Defining Caffè Breve Lattes

Coffee Art

Victor Cardoner / Getty Images

Caffè breve is an espresso-based drink that’s made like a cappuccino, but with steamed half-and-half instead of milk. This produces a very creamy foam. Try it if you want a decadently rich (but sugarless) espresso drink. You will also see it called the breve latte, cafè breve, and breve coffee. Breve means "short" in Italian.

Origins of the Caffè Breve

The caffè breve drink is an Americanized take on the classic Italian cafe latte, which is strictly milk-based. Caffè breve drinks tend to be fluffier than the average latte made with standard milk since steamed half-and-half increases the foam volume of an espresso beverage.

A caffè breve also has significantly more fat and cholesterol than lattes made with milk, even if the milk is whole milk rather than low-fat or non-fat. Many coffee drinkers find a cafè breve rich enough that they can go without adding any sweetener to it. It's typically served as a "dessert" beverage, but there are some who like it as their morning caffeine fix.

Of course, you can always add a little sweetener or flavored syrup if you want to make your caffè breve even more of a treat (and you aren't a stickler for authenticity).

Making a Caffè Breve

To make a caffè breve, the half-and-half is first steamed and frothed. You then pull a shot of espresso (2 ounces) and place it into an appropriate cup. Pour in the hot half-and-half, holding back the foam. Then spoon the foam from the half-and-half over the top.

Espresso

Espresso is coffee brewed by forcing a small amount of nearly boiling water under pressure through finely ground coffee beans. Espresso is generally thicker than coffee brewed by other methods, has a higher concentration of suspended and dissolved solids, and has crema on top (a foam with a creamy consistency). 

As a result of the pressurized brewing process, the flavors and chemicals in a typical cup of espresso are very concentrated. Espresso is also the base for other drinks such as a caffè latte, cappuccino, caffè macchiato, caffè mocha, flat white, and caffè Americano.

Espresso has more caffeine per unit volume than most coffee beverages, but, because the usual serving size is much smaller, the total caffeine content is less than a mug of standard brewed coffee (contrary to a common belief).

Although the actual caffeine content of any coffee drink varies by size, bean origin, and roast method among other factors, the caffeine content of "typical" servings of espresso are 120 to 170 milligrams as compared to 150 to 200 milligrams in drip brew.

Varieties of Espresso Drinks

Caffè breve is a newer variety of espresso-based beverage, but it's far from the only one. In addition to the cafe latte, here are some of the more popular drinks with espresso as their main ingredient:

  • A cafè Americano is half espresso, half hot water. It's very close in consistency to a standard brewed coffee.
  • Cafè mochas have espresso, steamed milk, and chocolate. They are usually topped off with whipped cream.
  • A cafè romano is a shot of espresso with a twist of lemon.
  • A cappuccino is espresso, steamed milk, and milk foam. 
  • A macchiato has a shot of espresso and a small bit of milk foam.