Espresso: The Art of the Perfect BreveCOFFEE, VIDEOS — By Milli Thornton on July 18, 2010 at 21:32
Story by Milli Thornton. Photos Copyright © Milli Thornton & Chris Cole
HAD ANY GOOD lattes lately? If so, you may be ready for a new twist on the old routine: the breve.
Breve translates from Italian as ‘brief’ or ‘short.’ What that has to do with this drink beats me! It should really be called cremoso (creamy).
Wiki defines the breve thus:
Caffè breve (caf-ay brev-ay) is an American variation of a latte: a milk-based espresso drink using steamed half-and-half (a 50:50 mixture of milk and cream) instead of milk. The use of half-and-half increases the foam in the drink.
Sounds rich, doesn’t it? If you try one, don’t sue me if you wind up addicted! But for those concerned about stacking on the pounds, here’s a morsel of comfort. In her article at Cocoajava.com, Low Carbing at the Coffee House, Vicki Shaver says:
“Whether it’s a Breve Latte or a Breve Cappuccino, you will love this creamy version of the standard so much that you will never want to return to the land of skim! This is a low carb staple, and a must when turning coffee into dessert.”
4 Insider Tips for Getting a Good Breve
For daily coffee at home, we use our Keurig machine and a variety of K-Cups (extra bold). In coffee houses I almost never drink anything but breves, so I’ve learned a few simple tricks for getting it the way I like it. It starts with good beans.Chris Cole at Peaberry’s Cafe & Bakery (my local hangout here in Youngstown, Ohio) has his own expert roaster. He also bags his beans for retail sale using the Peaberry’s label.
Does your local hangout use great beans? If you’re not totally sure, do a taste test. Visit several coffee houses in your area over a period of 3–4 days. Order the same type of drink in each establishment. Which one stands out the most?
My second trick is that you have to be able to taste the coffee itself. It’s not just about the cream. When I see people ordering gigantic mochas with only one shot of espresso (or adding all kinds of sickly flavoring), I have to wonder: does this person actually like coffee?
If you can’t bear the taste of espresso without some added pumpkin pie or mint or hazelnut then—even with all the cream—my perfect drink will be too strong for you. I order a small breve with two shots of espresso, and that’s the intensity I like. Anything less tastes bland to me.
If you’re out globetrotting (at least in North America) and you want to hunt down a breve, there’s a third trick you must know: how to ask.First, scan the coffee menu looking for the word ‘breve.’ If you don’t see it listed, that’s your clue that the barista may never have heard of it.
Here’s how your spiel should go:
“Can you make a breve?”
“It’s a latte made with half-and-half.”
“Sure, we have half-and-half. But I’ll have to charge you more.”
You might pay up to 50 cents more . . . but I think you’ll agree that the heavenly taste is worth the extra cost.
Incidentally, when ordering in Starbucks, be sure to say you want a “breve latte.” That’s what Starbucks baristas are trained to call it, and they won’t feel right until you’ve said it.
(The proper term is caffè breve, but I’ve never had to say the caffè part to get what I want.)
When all else fails and your (non-corporate) barista is looking blank, just remember to say it’s a latte made with half-and-half. This worked like a charm for me in Ontario, where no one I encountered knew a thing about it. But after hearing my magic words they knew just what to do.
The fourth tip—and this is critical—is about steaming the half-and-half to the correct temperature: 160 degrees. If you encounter an over-zealous barista, you’ll end up with a burnt taste (and probably burn your mouth as well). Ask your barista what temp is used for steaming. If the answer is a wishful glance at the front door or “I’m not sure, let me check with the boss,” then you should order something else.
My Own Personal Barista
Apart from my local hangout (where they always do it right), I also have my own barista at home. Each Saturday and Sunday morning, Brian grinds our Peaberry’s beans fresh for each cup using our Mr. Coffee grinder. He uses the small Krups espresso machine we found for $5 at a garage sale in Jackson, Mississippi—we’ve had that little baby for three years now and it’s still going strong.
The final product is served in our favorite red “feng shui” coffee mugs (see main picture) with a dash of cinnamon. Brian definitely has it down to an art.
If you’d like to learn to make breve at home—or coax hubby into learning—you might enjoy the video at the end of this article.
Milli Thornton (aka Milliver) is the author of Fear of Writing: for writers & closet writers. She is owner of the Fear of Writing Online Course, where her mission is to put the fun back into writing. Milli blogs at the Fear of Writing Blog and coaches writers individually at Writer’s Muse Coaching Service.