Your Guide to Everything Espresso, Part 3

This is the final week of our espresso trilogy, and we're excited to present you with the milkiest of all the espresso drinks - the latte and the mocha.

Cafe latte

Like the cappuccino, a latte comprises espresso, steamed milk, and milk foam.  However, the latte has a higher milk-to-foam ratio, normally one-third espresso and two-thirds steamed milk, with a thin layer of microfoam on top.  This high milk content cuts the strength of the coffee, rendering the latte an approachable introduction to espresso beverages.  Lattes are also easily customizable.  Those in search of sweetness can easily add caramel-, vanilla-, or other-flavored syrups, and latte art has become a barista specialty.  A point of distinction from other espresso drinks is that the cafe latte is typically larger, about 8-12 ounces.

Interestingly enough, the latte originated in the United States.  Though its original name (“caffè e latte,” or “coffee and milk”)  is Italian, the drink was actually named by American writer William Dean Howells in 1867.  Lattes weren’t even listed on Italian and French cafe menus until about a century later.  

One variation on the standard latte is the Australian latte, or flat white, which emerged in the 1980sIn the flat white, the milk foam is reduced to the thinnest, or “flattest,” layer possible.  While lattes can be made with either one or two shots of espresso, traditionally flat whites are only made with a double. A flat white is also slightly smaller than your typical latte.  Some coffee connoisseurs distinguish between a latte and flat white using the 6-ounce mark - smaller, and it’s a flat white; larger, and it’s a latte.  Both of these characteristics lend the flat white a more concentrated flavor than the cafe latte.

Also similar to the cafe latte is the latte macchiato.  In this beverage, the espresso-to-milk ratio and preparation order of the cafe macchiato is reversed.  If you missed it, a “cafe” macchiato is coffee spotted with milk, so it makes sense that a “latte” macchiato is milk spotted with coffee.  It’s made by steaming milk until a thick layer of dry microfoam forms and then slowly pouring half an espresso shot on top.  Though the espresso settles between the foam and steamed milk based on densities, you still want to preserve the milk, espresso, and foam as separate layers.  This is so that the drinker can mix them (or not) as she chooses.  Though a latte macchiato is the same size as a latte, it’s normally served in a glass rather than a mug so you can see this separation of ingredients.  

Cafe mocha

The caffe mocha is based on warm milk and espresso like the cafe latte, but it adds either pieces of chocolate bar, cocoa powder, or chocolate syrup.  Also known as a mocha latte, a mocha can use either milk or dark chocolate, but not white - this would be a different drink called a white caffe mocha.  Mochas are often topped with cappuccino-like froth or whipped cream and dusted with cinnamon or cocoa powder.  

Why is it called a “mocha?”  The name comes from Mocha, Yemen, a major coffee trading port between the 15th and 18th centuries.  The arabica coffee sold there was called Mocha coffee, and it was often described as chocolatey.  For this reason, this chocolate espresso drink took on the same name as those coffee beans.  

The advantage to the cafe mocha is that its added cocoa enhances the coffee’s natural chocolatey notes.  In fact, some baristas only use Mocha coffee to make mochas, so as to ensure the greatest flavor complementation.

Missed our other posts on espresso?  Brush up on Americanos, macchiatos, cortados, cappuccinos, and more on Your Guide to Everything Espresso Parts 1 and 2.