What is a Macchiato? Espresso Macchiato vs. Latte Macchiato Compared

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

What is a Macchiato? Espresso Macchiato vs. Latte Macchiato Compared

The macchiato is one of the most confusing coffee names for American consumers. 

Depending on which café you go to, you might end up with something served in a demitasse or cortado glass, or a full milky drink that’s very similar to a latte. 

So why all the confusion—and how do you make sure you get the drink you’re looking for? We’ll answer all those questions (and more!) in this comprehensive guide.

Macchiato Espresso Coffee

What is a Macchiato Coffee?

The Italian word “macchiato” roughly translates to “stained” or “marked”. Generally speaking, drinks that use the term macchiato will primarily consist of one ingredient (either espresso or milk) with a “mark” of one or more other ingredients.

Part of the confusion over this name comes from the fact that Americans tend to abbreviate the names of their drinks. 

The full name for a latte, for example, is cafe latte, which translates essentially to “coffee with milk”. Similarly, a mocha should rightly be called a cafe mocha latte (or “coffee with chocolate and milk”).

For most coffee drinks this isn’t much of an issue because the abbreviations are standardized. When you ask for a latte baristas know you mean the drink with coffee, not just a big cup of steamed milk.

The problem with macchiato is that it can refer to two different drinks: an espresso macchiato, or a latte macchiato. Abbreviating to just macchiato leaves out a crucial identifier: exactly what is being marked. The ingredients in both are the same—it all comes down to a question of ratio.

Macchiato Espresso

Espresso Macchiato vs. Latte Macchiato: What’s the Difference?

An espresso macchiato, also called a cafe macchiato, is the original and traditional form of the beverage. It starts with either a single (solo) or double (doppio) shot of espresso, usually brewed straight into a demitasse cup. A very small amount of steamed milk is then added to it, followed by a dollop of foam on top.

The main goal of the espresso macchiato is to give the drinker the same caffeine punch and espresso flavor they’d get from a straight shot but with less bitterness and acidity thanks to the milk that’s mixed in. If you like the taste of brewed coffee but the taste of straight espresso is too much for you, you’ll probably like the flavor of an espresso macchiato.

In the spectrum of café beverages an espresso macchiato is most similar to a cortado but is slightly more concentrated. A cortado consists of equal parts espresso and milk, but in a cafe macchiato the espresso is the primary ingredient.

A latte macchiato starts with steamed milk. After the milk is poured into the cup, the barista brews a shot of espresso and pours it into the center of the drink. Since the espresso is heavier than the foam, it sinks beneath it, but it’s poured gently enough it doesn’t mix with the milk, instead resting on top. The brown spot left where the shot was poured marks the surface.

A latte macchiato is similar to a latte. The primary difference is in the preparation. In a latte, the espresso is added to the cup first and the steamed milk poured into it. Depending on the café, there may also be a difference in strength. Some places will use two espresso shots in a latte and only one in a latte macchiato. This isn’t standardized, however, so it’s a good idea to specify when you order.

The taste of the latte macchiato will change more from the first sip to the last than other drinks. Most of the espresso will stay at the top of the beverage, only some of it gradually sinking and mixing with the milk as you drink it. 

The crema from the espresso shot also lingers in the milk foam at the top, giving you a strong aroma and taste of coffee in your first sip. If you don’t stir the macchiato, the taste of the espresso will be most pronounced at the beginning, fading into a milkier beverage toward the bottom.

What about a caramel macchiato?

Starbucks detractors will tell you this is a made-up drink—and they’re partly right, but Starbucks isn’t wrong to call the drink what they do, either. At its core, this drink is a variant of the latte macchiato.

Vanilla syrup is added to the cup first, mixing into and sweetening the steamed milk as it’s poured into it. After the shot is poured into the beverage, creamy caramel sauce is used to mark the top in a distinctive cross-hatch pattern.

Your first sip of a caramel macchiato will likely be quite sweet because of the caramel. This syrup drips down into the milk over time, however, so the flavor balances out as you drink it. The sweetness of the caramel macchiato is one of the things fans particularly love about it. To true espresso aficionados, though, it may be too sugary and milky compared to other espresso-based drinks.

What other macchiatos does Starbucks offer?

Iced versions of both the latte macchiato and caramel macchiato are offered at Starbucks cafes, as well. These are layered drinks, just like their hot equivalents, but since the milk isn’t steamed there isn’t a top layer of foam.

