewed with a stovetop Moka and poured into a cup containing heated milk.
(The Moka does not produce true espresso, but rather a double-strength coffee. Also,
unlike the international latte drink the milk in the Italian original is not foamed.)
Outside Italy, a latte is typically prepared with approximately one third espresso
and two-thirds steamed milk, with a layer of foamed milk approximately 5 mm (¼ inch)
thick on the top. The drink is similar to a cappuccino; the difference being that
a cappuccino has half the amount of milk. In a latte, a spoon is used to separate
the layers of foam and steamed milk, while the milk in a cappuccino is spooned onto
the espresso (lattes also typically have a far lower amount of foam). A variant on
the latte is the flat white, which is a serving fill of about one-third espresso,
with steamed milk then added, while holding no froth at the top.
The evolution of this term (and this particular form of the beverage) is relatively
recent in the US (but considerably older in Europe) and probably dates from the
spread of the 1980's Seattle coffee trend to the rest of the United States (and beyond)
via the growth of Seattle-based Starbucks. Some baristas create latte art designs
in frothed milk atop a latte.
In some establishments, lattes are served in a glass on a saucer with a napkin which
can be used to hold the (sometimes hot) glass.
A latte is sometimes served in a bowl.
The complicated pricing schemes offered by some establishments have led to the practice
of ghetto latte (sometimes called bootleg latte), whereby some customers use the
free milk and other condiments to convert a cheaper latte to a more expensive one.
In Asia and North America, lattes have been combined with Asian teas. Coffee and
tea shops now offer hot or iced latte versions of chai, matcha (Japanese powdered
green tea), and Royal milk tea.
Other flavourings can be added to the latte to suit the taste of the drinker. Vanilla,
chocolate, and caramel are all popular variants.
In South Africa a red latte is made with rooibos tea.