How The US Helped The Latte's Global Popularity Skyrocket

If you love lattes, you're not the only one, as a classic latte is America's favorite coffee drink, according to Eat This, Not That. And although the standard latte is the most popular type, who can blame people for loving lattes when there are delicious options like dirty chai lattes, Starbucks Japan's honey marron lattes, and pumpkin spice lattes to choose from? While cold brews and cappuccinos are other well-liked options, our preference for lattes is clear – Craft Coffee Spot shares that Americans consumed 67 million of the beverages between June 2017 and 2018.

Some may mistake a latte as being simply a coffee drink with milk, which isn't totally untrue, since "latte" is the Italian word for "milk" (via Limini Coffee). However, lattes differ from other beverages with the same components, such as cappuccinos and flat whites, in their coffee-to-milk ratio. According to MasterClass, one-third of a latte is made up of espresso shots, the rest is steamed milk, and the whole cup is topped off with foam. Latte art is the go-to way to finish the drink today, in which the foam is made into beautiful shapes like rosettes and hearts.

But lattes weren't always the exquisite, popular drinks they are today. They have a long history, and it's a relatively recent development that they've risen to such popularity in the United States.

Seattle coffee shops perfected the latte

The latte's origins go all the way back to Italy, but traditional Italian lattes look pretty different from the ones we're buying at Starbucks today. Combining milk and coffee goes all the way back to 1600s Europe, according to Perfect Daily Grind, although today different countries have different versions of these drinks — a caffè latte in Italy isn't necessarily the same as a cafè con leche in Spain, for example.

The term "caffè latte" first popped up in 1867, when it was used to describe a drink with an equal milk-to-coffee ratio, as espresso machines didn't exist yet, according to MasterClass. The drink was brought to the United States after World War II, when Americans coming home from the war tried to replicate the coffee they tasted in Italy, with added milk to make it weaker (via Perfect Daily Grind). However, the modern-day latte is credited to Leno Menoirin, owner of Berkeley coffee shop Caffe Mediterraneum, who claims to have invented it in 1959 for customers who wanted a drink bigger than a cappuccino (via Daily Coffee News).

The latte really came into its own, according to Achilles Coffee Roasters, when Seattle coffee shops honed in on the drink and perfected it in the 1980s, coming up with unique latte art designs to make it even more appealing. From there, lattes have spread all around the world, from England to Latin America to China (via Babbel). Who knows where they'll end up next!