The one thing baristas have that you don’t have — OK, besides maybe sweet-looking aprons and unlimited access to biscotti? — is the ability to perfectly steam and texturize milk with the flick of a wrist, or at least the spin of a knob. Even a basic home-espresso machine starts around $700 or $800, and unless you’re using it several times a day, well, jeez, that’d buy a lot of lattes.
Thankfully, it’s totally possible to achieve frothy pillows of steamed milk at home, and there are even a few different ways to do it on the super cheap.
If you’ve got a microwave, you’re more than halfway to heaven: All you need is milk (or any dairy substitute you like: coconut, almond, and soy milk work nicely) and a sealable jar like a small Mason or Ball jar. Pour in the amount of very cold milk you’ll need (and remember it will expand slightly with the froth), seal it up tight, and give it the shake of a lifetime for about 30–60 seconds. Remove the lid, and blast the milk at high heat for about 30 seconds, which will allow the texture to hold its structure. This is another great incentive to clean out the microwave really well after your last batch of popcorn or fish sticks, by the way.
Needing a little more leche to go around? You can achieve a lovely froth on a larger quantity if you have a bigger French press on-hand: Heat the milk gently in a pan on the stove (don’t let it boil; you’re aiming for about 160 degrees F maximum) or on high in the microwave for 30–40 seconds, then transfer it to a press pot and put the top on. Bracing the bottom and making sure the top doesn’t come flying off, rapidly lift and depress the plunger repeatedly, until the milk starts to stiffen and texturize. Voila — you’re headed to latte land.
All you really need is a heat source and some elbow grease to froth a spot of milk for your homemade café au lait. In a small sauce pan, as much very cold milk as you’d like, and turn the flame on medium low. Immediately begin vigorously whisking the milk while it heats, making sure not to let it approach boiling; you should see it start to get fluffy after just a few minutes. A smaller saucepan makes quicker work, and will be easier to maintain an even texture: This milk will not resemble what’s normally on your totally-bone-dry cappuccino from the local café, but it will be silky and luxurious nonetheless.
Now that you’ve got a batch of perfectly foamy warm milk or non-milk of your choice, you should put this heaven-in-a-mug to good use. Naturally you can just scoop or pour some into your usual coffee, but it’s also a cinch to turn your brand-new hack into a next-level caffeine dream.
Sometimes you really do need to leave good enough alone — or, well, mostly alone. Really high-quality milk or coconut milk is almost a perfect treat on its own, so warm and comforting, but if you add a splash of vanilla, you’ve got something that tastes like melted iced cream in a cup. Get the recipe.
Once you’ve got your steamed milk down, all you’ll need for perfect home lattes is a simple classic Italian kitchen workhorse called a moka pot — a $25 or $30 gadget that brews coffee very strong, thick, hot, and quickly, somewhat resembling espresso though it doesn’t technically fall under the exact definition. Doesn’t matter, because the thing will save you about $1,500 on a home-barista kit, and with a little practice you’ll still manage to make something really delicious. See the Stovetop Espresso Brewing tutorial. Using a spoon to hold the top layer of tiny bubbles to the side, pour in some warm frothed milk, then top with the foam to make a latte.
The latest and loveliest lattes are made not with espresso, but with a shot of equally potent matcha, a kind of pulverized Japanese green tea that is traditionally whisked to create a thick, frothy, delightfully bittersweet and complex flavor bomb. Matcha is also the tea that makes green-tea iced cream so creamy perfect — and who wouldn’t want to drink a latte that tasted like green-tea ice cream? It’s absolutely easy being green. Get the recipe.
The other Insta favorite drink at the moment is an anti-inflammatory golden ticket — almost literally, as it’s made with the purportedly healing powers of powdered turmeric, which lends a lovely black-eyed-Susan-yellow color to the milk and gives the drink a kind of spicy, early flavor. Tinged with cinnamon, the drink just feels good for you. At least good for the soul, which is the same thing. Hey, this is hashtag self-care over here. Get the recipe.
Once you’ve gone gold, why not pick pink? This so-weird-it-actually-works flavor combination is also earthy and spicy like the turmeric, with similar anti-inflammatory benefits and, you know, that undeniably cheerful hue. Get the recipe.
Forget all the goody-goody healthy stuff: You’ve got steamed milk on-hand, let’s go all out. Peanut butter, chocolate, steamed milk — heck, throw a blast of strong hot coffee or homemade “espresso” in here for the mocha of your dreams. Get the recipe.