What makes a Latte great?

By Brandon Dent | @brandonxdent

The Latte is quite possibly one of America’s favorite morning pick me up, afternoon snack, or post dinner dessert. This milky, espresso filled, sometimes sweet drink can be found in all different shapes and sizes with any flavor you can imagine. So what actually IS a latte? What makes them so good?

So a latte is simply espresso and steamed milk and the optional flavor additive such as vanilla or caramel etc. To makes these two or three ingredients all come together and make a delicious latte, though, is much more complex than just pouring it into a cup. If you've been to a cafe odds are you've noticed a giant shiny piece of equipment on the counter making crazy hissing and bubbling noises. This is the baristas number one tool: the espresso machine! To make a great latte you have to know how to operate one of these things first.

Without going into too much detail, this is how to operate an espresso machine. You have to fresh grind coffee beans into a very fine powder, pack it tight, and put it in the machine. It takes roughly 30 seconds to "pull a shot" of espresso which is traditionally one ounce. While your shots are pulling, you can steam your milk. This is done with an accessory called a steam wand, which simply pushes out steam into your pitcher of milk. If done correctly you end up with milk around 130-150 degrees with a nice layer fluffy smooth of micro foam. Now, how to get all the ingredients into your cup.

Ideally you would put the flavor in the bottom of a cup, and pour the espresso over the flavoring and mix them together. Then the fun part: pouring the milk. With the micro foam on top it's gonna be different than pouring regular hot milk. The first half of the pour is all liquid milk but the second half is when you start getting micro foam. This is what creates the white contrast on top of your latte. If done correctly you'll have the perfect amount of flavor, espresso, milk, and a nice layer of micro foam on top.

There are lots of very fine print details on how to make a tasty latte but the base line is good coffee, good milk, and a good barista. Red Owl baristas are taught how to make your latte correctly, but also with care! So go to your favorite cafe and explore the menu, ask your barista questions, and figure out what your favorite latte is.