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What Is A Breve Coffee?
And Is The American Latte Worth Trying?

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By Matt Woodburn-Simmonds

Move over latte and cappuccino, there’s a new espresso variation on the block. A decadent and creamy one at that.

Breve coffee is a rich new espresso drink that pairs the intense flavors of espresso with creamy half-and-half in a cortado-sized drink. It’s a real treat for anyone who enjoys milky espresso drinks and is insanely easy to make yourself.

Read on as we take a deep dive into what makes this tiny coffee drink so special, how it compares to other traditional espresso drinks, and how to make it at home.

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Illustration of what is a breve coffee showing layers of double espresso, steamed half and half, and foamed milk and half milk
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What is Breve Coffee?

Breve coffee (also called café breve or breve latte) is essentially an Americanized café latte made by combining a double espresso with the same amount of steamed half and half. It’s similar to cortado (a Spanish coffee made with 50/50 espresso and whole milk) but breve is much richer and creamier.

(For the non-Americans, half and half is a mixture of equal parts whole milk and cream. It can be bought in a carton at the supermarket but you can easily mix some up yourself if it’s not sold where you are.)

The result is a luxurious coffee experience. It’s very rich with the flavors of the espresso mellowed and sweetened by the milk/cream combo. It’s so rich and sweet on its own that you probably won’t want to add any sugar or sweetener, even if you would normally add it to your coffee.

Usually, breve coffee is a short 4oz drink served in a small Gibraltar glass – the same glasses used when making a cortado.

Sometimes, you’ll see this espresso beverage referred to as a breve latte, breve cafe latte, café breve, or coffee breve. But they’re all the same thing.

Indulgence is the name of the game here so you’ll most likely see it as a dessert or after-dinner drink rather than a morning pick-me-up. Thanks to the added calories of half and half milk, it’s not the most healthy coffee drink out there. But that just adds to its enjoyment.

If you’re in the mood for something even more indulgent, the Kyoto latte might be right up your street. Find out what it is and how to make it here:

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Where did Breve Coffee Come From?

It’s basically impossible to nail down a specific coffee shop where breve coffee first started but it was definitely somewhere in the US.

Whilst many coffee drinkers compare it to a latte, it’s really more like an Americanized cortado. What makes breve coffee different is the extra richness and sweetness from using half and half instead of whole milk.

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Breve vs Latte

The obvious difference between the breve coffee and a latte is that the former uses half and half whilst a latte uses regular milk (or your preferred non-dairy variation). But this isn’t the only difference.

A latte has an espresso-to-milk ratio of 1:2. In other words, there should be double the amount of milk as espresso. Now, this ratio gets a bit out of hand with the giant-sized lattes that are popular these days so ratios of 1:4 or even 1:5 are not uncommon.

Whereas breve coffee is a 1:1 ratio of espresso to steamed half and half. So a double espresso has to be mixed with an equal amount of steamed half and half milk. This means that trying to order a large breve coffee could result in a terrifying amount of caffeine, and calories.

Three cups breve vs latte vs cortado respectively
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Breve vs Cortado

The most similar coffee to the breve is the classic Spanish drink: the cortado.

However, the cortado has some important key differences:

Firstly, it’s traditionally made from Robusta coffee beans. Secondly, whilst it’s also a small espresso drink, it is made by combining a single espresso (1oz) with the same quantity of steamed, but not textured, whole milk. Just like breve, the resulting drink is usually also served in a Gibraltar glass.

There are two key things that separate the breve from the cortado.

For starters, a breve coffee is always served as a double shot of espresso so it’s double the size of a cortado. Next, the whole milk is replaced with half and half.

So whilst breve is often compared to the latte, it’s actually a much closer sibling to the cortado.

Want to see how the cortado stacks up against other popular espresso variations? Then check out these guides:

Cortado vs Flat White | Cortado vs Macchiato | Cortado v Latte

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How to Make Breve Coffee at Home

It’s incredibly easy to make a breve cafe latte at home as long as you have an espresso machine.

Being on the indulgent side, it makes a delicious after-dinner coffee. Or, for those of us who can’t drink coffee that late, a lazy Sunday morning coffee treat.