Instead, cold milk is poured into the cup over ice (along with vanilla syrup, in the case of the iced caramel macchiato). Espresso is then poured in on top, and caramel sauce drizzled over the surface.

Starbucks has also recently introduced a line of cloud macchiatos, which come in cocoa, cinnamon, and caramel variants. This drink uses a special “cloud powder” in the foam that contains egg white powder and sugar. 

The result is a thicker, fluffier top layer that won’t dissipate into the drink as quickly. It’s also firm enough to be put on top of an iced drink, so if you get an iced cloud macchiato it will have the same layers as the hot version. 

You can ask for any of the syrups the café has in your macchiato if you want to make your own custom flavors. There are lists online of past Starbucks macchiato seasonal flavors, and those recipes are often still in the store if you want to order them. 

Changing what kind of milk you use is another option. Using coconut, soy, or almond milk will give the drink a different flavor, in addition to making it dairy-free. Keep in mind these milks often don’t foam quite as well as cow’s milk, so you may not get the same distinctive layers.

Macchiato Espresso Coffee

How to Make Macchiato at Home

The first thing you’ll need for either drink is an espresso machine. This will be required both to brew the espresso and steam the milk.

If you’re not lucky enough to have a full espresso machine at home, you can find workarounds. More affordable devices like stovetop espresso makers and AeroPress brewers can give you a beverage of similar strength and flavor to espresso. The only thing you’ll be lacking is the crema, so while you’ll still get the distinctive brown dot at the top of a latte macchiato, the aroma of espresso won’t be as strong.

Steaming milk without an espresso machine is a trickier prospect. You can buy hand-held milk frothers from many coffee shops and kitchen specialty stores. These will simulate the lighter, aerated texture of milk steamed on a steam wand. 

It’s not going to give you that tight microfoam baristas love, but for taste purposes it will be very similar. For a hot beverage, you can microwave the milk after you’ve foamed it. Some home frothers come with a microwave-safe container you can use to heat the milk after frothing it.

Iced macchiatos are the easiest to make in a home kitchen since they don’t require any steaming or frothing. One great option could be cold brew the coffee, then use the concentrate as the base of your drink. You may need to adjust the ratios slightly since cold brew concentrate isn’t quite as strong as espresso, but the benefit is you won’t need any specialized equipment—just some coffee filters, some coarse ground coffee, and about 18 hours of brewing time.

How to Make Espresso Macchiato

Building the layers in an espresso macchiato is simple, as long as you’ve brewed your shots and steamed your milk correctly.

  1. Brew 1 or 2 shots of espresso directly into your mug.
  2. Steam a small pitcher of milk, allowing some of it to froth into foam.
  3. Use a spoon to hold back the froth and pour a small amount of steamed milk into the espresso.
  4. Spoon a dollop of milk foam on top of the drink.

If you’re familiar with using a steam wand, you’ve probably noticed the steaming process is very similar to that used for cappuccinos. Those who have less experience with espresso machines may need a bit more guidance on just what we mean by terms like “froth” and “steam,” and how those different textures are generated.

Steaming Milk for an Espresso Macchiato

The trickiest part of steaming milk for a macchiato is reducing the amount of milk waste. Baristas use smaller pitchers to steam macchiatos than they do for lattes and cappuccinos. Remember that you won’t need very much milk at all—just enough to cut the shot and put a bit of foam on top.

Keep in mind that the smaller the pitcher, the more likely you are to make a mess while you’re steaming. A small pitcher of milk will heat up much faster, too, so you’ll want to make sure you use a thermometer until you’ve gotten used to the process. It’s very easy to heat the milk past the 160°F mark. That will cause the milk to scorch, and that can add bitterness to the flavor instead of softening it (like the milk is supposed to do).

A good rule of thumb is to fill your pitcher no further than the bottom of the pour spout. If you’re using a 12-ounce macchiato pitcher, this should be around 3-5 ounces of milk, just about the perfect amount for your drink with a minimum of waste. Keeping the milk level below the halfway point of the pitcher will also leave plenty of space at the top for the milk to expand as it foams.

