There are ideal ratios of coffee and milk, if you don’t want the flavor of either to fully prevail. To me the closest to the ideal ratio is what in Spain and Peets they call a cortado, some elsewhere call a gibraltar, and Australians and Kiwis call a piccolo (short for piccolo latte). This is a photo of the latter:
To be clear about scale, that’s a four-ounce glass. Or cup. What matters is the size.
To me this is roughly what a cappuccino in the .US should look like in a clear glass. Alas, what we usually get in the U.S. (especially from Starbucks) is ten ounces of milk and one ounce of espresso in a twelve-ounce cup. Or maybe two ounces of espresso. Peet’s cappuccinos, when done right (which is in what they call “traditional”), get the ratio about the same (~1:1 coffee and steamed milk, and poured so the two mix into a creamy combination).
Anyway, most coffee shops in the U.S. and the U.K., other than Peet’s, don’t know from a cortado or a piccolo. So I say let’s educate them. Here’s a goal: by the end of 2015, most coffee shops in the U.S. will know what you mean when you order either one. Possible?
[Later, on Christmas Eve, 2020…] Well, two days from now it’ll be six years since I wrote the above, and saying “cortado” to the average barista at the average coffee shop (which continues to round to Starbucks) will still get you a blank response. But at least Peet’s has it on the cash register menu, though alas not the menu on the wall. In fact Peet’s also took “traditional cappuccino” off the wall for reasons unknown, though it remains on the cash register menu. Here’s what the manager at the Peet’s on Lake and California (my fave) in Pasadena says is the best drink to order in the store: double breve cortado. That will get you two ounces of espresso, and a slightly smaller amount of frothed half-and-half, poured in so the two mix well into a creamy blend.
Here at home in Santa Barbara, where I have a machine like those used in good coffee shops (an ECM Giotto), my cortados are each a single 1 oz. shot of espresso and about the same amount of frothed half-and-half. The frothing of the milk, however, increases the volume, so the whole thing takes up most of a 4 oz. cup. The glasses I use here are about 3.5 oz., so you can see that the whole thing is pretty small:
But quite tasty.