IT WAS the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way- in short…
…you are still equally likely to get a really horrible macchiato as a really good one (or even more likely) — nothing’s changed.
Starbucks forever confused the populace into thinking that a macchiato was a big sweetened latte with a crosshatch of caramel syrup drizzled on top. At its inception (by my memory) the Starbucks caramel macchiato was the most expensive menu drink on their regular drink menu. Coffee aficionados and purists world over cried havoc for years about this appropriation and abomination — and it’s been only recently that Starbucks acknowledged the origin of the drink and expanded the Starbucks lexicon to include it. So you’d think victory for all — welcome home macchiato right?
No. Despite its traditional Italian origin — and I allow for the possibility that a macchiato served in Italy is just as likely to suck as one served here — macchiato’s served in most cafes in North America today are horrible horrible drinks. And that’s a crime because a macchiato is a lovely little beverage.
OK – what is it?
A traditional macchiato is generally accepted to be a serving of espresso that has been touched or marked with steamed milk (ie served with steamed milk) to a maximum ratio of 1-to-1. Sounds pretty simple. What makes it really nice is that you get a very high concentration of espresso that is both sweetened and somewhat tempered by what should be velvety smooth and rich textured milk. The extra fat of the milk, and its slight aeration, enhances the taste experience of the espresso – making it a very sensual but easily consumed cup of lovely! But that’s not what you end up getting served in most places.
Steaming small volumes of milk is difficult. Most cafes don’t have the appropriate machine or steam tips to allow it to be done correctly – or they’re just unskilled or don’t know/care. So you end up getting served a foamy mess of airy milk that has been scooped from the top of a pitcher of over-steamed milk (often milk that has been steamed and re-steamed several times) and dolloped into the cup on top of the espresso like you’d skim and dispose of scum off the top of a backyard pond or from an aquarium. It’s literally devoid of actual milk. Gone is the combined taste of milk and coffee. Gone is the sweetness. Gone is the thickened rich and sensual texture. It’s literally nothing. Imagine the difference between a chocolate mousse and taking a straw and blowing bubbles in a chocolate milk and scooping off the result. It’s that night and day.
So despite winning the macchiato war with the green giant we are still lost. I’m reminded of one of the last scenes in one of my favorite movies, The Warriors. The gang, having fought and bopped their way back home to Coney Island, look around in a moment of reflection, and Swan asks: “This is what we fought all night to get back to? Maybe I’ll just take off.” Oh despair – I hear ya brother – I hear you. Then again — where ya gonna go?
Good news boppers, the big alert has been called off. It turns out that the early reports were wrong, all wrong. Now for that group out there that had such a hard time getting home, sorry about that. I guess the only thing we can do is play you a song.