How can a tiny cup of frothy milk topped with powdered chocolate be so divisive? The controversial babycino rears its head time and time again in the parenting world. Some see them as a too early introduction to cafe culture, others feeling unwelcome in cafes that ban them, and then there's the thorny issue of cost. With some cafes charging up to $2.50 for that little cup of peace and quiet, many parents are scratching their heads asking, "But aren't they just a bit of froth from the milk used in coffee?" Well no, they're not. Not if they're done right.
So exactly what is behind a good babycino? I decided to go straight to the source and spoke to Campos Coffee CEO and founder Will Young, who said the humble babycino is a topic close to his heart. His passion for a well-made babycino in a welcoming environment is obvious and it all starts with the barista.
"Firstly, every barista must be aligned on their support for this drink," he says, and it's a tenet echoed by his staff. Campos store manager Brendan remembers his trainer telling him that he could tell if someone was going to make good coffee or not from the way they made a babycino. "It's all about the silkiness of the milk," he said.
Will adds, "I remember one cafe I went to twenty years ago where I saw their menu detailing all the drinks from cappuccinos through to hot chocolates, through to babycinos. They described the drinks with professional detail; the ration of coffee to milk to head, but then on the babycino, they described it as, "A pain in the a*#e!"
It was a turning point for Will as he established his successful coffee business. "I never wanted anything on our menu to be so negative in sentiment towards any customer. Those drinking the babycinos are coming along every day with their parent, and it is only right that we put something on the menu for them, and then act like professionals when we prepare and serve them."
So the best babycinos are made by those who are passionate about their craft and want their customers to be thrilled with what they receive. Will describes the skill that goes into it.
"With each babycino we use a separate jug of fresh cold milk solely for the one drink. The milk is prepared by a professional to be consistent on every visit with the right amount of silky texture, the right temperature, and then rested before production for the texture to settle into a head. The head is pushed from the jug into a piccolo glass to the top, then the top is dusted with chocolate and cold milk is poured to "puff" the top up while also ensuring the drink is cool for the customer. Finished with another dollop of silken texture on the top to form a shiny white circle on the top."
He says that he has had baristas remake babycinos that were not up to the expected standard and that each of these little drinks is "...a lot of work for $1.50." In fact each babycino uses the same amount of milk that goes into a hot chocolate because there needs to be a minimum amount of milk in the jug for optimal results.
Well now, even I'm beginning to be surprised.
In addition, "Each babycino takes up to 45 seconds to make, which is 12 seconds less than a coffee," Will explains. "I like to respect the time and energy of the professional barista. With their expertise, there is nothing I think they should ever make that does not have a value. If you charge nothing for something, then that is what it is worth, and that's the message the barista is receiving."
So if you ever question paying for that tiny cup of milky, silky perfection, think again. And if all you're getting is overheated froth, then it's just as likely you won't be enjoying your coffee either. It turns out you really can test a cafe's mettle by the quality of its babycino.