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What is Magic Coffee?

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By Matt Woodburn-Simmonds

Australia may not be the first place that comes to mind when you think about coffee. But maybe it should be. Coffee culture in Australia is a big deal and the Aussies guzzle around 2kg of coffee per person each year. That’s the equivalent of 285 espressos! There’s also the creation of the flat white to consider.

Now we have another Australian cult coffee starting to make its way around the world: magic coffee. So what is magic coffee? And is it as exciting as it sounds? That’s what we are going to answer here.

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Hand pushing a magic coffee towards the front of the table
Magic coffee (with wand) icon

Hold Up – What is Magic Coffee?

Magic coffee is a new specialty coffee to emerge from the cafes of Melbourne – the coffee capital of Australia. It’s similar to the flat white (also from Australia but New Zealand also stakes its claim on this one) but has a very different flavor.

It’s made from a double shot of ristretto topped up to a total of 5oz with textured milk that has little to no foam.

Already lost you with the ristretto part? For anyone less coffee obsessed than us, it’s an espresso variation that uses the same amount of ground coffee as an espresso but half the amount of water. So it’s a pretty bold, concentrated coffee shot. Taste-wise, you get more fruity, acidic notes with a lack of coffee’s bitter flavors.

By combining ristretto with milk, you get a sweeter-tasting coffee that still packs a serious punch of flavor and caffeine. Overall, it’s a pretty balanced coffee drink with a distinctive taste that is slowly making its way around the third wave coffee world.

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Where Can You Get Magic Coffee?

Have you ever seen “magic coffee” on a menu? Or have you heard someone simply ordering “a Magic” from your local coffee shop? Nope? Don’t worry, you’re definitely not alone there.

This specialty coffee is still a pretty rare coffee drink outside Melbourne where it originated. In fact, even inside Melbourne, there are plenty of people who will look like you’ve lost the plot if you try to order one. So where are people getting their hands on this elusive coffee drink?

Whilst some third wave coffee shops are starting to add it to their list of options, it’s likely you will have to order off-menu if you want to give it a try. (Or simply make one at home – recipe coming up.)

Off-menu options usually make us roll our eyes as we are not nearly cool enough and believe if something is great it should be available to everyone, not just hardcore coffee lovers. But the buzz around this magical coffee concoction piqued our interest.

If you don’t want to risk asking your barista for ‘a magic’ and discovering they haven’t heard of this new trendy coffee order, we have a workaround: 

Simply ask for a flat white but with a double ristretto instead of espresso. While you may get milk that is slightly hotter than the original Melbourne magic coffee recipe, you will get the perfect ratio and style of milk. Then you can decide for yourself if the trendy little coffee is your new favorite or if you’d rather stick to what you know.

If you’re in the UK, you’re in luck though as this Australian coffee drink has made its way up from Down Under. As of January 2023, it is available in Marks & Spencer cafes up and down the country. So we are eagerly watching this space to see how quickly it might spread across the pond too. We tried magic coffee first in a cafe in Argentina, so just watch this space.

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What Makes Magic Coffee Different?

Thanks to the unique coffee-to-milk ratio, a magic is an amazing coffee drink that is very smooth. So it stands apart from its closest rivals.

Infographic: Magic Coffee vs Flat White, Cortado, and Latte

Magic Coffee vs Flat White

The most obvious comparison to make with magic coffee is the flat white. They are both the same size and come from the same country. But what makes magic coffee different is the style of coffee and milk used, and thus the overall flavor profile is very different.

The flat white uses a double espresso, whereas the magic coffee uses a double ristretto. And the flat white uses hotter textured milk whereas a magic has slightly cooler, steamed milk.

When making espresso, the flavors are extracted from the coffee grounds in a specific order. First are the sour notes, then the sweet, and it finished with the bitter notes. This gives a rich, rounded flavor that is slightly sweetened by the milk in a flat white.

However, the ristretto is different as it doesn’t have the final bitter notes of espresso. This makes it a sharper, more fruity coffee. Then, when combined with the steamed milk, this gives a more citrusy and sweet-tasting coffee beverage that is very enjoyable.

How Does it Compare to Cortado?

Cortado is a classic of Spanish coffee houses. The main difference between a cortado and magic coffee is that a cortado has a 1:1 ratio of coffee to milk, rather than a 1:4 ratio.

This means cortado has a much stronger flavor than magic coffee.

As cortado is made by combining a 1oz espresso shot with 1oz of steamed milk, it is much smaller at 2oz total rather than the 5oz size of magic coffee.

Traditionally cortado should only be made with Robusta beans. Magic coffee, on the other hand, can be made from any beans but, in practice, it’s usually Arabica.

In reality, almost every espresso drink from a third wave coffee shop will be made from Arabica. So cortado will most likely also be made from the same type of coffee beans and not the traditional Robusta. Depending where you order it from of course.

Is A Magic Like A Latte?

Whilst both lattes and magics are milky coffee drinks, they are actually completely different.

First up, a latte is made from 1 part of espresso (either a single or a double shot) with 2 parts steamed milk with a little foamy head on top. Given the size of some lattes at various big coffee chains, this ratio isn’t always observed as that would be an insane amount of coffee.