Once you have the milk in your pitcher, follow the steps below:

  1. Purge the steam wand by placing a towel over the tip and turning on the steam for a few seconds. This will remove any milk particles left inside from your last drink and get the wand ready to steam.
  2. Insert a steaming thermometer into your milk.
  3. Put your pitcher up to the wand and submerge the tip fully in the milk. Make sure you have the pitcher on the wand before you turn on the steam. Doing it in the opposite order will have you wiping milk splatters off your cabinets.
  4. Turn on the wand. If it has adjustable steam control, you want to use a moderate level of steam for this.
  5.  Carefully adjust the pitcher until the tip of the wand is right at the surface of the milk. You should hear a spitting sound when you do this. This is known as aeration and is the process of incorporating air into the milk to create foam.
  6. Allow the milk to aerate until it’s expanded to fill about 2/3 of the pitcher. Gradually move the pitcher down as the milk volume increases to keep the tip of the wand at the surface.
  7. Once you’ve reached this point, submerge the wand fully and continue to heat the milk until the thermometer reads between 140°F-150°F. A milk temperature of 160°F is ideal for macchiatos, but the milk will continue to heat to this point after you stop the wand.
  8. Turn off the steam, then remove the pitcher and tap it against the counter to remove any large bubbles.
  9. Wipe your steam wand with a damp cloth, then purge it again before you start making your drink. Allowing the milk to sit for a moment will cause the foam to naturally separate from the steamed milk, making it easier to create your layers in the espresso macchiato.

Keep in mind this process will happen very quickly when you’re using this small volume of milk. If you’re not experienced with steaming, you’ll want to practice with larger pitchers before you graduate to the 12-ounce macchiato pitcher. Even trained baristas often make a mess when steaming small quantities, so don’t feel bad if you’re not perfect on the first try!

How to Make Latte Macchiato

Layering a latte macchiato is all about when you add the ingredients and how you pour the espresso. You don’t just want to plop the shots into your drink—if you do, you’ll end up with something more like a latte.

  1. Steam a pitcher of milk. The texture should be similar to a latte, primarily consisting of smooth microfoam rather than the lighter, frothier foam used in cappuccinos. A clear glass is a good option since it allows you to see the layering of the finished drink.
  2. Pour the milk into your cup, leaving a bit of space at the top so you have room to pour the espresso in without overflowing.
  3. Brew a shot of espresso and pour it slowly and gently down the center of the milk in the cup.

The steaming process is easier when you’re making a latte macchiato, though it will still take some practice. If you’re not sure what we mean by “textured like a latte”, we’ll explain it below.

Steaming Milk for a Latte Macchiato

Many steps of the process for steaming latte macchiato milk are the same as those described above, but there are subtle differences. First, you’ll want to use a larger pitcher for this since you need more milk for the beverage. A 16-ounce or 20-ounce pitcher should be sufficient for most sizes.

Second, you want to make a finely textured milk known as microfoam for a latte macchiato. The separation of the top layer of foam from the steamed milk should happen in the cup, not in the pitcher. To achieve this texture:

  1. Purge your steam wand, then angle it so it’s at a roughly 20°-30° angle facing you. Make sure you’re standing directly in front of the wand and that you’re able to see the surface of the milk while you work.

  2. Raise the pitcher to the wand so that the tip is fully submerged, then turn on the steam. The pitcher should be slightly tilted rather than parallel to the counter.

  3. Lower the pitcher slightly so the tip is right at the milk’s surface. Allow it to aerate for a couple of seconds, then submerge the tip just below the surface. If the milk is making a screaming sound, it needs more air in it, and you should aerate a bit longer.

  4. As you steam, the milk should start to swirl around the steaming pitcher and form a vortex. This should begin to happen after the aeration stage, when you’ve moved on to texturing the milk, and is a key step in creating microfoam.

  5. The milk will expand as you steam it, though not as quickly or dramatically as it does when you’re creating foam. Still, you should keep your eye on the milk’s level and lower the pitcher so it stays just under the surface for the entirety of the steaming process. Limit the amount of aeration—if your milk is spitting and hissing, you’re working in extra air you might not want.

  6. Once the milk is at around 140°F-150°F, turn off the steam wand and remove the pitcher. Use a damp cloth to wipe the milk off the steam wand and purge it to remove lingering milk particles.

  7. The surface of your milk should be glossy, similar to wet paint, with no visible bubbles. If you see any large bubbles, you can remove them by tapping the pitcher on the counter.

  8. Swirl your pitcher. You should see the milk moving inside. If the surface is firm, you’ve created too much foam. This can be removed with a spoon, though you may also want to just start fresh since the steamed milk beneath may not be textured correctly. Swirling the milk also helps to prevent the foam from separating until you’ve poured it into the cup.

When you’re first learning how to steam, a thermometer will be a key tool for knowing when the milk is ready. As you gain experience, though, you can tell how hot it is by the feel of the pitcher. 

