A latte (also referred to as a café latte, and sometimes erroneously spelled “latté”) is a type of coffee drink made with hot milk.

Italian origin

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.


Current use

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.


Serving styles


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