A latté, also sometimes referred to as caffe latte, is a delicious beverage originating from Italy and literally means coffee with milk. It is comprised of espresso, steamed milk, and a layer of milk foam on top. It's this top layer where the barista can really show off their skill, steady hand, and creativity and where you typically see latte art like hearts and leaves. This is what makes this drink the perfect combination between taste and presentation.
Starbucks is known for this specialty drink; their offerings include caramel, hazelnut, cinnamon dolce and the standard vanilla latte.
As good as they are, ordering one daily makes quite a hit to your bank account. The potential cost savings and convenience might have you leaning towards making the brew at home instead. All you need are the ingredients. Which leads us to the question:
What Coffee Does Starbucks Use for Lattes?
Starbucks uses finely ground espresso roast coffee for their lattes. It's uniquely roasted as dark as possible without burning the coffee beans. The beans are sourced from Latin America and Asia/Pacific and have notes of molasses & caramelized sugar.
Lattes from Starbucks are delicious but drinking them regularly can get pricy. If you drink a Venti (large) everyday, this amounts to spending $1,514.75 per year! That's enough for a plane ticket to Italy.
We can save all (or at least most of that money) by making very close to the same Starbucks drink at home.
Start by purchasing these beans easily in-store or online through Amazon.
You'll also need milk, syrup (optional), whipped cream (optional) and some equipment (you might already have some in your kitchen).
Although an espresso machine will give you the most optimal results, you do not absolutely NEED one.
Let's look more into each of the ingredients and different methods of brewing the espresso.
The Coffee (more accurately, the espresso)
Before I get started, please note: This post was made in consultation with several current and past Starbucks baristas.
In their expertise, to make a proper latte, you must use espresso, not coffee.
It might seem like semantics but it does make a big difference. Espresso is usually much darker and is created by using a 2:1 ratio of beans to water to make it extra strong tasting. Many people consider it bitter but when you add milk to it (as in the case with lattes), it becomes a smooth and tasty treat.
Now that we clarified that...
What espresso coffee does Starbucks use?
Starbucks uses their branded ground espresso roast coffee. Not only do they use it in their caffe latte but also their cappuccino, americano, and mocha. You can buy it online or in-store. If you request it at purchase, they will even grind the beans for you.
Can you use regular coffee for espresso?
Technically, there's nothing stopping you. Starbucks house blend coffee is Pike Place, which is a medium roast (though it is widely considered more of a dark roast). Starbucks tends to have darker coffee than other espresso brands.
However, if you were to use their house blend to make an espresso, you would definitely miss out on the signature bold flavor core of the drink. The result will taste bland and watered down. To capture the true flavor of the latte, stick with the specially roasted espresso blend.
The grind needed for espresso
For a proper espresso, you need to beans that are finely ground. Here, you have a few options:
- Buy whole beans from Starbucks in-store and ask them to grind them.
- Buy whole beans yourself and grind the at home using your machine or a grinder like this one here (this is ideal as it'll give you the freshest grounds).
- Buy the espresso roast pre-ground in the bag.
To brew your espresso for the latte
Now that we have the right coffee and the right ground, it's time for the exciting part - brewing!
Here, a lot of people think you need an $1,000 machine at home to make a proper espresso. Or maybe even one of those $10,000 ones that the Starbucks coffee houses use in their stores! Yes, those machines are fantastic and do make great espresso they're just out of the price range for the average casual coffee drinker.
Instead, here are some more budget options that you might already have at home:
Keurig machines have three settings. What we want to use is the lowest one. This will give us a 6oz (177ml) drink. It's not close to the usual 1-2oz (30-60ml) of espresso but if we're using espresso roast beans, it'll do the job. One tip is to pack a reusable K-cup tight with the fine grounds. This will help to produce slightly less than the 6oz and closer to the true size.
As the name implies, this brand of machines is geared towards making espresso. You'll find two buttons (on the original ones at least). The default settings are 1.35 oz (40ml) and 3.7oz (110ml), correlating with espresso and lungo. Again, we want to use the lowest setting.
Aeropress is more of a manual way of brewing coffee which is actually a lot of fun. It allows you to highly customize and regulate how much grounds and how much water you're going to use.
If you've never heard of them or never used one, I highly recommend picking one up. They're very inexpensive and versatile. With a bit of troubleshooting and practice, you can get very good at using one of these.
I recommend this specific model which I also own:
There is an excellent video done by the YouTube channel Hip2Save that goes over exactly how to use them to make a latte. Check it out here.
Now, the next most important part of a latte is the steamed milk. It makes up a majority of the beverage as the proper ratio for this specialty is 1/3 espresso: 2/3 milk. Although the traditional choice is cow's milk, you can easily substitute plant milks if you are vegetarian, vegan, have allergies/intolerances, dietary restrictions, or simply do not like animal milk. We recommend ones with a creamier consistency and more subtle taste like cashew milk and oat milk. Almond milk and coconut milk tend to be too watery, and soy milk has a very unique taste which can alter the flavor of the espresso itself.
What brand of milk does Starbucks use?
Starbucks uses Lucerne Milk in their lattes and cappuccinos. That being said, the exact brand isn't all that important. As long as you use high-quality 2% milk, it'll compliment the espresso well and you'll be able to froth it nicely.
The fat content is what helps to enhance the overall experience of drinking a latte and again, this is why creamier plant-milk substitutes will more easily emulate the original.
Frothing the Milk
Before you froth the milk, make sure you warm it up. This can be as simple as putting it in the microwave or on the stove until you start to see some movement/bubbles.
To froth the milk, you have two cost-effective options. One is manual using a small whisk, and the other is semi-automatic using a handheld frother.
For this, I recommend picking up this inexpensive one. It comes in over 20 different colors if matching in your kitchen is a thing for you and has over 18,000 5-star reviews on Amazon!
If you're lucky enough to have the budget for it, you can pick up electric milk frothing machines from places like specialty kitchen stores or Amazon. Nespresso also sells their machines in bundles with a milk frother so that is an option as well.
Now that the espresso is ready, pour your frothed milk gently into it along one edge of your mug, wrapping the last of the foam onto the surface of the drink. Technically, lattes are meant to be sipped from a specialty glass mug to allow for proper air redistribution but you can make do with just a skinnier mug at home.
If you're curious about latte mugs, here are a couple examples from Amazon.
Sweetening and adding flavor
Now, you can drink it as is - it will naturally taste sweeter thanks to the caramelization of the sugars in the milk, but to truly emulate a Starbucks latte, you can go one step further and add one of their own branded syrups. Be modest with how much you add - they are VERY SWEET.
The most popular Starbucks latte flavors
I did a semi-scientific poll to find out the most popular Latte flavor sold at Starbucks. Over 180 people replied and the clear consensus was Caramel Macchiato, followed closely behind by Vanilla. Surprisingly Pumpkin Spice Latte didn't do well, maybe because I ran the poll in the spring and not the fall.
See the results for yourself down below.
If more than one of the flavors sound good to you, why not try out the Starbucks 4-pack? Find it here:
Now all that's left to do is to serve and enjoy!
This was the in-depth breakdown of what coffee Starbucks uses to make their lattes.
Let me know in the comments below: do you plan on making a latte at home? And if so, what's your favorite flavor?