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26 Delicious Coffee Recipes: Play Barista For Your Guests – Or Yourself
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Starbucks and other upscale coffee shops try to create a special aura around the process of making coffee drinks. It’s all part of the ambiance they strive to create – and not coincidentally, it’s also how they justify charging so much for what’s essentially just coffee and milk.
It’s certainly not our intent to denigrate expert baristas. Any well-made coffee drink is automatically better when the person preparing it knows exactly what they’re doing. And we don’t mean to imply that you can do just as well as a professional barista the first time you turn on an espresso machine.
Our goal is simply to demystify the iced caramel macchiatos, white chocolate mochas and pumpkin spice lattes they serve in coffeehouses, and give you the road map you need to make drinks just like them on your own.
One quick note before starting: the vast majority of these recipes are made with espresso, and you can’t make a great espresso drink without knowing how to brew great espresso. Get familiar and comfortable with your espresso machine – or if you don’t have one of those pricey toys, your French press, Moka pot or whatever you use to brew strong, potent coffee – before putting on your home barista apron.
Many of these coffee recipes also call for the addition of steamed milk or milk foam. Once again, having an espresso machine takes most of the guesswork out of steaming milk or dispensing foam, but you can still make both of them if you’re “roughing it.”
For steamed milk, simply heat full-fat milk to about 150°F on the stove or in your microwave (the latter will only require a few seconds). For milk foam you can shake the milk in a closed mason jar, put it into a blender or whisk it by hand, and then skim the foam off the top. However, one of the inexpensive handheld frothing tools sold on Amazon is a great investment if you’re going to play barista.
(We’re not going to give you a recipe for brewing coffee or espresso, though; that would be like pointing you to your kitchen faucet or refrigerator’s water dispenser and saying “Now, here’s the recipe for water.” We’ll just encourage you to buy the highest-quality espresso or dark roast beans you can find, and grind them just before brewing, rather than purchasing ground coffee that doesn’t last long before losing much of its flavor and goodness.)
The ultimate morning coffee drink is made from espresso, steamed milk and milk foam in an equal ratio; that is, one-third espresso or strong dark coffee, one-third milk and one-third foam.
While you’re brewing the espresso, steam your milk and prepare your foamed milk. Pour one or two shots of espresso into the bottom of the cup or mug, carefully pour an equal amount of milk on top (not too fast or powerfully, or you’ll lose the “layered look” of the cappuccino), and then spoon an equal amount of foam on top. For a beautiful finishing touch, top with a dusting of cocoa powder or some shaved chocolate.
If you’re confident in your barista skills, you can try making a little latte art. You’ll have the most success if you’re using a traditional porcelain cappuccino cup with a wide mouth, and if you’ve created what’s called a “wet cappuccino” with microfoam, instead of a “dry cappuccino” with ordinary milk froth. (More about that when we discuss lattes.)
Here’s how to express your inner artistry. After pulling your espresso shot(s), tip the cup at a 20 degree angle and use your wand or milk pitcher to slowly pour some of the steamed milk onto the top of the crema. Then tip the cup back to its normal position and keep pouring slowly, to create a small circle of microfoam in the middle of the cup.
Now, it’s time to create your desired pattern with additional milk. The more accomplished you become, the cooler the pattern you can create. Just don’t wait too long to start pouring the milk or the crema will start to dissipate.
Is latte art necessary? Of course not, but it will leave no question about your skill as a barista.
Now that you’ve gotten some practice with latte art, you’re ready to make a real latte (sometimes Americanized to be called café latte). It’s similar to a cappuccino, carefully constructed with espresso, steamed milk and milk foam. The only major difference is the proportion; one-third espresso, two-thirds steamed milk, and just a thin layer of foam on top.
That’s the big difference, but there’s a small one, too. The best foam to use to cap off a latte is microfoam, whose bubbles are so small that they’re almost impossible to distinguish from one another. Microfoam is thicker than regular foam and a little gooey; creating it is largely a matter of technique, so it’s difficult to make perfect microfoam without the steam wand from an espresso machine or a handheld milk frother.
