Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Make Latte!

How to make a Caffe Latte

Here is a guide to making a caffe latte with a Via Venezia espresso machine.

First, a little personal history of me and the beloved latte. I was nineteen years old and had just taken a job at our local pizza place/sandwich shop. The fare there was far from gourmet. Pizzas, calzones, steak subs, you know the kind of place. There were two things at that restaurant that would change my life forever: my future wife and an espresso machine.

The guy who owned the place was a full blooded Italian named Roberto. I worked the opening shift, and about twice a week he would have all his Italian friends over and they would sit in a corner, speaking to each other in Italian and drinking LOTS of espresso drinks. My wife and I always referred to these get-togethers as the "mob meetings". Because of these meetings I learned quickly how to make espresso drinks, and make them well.

Via VeneziaThere are three important things needed to make a good caffe latte. They are water, coffee, and the espresso machine. My wife and I have owned a few espresso machines over the years. The worst was a little $25 job from Wal-Mart. It was basically an electric thermos with a steam nozzle. It didn't even hold enough water to make two whole lattes. Having worked with a commercial machine, I knew this wasn't cutting it, and soon we got a "real" espresso machine, a Delonghi. That machine served us well for many years, but eventually died. portafilterThat lead us to our current machine, the Via Venezia. It has a large water reservoir, and a portafilter that forces all the coffee through the basket, then through a single hole before being split into two spouts. This feature ensures that both shot glasses fill evenly, a problem I encountered frequently with the Delonghi.

All right - We are ready to make latte!

Step one: Grind the coffee

how to make a latte image1A true Coffee Snob will have their own burr grinder. They are slightly on the expensive side, but are very worth it, as a blade grinder will not grind your beans finely enough to make espresso. Espresso's bold flavor entirely depends on as much water brewing through as much surface area of the coffee grounds as it can. I set my burr grinder to a setting of "1". "1" what I don't know, but it is the finest setting. If you have a cheaper espresso machine then change your setting to "2" or "3", as your machine will probably not have enough pressure to brew through a well packed basket of coffee. This will result in a loss of precious "crema" or the foamy tan head that forms on a well brewed espresso.

Step two: Pack the basket

portafilter basket imageThe size of the portafilter basket varies from machine to machine. I recommend getting a coffee measure. According to the official rules of coffee making, one coffee measure makes one ounce of espresso. I have made lattes for years and have found that there isn't much of a discernible difference when I use one heaping measure to make two two-ounce shots of espresso, and mine usually taste a tad stronger than what I pick up at Starbuck's. how to make a latte image2Some machines come with a built in tamper, but if yours doesn't just use the back of the coffee measure to tamp down the coffee so it is packed firmly in the portafilter. Run your finger around the lip of the portafilter to remove renegade coffee grounds as they will severely shorten the life of your gasket is left alone.

Step three: Hook it up and push the button

Insert the portafilter basket into the handle and attach that to the machine by setting the handle about 45° left of center and twisting to the right until you have a good seal. Your machine will tell you when the water is hot enough. Set a couple of shot glasses under the portafilter and push the button and watch as the beautiful brown nectar fills the glasses and forms the rich crema head. Use two shots for a coffe cup sized latte, but if you want something the size of a venti it will take three shots.

Step four: Steam the milk

how to make a latte image3There has been much discussion as to the best state of the milk for steaming. Should it be cold, or should you let it sit out a little while? Should it be whole, skim, or 2%? My experience told me that it doesn't matter if you have a decent machine. If I'm going for cappuccinos, my Via Venezia makes great foam with any milk. When the steam ready indicator comes on, insert the steam wand into the milk and turn on the steam. For a latte, keep the wand fully submerged. For a cappuccino, which needs a thick head of foam, let the milk warm up a bit and lower the milk pitcher until the tip of the wand is just under the milk. This will allow air to be drawn in and will create the foam. Heat the milk to about 180°. I use a metal milk pitcher and heat the milk until the pitcher has just gotten too hot to touch.

Step five: Add the flavors and the milk

I am a coffee purist for the most part. I do enjoy the occasional mocha or vanilla latte. Before you add your milk, add any kind of flavored syrup and any sugar you may want. Do this before you add the milk because it is much easier to stir when the cup is only partially full. Pour in the milk. Hold the foam back with a spoon. If you are making a cappuccino, spoon the foam on top and add cinnamon.

How to make a latte image4

Step six: Kick back and enjoy your wonderful beverage!