Making Café Quality Drinks at Home

Making Café Quality Drinks at Home

Have you ever wondered why a Star**** [redacted] macchiato is a radically different beverage than what you’d get in the plazas of Rome or from a specialty café in Northwest Arkansas? Well, there is no governing body on what constitutes a macchiato. Sure, some institutions like the Barista Guild & the Specialty Coffee Association, to name a few, have educational programs and standards about what a macchiato or a cappuccino should look like down to the ounce. But what does that mean for you when replicating these drinks at home? For now, we’ll leave all of the big mainstream brands and commercial coffee chains out of the conversation and focus on breaking down what’s important about making a few common espresso-based drinks that you’ll see on most specialty café menus. Leave your order anxiety at the door because this will be fun and easy!

Which Milk Should I Choose?over the shoulder view of a person pouring latte art lifestyle by clive coffee

The short answer is that you can use any kind of milk, but milk with higher protein and fat content tends to steam and pour much better (whole cow milk & oat milk) than others (almond & soy milk). If using alternative milks, barista blends add emulsifiers and proteins to help them create microfoam easier. The amount of milk and foam will significantly transform the way espresso tastes. Milk is full of water, sugars (lactose), and fat. The water dilutes the flavors of the espresso. The sugars help to balance any bitterness from the coffee. The fat coats the tongue, minimizing the experience of dry or sour tastes. The more milk you add, the more these factors impact the espresso flavor. The fats in milk hold onto aromatic compounds, prolonging your coffee's finish. 

Milk foam mainly impacts the texture of the drink, adding a sensory experience. Perfectly textured microfoam will also give a drink a velvety, lush feel. Plus, if you’re skilled enough to add latte art at the end of your pour, it’s like putting the final garnish on top of a cocktail, completing the presentation, and respecting the ingredients. If you cannot pour latte art, don’t fret, what truly matters is how the drink tastes. 

It's all about your milk to espresso ratio 

Simply put, all milk-based drinks are just a double shot of espresso (a single, triple, or quad shot, depending on how cheeky you feel) and some amount of milk. That’s it. It’s really that simple. Every great milk-based drink tastes excellent because the espresso compliments the creaminess and body of the milk. Let’s begin with every milk-based drink's foundation: an espresso shot. While we are imposing somewhat of a standard of what the below drink recipes should look like, bear in mind that many of these recipes are flexible and you can do as you wish. This is what makes home espresso so much fun. 


Image of an espresso shot ratio by clive coffee

In most specialty cafés, when you order an espresso, you are served a doppio or a double-shot, a ratio of ground coffee to liquid espresso 1:1-1:3, depending on the coffee they serve. When in doubt, always ask. Baristas are usually very friendly and take pride in the work they do—they’ll be happy to share their espresso recipe with you. At home, this recipe can be modified however you like; add an extra double shot to make it a quad or show some restraint (why would you?) and halve your ratio to pull a single shot. Most importantly, start with an espresso recipe. An espresso recipe is essential because it allows us to make sure we’re doing the same thing each time, and when something doesn’t taste right, we can change one variable at a time until the espresso tastes the way we want it to. To recap, we should always start with: 

  • A fully heated espresso machine 
  • Freshly roasted coffee within 1-2 weeks old (no more than one month off of the printed roast date)
  • A scale to measure your espresso input & output in grams

Dose, Yield, & Time 

We like to start with a 1:2 ratio, which will have our dose, which is the amount of ground coffee ground into your portafilter basket, our liquid yield, or the amount of liquid output we get, and extraction time—the amount of time it takes to reach our liquid espresso yield from the moment you start your shot, to the moment you stop it. A 1:2 ratio seems to hit a sweet spot, especially with most medium-roasted coffees and espresso blends. A great starter recipe is 18-20g of coffee In and 36-40g of espresso out. Play around with it and decide what tastes best for you! 

For more tips on espresso preparation, check out How Coffee Extraction Works and the All Inclusive Guide on Dialing-In.

Drink Recipes 

Illustration of a list of common cafe drinks by clive coffee


Illustration of a macchiato by clive coffee

This may be controversial to some, but the macchiato is not an iced beverage with whipped cream and caramel sauce. The word macchiato means marked, and the espresso is marked with milk. This small beverage (2-3 ounces total) is a classic Italian drink; if you walk up to a Venetian coffee bar and order a macchiato, this is exactly what you’d receive. The small amount of milk can add a little sweetness and help soften some of the more intense coffee. Additionally, this is precisely how it’s served in most specialty cafés worldwide, especially in the US, UK, and Australia. It can be more foamy or smooth and drinkable, like a tiny latte, depending on who is serving it.

