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I’m a coffee addict and I have been always having Starbucks as well Costa. I just love their lattes , but it become too expensive over time, so I am on a road to discover how to make coffee like them.

What I have tried so far:

  • I have tried Nespresso machine (problem is the pods are stored for ages which make coffee loose its flavour),
  • French press (feel too watery) and
  • Milk instant coffee (where it is full cup of milk with one spoon of instant coffee)(which feels too heavy) or
  • instant coffee (which feels fake like boiled water).

I am tired of all so these failed attempts, so I go to Costa everyday and I always have a latte. There’s something about them that make coffee so good and alive. How can I get that without being too expensive? But without compromising on taste? In short, why do those coffee shops have such amazing coffee?

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    I know that downvotes can be anonymous, but as this Q/A seems to have garnered a few, including the answers, maybe a comment would be helpful in this particular case? I struggle to see how “not helpful” is warranted here?
    – Stephie
    Feb 6 at 16:38
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I'm not familiar with Costa, but I am with Starbucks. Let me offer my ideas in what's different.

Starbucks stores use fully automatic espresso machines with semi automatic frothing wands. The espresso machines make true espresso, unlike all of the brewing options you mentioned. This is the main reason the coffee is better.

The frothing wand also uses steam to froth the milk which creates a wonderfully creamy texture in the milk. Stick and pitcher frothers can't make the performance.

There's also grind. Starbucks stores use high quality coffee grinders that grind the coffee quite consistently. Coffee used for espresso is ground on demand for each shot. Your coffee at home might suffer if you're not grinding right before your brew or if you're grinding with a lower quality grinder.

Lastly, drink recipes. Starbucks cups are printed with volume markers to help baristas match recipes exactly. When you buy a latte at Starbucks, the ratio of espresso to milk is ideal and is the same every time. Unless you're measuring at home and know what that ideal ratio is, you're likely not hitting the right recipe.

To get coffee shop type lattes at home, you need a real espresso machine. A single boiler unit with a steam wand will do the trick, but nothing short of one will.

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    And a decent grinder. ;-)
    – Stephie
    Feb 5 at 7:41
  • Any recommended one?
    – localhost
    Feb 5 at 18:36
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    Depends on budget. For low budget, the De’Longhi EC155 paired with a hand grinder like the Hario Skerton will do you well. Higher up I'd go to the Gaggia Classic, Lelit Anna, or Berratza New Hobby again paired with a good hand operated grinder. Electric espresso grinders can get pretty pricey with the low end starting around $200 and the high end stretching into the thousands.
    – R Mac
    Feb 5 at 23:49
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    For an electric grinder, I'd suggest the Eureka Mignon series grinders (same grinding mechanism across the range but various feature differences between price points).
    – R Mac
    Feb 5 at 23:57
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The only thing you haven’t tried according to your list is genuine espresso with steamed milk.

The standard coffee chain menu is based on espresso shots and steamed milk, in various ratios, and perhaps some flavor syrups.

  • The coffees types you mentioned are all “thinner”, i.e. with a higher water-to-coffee ratio (the nespresso is probably closest to a true espresso) and without the “fullness” of an espresso.
    Plus, the beans should be ground fresh for each shot, which means you get the maximum flavor kick from them.
  • The second factor is the milk. The steaming process creates a certain mouthfeel based on tiny, rather stable bubbles in the milk that tell your taste buds “creamy”.

You need the comparatively strong / dark espresso as a counterpart, otherwise the milk will make the coffee seem bland, that’s why the coffee chains’ espresso roasts are quite dark.

So if you want a coffe-chain drink, you need

  • A dark / espresso roast of at least average quality (the chains’ coffee is not exactly top notch, but good enough for latte-type of drinks). The milk will dull many of the finer notes of top quality espresso. You could even try the chains’ own coffee, which is usually also sold in the stores. Just make sure you get the espresso roast.
  • A decent burr grinder than can go low enough for espresso. Burr because espresso needs a very homogeneous grind and you need to do a bit of research as different grinders have a different grind spectrum.
  • An espresso machine. Not a “stovetop espresso machine” aka a Moka, and as you found, a Nespresso doesn’t work for your taste.
  • A way to froth the milk, usually a steam wand is part of the espresso machine. It may be a good idea to watch a few videos of how to properly steam the milk, as it’s a major factor for the mouthfeel and ultimately taste.

You don’t have to break the bank, you should get decent (or “coffee shop”) quality with the setup above and good technique. It’s an investment upfront, but over time, the coffee shop stops add up as well. You may also consider a fully automated machine, but not only are the good ones quite expensive, you are also quite limited in how to adjust to your liking. You may want to try them out somewhere before buying. (I’m personally also not a fan because cleaning them can be quite a pain-in-the-you-know-what and depending on how much you use them, in my opinion not worth it.)

