From coffee’s ancient origins in Ethiopia, Anatolia, and the Arab world to the first encounter of Dutch traders with java beans in the 1600s to Starbucks’s coffee empire from Seattle to Shanghai, it is fair to say that coffee is one of the most popular beverages in the world.
Whether you prefer it straight or with cream or enjoy a caffe mocha, macchiato, espresso, cappuccino, or, yes, latte, there are plenty of ways to enjoy coffee – but should you have it hot or cold?
Of course, examples of both hot and cold coffee can be found at Starbucks and countless cafés and coffee shops.
Before we get into the differences between hot and cold lattes, let’s peer deeper into what actually makes a latte a latte.
For those not in the know, a latte is made from espresso coffee and steamed milk, with the ratio typically being one-third espresso to two-thirds steamed milk in the mixture. The word “latte” itself is a mixture of its two primary ingredients in Italian, “caffè e latte”.
On average, a latte is brewed at somewhere between 150 and 165 degrees Fahrenheit. In a traditional latte blend, you’ll get a nice bit of foam rising to the surface, which skilled baristas can manipulate to create creative and quirky latte art.
Besides the foam, lattes can also be customized by adding different decorative ingredients, such as vanilla, syrup, caramel, and mocha, or by adding different kinds of milk, such as almond, coconut, oat, or soy.
One of the best things about lattes is that they are incredibly smooth. While you have that nice foam top layer, the drink itself has a silky-smooth texture when brewed properly.
Speaking of which, you’ll want to be careful when it comes to adding the foam. Too much of a good thing can go bad in a hurry, and that’s the case with latte foam.
Ideally, you should have just enough foam to cover the top without it overwhelming the drink. That’s true whether you are making a traditional hot latte or choose to ice it down.
At its best, a latte should be a fine blend of steamed milk and espresso, perhaps with a bit of added flavor, topped off with elegant foam decorations to create a drink that’s as scintillating to look at as it is to consume.
Iced Latte vs. Iced Coffee
Even more important for our purposes, however, lattes can also be brewed and served hot or cold. Instead of steaming the milk, you instead pour cold milk into the latte mixture and, if you want to keep it cold, place a few ice cubes in there as well.
That being said, it’s worth noting that, while all iced lattes are iced coffees, not all iced coffees are iced lattes. As mentioned, all lattes need milk, while other iced coffees can be made without it.
In fact, if you enjoy a stronger brew of coffee, you might want to explore a different option than lattes, hot or cold, since they are typically milder than other, stronger, milk-free coffee brews. That said, the blend of milk and coffee makes the mixture a bit sweeter and, to many, more palatable.
Iced lattes are reasonably easy to make and can even be fashioned from instant coffee. By contrast, other iced coffees require “real” coffee and some real work to complete as well. Iced lattes are reasonably easy to blend together – simply pour in the coffee and milk, plop in the ice cubes, stir for a couple of minutes, and voila.
On the other hand, some iced coffees can take as much as eight hours to brew and blend properly. Needless to say, if you aren’t a coffee fiend or simply don’t have time to wait for a third of the day for your iced coffee to be ready, you’ll want to tinker around with iced lattes instead.
Brewing Hot and Cold Lattes
But should you really pick a cold latte over a hot one in the first place? The first and most obvious difference between these two concoctions is the temperature.
While we’ll get into the more tangible pros and cons of both hot and cold lattes in a moment, let’s first take a moment to think about the effect that the heat can have on your tasting experience.
For one thing, hot lattes tend to be more prone to bitterness than cold ones. The longer heat is applied to the coffee, the more it brings out the bitter undertones of the brew. By contrast, cold lattes tend to be less bitter. In addition, hot lattes tend to have a higher concentration of acids as well.
Cold lattes are also less likely to result in digestive problems, heartburn, or, yes, accidentally scalding your tongue or throat when you take too big a gulp of coffee that’s way too hot.
Speaking of which, the temperature at which you brew lattes is important to how well the espresso and milk mix and show up in the taste palate.
If you are making lattes with a typical espresso machine, you’ll often boil the water for the espresso and the steamed milk at the same temperature.
However, if you’re more particular and want to make sure that the temperatures for both the espresso and milk are both exactly to your liking, you might want to consider looking into an espresso machine with two chambers. The hotter the water, the more flavor it will be able to extract out of the coffee beans themselves.
But what if your espresso is too hot? Well, the easiest way to cool down any coffee drink is, to quote Lauren Bacall in To Have and Have Not, to “Just put your lips together and blow” (albeit maybe not in the way she means).
In addition to simply blowing on your latte, you can also let it sit for a bit before adding the milk, with that short span of time and then the milk itself working to lower the temperature of the coffee.
