- Add the espresso into a 12-ounce mug. Set aside.
- Pour the milk into a frothing pitcher large enough to hold at least 12 ounces. Angle the pitcher slightly (this will make it easy to keep an eye on the milk) and submerge the steam wand diagonally toward the lower right or left quadrant and turn it on. The tip of the wand should be just below the surface of the milk and should be anchored against the spout of the pitcher to preserve that diagonal angle. Don’t be startled by the loud noise as the steam pushes through the wand (it will sound like paper tearing). It’s normal! For most home espresso machines, let the steam heat the milk for about 10 seconds, then plunge the tip of the wand slightly deeper for about 15 seconds. The milk will start moving in a circular motion. If the tip of the wand is too shallow, it’ll create too many bubbles making the milk overflow. It should look creamy and silky, without too much foam on top. The bubbles should be tiny and uniform.
- Stop the frother when the milk reaches 130ºF to 150ºF (you should be able to comfortably hold the side of the hot pitcher for about three seconds).
- Gently tap the pitcher on the counter and swirl it around to pop any large bubbles and even out the texture of the milk.
- Gently pour the frothed milk over the espresso in a slow narrow stream. For a 12-ounce latte, the foam is generally about the thickness of a finger after settling down.
In addition to our first-hand experience making many lattes in the Kitchen Appliances Lab, we consulted with Kaleena Teoh, cofounder and director of education at Coffee Project New York, to find out how to bring the two key components of a latte — espresso and milk — together. The recipe above shares her tips on how to properly use a steaming wand to froth milk.
How do you make a latte at home?
“According to the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA), the suggested espresso to milk to foam ratio is 1:4:1,” says Teoh. The result is a delicious creamy beverage with subtle coffee flavors. While lattes are usually served hot, you could also make an iced latte by pouring milk and espresso over ice — no need to froth the milk (though you can if you prefer to). To make a latte, grind your favorite coffee beans on the fine setting — or use your favorite espresso-ground coffee — and pick any type of milk you prefer for frothing. Our experts like whole milk if you drink dairy and oat milk if you prefer an alternative.
What is the difference between a latte and a cappuccino?
A latte and a cappuccino are made with the same ingredients. The difference is in the ratio and texture of the milk. “Usually a cappuccino will have more foam and less liquid milk,” says Teoh. “The SCA suggests a 1:3:2 ratio for espresso to milk to foam. It will taste stronger and foamier compared to lattes.”
What are the ingredients in a latte?
Espresso is concentrated coffee made by forcing hot water through finely-ground coffee under high pressure. It’s the perfect base for specialty coffee drinks like lattes, cappuccinos, macchiatos, and more thanks to its strong, deep taste. If you have an espresso machine at home the process is easy: Brew one or two shots of espresso using your favorite coffee.
You can also make a latte without a machine: Although technically not an espresso, you can get bold espresso-style coffee using other brewing methods as well, such as a single-serve coffee maker like a Keurig or Aeropress, a stovetop coffee maker, a French press or even instant espresso powder or instant coffee.
Then add frothed milk, which is what makes a latte truly special. Foam is created when steam is forced into the milk through a steam wand creating a vortex; the circular motion is important because it incorporates air and emulsifies the fat in the milk, creating a creamy texture. “When you are done frothing your dairy or non-dairy milk, you will see that the texture resembles wet paint,” says Teoh. “You should not be able to see where the foam or liquid starts. It should be fully integrated. Well-frothed milk with beautifully integrated microfoam gives a velvety and smooth texture when drinking a latte.”
Teoh also confirms what some drinkers may experience as they sip a good latte: Well-frothed milk can improve the taste as well. “It will taste sweet if the temperature of the milk is controlled to be around 130˚F to 150˚F,” she shares.
What are the tools for frothing milk?
- Steam wands are attached to latte and espresso machines, making them the most expensive option. They are commonly used in coffee shops because they make the best microfoam. It is the most manual and difficult to learn, but once you master it, you can easily customize your frothed milk for different types of specialty coffees. Lattes require frothed milk with tiny bubbles and not too much foam. You want more foam for cappuccinos.
- Automatic frothers are the easiest to use; they’re also cheaper and smaller than a latte or espresso machine with a built-in steam wand. Add milk to a stand-alone frother, which has a small coiled whisk inside and creates hot or cold frothed milk with the push of a button. We love the Nespresso Aeroccino 3.
- Frothing wands are compact and inexpensive battery-operated whisks that can froth milk without using any steam (the milk won’t get hot). The resulting frothed milk will be light and foamy with large bubbles, perfect for cappuccinos. It’s difficult to get microfoam with a frothing wand.