Be Your Own Barista: How to Make Your Favorite Coffee Drinks at Home

Brew strong and carry on.

Horchata Coffee Creamer
Photo: Ryan Liebe

If your usual morning joe is a cappuccino, latte, or a cold brew, do you order it daily from your favorite barista? While there's nothing wrong with grabbing a drink from your favorite local coffee shop, there's something to be said for making these beverages at home. If you have coffee-making equipment and are wondering how to make these coffee drinks in your very own kitchen, we can help—we're sharing tips so you can brew, froth, and flavor your coffee like a pro.

The first step is to brew a good cup of coffee. Whether you're using a fancy espresso machine, a sturdy French press, or tried-and-true drip coffee apparatus, you'll want to use fresh, quality coffee beans and follow the ratio of coffee to water as directed in the recipe. Want to play on easy mode? Cold brew will provide the caffeine kick with little effort—just be prepared to wait about a day until you can drink in all the benefits. If your current stash of coffee isn't the highest in quality or freshness, don't sweat it and just work with what you've got. After all, heaps of frothy milk and a spoonful of sugar can hide a multitude of sins—as can a little salt. Adding a pinch to less-than-optimal grounds before brewing will help to mask bitterness and bring out the coffee's natural sweetness.

All About the Espresso

The one thing that drinks like macchiatos and lattes have in common is that they use espresso. Espresso is coffee that is made by using the pressure from steam to force water through the grounds. The result of that process is a rich, oily, and intense coffee that a regular brew just can't match. There is a workaround for those with regular coffee makers, which is to make your brew on the stronger side to mimic the same characteristics of espresso, or even add a pinch of instant espresso powder to your brew before turning it into your preferred drink.

And That Steamed Milk

Now we're moving on to mastering the things that make your favorite coffee order feel so special: frothy foams, flavored syrups, and fragrant spices. While a milk steamer or frother is a great gadget to have on hand for cappuccinos and lattes, it's not mandatory. Here's what you do if you don't have one: Pour some milk—ideally skim or two percent for maximum froth—into a jar no more than halfway full. Add a couple of pinches of sugar (this is optional, but it gives the foam more volume), then seal and shake the jar vigorously for 30 seconds. To stabilize the foam and keep it from collapsing back into the liquid, remove the lid and zap it in the microwave for thirty seconds (the heat acts as a stabilizer for the foam). For iced coffee lovers, you can have your foam and drink it cold, too, with this iced latte recipe.

Flavored Coffee

It's no secret that the way flavored coffees are made at the café is through a pump or two of that thick syrup you see sitting near the big espresso machines. But it's not hard to recreate the flavors at home—try syrups like hazelnut, vanilla, caramel, and chocolate to start. For those wanting to avoid added sugar, flavor your coffee with extracts instead: simply stir a teaspoon of vanilla, hazelnut, almond, or go wild with peppermint or coconut into the coffee grounds before brewing.

If you're already on the flavored coffee train, don't stop at just syrups. Try this Arabic coffee, which is a Turkish-style coffee that boils ground dark-roast coffee with sugar and cardamom pods.

Love That Latte Art

Once you've mastered the foundations of a strong cup of coffee and foamy milk, there's not much else you need to do except sip and enjoy your creations. However, if you were always the kid who relished at the idea of extra credit assignments, this is a great time to practice some latte art. Making these foam hearts is a great starter recipe for the novice barista in all of us; try them first, then move on to the more intricate designs. On the other hand, if you're heart belongs with those crushable blender-based coffees, it's a cinch to whip up a frappe or a caffeine-spiked smoothie right at home if you have a blender on hand.

Dulce Dreams

Our homemade creamer, shown above, is just the thing to make if your caffeine routine needs a non-dairy lift. Inspired by horchata, the Mexican cinnamon-rice drink, it's lightly spiced and just sweet enough, with no added stabilizers. The basic version makes an up to a five-day supply (depending on how light you like your brew) with sweetened condensed milk, unsweetened rice milk, and a pinch of ground cinnamon. For a just-as-tasty vegan version, use sweetened condensed coconut milk and unsweetened coconut milk instead.

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