How to Make a Spanish Latte - The Cafe Con Leche

In this blog we thought we’d give you a sweet coffee beverage that bypasses the heavy syrup load of traditional flavoured lattes, and which you’ll definitely not find in a coffee shop near you. (unless you live in say, Cuba or Spain, but more on that later.) If this sounds like your sort of thing, read on as we answer the question of how to make a Spanish latte, the meaning of cafe con leche and why it may just become your new favourite caffeinated beverage this winter.

What is a Spanish latte?

As with many things within the confusing world of coffee (and coffee shops trying to create an identity by putting their own spin on traditional recipes but accidentally misinforming the general public about what a drink actually contains - case in point the macchiato is a small espresso sized drink pretty much everywhere except Starbucks), there are a few interpretations to the question of what is Spanish latte and what is it made up of?

One thing that is agreed upon is the type of milk it is made with, and going against everything you have ever learnt in coffee-making school about not overheating your milk, the Spanish latte is made using scalded milk. Your average latte or flat white is made using cooler, textured milk.

Scalded milk and textured milk are two different things. Scalded milk is heated to just below boiling point to create a smooth and creamy texture. On the other hand, textured milk is created by steaming milk to create microfoam, which is then used to create latte art and other coffee drinks. Textured milk has a different texture compared to scalded milk, as it has a velvety and airy texture due to the addition of micro-foam. While both scalded milk and textured milk can be used in coffee drinks, they create different textures and flavours in the final drink.

The way that the milk is scalded makes for a thicker mouthfeel (think, for example, of the texture of Guinness versus the texture of Coca-Cola), making the overall drink more filling than your average milky coffee. Plus, it will be sweeter - scalding milk involves heating it to just below boiling point, which helps to break down the proteins and create a velvety, sweet result. Some people even add a pinch of salt to their Spanish latte to counter the bitterness produced by excess heat, making for the sweetest possible coffee without adding any sugar at all.

Now, this is where it gets more complicated. Pretty much everywhere outside of Spain and Cuba, if you order a Spanish Latte or Cafe con Leche, you will get a sweeter drink than simply scalded milk lattes can produce. Why? Because these drinks have come to mean a milky coffee with condensed milk added to it. 

In most places, the recipe for a Spanish latte calls for 2 tablespoons of condensed milk added to it, or a ratio of one part espresso, one part milk, and one part condensed milk. 

What is the meaning of cafe con leche?

Cafe con leche literally translates to coffee with milk, but as with many things in the beverage world, there is more to it than a prosaic name. 

It is by this name that you would order a Spanish latte in Spanish-speaking countries, pretty much like any other item whose name contains the country from which it comes. 

It is extremely popular in Latin America and Spanish-speaking regions, but due to the heaviness of the drink, is considered a breakfast item only, with very few people drinking it after noon. Except, of course, for tourists eager to get a taste of true authentic Spanish coffee.

How is a Spanish latte different from a Vietnamese coffee?

There are a few coffee-based drinks around the world that make use of condensed milk for both the dairy and sweetness options. While this may sometimes be a taste preference, it usually comes about because of a lack of resources or a need for milk that can be kept at room temperature. It was popular in England among the post-war generation, after they got a taste for it during the days of rationing. But the most popular coffee drink to make use of condensed milk has to be the traditional Vietnamese coffee.

On the face of it, Spanish lattes and Vietnamese coffee appear to be the same drink, or at least, very similar. But this couldn’t be further from the truth. 

While both are made using coffee and condensed milk, that is where the similarities end.

Vietnamese coffee (or cà phê sữa nóng, to call it by its proper name) is created using a traditional phin filter to brew the coffee, whereas Spanish lattes are generally made using coffee from an espresso machine or Moka pot.

Plus, the type of coffee varies - Spanish lattes favour milder arabica beans, which work well with the added scalded milk, while Vietnamese tastes prefer the bolder, more powerful hit from robusta beans. While these are not hard and fast rules, and either can be made with practically any variety of coffee beans, these are what you are more likely to find when ordering either drink in their native countries. 


How to make a Spanish latte

To make a Spanish latte (with condensed milk), you will need strong brewed coffee, condensed milk, and scalded milk. The best way to do this is to heat milk on your stovetop, by continually stirring it and removing it from the heat just as the first bubbles begin to form.

  1. Start by brewing a strong cup of coffee using your preferred method. 
  1. In a separate container, stir in equal parts of scalded milk and condensed milk. 
  1. Pour the coffee into a cup and add the milk mixture to it. 
  1. Use a spoon to stir the mixture until it is well combined. 

Alternatively, if you are entertaining and have clear glasses to serve your coffee in, you can layer the condensed milk in the cup, add the milk, and then finally the shot of coffee to create an aesthetically pleasing layered look. 

  1. Taste the latte and adjust the sweetness to your preference by adding more condensed milk if needed. 
  1. Serve the Spanish latte hot and enjoy! 

If you prefer a cold latte, you can also allow the coffee to cool down and then add ice cubes before pouring the milk mixture.

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However you make your Spanish latte, or any of the other coffee recipes found in our blog, give them the best possible chance to taste amazing by using only the freshest coffee beans available in the UK, by opting for The Coffee Bean Shop, a small family-run roastery, who roast their high-quality coffee beans daily and in small batches to ensure that each and every one tastes absolutely sublime. 

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