A friend of mine recently asked why the quality of her lattes varies so much between cafés. Why is it, she asked, that when you go to one café, the coffee is delicious, but when you go to another, it’s barely drinkable? The short answer is that not all cafés are created equal. However, that doesn’t really explain much, so I would like to discuss what goes into making a great (or not-so-great) latte.
Before finishing this article, I talked to a couple different baristas to get some of their opinions. One of the baristas said that “once [the cafés] are in the big leagues, you’re going to get a good latte, and it just comes down to which barista makes it the way you like it.”
He was referring to the better cafés in Portland when he made that statement. While what he said may be true, not all cafés are in the ‘big leagues,’ and no matter where you get your latte, the quality is still determined by four main factors. These are the three ingredients—coffee, water and milk—plus the barista, who brings them all together. The quality of these four components is what determines how good your latte is, and as you will see, there are lots of places where things can go wrong.