Espresso: The Art of the Perfect Breve

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, 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 lists his occupation as Full-time Coffee Expert

Chris Cole lists his occupation as Full-time Coffee Expert

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.

A Peaberry's breve undergoes my rigorous taste test (score: A+)

A Peaberry's breve undergoes my rigorous taste test (score: A+)

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?”

“What’s that?”

“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.


(Enjoy yourself.)


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.

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  1. Pingback: Rattleware 20-Ounce Latte Art Milk Frothing Pitcher | Small Appliance Accessories

  2. Sounds wonderful Milli!

    It’s great to see you writing again too. 🙂
    .-= Patti Stafford´s last blog ..July 19 Mayhem &amp Madness =-.

  3. Thanks for reading, Patti!

    Most of my writing for the past nine months has been behind the scenes: training manual and online course revamps. I got reconnected to my love of travel writing when we went to Ontario for the 4th of July. I currently have a list of 19 travel stories I want to write—not counting the ones I didn’t finish last summer. Yikes! But it’s so much fun, I feel like a kid again. 🙂

  4. I definitely want to do some travel writing of my own. I’ve gotten a domain and the theme up that I want to use, but it’s taken the back burner lately…like many things have. But I am truly enjoying your articles. It makes the urge to write about travel bite that much harder. 🙂 Sounds like you’ll be busy awhile with just the trip to Ontario. That is so cool. Can’t wait!
    .-= Patti Stafford´s last blog ..July 21 Writing Sprint =-.

  5. BreveBeaver says:

    Haha, that’s pretty cool. I “found out” about breve drinks some one or two years ago, and have slowly drifted to ordering most of my drinks this way.
    I sometimes think – before milk production became industrialized, wasn’t milk more creamy because the preparers didn’t seperate it from the cream?

    ps. Milli, I wish you wonderful travels. I look forward to travelling as well.

  6. Pingback: Must Have Coffee & Beignets in New Orleans! | Millivers Travels

  7. A friend of mine mentioned the breve to me a while back, but I never did anything about it. At the time, it didn’t appeal to me, as I was more into the super sweet Chai latte (something I still love, but limit because of the sugar). After reading this, I went to Sweet Bay and tried one. OMG! My tastebuds started flipping out! 😛

    So, what did I do? I let my mom buy me an espresso machine as one of my birthday gifts. 😉 It’s gotten nearly daily use since I’ve had it. Granted, most of the time I make cappuccinos, because Half and Half is expensive. But once or twice a week, we have breves because I can’t imagine not having them!

    And would you believe a few days ago my hubby said, “it’s good, but I can’t say I like it any better than regular coffee.” Last night, when I made him a cappuccino, he complimented me on it, saying that I’m becoming quite the coffee expert. Said it was really, really good! *happy dance*

    Thanks for the heads up, Milli! 😀



    • Thanks for the juicy comment, Lois. I absolutely loved hearing that my article influenced you to try it. And now you see what I mean. LOL! Try it once and you’re fated to drink breves from then on. 😀

      I’m not one bit surprised you let your mom get you an espresso machine as a gift after trying the breve. And we do just like you – only drink breves on Saturday and Sunday because of the expense and all that extra half-and-half on the hips.

      (Or, as a funny friend of mine calls half-and-half in her Texas twang: 50-50).

      Thanks for being a superlative reader of Milliver’s Travels. In a way, I got you to travel to a new place, and you totally went for the adventure. I love it.

      • LOL! It’s funny. She wants to get one for Eric, but he refuses to let her. He says, “You supported us for years. Now it’s your turn to get gifts!” Sweet, but he doesn’t understand that she wants to buy it for him. I can see both sides of the story, though. 😉

        Hahahaha! Yeah, we don’t need that 50-50 Bulge, do we? 😛

        I’ve been traveling a lot lately…from the comfort of my chair at home. Just this past week, I went to Molokai, Hawaii. Did you know they have the highest cliffs in the world at 3,100-3,900 feet? Of course, you can’t taste a cliff from a chair in your own home, but a breve–now, that’s a different story. Again, thanks for the heads up! 😀

  8. Ok, I can feel the addiction coming on. Thanks for sharing this, Milli – I really can’t wait to try one (or two, or…)

    • Ha! You’re easy game. Already addicted before you’ve even tried it. Well, I’ll just tell myself that my writing is like a drug and I can use it to lead anyone anywhere to do anything. LOL!

