Now that you have created the perfect home coffee bar it is a great time to review how to prepare those amazing barista worthy drinks!
The beginning of most coffee house drinks is a good espresso – but don’t worry, you don’t necessarily need a fancy and often confusing multi-levered gadget to prepare one. You can brew a great espresso at home using other proven methods.
First things first what exactly is an espresso?
Let’s review: to brew one shot of espresso, heated pressurized water is rapidly forced over firmly packed, finely ground coffee resulting in a small concentrated amount of brewed liquid with a strong, rich, and intense flavor. Brewed properly a lovely brown crema will form atop the shot caused by the combination of air bubbles reacting with the natural coffee oils. While any kind of coffee may be used to make an espresso, it is often a dark coffee blend. If you don’t have an espresso machine at home you can still brew a wonderful shot using other pressure based brew techniques. Click here for instructions using a Moka Pot or an Aeropress.
Another alternative is using your French press. When making espresso in your French press you should use a fine grind and approximately 2 tablespoons of coffee for every 1 cup of water. When you are ready to brew, heat the water to 195 Fahrenheit. Add a small amount of water atop your ground coffee in the press. Once the coffee blooms add in the rest of your water, stir, and continue your typical French press preparation.
Though never perfect, you can also mimic espresso using a drip machine by veering towards a strongly brewed cup – maximizing your coffee to water ratio, and using a more intense bean. For a true espresso flavor, we highly recommend using a Moka Pot, as it is an inexpensive and easy way to brew a great cup.
Steaming and frothing
The next foundational ingredient in most coffee house beverages is steamed and frothed milk. While the best way to achieve a velvety steamed milk with a fine microfoam is a steam wand, there are many alternatives for steaming and frothing your milk at home. Click here for tips and instructions. The most important thing to remember is that different methods result in varied foam and milk consistencies, some will work better for different types of drinks than others.
A hand frother is an excellent recommendation for a novice home brewer. These little devices are rather like mini French presses; you heat the milk and then depress the plunger to gain your desired level of foam and silky creamy milk. In my experience, you can vary the speed and amount of plunging to obtain different levels of foam and milk. Through trial and error, you can find the right levels of foam and silkiness for your drink of choice. Most importantly, you can control the temperature of the milk before you start the frothing process. Your milk should be heated to about 150 degrees Fahrenheit. If your milk is too cold it will be unstable and the froth will collapse. If overheated, it can sour the taste of your coffee, and become too watery.
Proportion, proportion, proportion!
Most of your favorite coffee house drinks can be made by combining milk and espresso in differing proportions. While additional ingredients may be added (such as syrups and spices), milk and espresso are the building blocks for most coffee house beverages. Below are some tips for creating some of our favorites!
Cappuccino: Traditionally served in a 6-ounce cup, the cappuccino is one of the most beloved of the coffee house drinks.
- Proportion: 1/3 espresso, 1/3 milk, 1/3 foam.
- Method: Pour your espresso into the cup and then top it with your milk and foam. Pour the milk slowly, holding back the foam with a spoon, and then add the foam in at the end. Depending on your preference you can adjust the milk to foam ratio from “bone dry” – all foam, to “wet” – more milk than foam.
- Pro tip: You can prepare a larger size beverage, but try and keep the proportions the same. Some people prefer less espresso. High quality micro foam is a true distinction of a good cappuccino. The foam is airy and light as compared to a latte. You may need to experiment with the method, temperature, and type of milk used to get the foam to the desired consistency.
- Variations: Cinnamon, sugar, and shaved chocolate are often used to top cappuccinos.
Macchiato: Traditionally a Macchiato is made with 2 ounces of espresso and a very small amount of milk.
- Proportions: 2 to 1 espresso to milk.
- Method: Macchiato roughly translates to stained, and that is how you prepare it. Pour the espresso into your cup and then dot it (or stain it) with your frothed milk.
- Pro Tips: You will need to steam more milk than you will use, as steaming such a small amount is nearly impossible. If you have difficulty pouring a tiny amount of milk onto the espresso, use a tablespoon and scoop it on.
- Variations: A flavored macchiato, such as caramel is usually prepared by reversing the proportion and spotting the flavored milk with the espresso. Pour flavored syrup into your mug, top it with frothed milk, spot that mixture with espresso, and drizzle caramel sauce on the top. Interestingly enough, vanilla syrup is often used in a caramel macchiato, with the only actual caramel being dripped on top.
Flat White: An Australian coffee house favorite, flat refers to the flattened foam on top, and white refers to the mixture of coffee and milk.
- Proportion: 2 to 1 espresso to milk.
- Method: Pour velvety microfoam over espresso. The amount of microfoam is less than in a latte, resulting in a circle of crema from the espresso coming through the milk.
- Pro Tip: The milk in a flat white should be velvety smooth, after frothing tap the container gently to try and remove any larger air bubbles. There is a minimum amount of froth. The temperature and technique are important factors for achieving the perfect milk texture in a flat white.
Latte: A typical latte is 10-12 ounces, but the great thing about making it at home is that you can control the size.
- Proportion: 1/3 espresso to 2/3 steamed milk.
- Method: The espresso is poured into the cup, and then steamed milk is added and topped off with a thin layer of microfoam.
- Pro tip: The steamed milk will have a creamy almost melted ice cream-like quality when done.
Café Au Lait: If you prefer a less intense coffee flavor than espresso, try a Café Au Lait. This French cousin of the latte is prepared with steamed milk, and coffee rather than espresso.
- Proportion: 1/2 coffee to 1/2 milk (although you can adjust the proportions to your liking).
- Method: Typically drip brewed coffee is used, but you can use your favorite brewing method.
- Pro Tip: Adjust the proportion of milk and coffee to your personal taste. It is also recommended to use a lower acid coffee, which holds up well to the large amount of milk in this drink.
For even more instructions please check out our quick guide to espresso drinks.
The great thing about having an at home coffee bar is that you can customize your drinks to your liking:
Want a flavored latte? Add some syrup! Keep a stock of vanilla, hazelnut, chocolate, almond, or any of a myriad of flavors at the ready!
Add spices: cinnamon, cardamom, and cocoa, even turmeric to name a few.
Want a larger cup? Adjust the proportions accordingly.
Latte art: you do not need to be a master barista to make your own! There are a number of pre-made stencils you can buy or even use your own creations!