In many corporate coffee chains, the macchiato is a larger hot, iced, or blended beverage with syrups and whipped cream, typically with much more milk. I hate to break it to you, but if you don’t already known it’s just a larger latte with much more sugar. 

Macchiato Recipe | 1:1 Espresso to Milk Ratio

  • Double shot of espresso | 1 ounce or 30 milliliters of steamed milk with plenty of foam
  • Pull a double shot of espresso. Steam approximately 3 ounces of milk. For a foamier, classic macchiato, try introducing air until the pitcher stops feeling cold, ~100°F. Stop steaming once the pitcher feels hot to touch, ~130-140°F.
  • Quickly pour 1 ounce of steamed, foamy milk into the espresso. 


Illustration of a cappuccino by clive coffee

The cappuccino has evolved over the years but exists in many forms, from bone dry to wet cappuccino. Originally named because of their resemblance to the bald heads of Capuchin monks, a traditional Italian cappuccino was a 5-6 ounce beverage composed of equal parts espresso, milk, and milk foam. Now, it’s common for specialty shops to replace the thick layer of milk foam with a small layer of perfectly steamed microfoam to present a drink with latte art and make a more homogenous product. 

Some will argue that the modern cappuccino is just a 5-6oz latte in all but name. This is where we say that traditions matter in some cases. We love the traditional cappuccino; it is our litmus test of distinguishing good baristas from the great. While it’s great to be able to pour latte art with a cappuccino, this drink is all about the right texture. The texture is the experience. 

Traditional Cappuccino | 1:1:1 Espresso to Milk to Foam Ratio

  • One double shot of espresso | ~2 ounces steamed milk | ~2 ounces of dense milk foam
  • Pull a double shot of espresso into a 5-6 ounce cup. Steam approximately 4-6 ounces of milk. For a drier or foamier cappuccino, put less milk in the picther and introduce air until the volume triples in size. For a wet cappuccino, introduce just a few moments of air. 
  • When introducing air, you want to hear many little chirping sounds resembling paper tearing. Stop steaming once the pitcher feels hot to the touch, ~130-140°F.
  • Give the pitcher a few swirls on the counter to help integrate the milk foam.
  • Pour the steamed milk into the espresso until it fills a 5-6 ounce cup.
  • To check the quality and quantity of your milk foam, take a small spoon and gently scrape the surface of the drink. Marvelous. 

Remember—milk steaming takes practice and depending on your espresso machine’s steaming capabilities and your steaming technique, texturing milk properly takes patience and repetition. For more information, check out our Milk Steaming 101 blog. 


Illustration of a latte by clive coffee

Think of the latte as a blank slate. It can be anything you want it to be, allowing you to play around and get creative with how you construct it. At its core, a latte is just a shot of espresso and steamed milk with a thin layer of silky microfoam. A latte can be as small as 8oz or as large as 24oz and everywhere in between. In most specialty cafés, you can choose 8,12 & 16oz. Remember, the amount of espresso stays the same, but the amount of milk increases with each step up. Feel free to add syrups like the traditional, vanilla, caramel, and hazelnut. We love to make our own seasonal syrups like blood orange, honey lavender, and brown sugar sarsparilla. That’s the beauty of lattes: you can control the sweetness, creaminess, espresso level, and garnish. The latte is the cocktail of the coffee industry. Is it a scorcher outside? Try it iced! 

8 Ounce Latte | 1:2 Espresso to Milk Ratio

  • 20-30 grams of liquid espresso | 6 ounces of steamed milk with a thinner layer of foam
  • Pull a double shot of espresso into an 8-10oz cup. For a milky latte, try introducing less air into the milk (3-4 seconds). Stop steaming once the pitcher feels too hot to hold, ~140-150°F. Give the pitcher a few swirls on the counter to help integrate the foam.
  • Pour the steamed milk into the espresso until it fills the cup.
  • To make a larger latte, increase the amount of milk to match your desired size. 


Illustration of a cortado by clive coffee

The cortado is the perfect drink if you want the texture of a latte but don’t want the milk volume of a latte, giving you a more espresso-forward beverage. Also, the cortado is the perfect example of why drink sizes matter—the cortado should be enjoyed in a 4-4.5oz mug. The cortado, meaning to cut, is a loose adaptation of a classic Spanish coffee where robust brewed coffee is mixed with warmed milk. Generally speaking, a cortado is 1-2 ounces of espresso with just over 2 ounces of lightly textured steamed milk.