If you want to reach this level of milk mastery, make sure you keep your hand pressed to the side of the pitcher while you’re steaming so you can associate the feeling with the milk temperature. A good rule of thumb is that the milk is done when the pitcher becomes almost too hot to touch.

Brewing Espresso Shots for Your Macchiato

High-quality espresso is the most important ingredient in any café drink and is especially important for espresso macchiatos. Just like steaming milk, brewing a good espresso shot takes both knowledge and practice. Let’s walk through the basic steps:

  1.  Remove the portafilter from the machine and inspect it for any remaining grinds. If there are any, wipe out the portafilter before you start. You may also want to briefly turn on the group head with the portafilter removed to flush the line.

  2. Finely grind 18-21 grams of coffee into your portafilter. Give the portafilter a little shake to settle the grounds. If there’s any extra mounded on top, you can wipe it flat with your finger.

  3. Place the portafilter on the edge of the counter to tamp it. You may want to use a pad underneath to avoid damage to your countertop.

  4. Tamp the espresso down using 30 pounds of pressure. Make sure your arm is parallel to the counter as you do this to keep the surface of the tamp parallel to the portafilter. The pressure of the tamp must be applied evenly across the grounds. Uneven tamping causes the water to flow through different areas at different rates, and that leads to improper extraction.

  5. Turn the portafilter over on top of the knockbox (where you hit out the pucks) to let any loose grounds fall away. This is also a great way to test your tamp. If it was too light, the espresso will fall out and you’ll need to start over.

  6. Insert the portafilter into the group head and lock it into place. When you’re first starting, you’ll want to brew into shot glasses so you can gauge the amount of flow. As you gain experience, you can brew straight into the demitasse cup for an espresso macchiato. Brewing straight into the cup maintains the crema, some of which may be lost into the drink when you pour into a separate cup.

  7. Start the brew. The espresso should come out of the spout in a steady stream and have a dark brown color. Some espresso machines use a pre-infusion stage, so you may not see espresso start to pour out right away. However, you should begin to see it within the first few seconds. If nothing comes out, or if it just comes out in a drip, you’ve either tamped it too firmly or used too fine of a grind.

  8. Allow the espresso to brew for 20-30 seconds. Most baristas have an ideal pour time of around 25-26 seconds, though anything within this range is acceptable for producing a high-quality shot.

  9. As the espresso pours it will lighten to a color more similar to raw honey. You should have between 1 and 1.5 ounces of espresso in each shot glass when it reaches this point

  10. Stop the brew, then remove the portafilter and knock the puck out into the knockbox. Wipe any lingering grounds from the portafilter basket, flush the line, and return the portafilter to the group head to stay warm.  

If you’re not sure how much pressure to apply with your tamp, you can practice first using a scale. Put the scale on the counter where you tamp your espresso then press down on it with the tamp until the display reads 30 pounds.

One of the trickiest things about brewing good espresso is troubleshooting your shots. Because it’s ground so finely, the air humidity and temperature, as well as the age and type of beans, can change the way the espresso brews. 

Don’t expect the exact same settings to work out every time. You’ll need to make micro-adjustments to the grind when you switch beans or the weather changes.

If the espresso is pouring too fast or looks too light, your grind is too large. If it’s pouring too slowly or stays a dark brown color throughout the brew, the grind is too fine.

These problems can also be caused by a tamp that’s too light or too heavy, however, so check the consistency of your tamp against a scale before you begin making grinder adjustments.

What Kind of Beans Taste Best in a Macchiato?

The goal of a macchiato is to celebrate the flavor of the espresso. This makes the kinds of beans you use especially important to get an enjoyable, rich taste. 

While adding milk does take away some of the bitterness, there aren’t a whole lot of other flavors to cover up the taste of low-quality beans or poor brewing methods. Starting with the freshest, most flavorful beans you can is imperative to getting that classic macchiato flavor.

The traditional method is to use darker-roasted beans for espresso. Most of the “espresso blends” you’ll see in the grocery store take this approach. Using dark-roasted beans will give you the rich, bold mouthfeel most people expect from their espresso. 

This is what you’ll get if you go to a second wave coffee shop, such as Starbucks or its imitators.

Third wave cafes often take a different approach. These modern coffee shops often rotate through different single-origin craft beans for their espresso machine rather than using a single espresso blend. 

The idea here is to use the espresso brewing method to bring out the distinctive flavor notes imparted to coffee beans by their cultivar and terroir (a fancy word for the climate, altitude, and soil the plants are grown in).