So, in terms of flavor, latte coffees tend to have a more dominant milk flavor whilst magic coffees are more rounded.

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How to Make Magic Coffee at Home

Making magic coffee at home is relatively simple. The key to getting it right is the ratio of ristretto to textured milk, as with almost all coffee and milk drinks.

A double ristretto should be 1oz, leaving 4oz for the steamed milk to get your 5oz sized coffee drink.

It’s easiest to prepare this with a 5oz cup so you can just fill it to the top with milk. But you can always measure your milk out on a scale before you start to make sure you get it right (always recommended for your coffee beans). For those of us who don’t own a 5oz cup.

What You’re Going To Need

Breville Barista Pro espresso machine
An Espresso Maker
Budget Option: De’Longhi Stilosa
Mid-Range Option: Breville Barista Pro
Top of the Line: Jura E8
Man holding 1zpresso J Max coffee grinder
A Coffee Grinder
Manual Grinder: 1Zpresso J Max
Electric Grinder: Breville Smart Grinder Pro
Three bags of coffee beans on a table (from Lifeboost, Stumptown, and Equator)
Quality Beans (Click here for the top 12 Espresso Bean picks)

1. Pull Your Double Ristretto

Grab a double basket for your portafilter and fill it with (ideally freshly ground) coffee grounds.

Ristretto should be made with a brew ratio of 1:1-1.5. So for every gram of ground coffee you use, you should get 1-1.5g (or ml) of ristretto out. We will use the 1:1.5 ratio for this magic coffee recipe as it means only using 1 puck instead of 2.

So, if you have a 22g basket, use 20g of ground coffee. Finish pulling your shot when the coffee reaches 30ml or 30g (1oz) on your scale. That gives you a double ristretto shot.

But not all espresso machines have a 22g basket. So if you have a smaller portafilter that only holds 14g, then aim for 21ml or 21g (0.75oz) of brewed coffee. Then you can reduce the milk volume to balance out your magic with the same ratio as using a larger dose. In other words, you would need 3oz instead of 4oz of steamed milk.

Some specialty coffee stores opt to use the same extraction time as they would for espresso (25-30 seconds) but to control the volume of ristretto by grinding finer. But this is a lot harder to control and to get right, particularly at home. So we recommend sticking to the shorter extraction time.

Weighing a shot of ristretto as it is freshly pulled from an espresso machine

2. Steam Your Milk

You don’t want much foam with your magic coffee so keep the wand at the bottom of the pitcher while you steam, creating a vortex. You also don’t want it too hot, so stop steaming when the temperature reaches around 110°F (43°C).

Milk frothing pitcher being used on the steam wand of an espresso machine

3. Combine

This is where the magic happens.

Simply add your milk to the double ristretto and enjoy your delicious coffee drink. The balance of ristretto to milk is key here. You should have 1oz ristretto to 4oz milk or 0.75oz ristretto to 3oz milk.

If you like, you can even try your hand at some latte art.

Making a magic coffee by pouring freshly steamed milk onto a double ristretto
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Is magic coffee strong?

When it comes to coffee, ‘strong’ can mean two things: flavor and caffeine content. 

In terms of caffeine, a magic will contain ever so slightly less caffeine than a flat white (the closest comparable drink). This is because a double ristretto is used rather than a double espresso and both require the same amount of ground coffee but the ristretto version has 50% less water. In other words, there is less time to extract the caffeine from the ground coffee beans. 

When it comes to flavor, the ristretto alone is more concentrated and punchy in flavor. But, when balanced with the milk, it’s a mellow, easy-drinking coffee option. 

What does a magic coffee taste like?

It’s a sweeter-tasting coffee that perfectly balances the punchy, concentrated strength of the ristretto with a good, rich dose of milk. The result is a well-balanced, easy-to-drink coffee that’s still bursting with flavor and lacking in the bitterness of espresso-based drinks.

Why is it called ‘Magic’?

The name apparently comes from the use of the ‘magic’ ratio of coffee to milk. Whether truly magical or not, it’s certainly a fun name. One that makes the ears of bystanders prick up and think ‘what is a magic coffee and how do I get in the coffee-know too?’

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Final Thoughts

If you’re in the mood for a quick coffee hit, magic coffee offers a slightly sweeter and more easy-drinking version of a flat white.

Whilst this big-hitter of the Melbourne coffee scene hasn’t yet hit the global stage, there are workarounds for you to order it without your barista staring blankly at you and questioning ‘what is magic coffee?’ Instead, you can ask at your local coffee shop for a flat white but with a double ristretto instead of a double espresso. This will allow you to give it a try to see if it’s the one for you.

Once you’re sold, it’s super easy to make at home too. The elusively named ‘Magic’ could soon be your new go-to order.


Matt Woodburn-Simmonds

Matt's coffee obsession started in 2006 when working as a Barista. A tendency to turn up to work hungover kickstarted his coffee journey which quickly turned into a love affair. As he moved on to work as a Restaurant Manager and Sommelier, the obsession continued to grow. Now, his passion is helping others to enjoy better coffee at home.

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