Monday 26th of June, 2017
Look up the word piccolo in an English dictionary and you’ll learn all about the world of flutes and woodwind musical instruments. The original piccolo is a half-size flute which produces a notes one octave higher than its full-size equivalent. Hence the name – piccolo means small in Italian.
But here in the coffee universe the word piccolo means something else altogether. For me, it brings back memories of the hipster coffee shop in Edinburgh where I first started surfing on the joy that is third wave coffee. I was meeting a friend for hot drink, unaware that I was about to taste coffee as I’d never tasted it before. She ordered a piccolo. I gazed at the chalkboard behind the bar, feeling the panic rise as I read through rows of unfamiliar names, then muttered I’d have the same as my friend.
When it arrived in a little textured glass I admired its simple beauty – but felt a little cheated. This wasn’t a new drink at all. It was a mini-latte, half the size and twice the price. Then I tasted it. I was surprised at first by the sweetness –and even more surprised to realise that the touches of caramel and dark chocolate and toffee were coming not from artificial sweeteners and syrups but from the coffee.
This was not a bucket of hot milk with a vague touch of coffee. No, this was a drink that offered me the best of both worlds. A deep and complex coffee flavour – and the comforting presence of milk. Note the word presence. It’s there, but does not dominate or aim to cover up a poorly pulled espresso.
So what tools are needed to create the perfect piccolo?
First up, a 100ml glass.
Secondly, a ristretto shot. For the record, a ristretto is a short and concentrated shot of espresso, made with the same amount of coffee grounds but half the volume of water. It should measure around 20ml.
The third element is the milk – warm and silky and smooth as your favourite blanket.
Look again at the origins of its name. In the world of music it’s a half-size flute that plays the notes one octave higher than its big sister, adding a distinct sparkle to the overall sound of the orchestra. In Italian language, piccolo means something small. And it’s the coffee universe? It reflects these origins – a small coffee that offers heightened flavour notes. Okay, we can’t talk about octaves – but the complex flavours and aromas of a piccolo are clearly one step up from its elder sibling, the latte.
Small but strong. Milky but mighty. Piccolo, we salute you.