How to make at-home Lattes, Macchiatos & Other Espresso Drinks

I am a coffee fiend. Last fall semester I had about $400 “dining dollars” to use at school. I discovered a coffee shop that took dining dollars and… let’s just say I was drowning in espresso and used up the entire amount before the end of the semester. Lattes are an expensive addiction. However, for Christmas I was gifted an espresso machine, something I thought I wouldn’t be able to afford for a very long time. But my mother, being the amazing, thrifty woman that she is, found a Mr. Coffee espresso maker and milk steamer at a store called Ocean State Job Lot for super cheap. The machine is normally $70, but mine was refurbished and she got it for something ridiculous like $30. (Normally she wouldn’t mention the price of a gift, but she knew how excited I would be at the deal she got!) Since then I’ve been using it a ton and figuring out how to make the best at home lattes, and want to share my knowledge with you!

Espresso brewing

Espresso brewing! Yum yum :)

Why make lattes at home? First off, it’s a huge money saver. My usual drink order, depending on what coffee shop I’m at, usually costs between $3.50-$4.50 per drink. Even if I could stick to just one coffee per week, it still adds up to over $200 per year for coffee… and let’s be honest, if you’re like me you are not drinking just one coffee per week! It can also be more convenient: while you do have to take the time to make the drink, once you’ve got some practice it’s very quick to do. You’ll save yourself time and gas driving to Starbucks, standing line, waiting for the new barista to figure out how to make your venti mocha double shot non fat no whip soy half caff…. ;) And of course, you get to decide exactly what you want in your drink. Skim milk, whole milk, soy milk, almond milk… caramel, chocolate, vanilla, pumpkin spice… and on and on!

What you need to get started 

Everything you need to make lattes at home

  • An espresso machine (I like the Mr. Coffee one) with a milk frothing arm/wand.
  • Stainless steel milk frothing pitcher. They are all over Amazon! I have a 12 oz, and it works well for 1-2 drinks and fits well with my particular size espresso maker.
  • A tamper to press down your ground espresso beans. You can buy these on Amazon as well, but I found that a simple round shot glass is the perfect size to tamp with, and I can also use it to measure out syrup if I want.
  • Espresso. You can buy Starbucks espresso beans, but you’ll need access to a bean grinder. My grocery store actually sells Starbucks espresso in the coffee aisle, and has a machine you can use for free to grind the whole beans down. Local coffee shops might also offer espresso beans that they are able to grind for you.
  • Milk. I prefer skim milk because it’s easier to froth and saves a few calories. Whole milk can be frothed too, but it might not get as foamy.
  • *Syrup. I’ve tried making my own at home, but I’m able to buy Da Vinci brand syrup at my local coffee shop at a very good price, so I usually do that. Starbucks also sells their syrups, or you can go online and find a wide array of options.
  • *Thermometer

*These items are optional, but if you’re looking for a flavored latte you’ll need some kind of syrup. A thermometer isn’t 100% necessary but I find it helpful for getting the right temperature for the steamed milk.

Foamy foam! Aim for small, velvety bubbles, not big dishwasher ones!

Foamy foam! Aim for small, velvety bubbles, not big dishwasher ones!

Let’s make a Hot Vanilla Latte!
Grab your frothing pitcher and pour half a cup of milk into it. Next, pour two tablespoons of vanilla syrup into your coffee cup. Now you’ll want to measure out your espresso grounds, tamp them, and brew your espresso according to your machine’s instructions. My espresso machine recommends brewing two cups (4 oz) at a time, and so that’s what I do. I generally end up using 2-3 oz per drink.
Keep in mind that at Starbucks, a Tall contains 1 shot of espresso (1 ounce), and Grande and Venti both have double shots (2 ounces). An iced Venti has three shots of espresso.
Once your espresso is brewed, pour it into your cup and swirl it around a little to mix with your syrup.
Now is the fun part… frothing the milk! Place the frothing arm of your espresso machine into your pitcher so that it’s just above the bottom of the cup. Slowly turn the steam on, and gently lower the pitcher. This will allow the steam to “stretch” the milk. This is how you make foam! You can create a nice cap of foam by holding the steam wand so that the tip is close to the surface of the milk but still fully submerged. It takes a little practice, but you want to see very fine, velvety bubbles, not big dish washing soap bubbles. I heat and stretch my milk until it’s approximately 160 degrees Fahrenheit, and has reached the top of the pitcher. If your milk is fully stretched but not hot enough, dip the wand back down near the bottom of the pitcher until it reaches the correct temperature.
Once the milk is ready, you can either free pour it directly into your cup, or you can use a spoon to hold back the foam while pouring just the steamed milk in, and then spoon the foam onto the top. You’ve just made your first latte!

A free-hand pour

A free-hand pour!

Let’s make an Iced Vanilla Latte!
The steps to making an iced vanilla latte are pretty much the same as brewing a hot one. There are a few different schools of thought when it comes to making iced coffee drinks, but I personally prefer to hot brew my espresso, let it cool in the fridge, and then make my drink.
Start by brewing your espresso, and letting it cool to warm/room temperature. I then pour it into a Pyrex measuring cup to let it cool in the fridge. Usually the time it takes to make breakfast is enough to chill it, but I’ve also brewed the night before and just covered the measure cup with plastic wrap to keep the coffee smell contained while it’s my fridge. Either works!
Once your espresso if brewed, fill your cup almost completely to the top with ice. Next, add your vanilla syrup. For Da Vinci brand, you’ll want two tablespoons. Next pour your espresso in, then add approximately half a cup of cold milk. Stir with a straw and enjoy! If you’ve got a spare ice tray you can also freeze extra coffee to use instead of plain ice cubes, but I usually drink my coffee so quickly that melting isn’t an issue!

You’ve now got the basics down for making a latte at home. Once you understand how your machine works you can play around and get creative with how you make your drinks. Try other flavors of syrups, sauces, milks… go for it!

In future posts I’ll share other tips and tricks. In the mean time, what’s your favorite coffee?