      Please come back and post an opinion after you’ve tried a breve (or two, or . . .). And remember my warnings about glazed-eyed baristas. Tell ’em to make it right! 😀

  9. You’ve got your priorities straight Milliver! Cream with your coffee – my kinda drink. I worked with a lady, when we lived in Vancouver, B.C. who always got the largest “breve latte” that Starbucks made.

    Great article and I loved watching Ryan make the breve latte with the Hawaiian music in the background! I played it twice, second time to listen to the music while making my comment here.

    I like coffee with my cream! My version of a breve is pouring half and half (50-50) in my warmed up with boiling water coffee cup and setting it on a little cup hot plate, letting the cream warm up while I prepare to make espressos. Then I pour boiling water through a ceramic Melitta filled with fresh, ground espresso beans. Simple, but pure, pure pleasure!

    I find the 24 oz. bags of organic espresso beans from Whole Foods – Pacific Rim or French Roast are very fresh and tasty.

    Thanks for sharing your breve with a passion!


    • Catherine – I’m thrilled you liked the article and video. And you’re spot-on about the top priority here, hehe. Guess what the two most popular articles are right now on Milliver’s? Yep, they’re both about coffee!

      I’d like to have coffee at your pad and watch you do your thang with the ceramic Melitta. Not even sure what that is. . . .

      I *wish* I could buy coffee from Whole Foods. But, actually, Target and our high-end grocery store here (Giant Eagle) have a pretty good selection of beans considering this is Yo’town. I even got fair trade organic last time I bought beans – and they were on sale for several dollars cheaper than Starbucks and other gourmet brands. Ya can’t beat that!

  10. I probably should have said Porcelain Melitta – we got ours locally, but you can see them on Amazon. If you use the right amount of ground beans, you get a good thick espresso when you pour the hot water through.

    If I wasn’t saving up air mileage to go to France I would fly you out for a cuppa, but the durn airlines wants to use up most my points to do a domestic flight! May have to do a YouTube video instead…

  11. Wow! I started getting emails about comments today and finally getting over here to see when I had left the initial comment (to sign up for comments) and it’s been almost a year? Is that really correct?

    And I’ve still not had a Breve or even traveled to do writing. {sobs} All in good time, right? 😉

    I’ve thoroughly enjoyed all the comments, and I must not be subscribed by email for new posts. Going to do that now.


    • Pattikins, you MUST find a way to try a breve. Do you have a nice coffeehouse in your city that serves espresso? Go treat yourself next time you have $3.50 – $4 to blow. You’ll love it!

      And thanks for subscribing. I love seeing your happy face in my comments section. 🙂

  12. Oh. My. Goodness. I’ve never had one and I am going to have one NOW!!!

  13. OK, Milli. I’m now on a mission to find a coffee shop here in Ottawa that will make me a breve! We have an independent “chain” in the city called Bridgehead, which makes marvellous fair-trade coffee. I’ll see if they know what I mean; otherwise, I will use your tip of calling it a “latte with half and half”!

    I do have a little stovetop espresso pot that I brought back from Italy a few years ago and have been making iced lattes every morning — they’re particularly delicious in this heatwave! But I like the idea of trying a little breve for guests as a dessert this weekend, maybe with a wee little cookie on the side.

    I will report back!

    • Lisa, not sure how much the caffeine I’m drinking right now is contributing to my high but I’m so darn excited to read your comment! Can’t wait to hear how you go with my tip on how to train baristas to make a breve with a few simple words.

      A friend of mine (a real Texas gal) that we introduced to the breve refers to half-and-half as “50-50.” Sounds hilarious in her Texas twang! Anyway, Brian and I adopted that as part of our silly everyday lingo and I’ve gotten so used to referring to (and thinking of) it as 50-50 I’ve had some times where I almost embarrassed myself in public. I know I’d get some strange looks if I said, “It’s a latte made with 50-50.” LOL!

      Looking forward to your report!

  14. This sounds divine, Milli! I am a coffee snob, which my boyfriend (a non-coffee drinker)doesn’t quite understand. He will be receiving this video in his inbox promptly!!! Thanks for sharing your tips.

    • Robin, I totally know how that feels! To have a bf who doesn’t “get” coffee.

      Back when we were first together, I at least had Brian trained to spot Espresso signs wherever we went. But it was disappointing not to share the love.

      About five years into the relationship, we bought a little coffee biz. It failed dismally and was a huge financial drain … but to this day I still have the one benefit we got from owning that business: Brian is a fellow coffee lover. Our lives revolve around breve time every morning. LOL!

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