Lattes, an “Old School” energy drink

In today’s fast paced world of business meetings and rush hour mentality, most people look for some way to give them a little extra boost to make it until five o’clock. Everything these days seems to offer more energy, from your average energy drink to caffeinated gum to even “energy soap” (yup, it’s caffeinated body soap). I enjoy the occasional energy drink from time to time, but when it comes down to my daily routine, I’m a purist. I go with fresh made coffee, and I have a few tips on how to make one of the most popular coffee drinks: The Latte.

Let’s first start off talking about the “coffee” part of a Latte: the espresso. Espresso is different from your typical cup of Joe, or “drip coffee,” in a couple of ways. First, it’s a much darker roast of bean. The dark roast not only adds to super rich “coffee” taste of espresso, but also allows for the oils to form what is known as the Crema, or the caramel colored, almost sweet foam at the top of a shot of espresso. Lighter roasted beans wouldn’t have the flavor or crema like the dark roast beans have.

Secondly, Espresso is brewed differently. Espresso is brewed by forcing steam directly past the packed grinds. This quickly pulls the flavor and intensity from the grinds and allows it to condense and pour directly into your cup, taking less time than your average drip coffee pot.

The other part of a Latte, which is just as important as the espresso, is the steamed milk. After working with coffee and espresso for over 10 years, I’ve truly come to realize that steaming milk is an art form. It takes a lot of patience and practice to steam milk like some of the best baristas out there, but anyone can learn the basics.

To begin, pour cold milk into a steaming pitcher and submerge the steam wand to the very bottom center of the pitcher. What type of milk you choose is up to you, but I prefer 2% for truly amazing foam. As you begin to steam your milk, you want to slowly pull the pitcher down and away from the steam wand, without letting the wand leave the milk completely. What you’re doing is two-fold: you are heating the milk rapidly while you’re allowing air to circulate through the milk (called pulling the milk). The trick now is to bring the wand to the very top of the milk, making tiny bubbles that form rich and thick foam. I always listen to the milk to tell me if I’m doing it right. If you’re doing it correctly, the steam wand will make a hissing sound like ripping paper. You only want to steam the milk up to about 160 degrees; anything about 180 and you’ll scorch the milk.

Now that you have your steamed milk, you’ll brew the espresso (also called pulling shots). First, you’ll grind the espresso and scoop it into the portafilter (the metal basket) of your espresso machine. You want a fine grind, but not too fine. You’re really looking for something like smooth sand. If the grind is too course, the shot will come out too quickly and be watery. Too fine and it’ll come out really slowly and taste bitter.

Once you have the grinds in the portafilter, you need to tamp them flat and tight. Using the tamper, you should softly flatten the grinds down into the portafilter and knock off any excess. Next, keeping as even pressure as possible, you push down, compressing the grinds into a disk or puck. Different people have different opinions on how much pressure to use, but what works for me is to use the same amount of pressure you would use making sure a door is shut.

If everything is done correctly, when you pull your shot of espresso, it should pour evenly for about 15-20 seconds. If you don’t get around that time, try adjusting your grind; the finer the grind, the slower the pull. There’s all sorts of different ways to pull your shots of espresso, but this is the most common and most basic way of pulling shots of espresso.

Now, you have steamed milk and a shot of espresso. You want to pour your milk into the espresso as soon as possible. Espresso only has a shelf life of around 10 seconds. After that, it gets a very bitter taste and loses almost all of its caramel goodness. Mixing with milk is the only way to stop the espresso from going bad, so stop reading and pour your milk already. Ok, add a little foam (about a quarter of an inch) to the top of your cup and voila, you’ve just made a latte. You can add sweeteners or flavors now if you’d like, but I prefer it just as it is.

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