Neither approach is inherently better than the other, although advocates of each would probably tell you otherwise. It’s really about what you’re looking for. The traditional approach is more straightforward: find a dark-roasted espresso blend you like and go. 

These dark-roasted blends have an advantage if you’re making a latte macchiato or another drink with milk. They’re designed to work well with the milk flavor, which will cut down on the back-end bitterness. If you can’t find an espresso blend you like, a dark-roasted Colombia, Brazil, or Costa Rica will be a good choice for complementing milk in a latte macchiato.

When you’re taking the third-wave approach, things get a bit more complicated. Generally speaking, medium roasts are the best option if you want to taste the distinctive flavor notes of the bean from an espresso shot. Light roasts tend to end up too thin and sour since the quick extraction leaves behind the flavor compounds that would balance out this brightness. Conversely, you’ll lose a lot of the bean’s unique characters once you roast the beans dark, so it’s not the best choice if you want that artisanal experience.

You can use beans from any region when you’re brewing espresso, but not all of them will be at their best on this method. Remember that espresso heightens the flavors and it can make them overwhelming.

Something like a Kenya SL-28 or an earthy Sumatra will certainly produce a unique espresso shot, but it might not be as enjoyable to drink—those beans are often best saved for pour-over.

If you want to experiment with craft coffee shots for espresso macchiatos, you’ll be best served starting with a medium-roasted bean from South or Central America. These beans are known for their balance, with notes of caramel and chocolate to balance out the fruitiness and sharpness. Some medium-roasted Ethiopia beans can taste fantastic, as well. They still have the winey and fruity notes you’ll get from Kenya but are smoother and less biting.

Beans from Oceania can also taste quite delightful brewed as espresso. This is especially true of estate beans from Java, which have a similar balance to South American beans but with a slightly more pronounced sweetness. If you want a touch of brightness, try a Papua New Guinea. While some can be sour, others give a delicious sweetness and unique fruitiness to the brew.

Robusta as Espresso

There are two species of coffee in common commercial use: Arabica and Robusta. Most of the coffee you’ll find for sale is Arabica because it’s generally agreed to have the best flavor. Arabica beans have more acidity and a richer mouth-feel. Robusta isn’t as sweet, and when used on its own has a bit of a flat taste that most drinkers find distasteful.

Because Robusta isn’t used as much by artisan cafes, you won’t find as many high-quality options on the market. In fact, straight Robusta of any kind is pretty rare outside of markets like Vietnam, where it’s a popular choice for coffee shops that serve café sua da (the traditional iced coffee with sweetened condensed milk). Its reputation for low quality has mostly relegated it to being used as a filler in blends.

Having said that, Robusta beans do get included in many espresso blends. The reasons for that are two-fold. First, it has a higher caffeine content. Since most people drink espresso for the caffeine kick, that’s a definite positive. Secondly, it produces more crema. Not only is the crema on a Robusta shot more prominent, it lasts longer, giving you more time to make your drink.

Robusta on its own isn’t the best choice for an espresso macchiato. Even though you don’t want much acidity in espresso, you still need a little bit to get the full flavor profile. You’ll also find yourself missing the sweetness, especially in an espresso macchiato.

If you do find a high-quality Robusta, though, you might want to experiment with throwing some in with a medium-roasted craft coffee and creating your own blend. This can help to balance out the acidity of a fruitier bean, and the extra crema will make it more aromatic in a latte macchiato.

Tips for Making Macchiatos at Home

  • Start with whole beans. This is the best way to preserve the freshness of the beans, first of all. Most pre-ground coffee is also not fine enough to produce a good espresso shot. Buying your beans whole and grinding them to order will give you the best results.
  • Use the freshest beans possible. While coffee beans have a long usable shelf life, they will produce their best flavor within the first 4-6 weeks of roasting. This is especially important for espresso and will give you that rich, full flavor you’re looking for.
  • Steam your milk at the same time you’re brewing your shot. Crema doesn’t last long after a shot is brewed. If you brew the shot first, odds are you’ll lose a lot of it before you pour the milk in. If your espresso machine can’t steam and brew at the same time, start by steaming the milk, then brew the shots last. You can swirl your milk to prevent the foam from separating out and hardening while you’re waiting for the shot to pour.
  • Pour gently. This is true for every version of the macchiato. A fast pour will cause the liquids to mingle, eliminating the layered effect the drinks are known for. Using a gentle pour keeps the liquids separate.
Macchiato Coffee

How to Order a Macchiato at Your Coffee Shop

The first step is deciding which version of the drink you’re looking for. At most cafes, if you simply order a macchiato they will assume you mean an espresso macchiato. If you’re not familiar with the café, take a quick look at their menu to see what they offer.