Often referred to as a Gibraltar because of the namesake glassware in which the drink is often served, some will assert the two drinks are very much distinct, it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly how. If you ever find yourself ordering a cortado to-go, please don’t ask for a different size (it doesn’t exist), and it’s meant to be consumed very quickly, not awkwardly, from an oversized paper cup. 

For more information on the history of the cortado, check out this fantastic article from Oliver Strand and the New York Times: A Cortado Is Not a Minivan.

Cortado | 1:2 Espresso to Milk Ratio

  • One double shot of espresso | 2-3 ounces of milk with a very thin layer of foam. Think tiny latte.
  • Pull a double shot of espresso into a 4-4.5 ounce cup.
  • Steam approximately 5-6 ounces of milk. Steam the milk as you would for a latte. Stop steaming once the pitcher feels hot to touch, ~120-130°F. Give the pitcher a few swirls on the counter to help integrate the foam. Pour the steamed milk into the espresso until it fills the cup.

Flat White

Illustration of a flat white by clive coffee

Did the flat white originate in Australia or New Zealand? Is it a cappuccino or a latte? Is it both? The flat white is a hybrid of sorts but has earned a distinction as its own unique beverage. The advent of Aussie café culture can be attributed to Italians immigragting to the land down under. As such, an Australian cappuccino looks very much like a traditional Italian one. However, as coffee culture evolved, customers and baristas wanted to taste more espresso with less foam and milk. Instead of a small drink having a nice dome of foam, they preferred to have a flat surface–hence, the flat white. Ironically, we can thank the Italians for being the spark that inspired many of today’s biggest café culture trends—more espresso forward beverages with better tasting espresso. Third wave (are we in the fourth wave now?) espresso, thus, is less of a reaction to tradition and more of an evolution of how we structure ideas around consumption in the coffee industry—the flat white being a perfect example of it’s non-linear path

Essentially, the flat white is a cappuccino-sized latte, roughly 5-6 ounces. Some will argue that a flat white should be served hotter and with a little more foam than a latte. Really, both are trying to do the same thing: balance the flavor of milk and espresso by using less milk than a standard latte.

Flat White | 1:2 Espresso to Milk Ratio

  • One double shot of espresso | 3-4 ounces of milk with a thin layer of foam
  • Pull a double shot of espresso into a 5-6 ounce cup. Steam approximately 5-6 ounces of milk. Try to introduce a small amount of air (2-3 seconds). 
  • Stop steaming once the pitcher feels hot to touch, ~130-140°F. Give the pitcher a few good swirls on the counter to help integrate the foam. Pour the steamed milk into the espresso until it fills the cup.


Illustration of a mocha by clive coffee

The mocha is basically a chocolate latte. What’s better than espresso and milk? Chocolate, of course! You can use milk chocolate, white chocolate, or dark chocolate; the possibilities are really up to you. Want a more chocolatey mocha? Add more chocolate sauce. Like the latte, sizes usually come in 8,12, and 16oz, with the amount of milk increasing with the cup size. The idea of the mocha is less about tasting the espresso and more about having a nice little treat 

12 Ounce Mocha 

  • Double shot of espresso integrated with 1.5 ounces chocolate sauce | 8 ounces of steamed milk with a thinner layer of foam 
  • Pull a double shot of espresso into an 12oz cup. . Stop steaming once the pitcher feels too hot to hold, ~140-150°F. Give the pitcher a few good swirls on the counter to help integrate the foam.
  • Pour the steamed milk into the espresso until it fills the cup.
  • To make a larger mocha, increase the amount of milk to match your desired size. 
  • For an iced mocha, we recommend filling a 12 ounce glass ¾ of the way with ice, mixing the milk and chocolate together, then adding the espresso last. Stir with a bar spoon and enjoy. 
Illustration of an iced mocha by clive coffee

To recap, milk based drinks, at their core, are some variation of milk to espresso and maybe some foam. Every great espresso beverage starts with properly extracted espresso, but even if your shot doesn't taste great on its own don't toss it—it can still work well with milk. For smaller milk beverages that are more espresso forward, shot quality matters much more, so make sure your shots are dialed in nicely. Most of these recipe ratios can be altered and are flexible, but some ratios are more strict than others, i.e. the cortado. What's most important is to get into your zen and make something delicious that tastes great to you, and maybe share one with a friend. 

friends have a nice coffee together lifestyle by clive coffee