What is café con leche?
This is a term from Spanish, which literally means “coffee with milk”. Essentially, café con leche is a type of coffee that resembles the latte a lot and is actually made very similarly, but there are a few differences.
More importantly, café con leche is the most popular coffee beverage in Spanish-speaking countries.
The influence and reach of café con leche makes itself known thanks to the Cuban diaspora, which brought with them their coffee culture and have shared it with the rest of us. Nowadays, there are many popular Cuban-style places where you can get delicious, authentic café con leche.
Café con Leche
Let’s talk about the differences between a latte and a café con leche to make it clear that these two drinks are actually different. Because for most people who aren’t part of the culture it can be very confusing as the two look very similar. And it’s understandable.
Milk quantities: One of the most important differences is that the latte has an established amount of milk that can go in it. Any more or less would make it, well, not a latte. It is a strict recipe that allows for no deviation.
The café con leche has endless variations, however, depending on how the individual likes it. There are many different café con leches—the claro, marrón, or oscuro which are light, brown, and dark, respectively. Each of these represent different amounts of milk added to the coffee.
Foam: Latte has foam. It is probably the most telling sign of the latte, the foam on top of it that is used to make artistic creations (latte art) and is probably the main reason why the latte is so popular. People like drinking from a beautiful beverage, and like to have something to photograph.
Café con leche doesn’t have any foam in it. The milk is steamed, just like for the latte, but no foam is actually poured onto the cup as it is considered not desirable for the drink. This is definitely the biggest difference in terms of how each drink feels.
Serving: How a drink is served says a lot about the drink. The latte, for example, is usually served ready to drink, with a beautiful latte art on top and maybe a little cookie on the side depending on what country you’re from.
The café con leche, however, isn’t always served ready to drink. It can be served with the coffee in the cup and a pitcher. This pitcher is full of milk and it allows you to create a drink that is suited to your very specific taste.
This is where claro, marrón and oscuro come into play. You could very well order them with those names, but it’s always better to do it yourself because you know exactly how you like your coffee.
This way of serving the coffee is completely unique to café con leche and is a great idea that many of us wish could be implemented to other drinks because it allows us to completely customize our drinks. Some of us may not be baristas, but we know just what we like!
How to make café con leche
The trick to making café con leche is to make stovetop espresso; moka pot coffee. A lot of Cuban people use the espresso machine but it is generally agreed on that making the coffee in a moka pot is a more authentic taste.
After all, the moka pot is the most favored way of making coffee in Cuba and most of Latin America, for that matter. This is because it yields a very concentrated and tasty coffee and also because the moka pot is probably the most economically sound brewing method of all: it is made of super long lasting aluminum and it is inexpensive to buy. So it’s cheap and lasts years and years.
- 16 grams ground coffee
- 160ml milk
- Sweetener of choice
- Prepare your coffee using the moka pot. Remember to preheat the water that goes in the brewing chamber. This significantly cuts the brewing time and prevents burning your coffee, which is a common issue with the moka pot.
- When the coffee is brewed, froth the milk.
- To froth the milk, you can use a machine or an electric frother or, if you don’t have any of these, you can use an empty water bottle:
- Heat up the milk and pour it into the plastic bottle. Screw on the cap and shake vigorously for a minute.
- You can pour directly from the bottle or into a pitcher, then the coffee cup.
- Sweeten, stir, and enjoy!
Now you can enjoy the very delicious and authentic taste of café con leche!
Of course, you can also make this coffee in your espresso machines. Cuban people are actually very fond of espresso and some prefer it over the traditional moka pot for making their café con leche; it all comes down to personal taste.