Most baristas will know how to make all variants of the macchiato (including a caramel macchiato, which has become popular enough the recipe is known outside of Starbucks). 

They’re also aware of the confusion surrounding the drink, so don’t be offended if they ask you to clarify which version you’re looking for. Nearly every barista has, at some point in their career, had a customer look at their demitasse cup in confusion when they thought they were ordering something more like a latte.

If you’re ordering an espresso macchiato, it will come in two sizes: single or double. This is simply a count of how many espresso shots you want. You can expand beyond this, too, if you really want a caffeine jolt—just tell the barista how many shots you want and they’ll scale the ratio up accordingly.

Latte macchiato sizes are determined by the cup sizes offered in the café. Usually a “tall” is 8 ounces, a “small” is 12 ounces, a “medium” is 16 ounces, and a “large” is 20 ounces. That said, the standards differ from place to place. 

Whatever size you get, you should expect to receive a single shot of espresso unless you specify otherwise. A larger size will be a more diluted drink, with a higher ratio of milk to coffee.

Calorie Content of a Macchiato

Coffee itself doesn’t have many calories at all. An ounce of espresso has about 3 calories, give or take. If you’re looking for a low-cal way to get your caffeine fix (that isn’t just straight espresso), an espresso macchiato is a great way to go. 

Since there’s not much milk in it, the total calorie count is somewhere around 10-30 calories, depending on which café you go to and what kind of milk it uses.

A latte macchiato without flavoring is the second-best option if you’re counting your calories. A 12-ounce latte macchiato will have between 120 and 160 calories, depending on the type of milk you use. The larger the cup size the more milk you’ll add and the higher that number will go.

Any flavored macchiato, like a caramel macchiato, is a different story. These drinks are loaded with sugar and all the calories that come with them. 

A tall caramel macchiato from Starbucks has 170 calories even if you use skim milk. If you get a venti with whole milk, you’re drinking 300 calories—not exactly a diet-friendly option.

Macchiato Espresso Coffee

Macchiato Compared to Other Coffee Drinks

Macchiato vs. Latte: What’s the Difference?

A cafe latte is very similar to a latte macchiato. There are two definitive differences. First is the order the ingredients are added to the cup. In a latte, the espresso is added first and the milk gently poured into it. The crema from the espresso is floated up to the top, where it mingles with the milk foam.

In a macchiato, the espresso is poured in at the end. Since it is denser than the milk foam, it sinks into the middle layer between the foam and milk. This is the second definitive difference between these drinks. In a latte, the espresso mixes with the steamed milk while the drink is being poured. 

The foam layer on the top of a latte macchiato is also more milk, rather than being a blend of foam and crema like it is in a latte.

Depending on the café, there may also be a difference in strength. In many instances, you’ll only receive one shot of espresso in a latte macchiato, rather than the two shots that are included in a cafe latte.

Macchiato vs. Cappuccino: What’s the Difference?

Like a latte macchiato, a cappuccino is a layered drink. The composition of the layers differs, however. When you steam milk for a cappuccino, you incorporate more air into it so that more foam is generated. 

The layers in a cappuccino are created as the steamed milk sinks, separating from the foam. However, cappuccinos are poured the same way as a cafe latte, with the espresso in the cup first and the milk poured in on top of it.

Cappuccinos also share similarities with espresso macchiatos. In both drinks, the steamed milk mixes with the espresso and the foam floats on top. The biggest difference is one of ratio. In a cappuccino, the ideal ratio is 1/3 espresso, 1/3 steamed milk, and 1/3 milk foam. The result is a drink that falls between an espresso macchiato and a cafe latte in its strength.

Depending on the café, you may also see baristas using a similar preparation for a cappuccino as they do for an espresso macchiato, using a spoon to hold back the foam initially then spooning it on top. 

Many cafes free-pour their cappuccinos, however, so this isn’t a definitive part of the drink’s definition.

Macchiato vs. Americano: What’s the Difference?

Both of these drinks begin with either one or two espresso shots at the bottom of a mug. The big difference here is what’s used to dilute it. No milk is added to an americano. Instead, hot water is added to the espresso in the cup, creating a strength and taste more similar to a brewed coffee.

