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The lowdown on caffe latte: this trendy java drink is pouring across the country.

This trendy java drink is pouring across the country.

These days, it seems, everyone is drinking Italian coffee. We're ordering espresso - straight and con panna - trying cappuccino, considering caffe mocha and studying the subtlety of macchiato. And coffee connoisseurs are downing cups of caffe latte - an eight-ounce coffee drink made of freshly brewed espresso and steamed milk.

America's lust for latte started in the Northwest during the '80s. Starbucks Coffee Co., a Seattle-based coffee importer, retailer and roasting company, set up the first espresso bar in 1985, modeled after Italian-style stand-up coffee bars. And the concept grew in popularity, gradually spreading across the country.

Originated in Italy, espresso is both the name of a dark roast of coffee and the name of a rapid, high pressure brewing method that forces steam and boiling water through the coffee grinds. Espresso is also the tangy, intensely flavored and concentrated drink that results from this method. It produces one shot, or one ounce, to a cup. Add whipped cream to the top and you have espresso con panna.

Espresso, taken straight, is decidedly an acquired taste - short, intense, bitter and, to many people, jarring. Americans have looked for a way to have their espresso and temper it too. The solution is caffe latte. In Italy and France, caffe latte is often a morning drink, to be taken at breakfast with a roll or croissant.

When the steam jet of an espresso maker is submerged into a steel pitcher filled two-thirds with cold milk, the steam heats the milk. If the jet is deeply submerged, the milk is steamed. If the jet is just under the surface, the milk is foamed. A caffe latte has seven ounces of steamed milk for every ounce of espresso.

When steamed milk is added to espresso and topped with a cap of foamed milk, you have a cappuccino. Take a shot of espresso, add a little chocolate syrup, fill with steamed milk, then top with whipped cream and, if you wish, dot with chocolate sprinkles, and you have caffe mocha. Or start with a shot of espresso, add a lid (1/4 inch) of foamed milk and you have an espresso macchiato.

"Macchiato comes from the Italian verb that means |to mark' or |to stain,'" explains Paul Bernstein, co-owner of Coopers Coffee Bars in New York City. For a latte macchiato,the recipe is just the opposite. Start with steamed milk, then add espresso, a little less than you would for latte. "You just stain the milk with espresso. Think of this as a weak caffe latte," he says.

There are other variations on the theme. At Starbucks' 230 coffee bars and stores on the West Coast, Denver, Chicago and Washington, D.C., a caffe latte is topped with a 1/4 inch of foamed milk. At his two coffee bars, Bernstein makes meticulous distinctions between variations of his caffe latte. A "wet" one has a full seven ounces of steamed milk added to espresso with little or no foamed milk. A "dry" one has less steamed milk and is topped with foamed milk. "Always start with the espresso; then add the milk," Bernstein counsels.

Italy is known for its romance and romantic language. It's no wonder Americans have fallen in love with Italian coffee. But in the new "land of latte," it's love American style.
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Author:Fried, Eunice
Publication:Black Enterprise
Date:Nov 1, 1993
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