the perfect latte or cappuccino without a machine…

(Photo credit – Indian Boy)

Steamed/Frothed Milk:

There’s really no need for an expensive Espresso machine when it comes to making the milk part of the latte or cappuccino. A flexible whisk, thermometer, and a stove top burner are really all you need to create rich, creamy, meringue like froth to go with your coffee. Either whole, or 2% milk works best with this method.

Pour the cold milk into the saucepan (fill only half-way at most, to allow for the expanding foam). Place the saucepan over medium to medium-high heat. Stir the milk slowly (at first) with your whisk. Loose, wide bubbles will begin to form. The more you whisk, the smaller and more condensed the bubbles will become. Increase whisking speed as the milk temperature rises. Basically, you just whisk exactly like you would for whisking eggs. You will soon notice the milk “blossoming” or swelling. Whatever you do, do not allow the milk to boil. If the milk does boil, it will spoil the foam and even ruin the taste of the milk. If you think the milk is about to boil, remove the pan from the heat and continue to whisk until you have as much foam as you want.

Set the milk aside for thirty seconds or so, while you pour the Espresso or coffee into the warmed mugs. During this time, the milk will settle, with the steamed milk settling to the bottom of the pan, and the airy little bubbles surfacing at the top.

Remember that the proportions for a finished cappuccino are one third Espresso, one third steamed milk, and one third foam, while a latte is one part Espresso, and either one or two parts steamed milk.

Espresso Methods:


There are many ways to come up with a shot of coffee strong enough to count as an Espresso in my book, though I think technically the only two that can be considered true Espressos are the machine and Moka-Style (non-electric) stove top Espresso Pot.

In my opinion, I’ve gotten coffee that is both stronger, as well as more complex without being bitter from my French Press pot. I’ve heard people rave over the results they get from their vacuum pots, as well as from the Vietnamese filter pot. Each of these can be easily obtained for less than $20.

Once again, the proper grind for the proper equipment really makes all the difference, though the proper brew time is important as well.

(Suggested grind times are based on an average propeller style grinder with no more than 4 scoops or 1/4 cup of beans at a time. Cut down on the grinding time, if you are grinding less coffee.)

French Press (or any plunger style pot) – the grind should be medium to coarse. It should feel pretty similar in texture to cornmeal. Grinding time should be around 10-15 seconds. Brew time should be between 4-8 minutes. I prefer mine closer to 8 minutes.

Vacuum Pot – Medium grit, with little powder present. Grind time, 15 seconds. I’m not familiar with vacuum pot brewing methods, but the standard rule for medium grind coffee is a brew time of 4-6 minutes.

Napoletana Flip-Drip – Medium to coarse grind with no powder present. Grind time 12-15 seconds. Brew time 4-8 minutes.

Stovetop Espresso Moka Pot – Grind type should be medium to fine, like fine sand. Grind time is 20 seconds.

Middle Eastern or Turkish methods – require the finest grind possible. It should feel as soft as flannel, with the texture of flour. This fine grind may be hard to accomplish at home!

Vietnamese Filter Pot – requires a fine to medium grind, similar to the stove top Espresso pot. It should feel like a fine sand. Grind time is about 20 seconds.

Since the two most common of these methods seem to be the French Press, and the Moka-style Espresso Pot, those are the two I will focus on here.

First, the Moka Pot
The moka pot has two chambers, with a filter between them. Cold water is placed in the bottom chamber to the level of the safety valve, and finely ground coffee is placed loosely into the filter,which is then placed in the bottom pot. Screw the upper chamber onto the bottom and place over medium to medium-low heat. The water heats up, and the resulting trapped pressure is forced up through the coffee grounds. In about three minutes, the coffee will begin to trickle into the top chamber of the pot and begin to gurgle and emerge out of the spout. The heat is turned off, and the pot is removed from the burner and allowed to rest for a few minutes. The Espresso is finished when the top chamber is full and just steam comes out of the center spout.

Additional tips:

***Aluminum Moka Pots tend to react with the coffee acids, producing an “off-balance” flavor.
***Use coffee which is roasted and ground for Espresso making, as ordinary drip blends don’t work as well.
***Do not tamp the ground coffee when you place it in the portafilter, instead, mound the coffee before screwing both chambers together.
***Before screwing the chambers together, wipe off the rim of the bottom chamber to ensure a tight seal.
***Make sure that the heat is not too high. It needs to be on medium, or even medium low because once the water begins to boil, the brewing process is very fast and the coffee can become “over-extracted” and taste bitter.
***As soon as the coffee begins to come out of the center spout, remove the pot from the heat and let the rest brew through more slowly. You can simply leave to top open so that you can see when the coffee starts to brew. When the spout begins to sputter foam, turn off the heat and allow the rest to brew through. The Espresso is ready only when steam starts to come out of the spout.

The French Press
The French Press pot is my all time favorite coffee brewing method. It’s so simple, and the results are so rich and wonderful, that it’s pretty hard to beat!

Pre-warm the glass beaker with hot water. I use about 2T of coffee for every six ounces of hot water in my French Press.

Measure the coffee into the beaker and dampen evenly with cold water. Stir with either a plastic or wooden spoon to make sure the grounds are evenly dampened. This protects them a bit when the hot water hits the ground coffee, and keeps it from having a burned taste after the brewing is complete.

The brewing water should be around boiling temp. Pour over the coffee and fill to the top, allowing some room for the coffee grounds to swell. After one minute, stir the coffee again, and let sit another 3-5 minutes depending on how strong you like your coffee. After the allotted time, put on the plunger lid, and press the coffee. How simple can it get?

Additional tips:

***I often add a dash of cinnamon or a splash of vanilla (or both) to my coffee grounds, before stirring in the cool water.
***Wrapping a thick terry towel around the pot as the coffee brews helps to keep at the perfect temperature.
***The French Press can also be used to froth milk. Simply heat about one cup of milk till just too hot to put your finger in it. Pour it into the clean press, and plunge away for several minutes. The milk should expand three or four times, in volume.


31 thoughts on “the perfect latte or cappuccino without a machine…

  1. Stumbled across this post today when looking for a way to steam milk on the stove top. I heated the milk, skim in my case, in a sauce pan and then used my French press to plunge it into froth. Great first try… It’s delicious! Thank you for this post.

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