So what exactly is a macchiato these days?

June 23rd, 2007

This hasn’t exactly been bugging me but perhaps it is worthy of some thought.  In all the talk of “traditional” cappuccinos (let’s not get started again on the absurdity of thirds) there is another drink where the role of tradition is becoming questionable.

These days there is a huge variation in the taste of macchiatos.  Whilst they mostly consist of about an ounce of espresso (be it a short double or a single) the amount of milk going into them varies wildly from the old fashioned teaspoon of milk with a dot of foam to signal its addition to equal quantities of coffee and milk, or in some cases about two parts milk to one part coffee.  Whilst the variation in ml of milk is quite small the ratios, hence the taste and texture of the drink vary wildly.

For me there was a pivotal moment in my approach to this drink where I went from the old fashioned way to the 1:1 ratio way:  I got good enough at latte art to pour a half decent rosetta in an espresso cup.  I would quietly hope that people who order macchiatos from me would let me decide how to make so I could show off my new found skills (no point lying about this).  But most of the time they didn’t because I worked out quite early that macchiato drinkers are fussy.  (Well, you are!)  Let me turn this around into a few questions:

When was the last time you asked for a macchiato (from somewhere you expected it to taste good from) and were served the full espresso cup version without latte art?  Do we make the full cup because it tastes good or looks good?  Why are we adding the milk – at what point does the milk go from softening the espresso to smothering it?

I’ve had lots of old fashioned ones, and plenty with nice art but nothing really in between.  This isn’t to say that one tastes better than the other.  I think a teaspoon of milk in an espresso can soften the experience of a straight shot without masking the espresso too much.  It seems to be the drink of people who drink a lot of coffee, who can’t face another straight shot but would like to see how good the coffee is.   For me the other drink with more milk is more like a cortado though I’ve struggled to really pin down what a cortado is, perhaps because I’ve struggled to find particularly tasty coffee when I have been down in Spain and I have yet to make it to Portugal.  Oddly the cortado was a drink I saw quite a lot in Norway though it was amusingly explained as the manly way to have a cappuccino, and it was a bit milkier than I would have expected though was served in a short glass which I thought was appropriate.

I am not claiming to have any answers on this.  I’ll be honest – I prefer drinking the old fashioned ones, but prefer pouring the full cup ones, but I think in any cafe environment it is always worthwhile getting as much input from the customer as possible (they usually know exactly what they want….)

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