Everyone has a favorite coffee shop drink. One that is your first go-to when you order from any cafe. For many, this is an iced latte. It is exceptionally smooth, creamy and refreshing. The coffee is perfectly blended with the sweet, heavy milk.
It may be that this drink is one that you splurge on while going to a specialty coffee shop because the taste is something you just can’t achieve at home. It’s just iced coffee and milk, right? If you are making iced coffee at home with the plan to capture a cafe iced latte’s taste, you will not win. Understanding WHY it tastes the way it does will help. You will find out that creating an iced latte at home is actually very possible! Once you learn the method of how they are made, you will be able to make any kind of iced latte. You don’t own an expensive espresso machine in your home? Good, because most people don’t. This instructional article is for you.
Why is this article for iced lattes and not hot lattes? While hot lattes are more universally popular, and this method CAN be used to make hot lattes, I am targeting iced lattes for two reasons. Iced lattes are more simple to make as you don’t have to heat up milk, and I, personally, drink iced coffee and espresso drinks everyday. I would say it’s something I am more knowledgeable about!
Let’s look at the flavor behind iced lattes. They have a strong coffee flavor suspended in milk, giving them a heavy, creamy mouthfeel. The milk carries and distributes the coffee over your palate in a way water can’t. You need espresso, which is concentrated coffee, to compete with the milk’s flavor and not got lost in it.
When you try to recreate your favorite iced latte at home, chances are it will be more of an iced coffee. Iced coffee is similar to a latte, but it’s fundamental difference is that it has more WATER and less milk/fat than the latte. Don’t shy away from the word fat; when we talk about lattes it is a GOOD thing. It has everything to do with the milk, which is the medium we want to carry our coffee flavor. It has perfectly suspended natural fats and sugars that make your drink delicious.
Traditional coffee brewers give you coffee that is to be drank as-is. A regular cup of drip-brewed coffee is 98% water. That little 2% of coffee gives a lot of flavor! People add cream or milk to their coffee to increase mouthfeel, but it doesn’t change the water content. Now, imagine that 2% of coffee in smooth, creamy milk. We don’t want to water down our coffee drinks.
To get our perfect coffee/milk ratio for the latte, we need to forget the regular coffee brewing method. We need a small volume of coffee with BIG concentrated flavor. This will be our “espresso”. Although not the same as the standard drink pulled in specialty cafes with commercial espresso machines, ours will have enough flavor to make a homemade latte. To do this, we need to extract MORE coffee with LESS water. We are using the word “extract” just to refer to how much flavor we take from the beans and add to our end product.
For our homemade espresso, we will increase the amount of coffee extracted, and the time it will be extracted for. If you have a coffee grinder at home, I would recommend that you grind your beans FINE (you can set it to “espresso” if your grinder has the option). The finer the beans, the more easily they can be extracted.
Compare it to tea; you put one bag of tea in 8 ounces of water for 3 minutes and it is a balanced, well flavored beverage to be drank straight. If you used two bags of tea and steeped it in 4 ounces of water for 10 minutes, it’s flavor would be too strong and astringent to drink. But if you “watered” it down with a cup of milk, you’d get an amazing tea latte.
There are ways to increase coffee’s concentration in almost any home coffee brewer. Let’s look at some common ones.
1. Drip Brewer
The most common household coffee maker, this CAN be customized easily to increase extraction. You use it by putting coffee grinds into the basket above the pot, and adding however many cups of water you want to brew into the tank. The brewer will keep adding the hot water to the grinds until there is no more in the tank, and the brewed coffee is in your pot. To make your coffee concentrate, DOUBLE the amount of coffee grinds you’d usually use, and cut the amount of water to HALF. Check the basket after your coffee is brewed. If there are any dry spots in your grinds, the coffee was not fully extracted and you need to add more hot water to them. You can pour some hot water over them yourself, or add a little more water to the tank next time.
In the coffee pot, your finished product should be a strong, dark coffee concentrate. Add 4 ounces to a full cup of ice, with 4 ounces of milk or cream. Depending on the taste, add more coffee or milk to your liking. Refrigerate the leftover coffee concentrate to use later. This can be stored in the fridge for about a week.
2. French Press
The french press coffee brewer is a great option for beginners and experts all around. It is CHEAP, easy, customizable, and you can use it anywhere. You use it by manually mixing coffee grounds and water in the glass beaker. When you want to stop the extraction process, you push down a fine metal sieve that causes the liquid coffee to rise above it and the used grounds to stay on the bottom. Due to the filter being a fine mesh metal and not paper, more coffee oils are allowed through to increase the flavor. Then, just pour the coffee out of the top. You usually want to use a coarse ground coffee for it, but I have used a medium grind to extract more and the coffee particles left in the end product are minimal.