Macchiato vs. Mocha: What’s the Difference?

You can think of a mocha basically like a chocolate latte (or, alternatively, as a hot chocolate with espresso). The preparation method varies greatly from one café to the next. 

Some use steamed chocolate milk or chocolate cream, some steam sweetened cocoa powder into the milk, and some put chocolate syrup in the cup with the espresso.

Regardless of the specifics, the differences between these drinks are the same as with the latte macchiato and cafe latte above—just add chocolate.

Macchiato vs. Flat White: What’s the Difference?

The flat white is a variant on the cafe latte. It uses ristretto shots, which are stopped sooner than regular espresso shots, reducing the back-end bitterness and lowering the per-shot volume to around ¾-1 ounce (compared to the 1-1.5 ounce standard shot). This is the first difference between a macchiato and a flat white.

The way the milk is steamed in a flat white also differs. The goal in a flat white is to create smooth microfoam with a minimum of milk foam on top. In some cafes, you’ll even see the barista using a spoon to hold back the foam and prevent it from making its way into the drink. This differs from both espresso macchiatos and latte macchiatos, which make use of milk foam as one of their layers.

Finally, the pour is different. In a flat white, the milk is poured into the espresso, similar to the preparation of a latte or cappuccino.

Macchiato FAQ

What exactly is a macchiato?

A macchiato is a drink that’s made up mostly of one ingredient, with a smaller amount of a second ingredient. That extreme ratio between the milk and espresso is the main thing that differentiates both forms of the macchiato from other café beverages. 

The ingredient in the drink’s name is the one that’s present in a larger quantity—espresso in an espresso macchiato, and milk in the latte macchiato.

Is a macchiato stronger than a latte?

Both types of macchiato will generally taste stronger than a latte. Espresso macchiatos will taste the strongest because they’re mostly espresso. They’re also the strongest in terms of their caffeine content per ounce since they contain the same amount of caffeine as a latte or latte macchiato but in a smaller beverage.

The taste of a latte macchiato and a cafe latte is very similar in general. Most people do find that the latte macchiato has a more pronounced espresso aroma, however, since the espresso is added last and some of the crema lingers in the foam at the top of the drink.

Since smell is closely linked to taste, this can impart a more pronounced espresso taste to a latte macchiato. In terms of caffeine, however, a latte macchiato has about the same as a cafe latte, and may even have less depending on how many shots are added to the drink.

What does a macchiato taste like?

An espresso macchiato mostly tastes like espresso. It has a rich and bold flavor, and you’ll be able to taste any subtle notes present from craft beans used to brew the shots. Compared to a shot of espresso, there will be slightly less back end bitterness thanks to the small amount of steamed milk that’s mixed in.

A latte macchiato tastes a lot like a cafe latte. You’ll get the taste of coffee in there, but it’s creamier with a thick mouthfeel thanks to the milk and isn’t as strong on the palate as an espresso macchiato. 

The strongest coffee flavor will be at the front of the drink. Compared to an espresso macchiato, you’ll taste fewer of the subtle flavor notes from the coffee bean. It will be more of a general coffee flavor on your tongue, one that’s slightly more pronounced than what you’d get from something like a flat white, and slightly less pronounced than in a cortado or cappuccino.

Should you stir a macchiato?

You’re not supposed to. The whole idea of the macchiato is to give you a taste experience that changes from the start of the drink to the end as you work your way through the layers. If it’s prepared correctly, you’ll end up getting most of the espresso early in the drink, with a milkier finish that cleanses your palate at the end.

Stirring an espresso macchiato is also not recommended. Agitating the milk foam on top will cause it to break down more quickly, ultimately sinking into the espresso and removing the layers the drink is known for.

Having said that, it’s ultimately up to you how you want to enjoy your drink. If you stir a latte macchiato, you’ll end up with a drink that’s more similar to a cafe latte, with the milk and espresso mingling together.

Do you put sugar in a macchiato?

Traditional macchiatos (both espresso and latte varieties) do not have sugar in them. You may taste some sweetness when you drink them, but this isn’t because anything was added. Steamed milk often tastes sweeter than regular milk. 

This is because of the lactose. Lactose is what’s known as a disaccharide, or “double sugar”. When it steams, it breaks down into the galactose and glucose that form it, and these two sugars have a sweeter taste than lactose itself.

Sugar is added to a caramel macchiato in two different ways. First, the vanilla syrup added to the bottom of the cup mingles with the milk as it’s poured. Caramel syrup is also drizzled over the drink at the end. Because of this, you’ll get a very sweet taste from the start of the drink to the finish. 

