Cafe Au Lait at home

I worked as a barista in college, which shouldn’t be surprising if you know that I went to school in Seattle. My boss was a stickler about good foam, and she would often show up in the middle of rush hour to test our steaming powers by ordering nonfat dry cappuccinos. That’s espresso with a full cup of foam and no milk!

The best foam has tight, small bubbles that are barely visible. The more fat the milk has, the easier it will be to get creamy foam. In an ideal world, the drink should be so thick that you can stand a metal spoon in it.

Aside from making me a coffee snob for life, that job helped me come out of my introverted shell and learn to interact with people. It made me more sociable and confident. I made good friends, and I learned the self-worth that comes with earning your keep. The life lessons were priceless.

I haven’t had much occasion to mess around with foam since then. But now that I am interning at Just Simply… Cuisine, where Chris keeps a high-end espresso machine, I’ve gotten the chance to steam up some chai lattes for us. It’s so fun to get back in the game and practice espresso making! It’s a real art, and one that’s long been inaccessible for those of us living on a budget.

Until now. Enter handheld foamer from Ikea, which I purchased over the weekend for $2.99. You’re not going to get the kind of foam you would with a high-powered steamer, but it’s good enough for a froth-deprived soul like me. I even switched to drinking black coffee a few years back after one too many lattes with scalded, poorly foamed milk.

I made this cafe au lait, which is half brewed coffee and half steamed milk, by heating up the milk and then hand foaming it. If you try it, the trick to good foam is to keep the wand submerged but near the top of the milk. Keep going until you get the frothiness you desire.

To the half cup of steamed milk, I added a half cup of super strong French-pressed coffee. You need to make it double strength in order to compensate for all the milk that you’ll be adding.

It’s a simple treat, and one I recommend. Here’s the step-by-step:

1. Boil water for coffee and fill your French press with a couple heaping tablespoons of coarsely ground coffee.

2. Fill your coffee cup 1/3 of the way with whole milk. Warm it up in the microwave or in a pot on the stovetop and return to the cup. Using your foam wand, froth the milk by holding the stick close to the top of the milk. (You’ll have plenty of time to see how it’s foaming and adjust your form, and you’ll get the hang of how to make thick foam after a few tries.)

3. Brew the coffee in as little water as you can so that the grounds are soaked, about 1/3 cup.

4. Pour coffee into steamed milk and enjoy.

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