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The piccolo latte, sometimes called the piccolo coffee, is a small milk coffee drink that packs a powerful espresso punch. This dainty cup of coffee may be miniature in size, but it’s maximum in taste.
What is a Piccolo Latte?
A piccolo latte is a ristretto shot of espresso combined with warm, frothy milk served in a small glass – usually a 3-3.5 ounce (90-100 ml) size. It’s closely related to the cappuccino and flat white, but contains less milk, resulting in a more concentrated espresso flavour.
The word “piccolo” means small in Italian. So the name suits this little coffee well. The standard recipe for a piccolo latte is:
- 1 ristretto shot of espresso (15-30ml)
- 2oz steamed milk (60ml)
This produces a strong, milky coffee sip that’s perfect for espresso lovers. It can be enjoyed as-is or embellished with foamed milk art.
A Brief History of the Piccolo Latte
The origins of the piccolo latte are obscure. It doesn’t have the long history of drinks like the espresso or cappuccino. But it seems to have emerged as part of the third wave coffee movement in the 1990s.
Along with prizing high quality beans and artisanal preparation, third wave coffee houses introduced smaller drink sizes. The traditional 8oz cappuccino suddenly seemed gargantuan. So baristas began experimenting with micro versions of espresso-based drinks.
The piccolo – an espresso shot topped with a dash of warm, silky steamed milk – was born. It quickly became popular with espresso drinkers who wanted an undiluted, robust coffee experience in a petite serving.
Though it’s still not as mainstream as some espresso drinks, the piccolo latte has developed a cult following in specialty coffee shops. Its fans love that it delivers a mighty espresso hit in a perfectly portioned size.
How to Make a Piccolo Latte
One of the appeals is that it’s easy to make one yourself. With just an espresso machine, milk, and a small glass, you can enjoy cafe-quality piccolo lattes at home.
Here’s a simple recipe:
- 1 ristretto shot of espresso (about 1 oz or 30ml)
- 2-3 oz of steamed milk (60-90ml)
- Pull a ristretto shot of espresso. This smaller, concentrated espresso has more body and less bitterness than a regular shot.
- Steam 2-3 oz of milk until hot and frothy. Avoid overheating the milk, which can cause a burnt flavour.
- Pour the ristretto shot into a small glass or cup. Top with the hot, foamy steamed milk.
- Add a sprinkle of cocoa powder or cinnamon if desired.
Tips for making an awesome piccolo latte:
- Use freshly ground coffee beans and an espresso roast for a robust, flavourful ristretto shot.
- Choose whole milk for a creamy, velvety texture and full milk flavour.
- Steam the milk to create a microfoam layer. This makes the drink smooth and allows for latte art.
- Pour and serve the piccolo immediately so the espresso doesn’t lose heat or go bitter.
The Piccolo Latte vs. Other Espresso Drinks
The petite piccolo latte has some similarities to other espresso and milk combos like cappuccinos and flat whites. But there are some key differences that give it its own identity:
Piccolo Latte vs. Cappuccino
A cappuccino is larger, with a 1:1 to 1:2 espresso to milk ratio. Piccolo lattes contain much less milk for a stronger, espresso-focused taste. Caps also use foamed milk while piccolos use silky steamed milk.
Piccolo Latte vs. Cortado
Like piccolo lattes, cortados are made with a double ristretto shot and a dash of warm milk. But cortados use nearly equal parts espresso and milk for a more balanced flavour. Piccolos emphasise the espresso with just a hint of milk.
Piccolo Latte vs. Flat White
Flat whites consist of a double ristretto shot topped with silky microfoam milk. But they contain more milk than a piccolo latte. Flat whites also have a thin layer of cascading foam, unlike piccolo lattes.
Piccolo Latte vs. Gibraltar
A Gibraltar is another close cousin, made with a cortado ratio of 1:1 espresso to steamed milk. But it’s served in a taller glass, like a cortado. Piccolo lattes use more espresso and less milk than Gibraltars and cortados.
Piccolo Latte vs. Espresso Macchiato
An espresso macchiato is an espresso “marked” with just a dollop of foamed milk – about a teaspoon. Piccolo lattes contain considerably more milk to temper the espresso’s intensity.
