Mugshot: The art of the babycino

Maximum bubble, minimum burn: Babycino.
Maximum bubble, minimum burn: Babycino. Photo: iStock

I am so out of touch with the babycino scene. It's a decade since I've had to lure a preschooler into a cafe with the promise of a demitasse of fluffed and chocolate-dusted milk.

I did my time, patiently shepherding two future coffee snobs through their formative cafe years (at a certain point they both asked their mother and me to please stop analysing the short blacks and just drink them. From the mouths of babes …) Suffice it to say I have mopped up plenty of spilled baby-c's with soggy, chocolatey napkins.

In the trans-Tasman spirit of fraternal squabbling, Australia and New Zealand both claim this coffee invention, too. But I reckon it's ours, born of the Italian custom of serving the bambini warm milk with a teaspoon of coffee for breakfast.

Controversy dogs the babycino: Plain milk or chocolate? Pink marshmallow or white? To charge or not to charge?

"If it's worth doing well, it's worth charging for," says James Kilby, of Padre, pointing out that making a babycino uses the same amount of milk as a flat white (they throw most of it away).

The aim is maximum bubble with minimum burn. "We stretch the hell out of the milk without really heating it," he says. "You keep the nozzle of the steam wand right at the top of the milk." The result is lukewarm, frothy and tastes like … lukewarm, frothy milk, served in a (bounceable) pink silicon piccolo cup, marshmallow on the side. They also do a takeaway, with a straw…

St Ali pushed the babycino envelope a couple of years ago with a dedicated babycino degustation menu – "curated and seasonal", with a choice of chocolate dust, grated chocolate or sprinkles, and a side of marshmallow, chocolate freckle or jelly baby. They were having a good-natured loan of us, and pushing back unsubtly against an Urbanspoon complainer.

From distraction, kids' drinks have become an attraction. At East Elevation in East Brunswick – the cafe home of Monsieur Truffe's chocolate factory – $3 gets you a kid version of their iced chocolate, made with 70 per cent couverture chocolate syrup blended with cinnamon and milk, served with a scoop of house-made (chocolate) ice-cream, dusted with powdered chocolate, and garnished with chunks of chocolate. That should hold them while you finish your croque, monsieur.