What is a Piccolo coffee?

by Alex Chapman

Piccolo coffee

If you're Italian - or are familiar with the Italian language - you'll know that piccolo means small. So, a piccolo coffee is quite straight explanatory - it's a small coffee. But, what type of coffee you may ask? That's where things get a bit more complicated. Some coffee connoisseurs believe it's a small coffee that consists of a single espresso shot topped up with steamed milk in a demitasse glass. Other coffee lovers say that in order for a coffee to be a piccolo, it must be made with a ristretto shot.

Here, in Australia, we agree with the latter - piccolo coffees should be made with a ristretto shot. Ristretto shots vary from espresso shots in the sense that the barista or coffee maker only pulls the first part of an espresso shot. The result is a short shot of highly concentrated espresso coffee. Because less water is used with a ristretto, the taste of the shot is richer and slightly sweeter.

What is a piccolo latte?

Now that you have a grasp of what exactly a piccolo coffee is, you may be wondering what a piccolo latte is. Luckily, the answer to that question is very simple: it's the same thing. The term piccolo coffee is just short for piccolo latte coffee.

So, A piccolo latte is a fresh roasted coffee that's comprised of a single shot of ristretto that's served in a demitasse glass and topped to the brim with latte-like steamed milk.

The history of piccolos

While you've probably seen piccolos on the menu or chalkboard of your local coffee shop, you may be surprised to learn where piccolo lattes originated from. Although their name is Italian, piccolo coffees were actually created in Australia. Passionate coffee buffs have been wrapped in a battle for years about whether the piccolo was created in Melbourne or Sydney - with both sides swearing that it was their town.

Both Aussie city's claim that the piccolo was created because baristas were constantly tasting piccolo-style coffee to see how their coffee roasts were tasting throughout the date when missed with milk. Choosing it as an option instead of drinking full-sized lattes.

Regardless, both Australian cities embraced the drink about ten years ago, and it has since become very popular all around the country. In fact, over the years it's become popular all around the world - many coffee shops in places like New York and London - now have piccolo coffees on their menus.

How to make a piccolo latte

Pull a ristretto shot

The art of a piccolo latte is in how the coffee shot is pulled. Extracting a ristretto shot is different from an espresso, as it's pulled shorter.

If you are using a manual espresso machine, you should stop the pull shorter than if you were making an espresso shot. You will need 15mls of espresso to pass through the filter, which should take about 15 seconds.

If you're using an espresso machine that doesn't allow for manual stopping, you can use a very fine ground and pull it the normal amount of time. The finer ground means less water will be going through the grounds. However, this option may leave you with a gritty taste.

Whichever method you use, extract the shot into the demitasse glass.

Steam and pour your milk

Steam 80mls of milk as if you're making a latte. Once it's ready, swirl the milk around in the milk pitcher before pouring it directly in the demitasse glass.

Ensure the two ingredients are mixed

If the milk and ristretto shot aren't fully combined, swirl the glass around until they are.


That's it - your long black is really to be savoured and sipped.

The best beans for a piccolos

For a rich and bold piccolo latte - Signature Blend Coffee Beans

Signature Blend Coffee Beans are a great choice for a latte piccolo, milk adds flavour to a coffee - so if you're looking to really taste the coffee, choosing a boldly flavoured bean helps. These beans are grown only for Glasshouse Mountain coffee and are hand-picked from specialty ‘Estate Grown’ Coffee plantations, resulting in a unique and delicious cup of coffee.

For a smooth and nutty piccolo latte - Single Origin Nicaraguan Coffee Beans

If you enjoy a nutty taste with your piccolo latte, then Single Origin Nicaraguan Coffee Beans. These beans have a smooth taste with hints of almost and cinnamon. The bean flavoured is elevated even more when almond milk is substituted for cow's milk in your piccolo latte.

For a light and sweet piccolo latte - Yellow Bourbon Brazilian Coffee

Do you prefer your coffee to be on the sweeter and lighter side? if so, Yellow Bourbon Brazilian Coffee Beans are a phenomenal choice for a piccolo latte. These single-origin beans are considered the 'cream of the crop' and are treated as so - they're handpicked onto cloth, and rigorously graded to ensure high quality. The result is a beautiful sweet lingering taste, with slight caramel undertones.

For a bold and fresh decaf piccolo latte - La Perla Coffee Beans

If you're looking for strong flavoured coffee, without the caffeine hit, then La Perla Coffee Beans are perfect. La Perla coffee beans are sourced from the highest altitude growing regions of Columbia and have rich undertones of dark brown sugar with hints of lemon.

Tips on how to make the best piccolo coffee

Pour the milk into the glass at an angle

Once the milk is steamed, it should be poured into the demitasse glass on an angle from a bit of height, this will ensure that the milk and espresso mix well. When making a coffee with steamed milk, you should also always allow a little room for a layer of milk foam on the top.

Use high-quality coffee beans

The taste of a piccolo coffee varies greatly from a ristretto because of its milk content. The milk adds its own flavour to the drink - especially if custom milk like almond milk or soy milk is used. This flavour can sometimes overshadow the coffee flavour if high quality beans aren't used. To determine the best type of bean for you, you can check out our guide above.

Don't burn the milk

Burning the milk in a dairy coffee is one way to ensure that the taste will be ruined. That's what it's so important to make sure that the milk doens't get burnt. To acheive this, you'll want to make sure that the milk isn't heated too quickly, and that it's only warmed to a tempreture of around 60-65 degrees celcius.


Does a piccolo coffee have a single or double espresso shot?

Technically, a piccolo doesn't have an espresso shot at all, instead, it has a ristretto shot - which is a form of expresso. It's when an expresso shot is pulled shortly and less milk is used. Traditionally, a piccolo latte should have a single ristretto shot. However, some baristas make a piccolo coffee with a double ristretto shot - for high caffeine content and to make the flavour of the coffee bean stronger. This kind of drink is usually called a cortado coffee.

Can you make a piccolo latte without steamed milk?

Steamed milk is one of the two ingredients of a piccolo coffee (the other is a ristretto shot), so if steamed milk isn't used then the coffee isn't really a piccolo. Piccolo's differ from cortardos in the sense that they only use a single shot of ristretto. Cortardos are a stronger flavoured coffee because of the double shot. If milk isn't used in the drink, and only the extracted coffee is used, then this is simply called a ristretto coffee.

How much milk is in a piccolo coffee?

Piccolo coffees are a coffee drink that's served to the brim in a demitasse glass. A demitasse glass is 100mls. The ristretto will take up about 20mls of the glass, and there shuold be a little room for some milk foam at the top of the cup, so there will be approximately 70mls of steamed milk in a piccolo coffee.

Is piccolo coffee weaker than other types of coffee?

This depends if you're looking at the caffeine content or the flavour profile. Because less water is used, the taste of a ristretto shot is stronger than an espresso shot. However, because the ristretto shot is pulled shorter, some of the caffeine is lost in a ristretto shot, and it has a lower caffeine content than a traditional espresso shot. A ristretto shot usually has around 63mgs of caffeine, while an espresso shot will usually have around 68mgs.

What is a demitasse glass?

A real piccolo coffee will almost always be served in a demitasse glass. In french, demitasse means 'half glass', and this translates to the style of glass. It's a small mug-shaped glass. Glass provides a neutral taste, meaning the taste of your coffee won't be affected at all when it's served in a glass.

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