Learning how to the Pull Perfect Shots and Create Elegant Froth
Macchiato is Italian for “marked” because the espresso is marked with foam. Although a macchiato only has two ingredients — espresso and froth — it can be one of the most difficult espresso drinks to pull off because the espresso and froth must be perfect. Here’s how to master the macchiato.
To make a single, double, or triple macchiato use one, two, or three shots of espresso. Mark each with elegant foam to complete this coffeehouse classic.
Preparation for the Perfect Shots
The fresher the espresso beans are, the more flavor they’ll have and the better they’ll yield to great espresso shots. Always grind the beans just before pulling a shot if possible: this will lead to the best crema.
Heat the portafilter handle before pulling the first shot by pulling a blank shot (a shot without the espresso). Now you’re ready to begin the macchiato.
Begin the Macchiato by Steaming and Frothing the Milk
Standard macchiatos at most coffeehouses use 2% milk, but any kind of milk will work. The thicker the milk, the easier it is to create great foam or froth, which is vital to the perfect macchiato. The use of skim milk makes a macchiato skinny, and the use of half-and-half makes one breve.
Pour a small amount of milk (less than 8 ounces) into a stainless steel steaming pitcher with a food thermometer, and place the steaming wand tip at the surface of the milk. Turn the dial counterclockwise to begin heating the milk. Raise the steaming wand tip just above the surface of the milk to create froth. A light hissing sound is the key to making the perfect froth, which should have the consistency of shaving cream.
Turn the steamer off once the milk has reached 150-160 degrees. This will allow the milk some room to rise to 170 degrees or drop to 140 degrees, both acceptable temperatures. Be sure to wipe the steaming wand with a clean, damp cloth immediately after steaming milk.
Be sure not to burn the milk. Once milk has reached a temperature of 180 degrees, the milk is considered burnt and should not be used. Let the milk and froth separate while pulling the shots.
Modifying Foam Thickness
If the froth bubbles are too large, either froth a new batch of milk and insert the steaming wand slightly further into the pitcher or use milk with a higher fat content. Similarly, if the froth bubbles are too small and the consistentcy isn’t thick enough, either froth a new batch of milk and raise the steaming want slightly further above the surface of the milk or use milk with a lower fat content.
Pulling Espresso Shots
Grind the espresso beans and dose espresso into the portafilter, slightly overfilling it.
Loosen the grounds by hitting the portafilter from the side a few times. After the grounds settle into the portafilter, add more grounds if necessary to fill the basket. Once the basket is filled, hit the portafilter on each side a couple more times to settle the grounds again.
On a level surface rest the bottom of the portafilter and tamp lightly down on the grounds. Tap the sides of the basket once more to loosen any stuck grounds, and tamp again, this time harder with a quarter of a turn clockwise to seal the espresso grinds.
Now the espresso should be tightly compacted and level. Remove any stray espresso from the rim of the portafilter by rubbing a finger around the rim to ensure a watertight seal forms against the machine.
Now it’s time to pull a shot of espresso (or two shots, depending on the machine). Lock the portafilter into the machine, ensuring a tight seal to prevent water from leaking out of the highly pressured machine.
Press the button on the machine designated for pulling the shot(s), and either wait or time the shot if the machine does not have a built-in timer. The perfect shot is between 18 and 23 seconds. The mark of a great shot is a golden-colored froth that separates on top of the shot — the crema. For the best-tasting macchiato, use shots between 19-21, but shot preferences vary anywhere from 16-26 seconds.
Modifying Shot Length
Pulling a shot any longer or shorter will result in flavorless shots (too short) or highly bitter shots (too long). The shorter side of the acceptable shot range will result in a sweeter, less intense shot.
If a shot pulls too quickly, use finer grinds and/or tamp harder. If a shot pulls too long, use coarser grinds and/or tamp lighter. Remember that many things affect the machine’s pressure including temperature, humidity, and usage, so pulling shots can vary from day to day or hour to hour.
After getting the hang of pulling shots, repeat these steps until the desired number of shots have been pulled — one for a single, two for a double, or three for a triple macchiato. Be sure to work quickly to keep the shots tasting their best.
Immediately after pulling the desired number of shots (one, two, or three), pour them into a small mug or cup, use a spoon to gently spoon the froth on top of the espresso, and fold the froth delicately until smooth. If desired, sprinkle cinnamon, vanilla, or cocoa powder over the froth or drizzle a flavored syrup. Serve the macchiato immediately.
Always be careful not to burn yourself when dealing with espresso and frothed milk. Remember that pulling shots and frothing milk take practice, but with a little time and effort, you too can enjoy macchiatos at home.