Café con leche is an extremely popular coffee beverage loved by people around the world. So you would think that Starbucks, a coffee chain with over 35,000 locations worldwide, would offer this drink on its main menu. As it turns out, this sadly isn’t the case.
Surprisingly, Starbucks does not list “café con leche” as an item on any of its menus. Luckily, there are a few different ways to order drinks at Starbucks that will get you very close to a classic café con leche. You just have to know what to ask for.
I know, I know, I was just as shocked as you are! How could such a beloved beverage not be available at such a pervasive coffee chain like Starbucks? It really is a tragedy that more of the world can’t be introduced to this delectable beverage, but I guess that just means more café con leche for the rest of us!
What is café con leche?
If you aren’t familiar with what café con leche is, then allow me to introduce you. Café con leche is a classic Spanish beverage that literally translates to “coffee with milk.”
Don’t pay too much mind to the translation, though. This beverage boils down to much more than drip coffee with a dash of lactose.
The café in this equation is actually espresso, otherwise known as highly concentrated coffee served and consumed in very small amounts. And the leche isn’t just regular milk, but steamed milk, which has a slightly different taste. These two things combined in equal parts create a fantastic beverage that not only tastes delicious but offers the jolt you need to get going in the morning or a pick-me-up after dinner to get you through the rest of the day.
What’s the difference between café con leche, lattes, and cappuccinos?
Get ready for some math, because we’re talking ratios! Don’t worry, it’s not too complicated…
Ratios are the reason these three beverages aren’t the same, since they’re all essentially made with the same ingredients: espresso and milk. Café con leche calls for a 1:1 ratio, whereas cappuccinos are a 1:2 ratio, and lattes are a 1:3 ratio of espresso to milk.
Plus there’s one other important detail that sets them apart. While café con leche is made with steamed milk, lattes and cappuccinos are made with frothed milk.
How to order café con leche from Starbucks
Now, it’s the moment you’ve been waiting for. Since you can’t just order a café con leche at Starbucks, here’s what to order instead:
Espresso with steamed milk
By stripping a café con leche down to its basics, you can ask for the two ingredients that make up this beverage. Specifically, ask for two shots of espresso with equal parts steamed milk and you’ll have just about the closest you can get to a café con leche at Starbucks.
Flat white with no foam
A flat white at Starbucks is an espresso topped with steamed milk and a bit of foam. It leans heavier on the espresso than on the milk, so it doesn’t have a 1:1 ratio of the two ingredients, but asking for it without the foam will get you close to a café con leche.
Cappuccino with extra espresso and steamed milk
Remember how cappuccinos are one part espresso and two parts milk? Well, ask for extra espresso and you’ll basically even things out. This can get you fairly close to that 1:1 ratio of espresso to milk. Just be sure to ask for the milk to be steamed instead of frothed.
Latte macchiato with extra espresso
As we learned earlier, a latte is one part espresso and three parts milk. A macchiato is an espresso with just a tiny splash of milk. When you combine the two and ask for extra espresso, you’ll get a variation of a café con leche.
Since this isn’t an exact science, the ratios may depend on your particular barista, meaning this may not be the most consistent way to order a café con leche at Starbucks. There’s a decent amount of room for interpretation in this order, so it could end up really good or not so good at all.
How to make your own café con leche
If the alternative orders at Starbucks aren’t cutting it for you, brewing your own café con leche at home may be worth the effort. In reality, it isn’t that hard at all and you may end up liking it more than the Starbucks copycat.
As we’ve already covered, all you need to make a café con leche is espresso and steamed milk. For a normal-sized café con leche, brew one ounce (30ml) of espresso, or very strong coffee if you don’t have the ability to make espresso with a specialty brewer at home.
Next, steam one ounce (30ml) of milk either on the stovetop or in the microwave if you’re in a pinch. Either way, you want the milk to be almost at a boil. Finally, pour the steamed milk atop the espresso and enjoy!
If you prefer, you can add a bit of sugar as a finishing touch. Café con leche is best served after a meal or with a light snack.
No café con leche, no problem?
Considering how popular café con leche is in some parts of the world, it may be disappointing to learn that one of the most pervasive coffee chains in the world doesn’t offer it on its menu. On the other hand, maybe it’s a blessing in disguise.
Café con leche is a common fixture in Spanish culture and in many Latin and European communities around the world. This beverage is more than just a fun drink to order at Starbucks, it’s part of a lifestyle in certain communities.
If Starbucks were to serve café con leche, it simply couldn’t match the freshly brewed café con leche in a small coffee shop in Spain. By keeping it off its menu, Starbucks is inadvertently preserving the cultural significance of this drink. Maybe not having it on their menu isn’t such a bad thing, after all.