Guide to
The Perfect Latte


Perfect Latte Cappuccino Espresso

How to make the ultimate latte & cappuccino: a passionate approach.

This page is dedicated to lovers of the bean. A great latte or cappuccino can be a religious experience and give new meaning to life.

A latte is simply a cappuccino with more milk. A cappuccino is merely an espresso with foam & (maybe) a little milk.

Typically, the longer you drink java, the less milk & sugar you'll prefer. Your taste will gravitate toward increasingly pure forms. Today a latte > tomorrow a cappuccino > next you'll be drinking espresso.

Before embarking on the path to java nirvana, let me first recommend some *quality* coffee .. from my friend Martin Dietrich (who looks like James Taylor, docha think?).

Martin has been buying & roasting coffee all his adult life. He knows more about coffee than anyone I know. To say he is meticulous about coffee is an understement. He's a true coffee artist.

Coffee bean, used to make espresso, cappuccino, latteHis web site is here: Kean coffee (Kean is the name of his son, since his original business, started by his father in 1972, was bought out).

This is not to say you can't find quality coffee elsewhere (you can), merely that the beans you get from Martin will be high-quality, freshly roasted and freshly ground (to your order). I guarantee it.

They are currently working on developing a new ordering interface for the web site (now FAX-based). Until that's done, you can always call: 949.642.KEAN (5326) to place your order and chat. He's usually there at the store (right down the street) and loves to talk coffee.

Note: This website receive no compensation for recommending his coffee. I do so merely because I know you're not likely to find a better source. But you can always tell him you discovered his coffee from Radified, and maybe I'll get a free drink every now-n-then. With that out of the way, let's move on.

Espresso Machines

1. Start with a decent espresso machine, like this one (Solis 70, the one I use) - not one of those US$79 cheapies from Target I used to use. They don't make real espresso, only strong coffee.

Update 29jan2004. Our Saeco Classico died a horrible death. We replaced it with the Solis 70 (Swiss made). See here for the gory details.

Anyway, after using both these machines, I would recommend the Solis 70, since it's obviously built better. It even *sounds* more solid when you turn on the pump.

When I purchased the Saeco, it cost US$229. Now it is $300. This is probably because the value of the US dollar has fallen against other international currencies since I purchased the Saeco. You should expect to pay (at least) US$350-400 for a 'bargain' unit (a *quality* bargain unit).

If I notice any problems with the Solis, I will return to this page and update it. More details posted here. The Solis 70 is considered a "budget" espresso machine.

The best review is posted here. It's comprehensive and professional (from CoffeeGeek).

Update: 07feb2004: I noticed you must *hand-tamp*. I called both Whole Latte Love & the Solis manufacturer, complaining of weak shots. The Solis 70 comes with an attached tamper, but this attachment does not do a good job.

Since water, like electricity, follows the path of least resistance, I suspect (not sure) that the water was flowing around the outer edges of the basket, bypassing most of the grounds in the center.

I was only getting a dark steam of espresso for the first 6-to-7 seconds. Then the dtream would turn clear (like water). This is not right. You should be getting a dark stream for ~25 seconds.

After getting & using a hand-tamper, I now get a dark stream for a long time. After the first tamp, you can usually add more grounds to the basket before the final tamp.

You want to try to use the SAME TAMPING PRESSURE throughout, so no *channeling* occurs. If one part is not tamped as tightly, the water will tend to channel through there, bypassing the rest of your grounds.

I use Illy espresso (pre-ground). If you grind your own, or use a super-fine grind, such as 'Turkish' (like talcum powder), you may want to use a non-pressurized commercial basket, or so I hear. Everyone recommends these non-presurized baskets for a better espresso.

Whole Latte Love says Illy's grind is NOT FINE ENOUGH, and that, if you want to use this basket, you should grind to the fine-ness of a "commercial machine". Alternatively, they say you can tamp the Illy hard, if you have no other.

If you can afford more than US$350 for the Solis 70, the next major step up the quality ladder would be Expobar Office Pulser for ~US$800 (review here).

This is the only professional-grade machine for under US$1,000. Want an even better machine? Take a look at the (gorgeous) Pasquini Livia 90 (for $1,400) or the ECM Giotto (for $1,600). Some day I'll have one of these.


2. I did considerable research and discovered that most people agree Illy (Italy) makes some of the best pre-ground espresso. Stands to reason Italians would known a thing or two about how to make espresso, as they invented it.

This stuff comes in a stylish pressurized canister that makes a wonderful whooshing sound when you pop the seal. Music to my ears. So if you don't want to use my friend Martin (as mentioned above), then I recommend Illy. Either will fine.

Milk / Foam

3. Add fresh, cold whole milk to your frothering pitcher. For a cappuccino, you simply use the froth and just a little milk. I prefer mine with a little half-n-half. (Some people call this a brevé.)

Using a thermometer, frother mild to 160-degrees F. If you don't have one, this is ther temperature at which the metal frothering container will start to burn your hand.

Frothing is an art in itself. Don't submerged the tip of the frother any deeper than you need you. You want to produce small/tiny bubbles (foam), not big bubbles.

The deeper you submerged the tip, the bigger the bubbles you get. But this also depends on the type of nozzle you have. Thicker foam is better. Then set the cup aside on the espresso machine's warmer plate, if it has one.


4. Run hot water thru your machine to preheat everything, including the cup. Let you machine cycle on then off. When the temperature is back up to maximum (the heater has turned off), you're ready to begin.

Fill your espresso basket for a double shot. This is where the magic begins. Often you need to play with your particular machine to get the perfect crema. That's the carmel-colored foam at the top of the espresso shot.

Several things affect this, such as, the roast quality, the grind, how long it's been since the beans were ground (they'll begin to dry after a week or two), tamp pressure, amount of espresso used. See here.

Add to your cup with foam/milk. Sugar to taste.

For more along these lines, here's a Google search pre-configured for the query: coffee+latte+cappuccino+how


Before closing, I'd like to take a minute to mention <shameless plug> a few other Radified guides that you might find helpful. For example:

The end.