Half and half is far more popular in the States than in the UK, but it's catching on as a tasty milk alternative for creamy barista coffees.
Rather than normal milk, coffees like a breve espresso use half and half - an equal blend of light cream and whole milk, with a fat content of about 10 to 12%.
No, it's not the healthiest option, BUT it is also less calorific than heavier creams and can be whipped to provide a rich, silky flavour that isn't as dense as cream alone.
Dessert coffees are big business, and any barista will tell you that a caramel-laced, cream-topped, sugary coffee is always a go-to on their menu! A breve is like the middle ground, with a distinctly sweet flavour but without the faff or the added sugar.
Let's get to grips with how to create perfect coffee with half and half (and the secret to getting a flawless froth!).
Choosing the Right Milk for Coffee
Ok, so before we run through our preferred frothing technique, let's clarify that milk is about as varied and versatile as the origin, strength and flavour of your beans.
When you order a coffee in a great coffee shop, it's less than likely you'll get everyday semi-skimmed in your mug!
Although not every coffee shop will have every type of milk, some of the options, and the coffee drinks they're used for, are:
- Whole milk - lattes.
- Half and half - breve espressos.
- Heavy cream - crème coffee.
- Whipped cream - Con Panna coffee.
- Foamed milk - 'dry' coffee blends.
Of course, there are a gazillion dairy-free alternatives made with coconut, soy, almond or rice milk, but the concept of the milk density applies, and it can be whipped, foamed, blended or poured.
Half and half is primarily used in a breve espresso, probably one of our favourite ways to balance out the intensity of a Proper Strong espresso!
The breve is like a thicker, creamier cappuccino, and the foam adds a lovely sweetness to the coffee without adding sugar or denting the robust coffee taste.
Why Does Frothing Milk for Coffee Matter?
Now, here's a great question - does it make any difference how you prepare your milk?
The answer is yes, absolutely, and probably much more than you realise (unless you're a barista, in which case skip to the next section).
Any coffee made with espresso will have a particular method in which the milk is foamed, steamed or frothed and how water, coffee and milk are combined.
Part of that is about texture and building a coffee with perfect crema, but it's also about bringing out the flavour of your favourite roast beans and how those sweet and sour notes impact your taste buds.
Most of the time, you'll use steamed milk to create foam or froth.
An espresso machine generates high steam pressure, and as the steam mixes with the milk, the fatty content expands and creates that trademark microfoam made up of tiny milk bubbles.
The result is velvety smooth milk, which you'll find in cappuccinos and dessert coffees.
Half and half can be a bit trickier to work with, but we've run through the process below step by step, so you'll nail it the first time.
How to Froth Half and Half at Home
If you don't have a handy commercial espresso machine, never fear; you can impress your guests with an incredible breve in your very own kitchen.
You will need a coffee maker with a steam wand or an arm, but these are pretty standard these days and come with most decent quality home coffee machines.
It's best to start with fresh half and half straight from the fridge.
- Pour half and half into your milk jug, leaving enough room at the top so that the liquid doesn't reach the bottom of the pour spout (you need that space for the milk to create a foam!).
- Pop your steam wand just underneath the surface - you should hear a hiss. Keep it there for about five seconds, which 'stretches' the half and half and adds air into the liquid to build microfoam.
- Don’t keep your wand or steam arm in for longer than a few seconds; this bit is about introducing a tiny bit of steam into the milk.
- Next, you must polish the half and half, mixing the microfoam back into the liquid. Tilt your jug just a little, and put your steam wand outside the centre, about half a centimetre deep. The steam wand eats up the air bubbles, so you should hear the hissing sound die away.
- The ideal is to have your half and half no hotter than about 70 °C because if it reaches boiling point, you'll burn the milk. You can invest in a milk thermometer if you want to get it exactly right!
Ever seen a barista bang a milk jug on the counter? This isn't an attention-seeking move but a way to eliminate any overly large bubbles stuck inside the liquid.
Leave the half and half to rest for a minute while you pour your espresso, and it'll become thick, almost like custard.
Swirling the liquid about in the jug combines any remaining milk and microfoam, but you need to be gentle to avoid sloshing the half and half and messing up the texture.
Last but not least, you need to pour your breve just the right way.
The Best Way to Serve Breve Coffee
First, pour steamed milk into your mug without tipping in the foam. You then want to add about half of the foam on top of the steamed half and half.
Next, you pour in your espresso and add the final bit of microfoam on top - the foam is thicker and holds the espresso, so you need to go slowly and pour straight into your cup.
It may seem complex, but when you've made a few breves, you'll be able to do this with your eyes closed - and you'll have an exceptional breve coffee that tastes amazing.
Your choice of bean is up to you!
Most breves are made with one shot of espresso to one part of half and half and should - if you're particular - be served in a normal cappuccino cup (ideally with a good biscuit on the side).