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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.

A breve coffee (also called caffè breve or simply breve) is a rich espresso drink that pairs the intense flavors of espresso with creamy half-and-half in a cortado-sized (4oz) drink. It’s a decadent treat for anyone who enjoys milky espresso drinks and is insanely easy to make at home too.

Growing up in Scotland, half-and-half milk just wasn’t a thing. So when I discovered it in the US, I was instantly sold on the rich, creamy flavors that add a little something something to my favorite specialty coffees like the breve. 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 you can 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 is often referred to as an Americanized café latte. It’s made by combining a double espresso with the same amount of steamed half and half. Which actually makes it closer to a cortado than a latte (a Spanish coffee made from 50/50 espresso and whole milk, served in a 4oz glass).

So the breve is pretty similar; it’s the same size and milk-to-coffee ratio but replacing the whole milk for half and half results in a much richer, creamier drink.

(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 live.)

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, caffè breve, coffee breve, or simply breve. But they’re all the same thing; us coffee nerds just like to add our own spin on things.

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 (for me, at least) 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.

And, since half and half doesn’t really exist outside North America, it’s not a common option on coffee shop menus around the world. To date, I’ve visited over 40 countries and have not once seen it on the menu elsewhere!

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.

Breve coffee in a glass coffee cup, sitting on a dark table against grey wall
This is the first breve coffee I tasted and I’ve been hooked ever since
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What Does it Taste Like?

The taste test is the all-important marker of a good coffee. And the breve has quite a distinct flavor that might not suit everyone.

Similar to both a latte and cortado, breve coffee has a good balance of flavors and isn’t too “espresso-y”. So, if you find the flavor of straight espresso to be too intense, this is a good option.

What makes the breve stand out though is the much richer flavor profile from the cream and milk combo. It’s a much more flavorful drink that has a natural sweetness and almost dessert-like feel.

If you’re a fan of sweeter coffees like a caramel latte, for example, but want to cut out the crazy sugary added syrups, this would be a great place to start. But it will also suit those who just teeter on the edge of a sweet tooth. I definitely don’t have a full-blown sweet tooth, but still love a caffè breve as an indulgent afternoon treat.

That said, if you are much more of a savory than a sweet fan and enjoy the robust flavor of espresso, this might not be the one for you. Perhaps a different espresso-based drink would be more up your street.

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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 uses 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.

Typically, a latte will be made with whole milk but it’s also common to use milk with an even lower fat content. So anywhere between 2% and 4% fat is pretty normal. But half-and-half has a significantly higher fat content at around 10% (but can go as high as 18%) which reacts very differently to being steamed. It creates a much fluffier and more stable, thick foam that leads to the breve’s indulgent richness.

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 when made the traditional way:

Firstly, it should be made from Robusta coffee beans. Secondly, whilst it’s also a small espresso drink, it should be made by combining a single espresso (1oz) with the same quantity of steamed, but not textured, whole milk. So it should be 2oz in total.

But these rules generally go out the window, particularly in the US. So if you order a cortado, it will almost certainly be made with Arabica beans and be made with a double espresso (so be 4oz in total). And, just like breve, it will be served in a Gibraltar glass.

Sounds pretty similar to the breve, right?

There’s just that one important difference:

The whole milk will be replaced with half and half. That’s it.

Which is why we think breve coffee is a much closer sibling of the cortado than the latte.

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 25-30 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.

If you don’t live in the US, you can make your own half and half by combining equal parts whole milk and light cream. Or 3/4 cup whole milk to 1/4 heavy cream (whipping cream).

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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Breve Variations

Are you a rebel looking to mix things up a little? Then these variations might be more up your street:

Iced Breve

If you love chilled coffee, particularly in the summer months, there’s no reason why you can’t enjoy an iced breve coffee.

To do this, you have two options:

  1. Add ice to a normal breve. This is my favorite option but I recommend you don’t steam the milk quite as much as you would for the hot version.
  2. Rather than steaming the milk, pour it straight from the carton then add ice. This method means the drink will be naturally cooler but it won’t have the same sweetness as a hot breve since steaming brings out those sweet notes.

Either way, we recommend cooling your drink with whiskey stones rather than normal ice as they won’t melt and dilute your coffee. Long-time Home Coffee Expert readers will know we’re die-hard fans of these stones – they’re a serious game changer.

Iced breve coffee with straw

Dairy-Free Version

What makes the breve so different from the alternatives is the fat content in the half and half. So whilst it’s definitely possible to make a vegan/ dairy-free alternative, it takes a bit of experimenting to nail the sweetness and fat combo.

We got the best results from 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.

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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). Despite the drink not coming from Italy, the name 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 as they stand up to and balance out the sweet, creamy flavors of the half and half. We love using single-origin Sumatra coffee beans to get an amazing balance of sweetness and bold coffee notes. But any great dark roast coffee beans will work well too.

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 brings 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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