While some people maintain that adding milk to your coffee somehow dilutes the “purity” of the experience, there’s no getting away from the fact that milk-based coffee is hugely popular and here to stay. There’s a reason that most coffees ordered in Australian cafes are milk-based; when it’s done right, the coffee and the milk become more than the sum of their parts, producing something truly special.
Once you’ve brewed your coffee, how you prepare and blend in your milk will have a huge impact on how your coffee tastes.
Like everything in the coffee World, if you go searching for them, you’ll find raging arguments between baristas and enthusiasts alike about the milk in your coffee. “What’s the difference between a flat white and a latte?”, “How much milk should be added to a macchiato?”, “is a cappuccino socially acceptable before lunchtime?”, and “what the he’ll is a ‘magic’?” (Trust us, it’s actually a thing).
Leaving behind all of this controversy, for most of us who occasionally like some milk with our coffee, there are some really simple things to consider. And like all things in coffee, there’s no “right” answer, except for making the coffee that gives you the most pleasure. So let’s dive in, and discuss how you might use milk to design your perfect cup.
What you Need
Jug of choice
Milk of choice
Time to get it to heat
what does milk do?
The fats and proteins in milk change the mouthfeel of your coffee, making it more smooth and velvety, particularly if the milk has been textured (frothed) effectively.
Milk reduces the natural acidity of your coffee, which will change the flavour profile of your cup substantially. Depending on your choice of bean, your brewing technique and your personal palate, this could be seen as a good or bad. Acidity is responsible for much of the “brightness” in the flavour profile of coffee, so too much milk can “flatten” the palate of some brews.
Milk also contains some natural sugars, and will noticeably increase the sweetness of your cup.
amount of milk
Plenty of people making their coffee at home are incredibly precise with the dose of coffee, brewing time and pressure, and comparatively loose with how much milk they add to their latte or macchiato. But of all of those variables, the amount of milk you add to a standard espresso shot probably has the biggest impact on flavour. Naturally, if you add proportionally more milk, your cup will taste more like milk, and less like coffee.
Even amongst baristas in your local cafes, there is some variation in the preferred ratio of coffee-to-milk in your average caffe latte, but a good estimate is 150mL of milk for a single espresso shot. It’s worth noting that the majority of take-away cups are significantly larger than this, and that a latte based on a single espresso shot in such cups will likely taste more milk-dominant.
The ratio in a macchiato varies even more, more widely and is fraught with more controversy. The more “Italian” version of a macchiato might have the thinnest layer of textured milk sitting atop the espresso shot, while some people prefer to see their espresso cup topped up to the brim.
Special mention should be made here of the “Magic”, which seems to have arisen in Melbourne as an alternative to the standard caffe latte. Again, definitions vary, but it looks something like a double ristretto, coupled with roughly 120mL of steamed milk, sometimes warmed to closer to 50 degrees, for rapid consumption. This looks suspiciously like the coffee that we brew frequently at home: coffee-dominant and ready-to-mainline.
Needless to say, in either case, you can vary this ratio to make your latte or macchiato stronger, or alternately more milk-dominant.
But the take-home message is to experiment with ratios until your find the perfect cup for your personal preference, and from that point forward, try to be clinical in reproducing that same ratio every time.
Ideally your milk should be heated from cold-and-fresh to roughly 60 degrees Celsius, and poured as promptly as possible into your freshly-pulled espresso shot.
TYPE of milk
The type of milk you choose for your coffee will impact the texture of the finished product, the mouthfeel of your cup and the flavour profile of the coffee. Needless to say, if you blend your espresso with coconut milk, it will retain a certain coconut characteristic that you’ll recognize straight away in your cup.
Our preference is for full-cream cow’s milk, as the fats in the milk give a specific, glossy mouthfeel and creaminess that isn’t apparent with lower-fat or non-dairy substitutes. But if you’re using substitutes for any number of very good reasons, each of them will have an impact on your final cup of coffee.
Several of the non-dairy substitutes, most notably soy milk, will curdle when exposed to excessive acidity or temperature. If you’re having issues with your soy latte “splitting” or curdling, it’s worth trying a lower-acid bean, or letting your espresso cool slightly before adding your milk.