Back in the day one of my favorite ways to enjoy espresso was in the form of a double macchiato. It had all the makings of a barista nerds dream: an espresso-centric drink that still allowed you to flex your milk steaming and latte art muscles. For me it was also the drink that carried the optimum (read: my favorite) espresso to milk ratio.
Over the past several years I've watched my milk drink preferences slowly change from double macchiatos to cappuccinos. This seems like the opposite of what happens to most coffee geeks. Usually you start your coffee journey favoring a big sweet drink, and slowly remove additives (chocolate, syrup, etc.), then whittle down your drink size until you find your "zone."
So why in my case, was I having the opposite experience? My preferred milk drinks were getting larger...was I somehow the barista equivalent of Benjamin Button?
I realized that it wasn't necessarily my preference for the amount of milk, or my preferred overall drink size that had changed, but the espresso to milk ratio that was throwing me off. Let me explain.
While way back in the day we never measured output in ml or grams, I'd bet the average output for your standard double ristretto of those times was roughly 25 ml. While espresso cups were generally smaller to cradle that lovely, minuscule double ristretto; the macchiato cups tended to be the generic 3.5oz Buffalo cup (103.5ml) - putting the espresso to milk ratio for a double macchiato at roughly 1:4.
Todays roast levels and espresso style are calling for shot volumes closer to the 40-45ml range (this may even be on the small side for some), extracted into a standard notNeutral espresso cup (also 3.5oz just like our old buffalo) thus putting the ratio of espresso to milk for a double macchiato at about 1:2.5
The only thing really wrong with a 1:2.5 espresso to milk ratio with todays modern coffees is that it tastes like shit.
The coffee doesn't have enough room to breathe in the milk and you usually end up with a tangy mash up with very little sweetness and less cohesiveness than the espresso by itself. It doesn't really taste like a stand-alone beverage...it tastes like something with a little bit of something else added to it. If you were using a barista competition scoresheet you could say it's definitely lacking in the synergy department.
Looking at the cappuccinos which I now prefer, my coffee to milk ratio is about 1:3.5 which is quite a bit closer to my old school double macchiato ratio. My current favorite is actually a single macchiato, which gives me a ratio of about to 1:4.9, with the bonus of a smaller overall drink size. Perfect for me as I'd actually rather not drink a full 150ml cappuccino if I can avoid it.
So where does this leave us? Well. In my opinion if you dip under a 1:3 espresso to milk ratio, you're probably not serving a properly balanced milk drink. You may have more coffee presence, and the drink may be more true to what a traditional macchiato is as in: espresso "marked" with milk, but who cares. I don't think most people reading this are driven by tradition...I'd like to think most of us are in the business of offering something crafted in an intentional way, driven by taste rather than tradition.
My suggestion: Single macchiatos all day. Some might argue that the customer is not getting the best value in that they're only getting a single shot of espresso, where the price would be structured around a double shot. It's a fair argument but in my mind taste is the ultimate driver. If you give them something that is simply more delicious, they really won't miss that other shot.
If you absolutely must serve double macchiatos with 40+ ml shots, that's all good too...just make sure you put them in a 5oz cup.