For one or two servings of “espresso”, you can use around 25 grams of coffee grinds. Add 6 ounces of hot water, and let the coffee steep for five minutes or so, stirring it a few times throughout. After you press it, add the strong coffee to a cup of ice and about 4 ounces of milk or cream, to your liking. If you want to decrease the water content, you can press your coffee and let it cool at room temperature and/or the fridge before you add it to your ice. If you make more ahead of time, you can put it in your refrigerator overnight so you have nice cold espresso for the next morning.
Although it is a slightly specialized coffee maker that isn’t in MOST people’s homes, I have to include the AeroPress. Although the parts look like something out of a science lab, it is by far the BEST espresso maker for people who want fast, easy “espresso” at home without spending a lot of money. This simply designed press uses the same basic method as the french press, but has a small paper filter to give you a very clean espresso/coffee.
It is ideal for making a strong coffee concentrate. You can make one to three cups per press, so you can easily have a FRESH cup of coffee for just you without having to make a large pot. Because you are using a plunger with air, the pressurized system pushes all of your coffee out of the grinds, including all of the good flavor of the oils.
I really can’t recommend this coffee maker enough. I have been using it for years and like so many others, am a diehard fan. It has a huge cult following and has been used to win championships in the coffee cupping world. Don’t let that fool you though, it is SO EASY to use, any beginner can master it.
I make an iced americano / iced latte at least once a day if I’m at home, using my aeropress. I invert the plunger, so I can extract coffee for longer without the water running through the filter. I use about 42 grams of finely ground beans, steeped in ~6 ounces of near boiling water. I extract for about 5 minutes, then press my espresso into a cup with an ice cube to cool it. That espresso product is enough to make myself two iced lattes.
I just add 2 ounces of my “espresso” to a cup of ice and fill the rest with milk. It is my absolute favorite way to make myself an iced latte at home. I get a different flavor profile depending on which beans I use, so it’s always different! It rivals iced lattes I’ve bought in expensive coffee shops.
4. Making Iced Lattes At Home With Instant Coffee
If you want a SUPER easy way to make ‘spro at home, with no equipment or cleanup, try instant coffee. There are good quality instant coffees being made that are an inexpensive, simple way to make your coffee anywhere.
You just take your instant coffee crystals, add one or two ounces of hot water, and mix with 4 ounces of milk and ice! Make sure you are using high quality, freeze-dried instant coffee that is sourced well.
Getting Your Iced Latte To Taste Like You Got It From A Cafe
If you use any of these methods to make an iced latte at home, you will have a delicious beverage that showcases the coffee beans and milk. You can easily tweak a few things if you want to go further and add coffee shop flavors to it. The recipe for a flavored iced latte is coffee concentrate + ice + milk + flavored syrup.
The syrup is your choice, and there are so many you can make at home. If you don’t want to add chocolate or caramel syrup that can easily be bought at the store, start with the basic “simply syrup” recipe. Mix one part sugar (granulated or turbinado) with one part boiling water. Stir that until it is clear and no sugar crystals can be seen. Make as much or as little as you’d like, but using half a cup of sugar and half a cup of boiling water will give you plenty. You can chill and store this in your refrigerator for over a week. Adding that syrup to your latte will bring it up a notch by balancing the coffee with it’s sweetness.
To infuse your syrup, just boil the water you use to mix the sugar with something to flavor it. I have used lavender flowers, ginger, cinnamon, peppermint and vanilla, for example. If the flavor is a liquid, like vanilla extract, just add one or two teaspoons to your simple syrup after it is made. If it is a dried herb or other plant, like ginger or peppermint, boil it in your water for 10 minutes or so. Then strain the particles out with a metal sieve. Use your flavored water to dissolve the sugar and there is your gourmet syrup!
After your syrup is ready, whether it be simple or flavored, add one or two ounces to your iced latte.
Variety Of Milks
Don’t forget all the options you have when it comes to what milk you use. Personally, whole milk (4% milk fat) gives me optimal mouthfeel and sugar content to go with my espresso. Skim milk or low-fat has sugars that stand out more, but lower milk fat, so you will get a stronger coffee taste through it. Many people use cream or half-and-half to mix with their coffee, and we call that a “breve” latte. For a breve, I would add some sugary flavored syrup to make it an ultimately decadent coffee treat. Just don’t drink too many!
Coconut milk has a higher fat content that goes great with your espresso, but I find that if I don’t buy the sweetened kind, it can be a little bitter. Almond milk and soy milk have underlying flavors that blend well with coffee, but can generally have more sugar and less fat (depending on the brand you buy).
If you want to try another favorite, use sweetened condensed milk (just a couple ounces) to your coffee concentrate, over ice, to make a delicious Vietnamese iced coffee.
Enjoy having fun and saving money by making your iced lattes at home, however and whenever you want!