How to make a Breve coffee in 3 simple steps

1. Brew Your Espresso

The first component of a breve coffee is a double espresso shot so you’re going to need an espresso machine for this part.

If you have a single-serve or an automatic/super-automatic espresso machine, you just need to press the “double espresso” button. Simples.

But if you have a traditional countertop espresso machine, this will involve grinding your coffee and adding it to your espresso basket. For a double shot, you should be using between 14 and 22g of coffee, depending on your portafilter.

Then, tamp your grounds and put the handle into the machine. You’re looking to get a final ratio of 1:2. So if you put in 14g of coffee grounds, you should get 28g of brewed espresso out. For the most accurate results, it’s best to use a coffee scale.

Pulling your espresso should take around 30 seconds for a double shot. If you’re finding it takes much longer, then grind a little coarser. Or, grind finer if it takes much less time.

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2. Steam the Half and Half

You want to add a small amount of half and half to your milk pitcher. You only need 2oz per drink but, depending on the size of your pitcher and the length of your milk wand, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to use as little as that. So expect some wastage if you’re only making one.

To get the perfect temperature, use a milk thermometer and steam your half and half to 150°F (65°C). Eliminate any large bubbles by gently tapping the pitcher on the work surface then swirl it slightly to smooth out the texture.

Ideally, you’re looking for a dense layer of sweet foam to form. But it shouldn’t be as foamy as a cappuccino.

3. Combine the Elements

All that’s left to do is add your steamed half and half to the double espresso in your favorite cup (or a Gibraltar glass if you have one). Don’t let the milk sit for too long before combining as it can split and ruin all your hard work. So we recommend always making the espresso first and adding the milk immediately afterward.

Now it’s time to enjoy your deliciously creamy coffee.

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How to Order Breve at Starbucks

Ah, Starbucks: where you can customize any drink to your heart’s content but where the classics are often so far removed from their original version they’re almost unrecognizable.

Just to be confusing, breve in Starbucks simply refers to half and half. That’s it. It’s not technically any coffee drink and if your barista is feeling particularly devious, you could end up with just a cup of steamed milk.

This means that you can have any drink on the menu ‘breve-style‘. In other words, any drink can be made using half and half milk. So you can have a tall breve latte, a venti breve cappuccino, or a grande breve mocha.

If you’re looking for the breve coffee as described here, we’d recommend ordering a breve cortado, or double breve cortado since it’s Starbucks and there are no rules.

This is specifically a Starbucks issue though. So if you head to any other specialty coffee shop, they’ll know what you’re after.

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How do you pronounce breve?

Breve is pronounced “breh-vay” (with the last ‘e’ being elongated). It comes from the Italian word for “brief”, presumably due to the small size and how quickly you can drink the coffee.

What are the best coffee beans for breve coffee?

Breve coffee works best with big, bold flavors. We find that Sumatra coffee beans are the best single-origin to use in order to get an amazing balance of sweetness and bold coffee notes. But any of the best dark roast coffee beans will work well too.

What’s the best dairy-free substitute for half and half?

For the best results, we recommend using half coconut cream and half soy milk. This will create a similarly rich, but dairy-free version of half and half. Or, you could add ¼ canola oil to ¾ plant-based milk substitute to make a rich single cream-style substitute which, whilst not perfect, should work well.

Is breve coffee strong?

With a double espresso in such a short drink, breve is a strong coffee with a good kick of caffeine. However, the sweetness of the half and half mellows the flavors to make it feel more like a regular-strength coffee drink.

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Final Thoughts

If you’re looking for something decadent, breve coffee is a wonderful choice. Whilst it might not be an everyday coffee, it is a rich and indulgent treat that bring the sweet flavors out of your espresso.

So, is it time you added this American cortado (or American latte) to the list of your favorite drinks?


Matt Woodburn-Simmonds

Matt's coffee obsession started in 2006 when working as a Barista. A tendency to turn up to work hungover kickstarted his coffee journey which quickly turned into a love affair. As he moved on to work as a Restaurant Manager and Sommelier, the obsession continued to grow. Now, his passion is helping others to enjoy better coffee at home.

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