I think we can safely say that most people know what a cappuccino and a latte are.
And if you’re here, chances are your coffee repertoire knows no bounds, and you’re already a master of regular brews. But one drink that not too many of us have heard of is a Breve.
So what is a breve coffee?
What Is A Breve?
A breve, also known as a breve latte or a caffe breve, is an espresso based coffee drink.
It combines either one or two shots of espresso with steamed half-and-half instead of milk. For the non-American brewing enthusiast playing at home, half-and-half is made with half whole milk and half heavy cream. It comes premixed in a bottle or carton, or you can make it yourself using equal parts of cream and milk.
As you can imagine, this combination creates a super creamy, rich brew that is sweet yet still bold thanks to the espresso.
The Italian word, Breve, means ‘short’ in English. But that doesn’t mean it will always come in a small cappuccino cup. No, every coffee shop will do it slightly differently.
Some might foam the creamy milk blend smooth and velvety, perfect for lattes. Other cafes will froth it nice and thick, similar to the steamed milk they might do for a cappuccino. But however they choose to do it, the ingredients remain the same— always half-and-half, poured over espresso.
The Breve is a decidedly American invention— an adaptation of the Italian classic, the caffè latte. Though some people love a creamy cafè breve as their morning coffee, it is usually an evening, dessert type of affair.
What is the difference between a latte and a breve?
A latte breve is a creamy coffee drink, not too separated from a cafe latte. The difference between it and any other espresso based drink is that breve lattes are made with steamed half-and-half instead of milk or milk foam.
This full-fat milk and creamy blend make for a luxurious coffee experience. A super decadent beverage. Very sweet. No extra sugar required.
The Cafe Latte
When making cafe lattes, depending on who you ask, you’ll pull a double shot of espresso, then pour over some velvety smooth steamed milk. Not milk foam. Creamy, velvety milk.
A latte can contain any kind of milk— oat, almond, soy, cow’s milk, whatever you like. The key is that it needs to be steamed, and it needs to be smooth and velvety. We’re looking for an ultra-fine microfoam, perfect for pouring a swan or a rosetta in the golden espresso.
The Caffe Breve
A caffè breve, on the other hand, needs half whole milk and half rich cream. This milky, creamy component is key.
You can steam it or foam it however you want using a steam wand. A velvety smooth layer or a thick layer of foam on top, it’s up to you.
You can add a single or double shot— again, up to you.
But we need this combination of espresso and whole milk + cream to get the true taste of this brew.
Going light on the half-and-half, or creating a milk and cream blend with less than 10% fat won’t cut it. We need it creamy!
What does Breve mean at Starbucks?
Ahhh Starbucks…the cafe so difficult to order at that Kevin Hart has an entire 8 minute bit on the subject. So, in the store that is notorious for its hieroglyph covered takeaway cups, what is a breve?
If you order simply ‘a breve’ from Starbucks, and the friendly barista isn’t feeling so friendly on that particular day, you will probably get a steamed cup of creamy milk. That’s it!
This creamy foam will most likely be served to you in a cup with the letter ‘B’ scrawled on it. B being shorthand for the drinks’ name.
At Starbucks, you can pretty much make any coffee beverage a breve. Mocha, macchiato— hell, even an iced latte (espresso with iced cold half-and-half). Because at Starbucks, Breve is half-and-half. They have made Breve, in their lingo, more of a modification than a drink itself.
Ask for a breve cafe latte or cappuccino, or simply either of these drinks with half-and-half, and what you will get is a breve latte. Same as the coffee drinks we’ve been talking about in this article.
Most other coffee shops, especially the third wave specialty ones, will know what you mean if you ask for a breve.
How To Make A Breve at Home
A breve is made up of two components— espresso coffee and steamed half-and-half. And because each component of this coffee drink is so strong, we really need both of them in full.
We need real espresso made on an espresso machine. A double shot, in my opinion.
We need half-and-half with at least 10% fat.
If we skimp on either of these, we might still make a tasty beverage, but it won’t be a breve.
Here’s the brewing process:
So let’s talk about the espresso first.
The espresso machine is a crucial part of making a cafe breve at home. If we don’t use well-extracted espresso, it won’t have the backbone to cut through the sweetness of the half-and-half. This is one drink where a strong filter brew won’t do it, we need real espresso.
When pulling a double shot of espresso coffee to make a breve, use a 1:2 ratio. This means that if you are using 20 grams of ground coffee, you’ll end up with a 40 gram, or around 40ml double shot. This should take about 30 seconds to run through your portafilter. If it runs too fast, make your grind finer. If it runs too slow, make your grind coarser.
In respect to serving size, a 1:2 ratio like this will give a nice balance between strength and extraction. You will get all of the flavors that the coffee has to offer, and it will be nice and strong— not too diluted.
As far as the best coffee roast for a breve, medium to dark roasts tend to work best. These roasts are much easier for the espresso machine to extract and will end up with more richness and a heavier tasting shot.
Medium and dark roasts will cut through the half-and-half a lot better than a light roast will. Light roasts are awesome for black coffee and (sometimes) for using with steamed milk, but darker roasts work best for a breve.
Now, for the half-and-half!
You can get it either store-bought, or you can make your own at home. If you are making your own, use cream and whole milk in equal portions. Aim to have your resulting blend hit around 10-15% fat content.
Foam it the way you would the milk for a cafe latte. Creamy and velvety is my personal favorite style. Careful to not steam it too much past 60°C. Otherwise you’ll risk burning it and turning it into a custard-like thing.
Keep your eye to the ground for the hissing noise coming from the steam wand and your eyes glued to the cup for the whirlpool motion from the foam.
Pour the steamed half-and-half over the espresso. Make some beautiful latte art and enjoy your delicious and superbly decadent cafe breve!
Frequently Asked Questions
What is in a breve at Dutch Bros?
he Portland chain, Dutch Bros, do things a little differently, combining multiple ingredients and flavors into a single mammoth cup of caffeine.
A basic caffè breve coffee at Dutch Bros is a latte, but made with steamed half milk and half cream instead of regular milk, while the serving size remains the same regardless of the variation.
But they’re not the kind of bros to stop there; they also offer other drinks like a white zombie, an Irish breve, and a 9-1-1— all of which are unconventional takes on the classic.
What does a breve taste like?
A breve latte is super creamy and rich. The Breve is made with espresso and half-and-half— so there is nothing too subtle about it. It has a high-fat content and needs no added sugar, thanks to the sweet creamy top layer it contains.
As a result, it’s not my morning coffee, given the potential increase in daily cholesterol levels, but the drink is something I’d consider a nice treat!