Spanish-style cafe con leche is an espresso drink anyone can make. Translated as "coffee with milk," there are no special tricks and it offers a coffee house experience at home. You don't need a big espresso machine, either. This coffee recipe requires nothing more than a stovetop espresso maker or moka pot.
Steamed milk is one variable that differentiates cafe con leche from cappuccinos and lattes—both of which use foamed milk—so there's no whisk or frother involved. The traditional recipe uses equal parts of fresh-brewed espresso and steamed milk, where cappuccino is a 1:2 ratio and lattes are typically a 1:3 ratio.
Once you learn how easy it is to prepare cafe con leche, you'll want to make it more often. It's a satisfying morning coffee drink, a tasty afternoon pick-me-up, and a quick way to serve guests a great cup of coffee. A three-cup espresso maker makes one small latte-sized drink (about 7 ounces) or two to three demitasse cups. You can brew a larger batch or add flavor—cinnamon is a favorite in Spain.
- For the Espresso:
- 2 tablespoons/10 grams coffee (finely ground; or amount needed for pot)
- 1/2 cup water (or amount needed for pot)
- For Cafe Con Leche:
- 3 1/2 ounces espresso (brewed)
- 1/2 cup milk (whole)
- Optional: 1/2 teaspoon white granulated sugar (to taste)
Gather the ingredients.
Pour hot water into the serving cup to heat it while the coffee's brewing.
In a 3-cup stovetop espresso maker, add finely ground coffee and water according to the manufacturer's instructions. Heat on the stove to brew.
In a small saucepan over low heat, pour the milk and heat gently until it steams and there are small bubbles around the edges. Do not let it boil. Stir occasionally to prevent a film from forming on the top.
When the espresso has brewed, dump the water from the cup. Fill it halfway with freshly brewed espresso.
Slowly pour the steamed milk over the espresso and stir to incorporate. Add sugar to taste.
Serve and enjoy!
- Turn on the heat for both the coffee and milk simultaneously and they'll be ready at the same time.
- Use a larger espresso pot to make a few drinks at once. Increase the amount of steamed milk in proportion.
- Starting with 1/2 cup (4 ounces) each of water and milk results in 3 1/2 ounces each for a 7-ounce drink. When increasing the recipe, take into account that small loss from the heating process.
- Freshly ground coffee is recommended. You'll get the most flavor from the espresso maker with a fine grind.
- An espresso maker is not required. Strong coffee brewed in a French press, pour-over brewer, or a similar nonelectric brewing method will also work.
- Add a dusting of ground cinnamon to the finished cafe con leche.
- For more flavor, add 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon or 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg on top of the coffee grounds before brewing.
- In Spain, a leche manchada uses the same method, but with two parts steamed milk to one part espresso.
- One Cuban version of cafe con leche adds sugar (about 2 teaspoons, or to taste) to the milk while steaming. The espresso is added, then the mixture is gently steamed again.