What is a Piccolo Coffee?

The piccolo latte has won over many a coffee lover in the last couple of decades and has now cemented itself in Australian coffee history.

In this post, we delve a little deeper into the mechanics and history of one of the countries trendiest espresso-based drinks.

We also take you by the hand to lead you, step by step, in how to make one of these delicious little treats, and take a closer at what separates it from other short espresso drinks like the macchiato or cortado.

What exactly is a Piccolo Latte?

In short, the Piccolo Latte is a coffee drink made for those who appreciate a short, smooth milk coffee with the intensity that sits somewhere between the macchiato and a flat white.

Regularly featured on coffee menus nationwide, the Picollo is made of a single shot of espresso, topped up to the brim of its 100ml demitasse glass with latte-like steamed milk.

However, there are some differing opinions over how exactly a Piccolo latte is made.

Traditionally the Piccolo was found to hold a double ristretto instead of an espresso shot, which gave the coffee extra body and intensity in flavour.

The history of the Piccolo

In the early 2000s, the Piccolo latte became popular within independent café culture throughout Sydney. Found to be the ‘roasters choice’ of coffee drinks, it quickly moved from being the coffee professional’s quick fix to a staple on café menus all the way across Australia and many other parts of the world.

The use of a double ristretto shot seems to have sadly died off pretty quickly in the coffee world as café owners came to realise that its use in a service setting, especially when using a programmed volumetric espresso machine, would disrupt the overall flow and require more care and attention than the coffee may be worth.

A lot of coffee shops have now moved towards the use of a full single shot of espresso in their Piccolos, which has taken away some of the intense flavours that the drink had originally offered. 

The modern cousin of the classic Piccolo latte can be found in some coffee shops around Australia (Melbourne in particular), known as the ‘Magic’. This drink is made with a double ristretto shot, topped with flat white textured milk, and served in a 6oz tulip cup.

How to make a Piccolo Latte

The Piccolo Latte is one of the most addictive coffee drinks found on the menu in a cafe.

Its incredibly smooth texture paired with a delectable intensity of flavour has quickly become many coffee lovers’ drink of choice, and by following the steps below, you can enjoy a piccolo in the comfort of your own home.

The recipe:

Ingredients:

  • 100ml Demitasse Glass
  • 1 x Single Espresso
  • 80ml Milk – Steamed with a medium amount of foam like a Latte.

Steps:

  1. Warm the glass you are using prior to extracting your coffee.
  2. Load up your portafilter with freshly ground coffee. Distribute, tamp, and insert into your espresso machine.
  3. If you’re using a portafilter with a two-way splitter, place the glass directly under one of the spouts and use a separate cup to catch the other side of the espresso shot.
  4. Once your espresso has finished pouring, put it to one side and start preparing your milk to steam. You are welcome to drink the ‘spare’ shot straight away if you need a quick coffee fix.
  5. Steam your milk like you would when making a latte.
  6. Bang, swirl then tip a little bit of the freshly steamed milk out of the jug. Pour milk directly into the single espresso, making sure that the milk and coffee combine fully.
  7. Enjoy your piccolo latte.

Demitasse Glass

The size of the vessel that the drink is served in is one of the most important parts of the Piccolo latte and it is traditionally found in a 100ml Italian demitasse glass.

This type of glass is a regular fixture in a lot of coffee shops around the world. The 100ml size is often referred to as a ‘Piccolo glass’ and looks exactly like the larger Latte glassware, just smaller.

There are some coffee drinkers who are adamant that coffee tastes better when served in glassware over classic coffee cups, but this all comes down to individual taste.

An alternative vessel would be a tall ceramic espresso cup.

Espresso style

Make sure your espresso is dialled into a recipe of a 1:2 ratio. Something like 18 grams in, 36 grams out in 28 seconds is ideal.

Using a 2:1 ratio espresso recipe gives the coffee enough strength to really shine through the milk.

I would also say that a classic espresso blend or single origin South American bean would suit the Picollo coffee best, as the acidity of other origins like Africa or Central America could make the Piccolo coffee taste too acidic.

Using a ristretto shot in your Piccolo

If you’re looking for a bit more of a kick in your piccolo, using a double ristretto instead of a single espresso will give an extra bite to the drink.

The modern ristretto has been adapted to fit in within specialty coffee culture that holds the ‘dialling in’ process in such high regard.

Making a ristretto is very easy, simply start a double espresso process as usual but then cut the shot off early.

We are only pulling the first 18grams of the double shot.

Cutting the espresso shot short creates a more intense, thick and oily shot, also known as a ristretto, or “double-riz”, depending on who you’re talking to.

The full-bodied, sweet ristretto adds to the smoothness of the steamed milk we pour on top, and whilst the overall flavour may have more intensity overall, there is much less caffeine in the ristretto than a double espresso shot.

Historically the ristretto is another classic Italian addition to a coffee menu and would be made by a barista using more coffee on a finer grind, restricting the flow of water going through the grounds, resulting in a much darker looking, thick, oily shot with an intense flavour.

If your portafilter has a two-way splitter then a single espresso would be the easier option, but bottomless portafilter users will find the ristretto shot simpler for their Piccolos.

Milk Texture

When steaming your milk aim more towards a Latte style of steamed milk as we want around 1.5cm of foam sitting on top of your Piccolo.

You can slightly refine the recipe by using different styles of milk. Thick, foamy cappuccino milk will bring out more of the flavour in the coffee, whereas thinner milk will dilute its flavour.

With some practice, it is possible to pour good latte art on top of your Piccolo, but it can be tricky in such a small glass.

Piccolo FAQs

What is the difference between a Piccolo and a Macchiato?

A piccolo has more textured steamed milk on top of the coffee than a macchiato, making it a slightly longer drink aimed towards milky coffee lovers over strong coffee drinkers.
The macchiato is always found to be served in an espresso cup (unless requested otherwise), whilst the Piccolo is served in a small Demitasse glass.

What is the difference between a Piccolo and a Cortado?

Cortados are generally found to have a full double shot instead of the single espresso/double ristretto that goes into a Piccolo latte, but both are served in a small demitasse glass instead of any kind of ceramic coffee cup.
The cortado is a coffee drink that started making the rounds in modern coffee culture and on to coffee menus sometime around 2010.
With its roots firmly embedded in Spanish coffee culture, the cortado was seen as an alternative to the predominantly Italian or Australian style coffee menus across the world. 

How much milk is in a piccolo coffee?

The Piccolo latte is restricted by the glass that it is served in.
Using a 100ml demitasse glass, or espresso cup to make a piccolo means that there is only enough room for around 80ml of milk once you have made your espresso shot, and filled the glass to the brim.