Caffè latte is a coffee-based drink made primarily from espresso and steamed milk. It consists of one-third espresso, two-thirds heated milk and about 1cm of foam. Depending on the skill of the barista, the foam can be poured in such a way to create a picture. Common pictures that appear in lattes are love hearts and ferns. Latte art is an interesting topic in itself.
Traditionally the cafe latte is a ratio of two parts coffee and one part steamed milk (also called a Café Au Lait).
In Italy, latte means milk. What in English-speaking countries is now called a latte is shorthand for "caffelatte" or "caffellatte" ("caffè e latte"). The Italian form means "coffee and milk", similar to the French café au lait, the Spanish café con leche and the Portuguese café com leite. Other drinks commonly found in shops serving caffè lattes are cappuccinos and espressos.
Ordering a "latte" in Italy will get the customer a glass of hot or cold milk.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary the term caffè latte was first used in English in 1847 (as caffè latto), and in 1867 as caffè latte by William Dean Howells in his essay "Italian Journeys". However, in Kenneth Davids' Coffee: A Guide to Buying, Brewing and Enjoying it is said that "At least until recently, ordering a 'latte' in Italy got you a puzzled look and a hot glass of milk. The American-style caffè latte did not exist in Italian caffès, except perhaps in a few places dominated by American tourists... Obviously breakfast drinks of this kind have existed in Europe for generations, but the caffè version of this drink is an American invention..
Outside Italy, a caffè latte is typically prepared in a 240 mL (8oz) glass or cup with one standard shot of espresso (either single, 30 mL, or double, 60 mL) and filled with steamed milk, with a layer of foamed milk approximately 12 mm (½ inch) thick on the top. A caffè latte may also be served consisting of strong or bold coffee (sometimes espresso) mixed with scalded milk in approximately a 1:1 ratio. The drink is similar to a cappuccino, the difference being that a cappuccino consists of espresso and steamed milk with a 2 cm (¾ inch) layer of thick milk foam. An Australian/New Zealand variant similar to the latte is the flat white, which is served in a smaller ceramic cup with the creamy steamed milk poured over a single-shot of espresso, holding back the lighter froth at the top.
- 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; in Europe, particularly Scandinavia, this is referred to as a cafe au lait.
- Increasingly common in Western and European, latte art has led to the stylization of coffee making, and the creation of what is now a popular art form. Created by pouring steaming, and mostly frothed, milk into the coffee, that liquid is introduced into the beverage in such a way, patterns are distinguishable on the top of coffee. Popular patterns can include hearts, flowers, trees and other forms of simplistic representations of images and objects.
- The relatively high prices demanded by some establishments have led to the creation of ghetto latte or bootleg lattes, whereby customers mix their own latte by ordering a lower-priced cup of espresso and then mixing it with milk and other condiments offered for free at the condiments bar.
- 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, and Royal milk tea.
- Other flavorings 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.
- Major coffee shops have now made it possible to order lattes made with milk substitutes—mainly soy milk—as opposed to milk. This has opened doors for those who have dietary restrictions.
See Latte Art.