A lot of latte, with a little effort
November 19, 2017 4:41 PM   Subscribe

My partner drinks a lot of lattes. I'm looking for a way to make lattes at home to cut down on cost, but am not sure the best way to go about it that's a) inexpensive and b) efficient.

They worked at a coffee shop for a year, so assume they have the experience to make lattes. They drink lattes for the taste, because caffeine does absolutely nothing for them, if that makes a difference in anything (I did not work on a coffee shop for a year, and can't even drink it, so I understand pretty much nothing).

We've looked into getting an espresso machine before, but they're pretty expensive. I've seen some less expensive ones but they don't have great reviews. I know you can make lattes with a hand frother and a French press, but I'm not sure how efficient that would be for daily use (my partner has expressed frustration at the extra time/difficulty of heating milk on the stove without burning it).

I'd really love to get them some sort of latte-making set-up for Christmas, but can't afford a fancy espresso machine right now. But is that my best bet for decent, daily lattes? Should I just hold out and save up, or are there other alternatives? Does anyone have experience using a different machine or system regularly?
posted by brook horse to Food & Drink (26 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
A moka pot makes pretty strong, concentrated coffee. That, paired with a milk warmer/frother might work? I have the older model of Nespresso's milk warmer, and it's excellent.
posted by extramundane at 4:50 PM on November 19, 2017 [2 favorites]

Aeropress and a milk frother from IKEA = a ton of lattes for less than $30
posted by elsietheeel at 4:59 PM on November 19, 2017 [7 favorites]

If you have a microwave, you can preheat milk in that very gently. You'd have to experiment with settings that work well for your particular model microwave, but you don't need to wait for the stove.
posted by Miko at 5:01 PM on November 19, 2017 [1 favorite]

I use an Aeropress with a frother for latte-likes. To get my temperatures right I also use a variable temperature electric kettle and a Burr grinder for the right grind. The whole setup would probably cost about as much as a cheaper espresso machine, but this setup is reliable and long-lasting in a way that cheaper espresso machines are most definitely not.
posted by xyzzy at 5:01 PM on November 19, 2017

If your partner used to make coffee professionally, they likely have pretty strong opinions on how it should be done and what they want the result to be. Buying them a setup (inexpensive or otherwise), without consulting them about it, seems like a recipe for disappointment.
posted by kickingtheground at 5:03 PM on November 19, 2017 [14 favorites]

I should clarify we're the kind of people who ask each other exactly what they want for Christmas, so I would be running this by them beforehand anyway.
posted by brook horse at 5:06 PM on November 19, 2017 [3 favorites]

I have done this with an aeropress and microwaved milk. Agreed that the frother would fancy it up, but the aeropress (using a fine espresso ground coffee, though let's be real, I'm using Cafe Bustelo) is the closest to perfect for this you'll get without an actual espresso machine.
posted by theweasel at 5:13 PM on November 19, 2017 [4 favorites]

You can make frothed milk in a microwave with a ball jar very easily. I don't remember the exact timings, but it is something like:
1) heat milk for 1 minute, cover with lid, shake 30 seconds
2) uncover, heat again for 30 seconds, shake 30 seconds (and then repeat this step again if needed)
posted by veery at 5:18 PM on November 19, 2017 [1 favorite]

Aeropress and a Capresso milk frother. I’ve used this combination for several years (4?) almost everyday. Clean up is very easy.
posted by HMSSM at 5:19 PM on November 19, 2017 [3 favorites]

Aeropress + heat the milk on the stove here; I don't bother frothing.

the extra time/difficulty of heating milk on the stove without burning it

I trial-and-errored my way to a reliable timing -- a mug's-worth of milk on the small burner at medium heat for 7 minutes is just right for me -- and then have a cheap timer dedicated to it which I leave permanently set to that time. Pour milk, turn on burner, hit start on the timer; grind beans, fill the kettle, set it to boil; go do something else for the remaining 5 minutes or so.

It does fail occasionally if/when I forget to start the timer though.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 5:32 PM on November 19, 2017

Good espresso-based drinks are very hard to make at home without a combination of expensive gear (good espresso machines are crazy expensive as are good grinders) and fresh beans. If your partner has strong feelings about which latte he/she gets, it's very unlikely that there will be any cost savings from making it at home. I'm not sure about the frothers people linked but the photos of frothed milk on their Amazon page look terrible; far too bubbly and no microfoam. I'll admit I'm a coffee snob though.

My suggestion is to reframe the problem and see if there are other coffee drinks he/she enjoys and get a gift to help with those. For example, I've completely given up on making espresso-based drinks at home but will make cold brew to drink with milk which I enjoy as well. Aeropress is great as well as is turkish coffee and all of those are easy to make at home with high quality.
posted by bsdfish at 5:49 PM on November 19, 2017 [6 favorites]

If he/she prefers not to mess around with warming milk separately Prior to frothing I would really recommend one of the dedicated warmers/frothers linked above because they make it so easy and reliable.
posted by koahiatamadl at 5:50 PM on November 19, 2017

Nuke milk in microwave. Froth with Ikea milk frothing wand. Pour over 1/4 to 1/3 of a cup of strong coffee (doesn't have to be espresso) hell most of the time I use instant. But you could use strong drip or Aeropress or you preferred type of coffee making style. Seriously once you are adding that much milk to a coffee, how you make the coffee is less important than people think, I say this as a latte addict & reformed coffee snob that used to run a coffee shop it just needs to be stronger if you want to taste the coffee as the milk drowns out a lot of the coffee flavors.
posted by wwax at 6:06 PM on November 19, 2017 [2 favorites]