The Perfect Size for Espresso Obsessed Drinkers
One of the piccolo latte’s prime advantages is its petite serving size. The standard 3-4 ounce glass makes it ideal for:
- Espresso fans – The strong ristretto gives you intense espresso flavour in a small but satisfying serving.
- Milk skeptics – If you find the milkiness of cappuccinos overwhelming, the piccolo latte allows you to savour the ristretto with barely any dilution.
- Dieters – With negligible calories and just caffeine enough to give you a lift, piccolo lattes can be part of a healthy routine.
- Quick coffee breaks – The small size makes piccolo lattes easy to drink while on the run or during a short break at work. No need to gulp!
- Price conscious coffee drinkers – You can get your espresso fix without dropping big money on a larger drink or committing to endless refills.
For all these reasons, the petitely proportioned piccolo latte has become a favourite among espresso drinkers around the world. It lets you appreciate the pleasures of a well-crafted espresso in a few small sips.
Tips for Ordering a Piccolo Latte at Cafes
Since it’s not as universally known as some espresso drinks, ordering a piccolo latte takes a bit of finesse. Here are some tips to get it right:
- Know the size – Request a piccolo latte served in a 3-4 oz cup or glass. Larger than that becomes a different drink.
- Ask for the ratio – Specify that you want a single ristretto shot with 2-3 oz of steamed milk. This helps ensure you don’t end up with a larger cortado or Gibraltar.
- Feel free to customise – Add flavours like vanilla, caramel or pumpkin spice. Or ask for alternative milks like oat or almond.
- Drink it fresh – Since piccolo lattes are small, they lose heat quickly. Drink them within 5-10 minutes for the best temperature and flavour.
- Sip slowly…then order a refill! Piccolos encourage you to sip slowly and savour the complex ristretto flavour’s. Enjoy every last drop, then order a second if you want more.
Fun Ways to Switch Up Your Piccolo Latte
While traditional piccolo lattes keep it simple – just espresso and steamed milk – there are many ways to customise them:
- Alternative milks – Try almond, oat or soy milk for a dairy-free piccolo. Coconut milk adds thickness and subtle sweetness.
- Flavoured syrups – A pump of vanilla, caramel or hazelnut syrup enhances the sweetness.
- Spiced – Add a dash of cinnamon, nutmeg or cardamom to give your piccolo a warming spice kick.
- Iced – Pour your hot piccolo latte over ice for a chilled summer drink. Adjust the milk to 1:1 ratio to prevent dilution.
- Mocha – Mix in a spoonful of chocolate sauce or cocoa powder for a mocha twist.
- Macchiato style – Request just a dollop of foamed milk on top instead of silky steamed milk for contrast.
- Affogato – For dessert, pour a hot espresso shot over a small scoop of vanilla gelato or ice cream.
How to Achieve Piccolo Latte Perfection
Crafting the perfect piccolo latte is both a science and an art. Follow these expert tips:
- Pull it right – Freshly ground beans and an exact double ristretto shot are essential. Time the shot for a balanced, extraction.
- Select your milk – Whole milk makes the creamiest, fullest bodied piccolo. But non-dairy milks can also create delicious textures.
- Steam it up – Swirl the steam wand tip just below the milk’s surface. Steam until hot and frothy, but not bubbly.
- Pour with precision – Pour a slow, steady stream of milk down the inside edge of the cup to preserve the crema.
- Master the milk ratio – Nail the ideal espresso to milk balance. Too much milk overpowers the ristretto.
- Serve it ASAP – The fresh espresso flavours shine when served immediately. Letting it sit dulls the tastes.
- Sip and enjoy! – Drink slowly, without additions, to appreciate the piccolo latte’s bold yet refined medley.
The Bottom Line on Ordering and Sipping Piccolo Lattes
The elegantly petite piccolo latte has become a menu staple at high-end coffee houses. But it still flies under the radar for many coffee shop patrons. Now that you know what makes this mini milk coffee so special, you can start enjoying its pleasures.
Savour its intense espresso flavour, admirable restraint in size and smooth melding of bold ristretto with silky steamed milk. Piccolo lattes demonstrate that exquisite things can come in small packages. So next time you’re at your favourite cafe, confidently order the drink in 3 ounces of perfection – then Blissfully sip your piccolo latte.