What Is a Magic Coffee? Melbourne’s Delicious Ristretto Drink

I’m always on the lookout for a new and exciting cup of coffee. You’d think that there would only be so many ways to take coffee beans, milk, and water and put them together, but someone always surprises me with a new brew like the breve latte or today’s feature: magic coffee.

The first time I saw those words: I had probably the same reaction you all did: What is a magic coffee?

The answer, as it turns out, is that magic coffee is a delicious Australian contribution to the world of coffee drinks — proving once again that our friends down under know a thing or two about both coffee drinks and how to name them.

Magic Coffee Confusion

As I was looking into the drink, I found that there was quite a bit of confusion involved in the name magic coffee. There are, in fact, three very distinct beverages that show up when you search for magic coffee drinks.

If you are looking for Melbourne’s magic coffee, you’ve come to the right page. This is not the same as Food52’s magical coffee recipe — a cold-brewed mixture of coffee, brown sugar and cinnamon. It’s also not the same as the magic weight-loss coffee, which seems to just be a scam.

What Is Magic Coffee?

An illustration of what is in a magic coffee, showing the ristretto and silky milk

Magic coffee is a coffee beverage consisting of a double ristretto (30 ml) and 130 ml of silky milk. If you don’t know what ristretto and silky milk are, don’t worry, I’ll explain them in a minute. 

Magic coffee has a higher coffee-to-milk ratio than a latte, giving it a stronger overall flavor that is also sweeter than lattes other espresso-based beverages.

Origin of Magic Coffee

Magic Coffee originated in Melbourne, Australia. If you haven’t lived in or visited Australia, you’ve probably never even heard of the drink. For a long time, it was more of a hipster drink than anything else, but it has made its way into the mainstream over the past several years.

Even in Melbourne coffee houses, you may never see magic coffee displayed prominently on a cafe menu. To this day, it’s still mostly just a secret menu item. But if you go into a Melbourne cafe and ask for a magic, they’ll know exactly what you mean. 

What is Ristretto?

Ristretto is a short of espresso, made by using the same amount of coffee grounds but pushing less water through them. In practical terms, this just means stopping the extraction process roughly halfway through. 

Pulling a shot of ristretto, which is just a short espresso

The difference between ristretto vs. espresso isn’t just about the quantity of coffee — it impacts the quality. Ristretto is sweeter and less bitter than espresso.

The use of ristretto in place of espresso is a trademark of Austrlian

What is Silky Milk?

Silky milk is milk that is steamed only long enough to add texture and a small layer of microfoam on the surface. This is the same style of milk used in a flat white, and it is much less frothy than the milk used in lattes and cappuccinos.

You may see silky milk referred to as steamed milk, but the use of the term silky milk is more descriptive as steamed milk can also mean milk that has been steamed to have a larger layer of foam.

Other Australian Coffee Drinks

Oh, the coffee styles Australia has to offer! They put their own spin on quite a few coffee and espresso drinks — including their inclusion of cocoa powder in cappuccinos. Along the way, they’ve also created a couple of their own caffeinated beverages.

Piccolo

A piccolo latte, another common coffee style Australian has created
Image courtesy of explore-blog.griffith.edu.au

The difference between piccolo vs magic coffee is in both the coffee-to-milk ratio and the extent to which the milk is steamed. The piccolo latte (or piccolo coffee or just piccolo) is roughly 1 part ristretto and 2 parts frothed milk, although the ratio isn’t strictly followed in all cafes.

Outside of Australia you’ll sometimes see a piccolo latte made with espresso instead of ristretto. When made with espresso, a piccolo is very similar to a small latte.

The origin of the piccolo is not exactly clear, but it seems to have come from Sydney. A common origin myth involves baristas looking for a less milky alternative to a cafe latte that would still allow them to test whether their brews were good with milk. This myth at least seems sensical — tasing lattes throughout the day means drinking more milk than the average person might be comfortable with.

Flat white… maybe

A flat white, an espresso drink that may or may not have originated in Australia
Image courtesy of explore-blog.griffith.edu.au

A flat white is 1/3 espresso and 2/3 silky milk. The typical ratio of coffee-to-milk is the same as in a cappuccino, but the milk isn’t steamed long enough to form the large frothy layer that characterizes a cappuccino. In some cases, you may find lattes with a larger amount of milk, making them more like a foamless latte.

Both Australia and New Zealand lay claim to the invention of the flat white, and I’m not prepared to take a side in that fight. The first recorded sighting of a flat white was in a 1983 review of an Australian cafe, but the use of espresso in place of ristretto is really more of a New Zealand trait. 

It Comes From a Land Down Under

Magic coffee is a great addition to the lineup of latte-like coffee beverages. The use of ristretto instead of a shot of espresso is really an underrated way to tweak these beverages, showing off the versatility that espresso makers have over your standard drip coffee maker.

Variety is the spice of life. Coffee is more than a source of energy, and drinks like this one show that the coffee scene is still evolving. The next time you are in a coffee house, be sure to sample the random items on the menu — you might just be experiencing the next major coffee craze.

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