Of course, the biggest issue with hot or cold lattes taste-wise is when you’re on the go. The last thing you want is for a cup of coffee to scald you as in the infamous McDonald’s Coffee Case or Kramer parodying it on Seinfeld.
That’s why, if you’re looking for a latte on the go, you either need to be careful about handling it or else just opt for an easier, safer option in a cold latte.
Keep in mind that portable coffee cups aren’t always designed for on-the-go drinking as much as they perhaps should be. Many portable cups are little more than a bit of paper or cardboard and not nearly as well insulated as you might think.
To keep yourself safe, make sure that you don’t drink coffee above 190 degrees (and again, if you’re getting a latte, it should be brewed at a cooler temperature than that anyway). You also need to make sure that the top is affixed firmly so it doesn’t slip off mid-sip, and that the cup is sufficiently insulated.
Not only is this a health concern, but it can lead to your hot latte cooling off rather quickly. Whether you prefer hot or cold lattes, you certainly don’t want a lukewarm one that’s cooled off and become way too tepid and tasteless by the time you’re ready to drink it.
By contrast, porcelain cups provide much better insulation, which is one of many reasons why hot lattes are a staple of coffee houses and home enjoyment of coffee alike.
Finally, it’s worth noting that while hot milk is more of an additive, cold milk tends to taste a bit sweeter.
The Health Cases for Hot vs. Cold Lattes
In addition to their different taste profiles, both hot and cold lattes have their strong points when it comes to their potential impact on your health.
For starters, hot lattes have the edge in antioxidants. According to a 2018 study by Thomas Jefferson University, the hotter the brew (without burning it), the more antioxidants tend to be released.
On the other hand, cold lattes tend to have less caffeine. While you, a coffee- and caffeine-loving individual, may recoil in horror at the idea of being denied your sweet, sweet percolating morning pick-me-up, remember that lower amounts of caffeine can translate to some important health benefits, including better sleep quality and lower blood pressure.
And of course, it doesn’t mean that you can’t have caffeinated coffee any more; however, if you’re craving more coffee but don’t want to make yourself too jittery from tons of caffeine, cold lattes may be a good compromise to consider.
That overall heart-friendliness also helps make cold lattes a better choice for helping to stave off heart attacks. Thankfully, hot or cold, simply drinking coffee (in moderation) can lower your risk of a heart attack by as much as 7%.
That said, while cold lattes may be better for your caffeine levels, hot lattes may help put you in a better mood. A 2009 study split participants into groups holding iced and hot coffees before introducing them to strangers, with the latter hot coffee-carrying group more prone to seeing and be seen by those strangers as generous, friendly, and warm-spirited.
Those good feelings can persist even if you aren’t actually drinking the coffee. As any coffee aficionado will tell you, even the smell of a fine fresh latte is enough to put you in a good mood, and there’s science to back it up.
According to a 2008 study put forth in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, the scent of coffee alone can change the activity of some genes within your brain.
Rats who took just one whiff of coffee were more likely to suffer less from the effects of stress, fatigue, and sleep deprivation, which is something that any true latte lover could’ve told us without being put through the scientific rat race.
Why Cold Lattes Cost More
If you’re going to your local Starbucks (or, hey, a local coffee and tea place that isn’t a massive conglomerate), you might think that getting a cold latte would be a nice change of pace from hot ones. Maybe you’re fed up with the inflated prices for all those steaming-hot lattes and think that a cooler one will come with a lower cost.
Well, not to pour ice water over your hopes and dreams for a more affordable latte, but cold lattes are often more expensive than their piping hot counterparts. There are several reasons for this, not the least of which being that the materials used to make cold lattes are actually often more expensive than those used to make hot ones.
Cold lattes are typically served in plastic rather than paper cups, and also come with straws and ice. Those are each tiny expenditures, but they add up to a more expensive cup of coffee than hot lattes.
One technique that individuals and coffee companies alike are looking at in order to lower the cost of cold lattes is cold brewing it from the beginning. In this method, beans are ground up coarsely, sit in a container of room temperature water overnight, and then are filtered out to produce a brew that can then be chilled to produce iced lattes.
On the one hand, this method may be faster and easier, but on the other hand, it also risks diluting the brew. That’s why, if you follow this method, you’ll want to make sure to pour out a concentration which is great enough to offset this issue. You may also want to consider additives to sweeten or add more health benefits to your iced latte.
Coffee has seen countless transformations over the centuries, and the current debate over the differences between hot and cold lattes is a perfect example.
Still, the very fact that we spend so much time debating over these differences in the first place hints at how much we care and why; like the best coffee concoctions, served hot or cold, lattes are delicious, healthy, and timeless.