Magic Coffee From Melbourne: Sweet Espresso and Smooth Milk
Australian coffee culture has become a significant influence on specialty coffee, and Melbourne is at the heart of Australia’s influence. One of the most notable creations that originated from Melbourne but now can be found many places is magic coffee.
In This Guide:
What is Magic Coffee?
Magic coffee is a uniquely sweet and smooth espresso-dairy beverage. The drink’s simple combination of ristretto espresso and silky milk account for its particular profile:
- Ristretto Espresso: Ristretto espresso is pulled short (restricted). The shot is especially sweet because it’s less extracted.
- Silky Milk: Silky milk is exceedingly smooth but has only a thin layer of microfoam. The milk is more akin to what’s used for a flat white, rather than what cappuccinos and lattes are composed of.
The traditional composition of magic coffee pours the double ristretto shot and 130 milliliters (4.3 ounces) of milk into a 5-ounce glass. The ristretto shot requires less volume than standard double shots would, and this ratio should bring the beverage up to the top of the 5-ounce cup.
How Was Magic Coffee First Made?
Local cafe lore claims that the first magic coffee was created when a barista in Melbourne, Australia messed up.
The barista served an incorrectly made beverage to a customer, who liked the beverage very much. When the customer asked what the beverage was called, the barista responded with the made-up name of “a magic.”
The customer enjoyed the drink so much that they began to regularly order “a magic,” and the drink’s popularity spread to other cafe customers, other cafes and eventually other regions.
Magic Coffee is well-known throughout Melbourne, and many baristas in Sydney and Queensland know how to make the beverage if it’s ordered. As Australia’s influence on specialty coffee expands, the magic coffee is beginning to be mentioned in cafes throughout North America, Europe and Asia.
How Do You Order Magic Coffee?
Everyone knows what “a magic” is in Melbourne, and that’s how the beverage is usually ordered. Asking for “a magic coffee” is superfluously verbose and will mark you as an outsider.
Throughout the rest of Australia, both “a magic” and “a magic coffee” are perfectly suitable.
Baristas outside of Australia are less likely to know what the beverage is. It’s essentially a ristretto flat white without as much milk, if you want to explain in common terms how baristas can make it.
How to Make Magic Coffee
Making magic coffee at home requires an espresso machine that both pulls espresso and steams milk. Provided you have a machine:
- Steam Milk: Froth the milk only slightly as you steam it, so your finished milk has only a thin layer of microfoam on top. The texture of the milk should be smooth.
- Pull Ristretto Espresso: Prepare a double shot as normal, but reduce the pull time by approximately ⅓. This is a general guideline for pulling ristretto shots, which should be substantially smaller than standard shots.
- Combine: Put the espresso in a 5-ounce glass, and fill the rest of the glass with milk. You should end up using about 130 ml (4.3 oz.) of steamed milk.
Since 5-ounce glasses are uncommon in North America, you can instead use a cappuccino mug or other 6-ounce glass. Leave a little space at the top of a cappuccino mug, and you should have a drink that’s approximately 5 ounces.
Magic Coffee vs. Flat White
The differences between magic coffees and flat whites actually provide illumination as to where the flat white is originally from.
Both magic coffee and flat white use the same silky milk that’s smooth and has only a thin layer of microfoam. This is a fairly standard way to steam milk in Australia and New Zealand, and the flat white originated in one of the two countries.
Whereas magic coffee uses ristretto espresso, flat white uses standard espresso. Australian cafes more commonly pull ristretto shots, and it’s not surprising that a “mistake” from any Australian city would feature ristretto shots. New Zealand cafes tend to use standard espresso shots more often.
Because flat whites are made with standard espresso and not ristretto espresso, the drink probably was first invented in New Zealand. Its exact origin is a congested topic between the two countries’ cafes, though.
Other differences between the two beverages lie in how large they are and how they’re composed. The flat white uses more milk, and its shots are poured over the steamed milk.
Because flat whites use standard espresso and more milk, they have a bolder (more bitter) but weaker taste. Magic coffee has a sweeter and less intense taste, even though that taste is more pronounced.
Magic Coffee vs. Piccolo
The piccolo also originates from Australia, and uses ristretto espresso accordingly. The drink consists of a single ristretto shot and 90 milliliters of steamed milk, which is notably foamier like would be used for a cappuccino.
Even though piccolos are smaller than magic coffees, piccolos don’t taste as strong because they use only one shot of ristretto espresso. They also have a texture that’s more like a cappuccino’s than a flat white. Both are similarly sweet on account of the ristretto espresso.
Magic Coffee vs. Cortado
Melbourne magic coffee is different from the Italian cortado, and to call the latter a comparable substitute doesn’t do justice to Australia’s coffee culture.
Whereas a magic coffee uses ristretto espresso and silky milk (without much foam), the cortado uses standard espresso and standard steamed milk. The cortado’s taste is accordingly less sweet, and it doesn’t have quite as velvety a texture.
The cortado also consists of only four ounces rather than magic coffee’s five ounces. The difference in volume is only exaggerated by the use of standard espresso instead of ristretto espresso.
Thus, the ratio of coffee to milk is much higher in a cortado than magic coffee. This gives the cortado a much stronger taste, which is only further emphasized by the less-sweet espresso.
Try Melbourne-Style Magic Coffee
When you need some magic in your day, try the Melbourne-created magic coffee. You may have to explain what the beverage is, but both you and the barista could be introduced to a new sweet and smooth beverage that’s absolutely delicious.
Scott M. Brodie has over 20 years of professional experience working in coffee shops and writing about coffee (including selling superautomatic machines). When not writing, he can usually be found roasting a new African single origin or composing a fictional work.