Can you make a latte with “macrofoam” that has larger bubbles, instead of microfoam? Sure. It just won’t be quite as authentic, and it will be tougher to create the amazing latte art that defines you as an expert barista.
Oh – one other difference: this coffee drink is traditionally served in a taller latte glass.
To change things up, add two tablespoons of vanilla simple syrup (vanilla syrup is not the same as vanilla extract) and you’ve got a vanilla latte. Do the same thing with hazelnut syrup to make a hazelnut latte. And if you’re hooked on the Starbucks pumpkin spice latte, here’s a copycat version: combine the milk with two tablespoons of pumpkin puree, plus a little pumpkin pie spice and vanilla extract, before heating it and foaming it. Want to try making a trendy flat white? It’s simply a latte, with the foamed milk folded into the drink instead of layered on top.
To really impress brunch guests, serve them a chai latte. It’s made in the same way as a caffè latte but with seasoned chai tea instead of the espresso, then flavored with two tablespoons of honey and garnished with cinnamon and nutmeg. You can also substitute almond milk or oat milk, to make a vegan chai latte.
“Macchiato” is Italian for “marked” or “stained.” It’s an apt description for this drink, because it’s simply one or two shots of espresso “stained” with a teaspoon or two of steamed milk or milk foam on top. Some people take their macchiato with sweetener, because it’s a powerful pick-me-up.
You can reverse things and make a latte macchiato instead; it starts with hot milk that’s then “marked” with a half-shot of espresso, then topped with foam.
Then there are all the variations made popular by upscale and chain coffee shops. The most popular are caramel macchiatos and iced caramel macchiatos, and here’s an easy recipe for both. Start with two tablespoons of vanilla syrup in your glass, make a latte macchiato on top, and drizzle with a teaspoon of thick caramel sauce. The iced version is usually made by either adding ice before the espresso, or by blending ice with the vanilla sauce, espresso and milk before drizzling with the caramel.
This one couldn’t be easier, since it’s simply diluted espresso. Pour one or two shots of espresso into an espresso or latte glass, then add double that amount of hot water on top. It’s one of the few carb-free coffee “specialty” drinks you can make.
Actually, that’s not the entire story. Most American baristas (including those at Starbucks) pour the espresso first, the hot water second. In Australia they do it the other way, claiming that pouring the water first creates more crema on top of the espresso. The first produces what’s known as an “original” Americano, while the second is known as a Long Black. Pro tip: they’re both yummy.
There are many ways to make a layered caffè mocha, but they all include chocolate, espresso, steamed milk and chocolate. The chocolate is usually cocoa powder, shaved chocolate or chocolate syrup, and you can use dark, milk or white chocolate.
The most common approach is to mix the chocolate into two shots of espresso until it’s melted, and then add twice as much steamed milk. Another great recipe is to first coat a latte glass with chocolate syrup, before adding the espresso and milk. Either way, you then top the mocha with milk foam or whipped cream, and chocolate shavings or powder as a finishing touch. Want to put a twist on this yummy drink? Try adding a little peppermint extract.
Iced mocha is particularly popular in the summer, and you make it just like you’d make a caffè mocha. Just be sure to add the ice to your glass before pouring the espresso (or hot coffee) and milk.
If you have guests who ask if you can make a “mochaccino,” don’t panic. A true coffee aficionado doesn’t even acknowledge the existence of this drink created by coffee chains, but that doesn’t mean you can’t easily create one at home.
Some places use the term mocha and mochaccino interchangeably, so your first fallback can be to whip up a mocha. Otherwise, just mix chocolate powder or sauce into a cappuccino, or add hot chocolate milk to an espresso, and top with a dollop of whipped cream. No one will ever know that you’re making it up on the fly.
Finally, a few words about frappucinos – which are even more “fake” than mochaccinos.
Frappucino is a trademark of Starbucks, and it’s a combination of the words “frappe” (the New England word for milk shake) and cappuccino. Most of the chain’s frappucinos don’t contain espresso; they use either coffee or a trademarked “crème” as a base, adding various sauces and syrups (not all of them gluten-free, either) and putting whipped cream on top.
