Tag Archives: latte

An Anthropological Experiment: the Breastmilk Latte

It had to be done. In fact, friends have been suggesting it since I first got pregnant. I am currently breastfeeding Miranda and my taste for coffee finally returned post-pregnancy, so why not combine the two? Given the amount of espresso I consume, I’m fairly sure my milk is flavoured anyway…

I am intrigued by how a breastmilk latte would be received in general. I am not planning on selling them, don’t worry! Miranda would object! But, what do people think about the concept? Is it disgusting? Something you’d want to try? kinky even?

Personally I don’t see it as disgusting or anything remotely kinky – breastmilk is a wonderstuff and I am continually fascinated with what my body is capable of doing. This experiment is just an extention of that fascination and curiosity. Miranda is very keen on the stuff and I’d like to know what it tastes like and how it behaves

Making my latte was a little hampered by the fact that Miranda has been very hungry this morning and it therefore took me twenty minutes to manually express about 30ml of milk. Therefore, I decided to go for a breastmilk macchiatto instead.

The espresso was Costa Rican Tres Rios but I can’t make any claims about the quality of it because I was using my home espresso machine, which I know isn’t the best. If I can express any more milk at the weekend I’ll take it down to the Ape van and try it on my professional machine with my awesome Honduran coffee.

The little milk I managed to express was very thick, and frothed very well. It smelled very slightly like canned condensed milk when I heated it, but got up to the same temperature as cow’s milk does without burning or separating. It didn’t quite go as shiny as cow’s milk, but that could be my frothing technique and/or the relatively crap milk wand on that machine!

So, the end result? Pretty damn good. I can see why Miri likes it. Very rich, oddly sweet but perhaps a bit too strong a smell to be completely palatable, though it only smells of Babies. I think a full sized latte would be overwhelmingly sickly to be honest. I am not sure what I was expecting it to taste like – I know breastmilk is so full of goodness and essential vitamins and proteins and enzymes vital to Miranda’s growth and development that I half expected it to taste like a protein shake or some of those ghastly health food smoothies you get in Holland and Barratt or something. It was a relief to find it doesn’t.

Sadly not on sale for public consumption as I have a very exclusive market for it at home, but still, and interesting experiment!


Posted by on September 7, 2010 in Uncategorized


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Rimbaud, Goethe and even Gaggia, spinning in their graves

This blog is once again fuelled by bitterness, but then coffee is an intensely bitter drink. In fact, if one more customer, when offered sugar, says “No thanks, I’m sweet enough already” I will string them up from the air conditioning unit and pour espresso straight into their nostrils.
Ice Queen (the assistant manager who neither assists, nor manages) criticised my latte the other day. “If I’d trained you, you’d probably be doing better.” she claims. I had to bite my tongue, hard. Without wishing to sound equally as arrogant, I know a lot more about coffee than she does. I was trained very well, by and with people who are really passionate about it. Ice Queen does not even drink the stuff.

I will cling to my bitterness. Espresso is the purest form of coffee, and I love it, but only when it is made correctly. Even with the ‘training’ we minions receive at the Mothership, and all the technical wizardry of the hissing monstrosity, it is still entirely possible to screw it all up. Some people burn the coffee by tamping it too hard, or putting too much in. Others make it too watery and bitter. I am the first to admit mine vary considerably, depending on my mood, concentration level and my judgment of whether the customer wants good coffee or just fast coffee.

We are instructed by the omniscient ‘Gerry’ – Our Glorious Leader, that the coffee machine is a sacred instrument, and that our Patron Saint, Senhor Achille Gaggia, designed it specifically and Saw That It Was Good. Praise be! The fact that our ‘gaggio’ machines bears no resemblance to the hissing brass contraptions he would have used is irrelevant. Gaggia knows all, and thou shalt honour him, O heathen ones!

A grain of historical impartiality – Gaggia was an opportunist. His machine, invented in 1945 was neither efficient nor the best of the time. It did, however, look highly dramatic, produced a lot of steam and involved a complex array of levers and pistons which added to the performance of the barista. In a time when coffee was little understood, this machine was adopted and adored, and sanctified within the coffee shop industry. Modern machines have far more in common with Luigi Bezzera’s creation, patented in Italy in 1902, but sadly this machine did not involve so much showmanship.

There is a lot of doubt also, over the origins of ‘espresso’. According to the Oxford English dictionary, it is derived from ‘express’ – as in, made fresh and promptly in from of the customer. It could also originate from the machine itself, which looked and sounded like an express steam train at the time. Neither form takes in to account the Italian ‘espres’ meaning, pressed. Steam is pressed through the coffee under pressure to produce the drink. This almost implies that the English were unaware of, or simply didn’t use this method when the word first entered the language.

But back to the latte. In our world, Latte is a long drink, in which hot steamed milk is added to an espresso base. In a lot of coffee shops, it is served in a glass, with the milk added first and the coffee poured through so it forms pretty layers. At Nero, we are trained to do it the other way up. This annoys customers who prefer the aesthetics. Nero claims our way is more authentic.

In Italy, however, Latte means ‘milk’. If you walk in to an Italian coffee bar and ask for coffee, you will get espresso. Very few Italians drink it with milk, and when they do it is far more likely to be Macchiato, equal parts milk foam to espresso, not the long drink we prefer.

