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What’s a Caffè Misto? – How Starbucks Made It Famous + Comparing Caffe Misto vs Latte vs Café au Lait 

Half coffee and half steamed milk, Caffe Misto is a drink I used to make myself as a barista when I had a rough morning and needed to wake up quickly. 😜  
caffe misto

The “Caffé Misto” is a coffee beverage that combines brewed coffee with steamed milk in a way that resembles a latte. The Italian word “misto” means “mixed,” which is a perfect description of the mixture of brewed coffee and steamed milk.  But of course, there are some variations in the preparation and composition.

Speaking as a barista, making a Caffe Misto at a coffee shop is super fast. It’s easy to make in a rush because Caffe Misto uses brewed coffee, which we already make fresh throughout the day. Add steamed milk and you have a steaming cup of Caffe Misto ready to go. 

Keep reading to learn the difference between a Caffe Misto and similar drinks and get my easy directions to make a damn good Misto in your own kitchen.

The Starbucks Caffe Misto

Although Caffe Misto is a staple drink in France, it hasn’t been popular outside of Europe until it showed up on the Starbucks menu. Customers who liked the creaminess of a latte but preferred brewed coffee over espresso may have been the target audience for Starbucks’ introduction of the Caffe Misto. 

In terms of taste and texture, the Caffe Misto is creamy and smooth. The balance between coffee and milk in one drink is perfect as neither one overpowers the other. This allows the drink to maintain a light, frothy texture which makes it lighter and less intense than a regular coffee. It’s a perfect choice for those who find regular coffee too strong or lattes too creamy.

In addition, the variety of customization options Starbucks provides allows anyone to add a personal touch to their Caffe Misto to suit their tastes. For example, a Starbucks Caffe Misto with syrup can completely transform the drink, changing it from a classic coffee to something more indulgent and dessert-like. 

How Baristas Make Caffe Misto at Starbucks

Baristas at Starbucks craft the Caffe Misto using a blend of brewed coffee and steamed milk. The process begins with selecting the most suitable coffee for the drink. 

Starbucks uses its regular house blend for Caffe Misto, a well-balanced, medium-roast coffee with notes of nuts and cocoa. The coffee is carefully brewed using filtered water heated to the exact right temperature, ensuring a perfectly balanced brew.

Once the coffee is ready, it’s time to prepare the milk.

A Caffe Misto at Starbucks contains 2% milk by default, but customers can request a different variety if they prefer. The milk is then gently steamed using a high-powered steam wand. As the milk heats, the natural sugars caramelize, creating a rich, creamy texture and a subtly sweet flavor. 

The steamed milk is poured into the cup, filling it up about halfway. They then add hot, fresh coffee, filling the cup to the brim. The total milk to coffee ratio is one-to-one. This keeps the brew from being overwhelmed by the milk. Rather, the coffee and hot milk complement each other when the ratios are right at 50/50.

The completed Caffe Misto is a perfect balance of warmth, creaminess, and light coffee flavor—an exceptional combination that makes it a favorite among Starbucks customers worldwide.

Comparing the Caffe Misto vs Latte

The Caffe Misto and Latte are two of the most popular hot beverages offered at most coffee shops and are both made from coffee and milk.

However, despite the shared ingredients, they are distinctly different in their taste, texture, and preparation.

Let’s begin with the Caffe Misto, sometimes (but incorrectly) known as the Cafe Au Lait in France. It contains equal parts of brewed coffee and steamed milk. It’s generally less frothy, simpler, and not as strong tasting as a latte. 

But the Caffe Misto’s strength is significantly decided by the type of coffee used. For instance, dark roasts, with their robust and rich flavors, lend a deeper flavor than a softer light roast. The amount of milk used can also be dependent on personal preference, with some preferring less milk for a stronger coffee taste.

In contrast, a latte uses espresso combined with steamed milk, topped off with a small layer of froth. This milk-based drink gets its flavorful body mainly from the bold and intense flavor of the espresso, highlighted by the sweetness of the steamed milk. The espresso-to-milk ratio in a latte is typically 1:4 or even 5, ensuring the coffee doesn’t overpower the milky sweetness. A latte is typically served in a larger glass or cup than a Caffe Misto due to its higher milk content.

So how do the Latte and Caffe Misto stack up against each other?

While both drinks are comforting and delicious, they offer contrasting experiences. The Caffe Misto is a gentler drink, perfect for those who prefer a milder coffee experience. It is generally lighter and less creamy due to the absence of a frothy top layer. 

On the other hand, a latte is a richer, creamier choice for those who appreciate the bold, deep flavors of espresso softened by hot milk. The frothy top gives it a luxurious appeal, adding an extra texture that the Caffe Misto lacks.

When it comes to caffeine content, a latte usually contains more caffeine because of the espresso shots. However, this may differ depending on the amount and type of coffee used in the Caffe Misto.

In terms of calories, a latte has more due to the additional milk and sometimes the addition of flavoring syrups. 

In the end, the preference between a Caffe Misto and a Latte all boils down to your taste preference and dietary needs. 

Café au Lait vs Latte vs Misto

Café au Lait, Latte, and Misto seem quite similar, but they have distinct characteristics that differentiate them from one another.