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Your premise is incorrect -- they aren't actually very good at all. You just haven't had anything better to compare them with, and besides, this is a subjective opinion.

The reason they are better than the coffee you're making at home, and more expensive, is primarily their investment in tools and training. They're using a much better coffee machine and grinder than you are and they are well trained in using it.

If you were to invest a week or two in training, and a £1000 on a coffee machine and maybe £200 on a grinder, then it is likely that you'd get results far better than either of these cafes (but you don't have to spend that much, this is just an example). You can get really good coffee at home for less if you really want to, and overall it'll save you money annually, but it takes some dedication and some of your savings to get good. I used to get wonderful results from my Gaggia Duo, with a cheap-ish conical burr grinder. It took me a while to 'dial it in' and learn how to get the best from it, but eventually, I was making coffees that were much better than those available on the high street.

If you were to follow this path, then the easiest way is to find a boutique coffee bar close to where you live and visit it at quiet times to ask questions. They are especially helpful if you're paying for the coffee and leaving tips. This will teach you the basics -- grind, tamp, and flow-time. With that you can learn about crema and eventually you can learn the best way to ruin your coffee by putting milk in it. If you get really good, you'll even learn how to make a decent ristretto and you'll never look at a Starbucks coffee the same way again.

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  • While I don't disagree with the spirit of your answer, can you be more specific what the training should focus on and what that higher budget aims to achieve? For example, the budget allocation for the machine and the grinder seems a bit off to me, why spend so much more on the machine when it's the grinder that can offer consistency and precision (in grind settings to choose from)?
    – JJJ
    Apr 27 at 15:37
  • You're right that the grinder is vital, but a £200 grinder is quite good and probably sufficient for someone without much experience. A pretty good 15-18 step conical burr grinder can be had for £150 from amazon (e.g. smile.amazon.co.uk/Deva-Curl-Conical-Grinder-Stainless/dp/…) Apr 28 at 14:36
  • You don't need a £1,000 espresso machine plus a £300 grinder to make good lattes. You can achieve good quality fairly consistently using a $500 single boiler machine with a steam wand and a $200 grinder. Also it's not good practice to include currency conversions in an answer because those can change with time. Your conversions don't make sense, though. How does 1,000 GBP equal 1,300 USD but 300 GBP equals 200 USD?
    – R Mac
    May 3 at 13:29
  • Also UK prices on espresso equipment don't generally translate to US prices on the same or similar equipment because they're vastly different markets. Prices aren't only affected by currency values. They're also affected by supply and demand in each market.
    – R Mac
    May 3 at 13:31
  • I've removed the dollar conversions May 3 at 22:59
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The reason that they are good is partly: training, consistency and practice; with quality ingredients.

There are quite a few barista tells all websites with recipes, including Starbucks itself:

"I have tried Nespresso machine (problem is the pods are stored for ages which make coffee loose its flavour)"

Just buy reusable pods, grind your coffee fresh, and load the pod immediately before use.

Reusable pod for Nespresso machine

"Instant coffee (which feels fake like boiled water)."

Find a no-name instant coffee that seems good and is inexpensive, then:

  1. Boil cold water and pour into coffee mug - that heats the cup and cools the water
  2. Use an exact measure of instant coffee - the same mug and same amount of coffee
  3. Add a teaspoon of vanilla ice cream - adjust for frothy creamy flavor, can also use any ice cream flavor or quality. If adding a tablespoon of ice cream just stir once, leaving a fair chunk of unmelted ice cream floating on the top

That produces rice creamy coffee, for the lowest price.

Qualifications: Drinking over a dozen cups a day, for decades. Switched to instant a decade ago, after imported coffee became less affordable.

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For a super low budget option, I've had good success using a Vietnamese style coffee press. It makes a small quantity of very strong coffee, which, when mixed with milk and sugar is very effective at delivering a latte substitute.

A blade grinder is pretty inexpensive and perfectly adequate for the Vietnamese press. You can then grind fresh beans which will be tons better than instant.

You can also froth the milk using a French press. Bodum makes a mini press that's very nice for making small quantities for less waste.

I have a recipe for chili mocha which imitates Starbucks' Chile Mocha. For regular mocha, omit salt and spices. For a vanilla latte, omit the cocoa too.

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enter image description hereThey make great lattes & cappuccinos because they have equipment that costs thousands! Any decent manual espresso machine cost way over £1000. Try getting a Nespresso milk frother. They cost around £60-70 but make really great thick froth & steamed/hot milk. This is the new style but you can get one without the lights .

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