The Lost Art of the Espresso Macchiato

Sometimes, I'm a cynic. Okay, truthfully, I'm often cynical and sometimes I tend to a be a bit closed minded about my drinks. I have certain mini rules that I uphold always when I make my orders and there is lots that I expect from the order when I adhere to these mini rules. When I want a black coffee, I want a filter, hand brewed, batch brewed, I don't mind, as long as its good, sweet, fruity, and balanced. With my espresso, I want something bright, want balance. I love an espresso in the morning, after a heavy breakfast perhaps. But with my milk drinks, this is where I become a total snob. If I want milk in that espresso I want some damn milk. No in between or half measures. For this reason, I always hated the espresso machiato, and don't get me even started on the double short picalo (because what the hell is that anyway). 

The macchiato is something I never quite understood. The espresso tastes fantastic on its own, the cappuccino or cortado taste fantastic as they are (when well made of course). But really what the hell is a macchiato. Its an espresso with an unclear amount of milk, referred to in the books as a kiss or a small amount of milk. And how do they typically taste? Horrible, just horrible. It is amazing to see something that starts so sweet and balanced in a good espresso turn into a horrible and bitter drink in a macchiato. 

But lately I have been starting to rethink the macchiato. When I traveled to London, or other cities, or even other cafes in Berlin I have seen some gruesome things. I have seen baristas steaming some heavy stretched milk, hard hot foam, spooning it on top of the small cup, over filling it. I have seen them break out the whipped cream, or even worse, call a cortado a macchiato. Why are we so critical of what constitutes a flat white yet dismiss one of the most traditional drinks right off the bat because it is neither here nor there. Can I make it taste better? And can I create a more consistent method in which to make this drink. To be honest, I am unsure, but I can damn try.

My introduction to making macchiatos happened in my first week at Roststatte in Berlin. Kris, the gentleman responsible for my initial training stunned me when a group of 7 people came in and all ordered macchiatos, and he skillfully, with one small pitcher proceeded to drop smooth textured, clean looking hearts into the cup. Each macchiato received the same level of milk, first a small drop, and second enough to give the cup a little heart sitting comfortably on top of that heavy creme. In spite of that, when I tried the drink, I found it quite bitter, as I often do. Perhaps bitter is the wrong word to ascribe the taste, It was neither here nor there.

Therefore, I have begun to apply and adhere the same rules I would apply to a good cappuccino to a good macchiato. I want to make the best, sweetest, small kiss of milk drink possible, with nice milk texture and a beautiful balanced espresso underneath the covers. 

So here are my steps, when possible to making the best macchiato. Try them, and see if they give you a sweeter cup.

1. Break that Creme:

When I make any milk drink, the first thing I always do is break the creme, I spin the cup, shifting the dark frothy texture of the espresso to the sides. Why? It gives the milk drink more sweetness, a cleaner texture and less bitterness. I like when the top layer of milk is totally smooth with no dark spots or bubbles, (like a good pint). 

2. The first drop:

The first drop is important. You can never mix as much milk as you will for a cortado or cappuccino, but you can still both mix espresso and milk together evenly, which gives the drink a lot of sweetness, and you can also give the milk enough texture to sit on. But don't go too crazy. It is easier if you have less milk in your pitcher, reducing the risk of over filling that drink. Start a little higher than the rim of the cup and quickly drop in a small amount of milk that should sink immediately. Give the small cup a little spin or shuffle, moving that milk around and ensuring an even mix.

3. Get in nice and close:

The art of finishing that macchiato is in getting in close to the creme and staying centred. Allow that foam to rush forward and sit on top of that cream, Give it a tiny wiggle and close off that heart form. If it all works out, you will have a half filled espresso cup, with a cute little heart in the middle, with a smooth chocolate brown texture. 

Let me know if this works for you, or if it is something you already practice at home or at work, or perhaps what you like or dislike about this drink. As a barista I believe it is okay to dislike a particular beverage, but if its on your menu, then you have to make it the best possible version of that drink possible, with no mucking about with hard foamed milk or condensed milk. Make that customer happy.