As you can tell by the name, the Café au Lait is a French-originated coffee brew. It translates to ‘coffee with milk’. In the traditional version, equal proportions of drip coffee and steamed milk are combined, often served in a large, rounded bowl. It is relatively easy to prepare and is known for its decadent creaminess, and less frothy texture compared to other milk-based coffee beverages due to the lack of milk foam or whipped cream topping.

On the other hand, the Latte is short for “Caffe Latte”, which means ‘milk coffee’ in Italian. Prepared with about one-third espresso, two-thirds steamed milk, and a small but significant layer of foamed milk on top, the latte has a sweeter taste. 

The foam on top increases the richness of the drink and creates an opportunity for latte art, which has become a popular trend in the world of baristas. Excellent latte art can be a testament to a barista’s skills.

Then there is the Caffe Misto, a term used commonly in North America and particularly associated with Starbucks. Considered a cross between a Café au Lait and a Latte, Caffe Misto is made with equal parts of coffee and milk.

The Caffe Misto and Cafe au Lait have the same ratio – equal parts brewed coffee and warm milk. But the layer of milk foam on top is more similar to a Latte. 

Because Cafe Misto contains black coffee instead of espresso, it’s less intense than a latte. Drip coffee with milk also tastes. smoother and lighter, making it an excellent choice for those who prefer a more delicate flavor in their coffee drink. But if you like how concentrated lattes taste, the Caffe Misto will taste weaker by comparison. 

In essence, the main difference between the Caffe Misto vs Cafe au Lait vs Latte lies in their choice and ratio of ingredients, preparation methods, and geographical origin. Their diverse profiles make each one uniquely appealing, tailored to suit varying taste preferences. 

Where Café au Lait provides a more robust coffee experience, a Latte presents a creamier and frothier alternative, and a Misto offers a middle ground, blending elements of both. 

What Do You Need to Make Caffe Misto at Home?

If you already brew your coffee at home, the good news for you is that cafe misto is made with brewed coffee instead of espresso. This means you likely have everything, if not almost everything, you need to craft this drink.

  • Whole coffee beans to grind fresh – I recommend medium-roast coffee because it’s quite strong but not overpowering, and brings out the milk’s sweetness.
  • A coffee maker of your choice – I like using a Moka pot or drip brewer myself.
  • Milk to froth – In my opinion, you need to choose types of milk and coffee that balance each other out. I suggest whole milk in a Caffe Misto.
  • A milk frother or your steam wand if using an espresso machine.

How To Make a Caffè Misto

The process is quite simple. All you have to do is as follows:

1. Brew coffee 

caffe misto brewed coffee

This is the first step in the process. Make enough brewed black coffee for an equal amount of coffee and milk per serving.

2. Froth the milk

caffe misto

I like to use whole milk to make super creamy foam. Regardless of your milk of choice, your frothed milk should be like a latte in consistency. 

3. Pour the coffee

caffe misto
caffe misto
caffe misto

Pick a cup and pour your brewed coffee approximately halfway full. Remember: You want a 1:1 coffee to milk ratio.

4. Pour the milk

caffe misto

Fill the remaining space in the mug with the steamed milk.

5. Enjoy! 

Depending on customer preferences, certain coffee shops may offer Caffè Misto varieties that include flavored syrups or different sugar substitutes like agave, but I recommend you avoid adding anything. That way, you can savor all the goodness of your coffee.

Final Thoughts on the Caffe Misto Coffee Drink

A Caffe Misto is simply coffee combined with hot milk. It’s fantastic if you like the latte’s creamy texture but would rather have a lighter coffee. While you should keep an equal ratio of milk and coffee, the best way to make Caffe Misto is ultimately the way you like most! 

Cafe Misto FAQs

What is Cafe Misto?

Caffe Misto, also known as café au lait, is a coffee beverage that combines equal parts of freshly brewed coffee and frothed milk. Caffe Misto may also include flavorings like syrup or spices for added taste.

What is the ratio difference between a 16 oz Latte and a Misto?

While a 16 oz latte and a 16 oz caffe misto have the same volume, the Latte contains more milk due to the added foam. The Caffe Misto will have an equal ratio of coffee to milk, creating a stronger coffee flavor.

Is Cafe Misto stronger than a latte?

A Caffe Misto is made with equal parts of coffee and milk, whereas a latte is primarily milk with a shot of espresso. As a result, a caffe misto might have a stronger coffee flavor compared to a latte, which tends to be milder and creamier due to the higher milk content and the foam on top.

Is a Caffe Misto the same as a Latte?

No, Caffe Misto is not the same as a Latte. While both are coffee drinks made with milk, a Caffe Misto combines equal parts of fresh coffee and milk, whereas a Latte is made using a shot of espresso, topped with a larger proportion of steamed milk and foam.

Can I use soy milk or other alternatives to make a cafe au lait?

Yes, you can certainly make a cafe au lait, or Caffe Misto, with alternatives to cow’s milk such as soy, almond, or oat milk. The ratio of coffee to milk remains the same – equal parts of both. The taste might differ slightly with different types of milk, but the overall flavor profile remains the same.
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