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A latte (// or //) is a coffee drink made with espresso and steamed milk. The term as used in English is a shortened form of the Italian caffè latte or caffellatte (pronounced [ˌkaffelˈlatte]), which means "milk coffee". The word is also sometimes spelled latté or lattè in English with different kinds of accent marks, which can be a hyperforeignism or a deliberate attempt to indicate the word is not pronounced according to the rules of English phonics.
In northern Europe and Scandinavia the term 'café au lait' has traditionally been used for the combination of espresso and milk, but this term is used in the US for brewed coffee and scalded milk. In France, 'caffè latte' is mostly known from American coffee chains; a combination of espresso and steamed milk equivalent to a 'latte' is in French called 'grand crème' and in German 'Milchkaffee' or 'Melange'.
Coffee and milk have been part of European cuisine since the 17th century (there is no mention of milk in coffee pre 1600 in Turkey or in the Arab world). 'Caffèlatte', 'Milchkaffee', 'Café au lait' and 'Café con leche' are domestic terms of traditional ways of drinking coffee, usually as part of breakfast in the home. Public Cafés in Europe and the US it seems have no mention of the terms until the 20th century, although 'Kapuziner' is mentioned in Austrian coffee houses in Vienna and Trieste in the 2nd half of the 1700s as 'coffee with cream, spices and sugar' (being the origin of the Italian 'cappuccino').
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the term caffè latte was first used in English in 1867 as caffè latte by William Dean Howells in his essay "Italian Journeys". Kenneth David maintains that "...breakfast drinks of this kind have existed in Europe for generations, but the (commercial) caffè version of this drink is an American invention".
The French term 'Café au lait' was used in cafés in several countries in western continental Europe from 1900 onwards, while the French themselves started using the term 'café crème' for coffee with milk or cream.
The Austrian-Hungarian empire (eastern Europe) had its own terminology for the coffees being served in coffee houses, while in German homes it was still called 'milchkaffee'. The Italians used the term 'caffèlatte' domestically, but it is not known from cafès like 'Florian' in Venice or any other coffee houses or places where coffee was served publicly. Even when the Italian espresso bar culture bloomed in the years after WW2 both in Italy, and in cities like Vienna and London, 'espresso' and 'cappuccino' are the terms, 'latte' is missing on coffee menus.
In English-speaking countries 'latte' is shorthand for "caffelatte" or "caffellatte" ("caffè e latte"), which is similar to the French café au lait, the Spanish café con leche, the Catalan cafè amb llet or the Portuguese galão.
The Caffe Mediterraneum in Berkeley, California claims Lino Meiorin, one of its early owners, "invented" and "made the latte a standard drink" in the 1950s. The latte was popularized in Seattle, Washington in the early 1980s and spread more widely in the early 1990s.
In northern Europe and Scandinavia, a similar 'trend' started in the early 1980s as 'Café au lait' became popular again, prepared with espresso and steamed milk. 'Caffè Latte' started replacing this term around 1996-97, but both names exist side by side, more often more similar than different in preparation.
Coffee menus worldwide use a number of spelling variations for words to indicate coffee and milk, often using incorrect accents or a combination of French and Italian terms. Italian is caffellatte (the standard form; caffelatte is a Northern Italian variation), contracted from caffè-latte, (with a grave accent over the e), while French is café au lait (with an acute accent); Spanish is café con leche and Portuguese is café com leite. Variants such as caffé latté, café latte, and caffé lattè are commonly seen in English.
In Italy, caffelatte is almost always prepared at home, for breakfast only. The coffee is brewed with a stovetop Moka pot and poured into a cup containing heated milk. (Unlike the international latte drink, the milk in the Italian original is not foamed.)
Outside Italy, a caffè latte is typically prepared in a 240 mL (8 oz) glass or cup with one standard shot of espresso (either single, 30 mL, or double, 60 mL) and filled with steamed milk, with a layer of foamed milk approximately 12 mm (½ inch) thick on the top. A caffè latte may also be served consisting of strong or bold coffee (sometimes espresso) mixed with scalded milk in approximately a 1:1 ratio. The drink is similar to a cappuccino, the difference being that a cappuccino consists of espresso and steamed milk with a 20 mm (¾ inch) layer of thick milk foam. A variant found in Australia and New Zealand similar to the latte is the flat white, which is served in a smaller ceramic cup with the micro-foamed milk. In the United States this beverage is sometimes referred to as a wet cappuccino.
In the United States, an iced latte is usually espresso and chilled milk poured over ice. Unlike a hot latte, it does not usually contain steamed milk or foam. Iced lattes can have sugar or flavoring syrups added, and are sometimes served blended with the ice. The espresso can be pre-chilled (sometimes as a mixture of espresso and milk) or frozen in advance to avoid warming up the drink.
A caffè latte differs from a latte macchiato in that in a latte macchiato, espresso is added to milk, rather than the reverse. A caffè latte has a stronger coffee flavor.
The latte macchiato is milk steamed to microfoam, served in a glass with a half shot of espresso poured gently through the foamy top layer, creating a layered drink with a "macchia"—a spot—of espresso on the top. As with a caffè macchiato, which is espresso with a spot of milk atop, indicating there's a hint of milk underneath the espresso foam, a latte macchiato is the opposite, to indicate there is espresso in the milk.
The use of the term 'macchiato' has been widened to include a huge array of beverages and ice creams. In some countries (like Germany), latte macchiato is the preferred term. The word "macchiato" itself is Italian for "stained" which refers to creating a coffee or milk "stain" in the drink.
Although the term macchiato has been used to describe various types of espresso drinks, a caffè macchiato is 3/4 espresso and 1/4 steamed milk. A caffè macchiato is about 4 ounces and is usually served in a demi tasse. Although a traditional macchiato is small, there are still ways to pour art into the crema of drink. The only difference between pouring latte art and macchiato art is that for a macchiato, the milk has to be poured faster and through a much smaller stream.
Specifically calling people "latte drinkers" has become a common political attack in Western cultures. The popularity of espresso drinking in large cities, especially among more affluent urban populations, has caused some to consider it elitist behavior. In the United States, conservative political commentators frequently call their opponents "latte-drinking liberal elites." In Canadian politics, latte drinking is used to portray people as out of touch intellectuals and the antithesis of the Tim Hortons coffee drinker that's considered representative of an ordinary Canadian. In Scandinavian politics, the term "the cafe latte segment" is used to describe elitist voters.