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Latte is a coffee-house drink of espresso and steamed milk, frequently topped with a design made of frothy milk.
People have combined milk with coffee for centuries. Consider cafe au lait and cafe con leche. In New York City, a call for “coffee, regular” curiously enough means you want coffee with milk or cream and sugar. In Italian, latte means simply milk. The term meaning coffee and milk appeared on West Coast coffee house menus in the 1950s. In the next several decades, thanks in part to the proliferation of chain operations such as Starbucks and Peet’s, the simple concoction has become a standard-issue item on coffee house menus everywhere.
Iced lattes are made with cold milk rather than steamed, and usually are sweetened and flavored with syrups and blended with ice. Modern baristas infinitely riff on the formula, creating the likes of pumpkin spice, eggnog, gingerbread, butterscotch, and Nutella lattes.
A cappucino tops the latte with a thick layer of foamed milk. A macchiatto increases the amount of milk and foam and decreases the amount of espresso. As a rule, macchiattos add espresso to the milk, whereas lattes add milk to the espresso.
Lattes most often come in coffee cups with a handle. In Seattle in the 1980s, baristas began applying artistic designs of finely-textured microfoam to the top of lattes in the cup. Some of the most talented practitioners create amazing cups at the city’s Moore Coffee Shops. Latte art has since become a common practice in nearly every independent coffee house.