So if someone asks you to make a caramel frappucino, try making a milk shake with vanilla ice cream, caramel sauce and whipped cream. You’ll come very, very close. If they ask for a peanut butter or gingerbread frappucino? You’re on your own.
Other Fabulous Espresso Drinks
Don’t put away your espresso machine just yet. We have several lesser-known espresso drink recipes that can wow your guests – or simply make you happy on a rainy evening.
You may have heard this drink referred to as “cafecito,” a sweet, rich variation on an espresso. What makes it so different is that it’s not topped with milk. Instead, it has a thick layer of sugar-based foam known as espuma on top.
To make cafecito, put ¼ cup of sugar into a bowl and add a tablespoon or two of espresso. Then whisk the mixture for 2-3 minutes until it’s light brown and foamy. That’s the espuma. Now, pour the rest of the espresso on top, while stirring until the foam rises to the top. Finally, pour the cafecito into serving cups or glasses, spooning some of the foam on top of the cups if necessary.
It’s not only delicious, but it’s just as good if you use very strong coffee made in a moka pot.
We saved our last espresso drink for dessert, which is when affogato should be served.
Making this Italian favorite couldn’t be easier. Place a scoop of vanilla ice cream (or better yet, gelato) into the bottom of a large cup, cover it with espresso, and garnish with shaved chocolate. Be sure to give your guests a spoon to enjoy it with.
Showstopping Coffee Drinks
Not all great coffee recipes require espresso. Some of the best coffee drinks can be made with a good old-fashioned cup of coffee.
Café au Lait
The ultimate French breakfast drink, known in Spain as café con leche and as milchkaffee in Germany, is often made with espresso in Europe but with strong coffee in America. It’s simply equal amounts of hot milk and coffee mixed together. All you need is a croissant to make a perfect morning meal.
- Irish Coffee: Some simply pour Irish whiskey into their coffee to make this time-honored favorite, but the more civilized way to make it is with a jigger of whiskey and a jigger of Irish cream liqueur. The whipped cream on top is optional.
- Mexican Coffee: This one is rich and a little spicy. Melt two ounces of semisweet chocolate and a half-ounce of brown sugar in a pot, and simmer with ½ cup milk, a cinnamon stick and orange rind. After 15 minutes of simmering, stir in strong coffee and ½ teaspoon of vanilla extract. Yum.
- Dalgona Coffee: Believe it or not, this delicious South Korean recipe is made with instant coffee. Measure two tablespoons into a bowl and use a hand mixer to mix it with an equal amount of sugar and cold water until it thickens and becomes foamy. (You can use a whisk as well, but the process will take a while.) Fill a glass almost to the top with ice and milk, then swirl the coffee foam on top. If you spend much time on social media, you know this one has exploded in popularity.
- Vietnamese Egg Coffee: Odd, but surprisingly tasty. Whisk together an egg yolk, two tablespoons of sweetened condensed milk and a tablespoon of brewed black coffee until it turns foamy and pale. Fill a mug halfway with coffee, and then layer the egg foam on top.
- Yuanyang: Here’s another traditional Asian favorite. This variation on iced coffee from Hong Kong is actually half strong coffee, and half milk tea, served over ice. The easiest way to make it is to combine brewed coffee with brewed black tea, mix in a tablespoon of sugar and a splash of half-and-half, and serve over ice.
More Great Coffee Ideas
Simply adding a shot of your favorite liqueur – even Kahlua coffee liqueur – can take your coffee to the next level. (You may want to add creamer or a sweetener if you’re trying the coffee+coffee mix.)
Even a special iced coffee recipe won’t keep your drink from getting watered down on a hot summer day. This will. Just brew some coffee, pour it into ice cube trays and let it freeze. Coffee ice cubes will make your coffee stronger, not weaker, as it melts.
Speaking of iced coffee, there’s one sure way to hear “oohs and ahhs” when you serve it: start a day early and make cold brew coffee. It’s easy to do: steep ground coffee in cold or room temperature water for 12-24 hours, then filter it. You’ll end up with a smooth, rich coffee concentrate that – once it’s been diluted and served over ice – will have your guests demanding to know where you bought such amazing coffee.