I agree with bsdfish that barista drinks are really hard to replicate well with even high-end home equipment. Getting into cafe au lait helped me break a latte habit, and it's far easier to do at home.
posted by Miko at 6:07 PM on November 19, 2017 [3 favorites]

I concur that the aeropress is the best way to get the espresso like coffee.
posted by I'm Not Even Supposed To Be Here Today! at 7:08 PM on November 19, 2017

I use the exact same recipe as theweasel (Aeropress w/Bustelo, skim milk to fill, then microwave) with a couple of pumps of Torani syrup. Works really great.
posted by JoeZydeco at 7:18 PM on November 19, 2017 [1 favorite]

Would cold-brewed coffee with milk work? It's dead simple to make a lot of good cold-brew at home. I make iced coffee with milk, myself.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:40 PM on November 19, 2017 [1 favorite]

My partner is pretty much the farthest thing from having strong feelings about the coffee they like--they enjoy lattes from fast food places as much as from fancy coffee shops. So I guess the question is: can you make a latte to the quality level of McDonald's/Dunkin Donuts with these make-at-home solutions?
posted by brook horse at 8:16 PM on November 19, 2017 [2 favorites]

Friend of mine has a "Mukka Express", which makes a latte/cappacino drink on the stove top. Invented by Bialetti, who made the first stovetop espresso makers in the 30s. Video of it in action.
posted by jb at 9:15 PM on November 19, 2017 [1 favorite]

For sure. I have a milk foamer pitcher thing that works well, you put the milk to the line, put it in the microwave, then put in the insert and move it back and forth until the milk is foamy.

Pour over aero press espresso and you’re good to go. I’ve used an AeroPress for 5 years every day. Works great for one person.
posted by leahwrenn at 9:15 PM on November 19, 2017

My husband is addicted to lattes and at home I make pour-over coffee, then I add powdered dark chocolate, xylitol, coconut milk and coconut oil and buzz it in a Nutribullet. This gives it a froth. He says he likes mine better than our local coffee house lattes.
posted by cda at 9:55 PM on November 19, 2017 [1 favorite]

Just to back up what everyone else has said, short of buying an actual espresso machine, easily the best way to make a good espresso-like coffee at home on a budget is an aeropress. Other people have recommended a milk wand, and they're fine but you won't get the same kind of silky-smooth foam you get from a proper steam wand.

Another thing worth considering is buying a grinder - arguably the biggest single thing you can do to make better coffee at home is buy whole roasted beans and then grind them yourself on demand. Proper "professional" burr grinders will set you back almost as much as a good espresso machine, but even something like this DeLonghi model will level up home-brewed coffee massively (don't get a blade grinder, though - you don't get anything like the consistency you need for coffee).
posted by parm at 1:44 AM on November 20, 2017

I make fake lattes at home using strong coffee, vanilla syrup, and frothed milk. I would not serve them to anyone else but they are good enough for me. An electric milk frother costs about $60. I had the starbucksone a few years ago and it worked well but broke after two weeks. I used the ikea wand for a bit but that makes a very poor froth. Then I got a manual frother and that also makes a poor froth. I am looking at getting myself an electric milk frother but truthfully I will probably still by coffee shop lattes/gas station fake lattes once a week even if I can replicate at home
posted by TheLateGreatAbrahamLincoln at 3:10 AM on November 20, 2017

I would look into a stand-alone steamer and NOT a frother. Essentially, a steamer is a water kettle with a wand/spigot attachment. The expensive espresso machines come with it built in but you can get a steamer on its own. A frother "shakes up" the milk; a steamer injects steam into the milk. (IANAFoodScientist)

-No need to heat the milk. You do have to boil the water but presumably you're doing that anyway to make the coffee. Just add the steam to the cold milk until it reaches desired temperature or aeration.
-Super-easy cleaning (steamers = just wipe the wand before the milk hardens on; frother = needs washing)
-Superior results than with a frother. I can definitely taste/feel a difference between frothed and steamed. (This may not be top consideration for your partner...)

-Harder to find than frothers. Fewer choices & probably higher prices.
Search for "stove-top steamer" etc. New ones can go for $80-$100ish for a "manual" one, but I found a vintage electric steamer for very cheap (can't remember exactly but it was less than $50?) on eBay that has both coffee-making and steaming functions.

I'm not a huge coffee fan myself but [used to] live with coffee snobs. The most efficient coffee-making method I've observed from them is Aeropress.

Happy latte-ing!
posted by Sockin'inthefreeworld at 3:54 AM on November 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

A Nespresso capsule machine and Aeroccino milk frother/warmer. I use this system on a daily basis and give it top marks for efficiency. Probably not the cheapest option by far, but still cheaper than a full fledged home espresso machine, and yet extremely convenient, fast and easy to clean.

You could probably skip the machine in favour of an Aeropress, if you abhor single-use capsules (they are recyclable though) and/or if you are picky about using your own choice of coffee... or if it's beyond your budget. But stick with the Aeroccino to get your milk - it gets very good and consistent results at the press of a button - no need to babysit your milk to get it to the right temperature or frothiness.
posted by hellopanda at 8:25 AM on November 20, 2017 [2 favorites]

On the topic of decent burr grinders, I got one of these refurbished Baratza Virtuoso grinders a few months ago for $185, because I didn't want to spend a lot more, and it's been really good. Also, it's supposed to be hella strong (previous grinder hit a stone and sheared the drive).

As for super-cheap hot milk coffee drinks, if partner's taste isn't focused on foam, a cafe au lait is really nice and is easy to do with milk warmed on the stove or in the microwave.
posted by Gilgamesh's Chauffeur at 7:01 AM on December 10, 2017

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