With stay-at-home orders keeping us indoors, most of us are brewing up our own coffee these days. Without an espresso machine. Or a milk steamer. Or the skills to draw fancy hearts on top of our home-brew.

If you’re missing the comforts of a frothy-milk-topped mug, lucky for you, lattes and cappuccinos needn’t only be a coffee shop treat. You can make your own, sans equipment, with just one basic tool, says Function Coffee Labs co-owner Ross Nickerson. Get ready to pull out (or invest in) a French press.

How to make a latte without an espresso machine

Power up your French press

According to Nickerson, if you want to froth milk without any equipment, there’s only one real way to yield good results. And it all centers around a French press.

“You put the [unheated] milk in, and then plunge and pull back the piston over and over again to aerate the milk — it should take less than a minute,” says Nickerson.

If you need a French press, try an Espro, which Nickerson considers the best at filtering out tiny coffee grounds.

Although, if you already own a coffee machine and want to get fancier with your milk frothing, consider the Bellman Stovetop Milk Steamer.

“It takes up less space and is less expensive than a full espresso machine, but you can get real micro-foam and pour latte art with it,” says Nickerson.

Pull the piston up and down on a French press to create frothy milk without a professional milk steamer.
Bodum / MCT
Pull the piston up and down on a French press to create frothy milk without a professional milk steamer.

Heat the frothed milk, but not too much

After frothing in the French press, it’s time to quickly warm the milk.

“The most common mistake is making the milk too hot, which kills all its sweetness,” says Nickerson. “You’re better off with the milk being lukewarm than too hot.”

Ideally, the milk should reach 140F, a temperature that’s hot, but not so hot that you couldn’t stick your finger in it. Avoid reaching a simmer.

If you have a microwave, use it.

“Heating in a pan allows too much time to pass, during which the foam will separate from the liquid,” says Nickerson.

Choose your milk wisely

For best results, opt for whole milk.

“The fat content helps to stabilize the foam, so you end up with a better texture, and the fat makes it richer and sweeter,” says Nickerson.

Prefer dairy free? Nickerson recommends Califia Farm’s Barista Blend Almondmilk or Oatly Oatmilk’s Barista edition, both designed to help create foam.

With the quick plunging of a French press, you can achieve foamy milk at home.
GRACE DICKINSON / Staff
With the quick plunging of a French press, you can achieve foamy milk at home.

Fake an espresso or just opt for a café au lait

Without an espresso machine, it’s harder to recreate the coffee part of a latte than the milk, says Nickerson. He recommends purchasing a Moka Stovetop Espresso Pot, available for under $30.

“In the Moka pot, you’re heating water on the stove, and as the water starts to evaporate, that vaporized water goes up through the coffee grounds that are in a little basket on top of the water,” explains Nickerson. “There’s steamed pressure, which is like a less intense version of an espresso machine. Higher pressure helps to extract more flavor while using less water.”

Of course, you can always experiment with a drip machine or French press by making higher-concentrated coffee.

“You could try an eight-to-one or ten-to-one, water-to-coffee ratio. But I wouldn’t go lower because you need enough water to extract the coffee flavor, and you’ll just end up with really sour coffee,” says Nickerson.

To keep things simpler, stick to a café au lait, essentially a less flavor-intense version of a latte. Fill two-thirds of a mug with regular coffee and the remaining third with frothed milk.

Worry about quality more than technique

The most important part of DIY-ing your next latte is investing in good ingredients.

“If you heat the milk just a little too much, or your ratio of coffee to milk wasn’t perfect, as long as you’re using quality coffee and quality milk, it’ll taste pretty good no matter what you do,” assures Nickerson. “I’d much rather have a drink that’s slightly off on technique but with great ingredients than a perfectly made drink with cheaper ones.”

And on that note, Nickerson promises your DIY latte is bound to taste better than any carefully crafted Dalgona coffee — the whipped instant coffee drink taking over TikTok and Instagram right now.

“Cheap instant coffee whipped into that thing is not going to be very good,” says Nickerson.