January 3, 2022

What is the pistachio latte?

As its name might suggest, the pistachio latte is simple: a milk-based beverage flavoured with pistachio. The pistachio flavour typically comes in the form of a syrup or paste, giving the drink a warm, sweet richness with a toasted, nutty, and earthy edge.   

However, while the pistachio is naturally green, if you’re not drinking an iced version, your pistachio latte is more likely to resemble a classic latte than take on a bright green hue.

To learn more about where the pistachio latte comes from, and how it’s finding its way onto coffee shop menus, I spoke to Louisette Castel, operations manager at Jolt Coffee, and Nathan Hamood, owner-director and president at Dessert Oasis Coffee Roasters.

You might also like our article on the Spanish latte.

pistachio latte

Origins of the pistachio latte

When you think of pistachio latte, chances are you might associate it with Starbucks.

This is completely understandable, as the chain launched and marketed a high-calorie version for its 2021 winter menu. This beverage itself is an adaptation of an earlier pistachio latte prototype, which was created for the 2019 launch of its Chicago Reserve roastery.

After the success of their popular hazelnut-flavoured beverage, Starbucks looked to Italian cuisine for further inspiration. To their drink development team, it seemed logical to go with pistachio, which is also a clear culinary favourite and widely used in Italian pastries and ice cream. 

Furthermore, Sicily is renowned for producing top-quality pistachios. Two millennia ago, the nut was brought from Persia to Europe by the Romans, and cultivated in Sicily in particular.

Today, however, Iran is the world’s top pistachio producer, just ahead of Syria and Turkey.

Even as far back as 7,000 BC, pistachio has been a significant component of Middle Eastern cuisine. To this day, it is still the most widely used nut in Middle Eastern desserts and sweets. 

This is likely why the pistachio latte is readily available in many coffee shops in the Middle East, where it’s typically served both iced and warm.

And approximately five years before the launch of its pistachio latte in North America, Starbucks actually launched a syrup-based pistachio and rose mocha beverage – specifically for its markets in the Middle East, Europe and Africa. 

So, this raises a question: did they invent the pistachio latte? 

Well, not as such. We already know that the pistachio is a culinary staple in Middle Eastern cuisine and Italian desserts, and it has been used to prepare beverages over the years. 

One such example is menengic coffee (also called pistachio or terebinth coffee). While it is not strictly made from coffee beans, it is served hot and made from roasted and ground terebinth flowers that are sourced from a subtype of pistachio tree. This gives it a similar texture to a foamy cezve or ibrik coffee.

Alongside this, there are also several creamy pistachio liqueurs on the market, particularly from Sicily, which shows that the idea of using pistachio as a beverage flavouring certainly isn’t new.

pistachio latte

Why pistachio, and how is it made?

In London, Louisette says Jolt Coffee serves a pistachio latte all year round. 

“Pistachio has been on our menu since day one,” she says. “It’s inspired by our roots in the Middle East, where pistachios are often used in desserts. 

“We source our pistachio paste from Sicily, where they grow some of the best pistachios in the world.”

At Dessert Oasis Coffee Roasters, Nathan says launching a pistachio latte came from his manager Robert Becker, who was based in Detroit at the time: 

“He said he’d actually just had pistachio ice cream for breakfast, funnily enough, and that was his inspiration to give it a try!” 

After preparing the first “prototype”, Nathan says they set about “making it in bigger batches to offer to customers at the one location first”. 

He adds: “We started having customers ask for it at the other stores, so we began producing it everywhere. We now have it [available] year-round and it’s been very popular since its release almost a year ago.” 

As for the flavour, Louisette describes Jolt’s pistachio latte as having the “sweet, nutty and slightly menthol-caramel flavour of really good pistachios”.

She adds that Jolt’s recipe uses a double shot of espresso, an in-house pistachio and condensed milk sauce, and estate dairy milk.

“For the iced version, we layer the pistachio sauce first, then pour the milk over ice before artfully pouring the coffee shot at the end,” she says.

According to Nathan, it’s similar at Dessert Oasis: “We make a sauce in-house that we’re then able to use in our lattes. We then pull the shot over the sauce, stir, and pour over steamed milk. 

“In addition to the pistachio in the sauce, we use a sweetened condensed milk base and some select spices that we think enhance the flavour of the pistachio, helping it to hold up to the coffee and milk. We do them both hot and iced, and it’s very popular both ways.”

latte art

So, what about the coffee?

I also asked both Louisette and Nathan about the types of coffee that pair well with pistachio. 

Louisette in general says she is very passionate about the coffee they serve at Jolt, including for their pistachio latte. 

“We work with a roaster called Nude Coffee Roasters, and of course recommend their beans,” she says. “For the pistachio latte, we recommend the Costa Rica/El Salvador blend, or their infused El Salvador coffee.”

She says the blend is characterised by its red grape and caramel notes, while the infused Salvadoran single origin has sweet, chocolatey notes.

As for Dessert Oasis, Nathan says: “We use our house espresso which is currently a really nice natural process single variety Yellow Bourbon from Fazenda Sertão in Brazil. 

“This coffee has been a pleasure to roast and brew, and lends itself well to the body of the drink.”

Interestingly enough, all of these coffees have notes of chocolate or caramel. Balancing the pistachio with a coffee that has these sweeter flavours seems to be a good place to start.

pistachio latte espresso

What does the future hold for the pistachio latte?

By and large, the pistachio latte is popular, even though it is still relatively new on the scene.

Louisette says: “[At Jolt] it’s our most loved and most Instagrammed drink! We have a lot of people saying they are addicted.

“Really, it’s a core item on our menu. I think it was born out of the Spanish latte trend and will endure because pistachio and coffee is such a beautiful pairing,” she concludes.

Nathan agrees. “It’s been a big hit for us,” he says. “We’d planned on it just being a drink we served at our Detroit location, but it became so popular and we had so many inquiries at the other stores that we had to bring it to Rochester and Royal Oak as well.”

“We think this drink will likely stay on our menu for some time. We love experimenting with different house-made syrups to keep things fresh and exciting, but some drinks just tend to really stick. This is likely one that will stay.”

As Louisette notes, the rise of the pistachio latte also seems to coincide with the growth of the Spanish latte in the Middle East. This makes sense, as both drinks are sweet, with a rich, creamy flavour.

pistachio latte

Beyond the Middle East, the UK, and the US, the pistachio latte is also starting to appear in other coffee consuming across Europe, and it’ll only be a matter of time before it spreads further afield. This means that consumers around the world should get ready to see it around soon.

In the future, both Louisette and Nathan also earmark pistachio milk as something likely to emerge. As more and more alternative milks start to emerge in the coffee sector, it seems likely that a vegan pistachio milk latte could be a fresh take on this drink that appeals to even more people.

Enjoyed this? Then try our article on the café con leche.

Photo credits: HakanBey, Jolt Coffee, Ben Lew, Bradley Szymanski

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