What, Exactly, Is Breve Coffee?

In the age of endless options, a casual trip to the coffee shop might present you with a mind-boggling number of choices. With a large and ever-growing selection of coffee drinks on offer, even self-proclaimed coffee snobs may struggle to decipher the subtle differences between them. But rather than ruin your street credit by asking the barista what a breve coffee is, allow us to break it down for you.

Different from a latte or cappuccino — which include espresso, steamed milk (typically whole or 2%), and a varying amount of foam — breve coffee is made with equal parts espresso and steamed half-and-half. While this may seem like a very minor difference, substituting half-and-half for milk has a substantial effect on the flavor and texture of the drink.

One of the things you should know about half-and-half (which is one part whole milk and one part cream) is that it contains five times more butterfat than 2% milk does. While this inherently supplies a richer taste and smoother mouthfeel than milk, both can have their flavors emphasized by the introduction of steam. As the steam wand creates tiny bubbles in the liquid, the fat encapsulates and stabilizes them, creating a supremely velvety foam. Simultaneously, the heat works to break down the sugars contained in the dairy, accentuating the sweet taste. Although half-and-half contains less sugar than milk, the sweetness lingers longer in the presence of fat. 

Less is more

When it comes to breve-style coffee, the proportion of the ingredients is critical. The perfect breve is crafted with nothing more than a double shot of espresso and 2 ounces of steamed half-and-half. Compared to a latte, which typically contains between 8 to 15 ounces of milk, breves tend to have a more pronounced coffee flavor and smaller stature. In an apparent nod to the size of the drink, "breve" translated from Italian means "short."

Despite the Italian name, breves are believed to be an American invention. While the origins are hazy, the drink was likely popularized in the 1960s after the invention of the espresso machine propelled specialty coffee drinks into the mainstream. The tasty nature of the breve has made it a go-to after-dinner drink, often paired with dessert. However, plenty of people have adopted it as their morning coffee order, too.

If a breve isn't on the menu at your local coffee house, you can likely still get one if you know how to customize your order. What makes a macchiato unique is that it's made with a one-to-one ratio of espresso and milk foam. To get a breve, then, you can request a macchiato made with half-and-half. Otherwise, try asking for a half-and-half cappuccino with half the amount of milk as a typical cappuccino contains (3 to 4 ounces of milk) plus foam. No matter how you get there, breves are definitely a great addition to your coffee rotation.