Piccolo coffee, as the Italian name implies, is a small drink with a big taste. You may have just heard of it for the first time today, and that’s what brought you here.
It’s not the most popular coffee drink out there, possibly because of confusion about what’s in it or because it’s served in 3-4oz portions, and people favor larger drinks.
Maybe you’ve seen a Piccolo Latte on the menu at your favorite artisan coffee shop. Or, you’ve had it abroad, somewhere like Australia, where it’s popular, and want to recreate it at home.
Whatever the reason, we’re here to tell you anything you may want to know about Piccolo Coffee.
What Is Piccolo Coffee?
Technically, when you order a Piccolo, you’re getting a kind of latte made with just a little layer of microfoam and a ristretto (compressed espresso) shot. It’s usually served in a small 4-ounce cup.
Because it uses so little milk and such a condensed espresso, Piccolo drinkers get the full flavor of their coffee. It’s also popular as an after-meal drink since the small size means you won’t be too full to enjoy it.
If it’s early in the morning and they’re hurting for a caffeine buzz, some people will sip their Piccolo Latte alongside an Americano.
How Can You Tell When a Piccolo Coffee Is Authentic?
Some people may confuse a Piccolo with other small coffee drinks, like a Cortado. You don’t have to be a coffee snob to get precisely what you want (though at Roasty, we fully support coffee purists). Here’s what you should expect from a Piccolo Coffee:
What Beans Are Used?
A Piccolo Latte uses high-grade espresso beans, finely ground, as you would use for a single espresso shot. If you’re making this drink yourself, you should pick your favorite whole beans to grind, which will vary by personal taste.
The nice thing about a Piccolo is that the flavor will really come through.
Don’t know your bean preference? Now’s a great time to find out, and we can help you pick from the best espresso beans out there.
How Strong Is a Piccolo Coffee?
Because it’s a Ristretto shot, it has slightly less caffeine than a regular espresso drink but a much more concentrated, stronger taste. You can enjoy it leisurely and then order another if you want more caffeine. The minimal milk and small shot mean you won’t be too full.
You can also consider drinking these throughout the day, anytime you feel yourself crashing. It’s pretty easy to do if you’re working from home, as it takes very little time to make yourself.
When to Order a Piccolo Coffee
Whenever you want, is the correct answer for ordering any coffee. But, for a Piccolo, the other answer is whenever you see it. It’s not on many coffee shop menus, so if you’ve been looking to try it, just go for it when you see it.
The most popular time to drink a Piccolo is after a meal or with dessert. It’s small so that you won’t be too full.
It’s a Ristretto shot, so it’s not too caffeinated evening drinking, but has enough to keep you going if your night isn’t over. And it’s served without sugar, so it pairs well with pastries and other sweets and won’t be overpowered by them.
Depending on your caffeine tolerance, you may want to order multiple drinks if you get it in the morning. Or drink it alongside a larger drink, like an Americano or double latte.
Other Small Coffee Drinks
At this point, you might be asking yourself what’s the difference between a Piccolo or Cortado or even a Macchiato espresso. This is a fair question; why would you bother trying something new if it isn’t really new? They’re all tiny milk-based espresso drinks, after all.
Each of these drinks is prepared differently, yielding different flavor profiles, textures, and caffeine content.
The Macchiato has the least amount of milk (usually 10 milliliters). The cortado is prepared with about 25-30 milliliters of steamed milk with a small layer of sweetened foam on top, and the Piccolo has around 100 milliliters of milk topped with a small layer of foamed milk.
If you’re interested, we break down the macchiato and cortado into even more detail here.
So, of the “small coffees,” the Piccolo uses the most milk and is made with a Ristretto shot rather than a full shot of espresso. Because of that ristretto pull, it’ll have a bolder flavor with a sweeter finish, even though it is commonly served with no sugar.
So You Want to Make a Piccolo Coffee at Home
Now that you know all about the Piccolo Latte, you may want to try your hand at making your own. It’s small, so don’t worry; even if you mess up, you’re not going to waste too many precious espresso beans.
How to Brew Piccolo Coffee
You can use your espresso maker for your Piccolo Coffee. If you don’t have one, we can help you pick one if you’re in the market for an espresso maker.
You’re going to want to finely grind your roasted coffee beans as you would for an espresso shot and then set your espresso machine to Ristretto.
It’s not a big deal if you don’t already know the difference between espresso and ristretto. We can clear up any confusion right now. There are a few differences between an Espresso and Ristretto shot:
- 1 ounce per shot
- 20-30 second extraction
- Bold and bitter flavor
- More coffee means slightly more caffeine
- Yields .75 ounce
- Shorter extraction time
- Less caffeine
- Uses less water, meaning less watered down flavor
- Bold, concentrated, slightly sweet tasting shot
Because it’s small, you’ll want to pull your single-shot directly into the cup you’ll be serving your Piccolo in. You don’t want to lose any liquid switching between your glassware.
Other Ingredients You’ll Need
This is a shortlist. This drink is made with whole milk, but you can use whatever milk you prefer, and a ristretto shot. So once you’ve ground your coffee beans (you need 7-9 grams of ground coffee for one Ristretto shot) and bought your milk, you’ll be all ready to mix your Piccolo.
Mixing the Drink
Once you’ve ground your beans, pull your shot of coffee, and, as mentioned, let it run directly into the final glass you’re using.
While that’s happening, steam your milk. You’ll want to use about 3 ounces (85-100 milliliters). You can use any milk you can steam; whole, skim, vegan, whatever you need. If you don’t own a steam wand, there are alternative ways to steam milk.
At this point, your shot (which should’ve taken seconds depending on your machine) should be finished. So, go ahead and gently pour the milk into your cup—Piccolos are traditionally served in a small latte glass, like this if you want to get the whole experience.
And that’s it. Part of the beauty of this drink is its simplicity and speed. You can now enjoy as many Piccolos as you want. Try adding different toppings like chocolate or cinnamon as you please, or take in the smooth finish and bold, unimpeded flavor of your espresso bean.
If you enjoyed this, you can learn about, and make, the other small espresso drink, the macchiato.
Before You Go
A Piccolo Coffee is a small, easy-to-make, tasty drink. If you enjoy espresso, this is a great recipe to have in your arsenal. Now that you know all about it, go forth and order a Piccolo in any cafe with absolute confidence.
Making your own unique coffee drinks is a fun and rewarding experience. When you’re experimenting at home, you can put your own spin on recipes and find your signature style. You can also introduce new drinks to friends and family.
If you enjoy these things, check out some of our other guides or the suggestions below.