Pre-Italian coffee obsession, however, lattes would have been even more unheard of. In ancient Yemen, at the Port of Mocha where it all began in the 16th century, they believed that adding milk to coffee would give them leprosy. Back to Caffe Nero, and a ‘mocha’ is a long drink with espresso mixed with chocolate powder, diluted with steamed milk and topped with whipped cream. Authenticity isn’t always the brand’s strong point.

The Turks believed that coffee should be ‘as black as hell, as strong as death, and as sweet as love.’ The Arabs believed it brought wisdom, and that ‘man could not know the truth until he had tasted coffee’s goodness’. Coffee also inspires poetry – creating a manic intensity in artists. Goethe, the poet and artist was also a keen scientist and a coffee drinker. Amongst his infamous writings he can also be credited with helping to discover caffeine. He was aware of the effects coffee has on the body, (he was prone to insomnia) and asked his friend, the German chemist Runge to set about isolating the substance that caused these effects. For their experiments to work, he required coffee in its purest form. Although this would have been long before the invention of the espresso machine, Goethe’s drinks would have been highly infused, very very strong and bitter, the blackest of the black; far more like the Turks chose to drink it than our modern equivalent. It is a safe assumption then, that coffee was a significant influence on both his poetry and his science.

Another manic poet, Arthur Rimbaud, was also heavily influenced by coffee, in more ways that one. Writing in 1870, Rimbaud is famous for his free verse poetry and his surreal way of describing sounds as colours was typical of his supposed synesthesia. He also believed, however, that in order to write poetry, you must have “long, intimidating, immense and rational derangement of all the senses”. This was usually achieved through consuming copious amounts of absinthe, but coffee could have similar effects to those unused to strong doses of caffeine. Ironically, in 1884, Rimbaud gave up writing entirely, and became a coffee merchant based in Harar, Ethiopia. Ethiopian coffee was not fashionable at the time, and his was cheap, and generally regarded as rough and bitter. Rimbaud certainly never made a lot of money from this trade. It is claimed that it was the coffee trade that eventually killed him, he died just seven years later, aged 37 having gotten typhoid fever whilst surveying his plantations.

Rimbaud, given the opportunity, would probably have been quite bitter about this as well. Coffee is a bitter drink to swallow. It is saddening to thing that despite all the romance and intrigue and artistry that has gone on in previous centuries, our most recent, and most popular addictions to the story of coffee have to be the embrace of milk and sugar. We are diluting the stuff, literally and metaphorically, sweetening it to make it more palatable to our lethargic culture. But underneath the whipped cream and chocolate peripheries in Caffe Nero, coffee has a long, dark and bitter history.


Posted by on September 4, 2007 in caffe nero, coffee, espresso, gaggia, goethe, latte, poetry, rimbaud


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Coffee Gourmetism (or snobbery)

It is a normal Saturday night in Darlo and Carl and I are positioned the right side of the bar in Wetherspoons, drinking something that sounds like Syphillis (Lithuanian Lager!).
“But what if I just wanted a coffee? A plain, normal coffee with milk and sugar?”
“What does normal coffee mean? That’s like walking into a wine bar and asking for “wine please” – you’ve gotta say what sort!”
“Just a normal white coffee.”
“White? you mean, Latte? or cappucinno? Or… mocha? or…. Frappecino? Or Espresso con Panna? or even a white Americano?”
“Why is it called Americano?”
“I dunno, because American’s don’t like it if it sounds foreign….?”

This continues all night.
I KNOW Carl knows the difference, he even specifies sometimes, and he certainly appreciates the difference between good espresso-based coffees and the instant crap we buy in Nettos. But, this is amicable Saturday night bickering, practically an art form with us, and besides, he’s had three pints already.
For my part, I know exactly what he means too. There was a time when I would have been content with ‘normal coffee’ too. Hell, I only started drinking the stuff when doing mind-numbing data entry work for Lloyds bank when I was 17. The most interesting thing to do in that office was get up every so often and press a button on a machine to see what sort of brown, powdery shit-in-a-cup would magically appear in place of your 50p…

Things have progressed though, and the world does alter when you actually take the time to learn about what is is you are drinking. I learnt some things in Nicaragua, actually having seen what coffee plantations look like. I learnt a lot more at the Voodoo Cafe, making my beloved Love Potions and pink filters and uber-coffees initially to amuse teenagers, but often as not to amuse The Boss too. Caffe Nero is different again; same principle but different clientele – the Teenager Fanclub would neither know nor care if my espresso had poured for 15 seconds or whether it had hazelnut coloured crema on the top, but The People of Nero (who, incidently, have their own Facebook group…) really do appreciate the subtleties of good coffee and some even moan when it’s not done right.
So, I have had to learn the difference between espresso Ristretto, con Panna (not, as I thought, ‘with bread’) Doppio or Machiatta, make sure my tamp is right, and reject (or drink) the ones missing their crema. I’ve put in to do my coffee Maestro training, and soon enought I can call myself an official coffee gourmet.
Meanwhile, however, Carl came in to Nero’s today, confidently marched up to the bar and asked for his beloved Normal Coffee. An end to all this coffee snobbery! Victory to the layman!
He eventually got served an Americano, but did get asked
Regular or grande?
Sit in or take away?
Would you like any milk or cream?
Any cakes to go with that?
We maybe coffee gourmets, but we still work on the McDonald’s school of Customer Service scripts…..

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Posted by on June 23, 2007 in Uncategorized


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