This is the best way to sweeten a latte macchiato, as opposed to using sugar, since it spares you the need to stir it in and ruin the layers.

While it’s not traditional to add sugar to an espresso macchiato, some people do like a touch of sweetness to contrast with the bitterness natural to espresso. To maintain the layers, you can put the sugar in the demitasse before you brew the espresso into it, giving it a small stir to mix it in before you add the milk and foam.

How much caffeine is in a macchiato?

The number of espresso shots in the drink will determine how much total caffeine it contains. The average espresso shot has between 60 and 100 milligrams of caffeine, depending on the beans that are used to make it. For context, this is roughly about as much caffeine as an 8-ounce cup of drip coffee, which has around 80-100 milligrams of caffeine. 

If you drink a double macchiato, it will contain somewhere between 120 and 200 milligrams of caffeine, similar to other double-shot drinks like cortados and americanos.

Compared to other beverages, an espresso shot has about twice the caffeine of a 20-ounce bottle of cola or an 8-ounce cup of black tea, and about 4 times the caffeine of an 8-ounce cup of green tea. This makes double espresso macchiatos one of the most caffeine-packed beverages per ounce.

How many shots of espresso are in a macchiato?

Most cafes will have both single and double espresso macchiatos on their menu. You may also hear these referred to by their Italian names, “solo” and “doppio”.

The number of shots in a latte macchiato depends on the café. Most American chains put one shot in an 8-ounce or 12-ounce drink, two shots in 16-ounce and 20-ounce drinks, and three shots in anything larger.

Just like the drink sizes themselves, though, this recipe is not standardized. If you want to be sure how many shots are in your latte macchiato, ask your barista.

How do you order an espresso macchiato at Starbucks?

There are at least five different macchiatos on the menu at Starbucks at any given moment (espresso macchiato, hot and iced latte macchiatos, and hot and iced caramel macchiatos). Seasonal additions can take this number up to 7 or 8 different options. Because of that, it’s important to be specific when you’re ordering your drink.

One easy way to make sure you’re getting a true espresso macchiato is to specify the number of shots as part of your order. 

Saying “single espresso macchiato” or “double espresso macchiato” will indicate to the barista you want the more concentrated form of the drink as opposed to their milkier options since the cup size is used to order latte macchiatos (with the phrasing “extra shot” if you want to add more espresso).

What is the best macchiato at Starbucks?

That really depends on what you’re looking for. If you want to taste the espresso, your best bet is to order the traditional espresso macchiato. 

Their most popular version is the caramel macchiato, which is in many ways their signature drink and a perennial favorite. 

It’s a great choice if you want something decadent, falling more on the dessert side of the spectrum than most espresso-based drinks.

What has less milk: latte or macchiato?

An espresso macchiato has the least milk of any café drink except a straight espresso or black coffee. 

If you’re ordering from an American cafe, a latte macchiato and a cafe latte will have about the same amount of milk, though the specific quantity varies depending on which size you get.

Will a caramel macchiato keep me awake?

You’ll definitely get a bit of a jolt when you drink a caramel macchiato. This isn’t just because of the caffeine in the beverage, either. Sugar is another source of energy, and there’s quite a bit of it in a caramel macchiato—more than in a flavored latte since the syrup essentially gets added twice.

The energy jolt from sugar is much shorter than that from caffeine, hence the accompanying “crash” that often comes after. If you’re ordering the drink later in the day and don’t want it to keep you from falling asleep, you can order the drink with decaf espresso. You’ll still get that sugar jolt, but it won’t be as likely to cause insomnia as a caffeinated beverage.

Origin Story and History of the Macchiato

The cafe macchiato was invented in Italy. Baristas needed to clarify to their servers the difference between a straight espresso and one with a bit of milk in it. Since the difference between them can be difficult to see at first glance, baristas would float a mark of milk foam atop the crema so servers could easily see which ones had steamed milk in them, and which were straight espresso. 

The drink’s name basically started as a shorthand to describe the way many Italians would drink their coffee in the afternoon (as opposed to the cappuccinos commonly consumed in the morning).

While the specific origin of the latte macchiato is more mysterious, it’s believed to have been invented as a play on the espresso macchiato. 

The mark of crema visible on top of the drink serves a similar purpose: to differentiate the drink from a babycino (steamer, in American cafes), which is a cup of just steamed milk. Without the brown mark on the surface, it would be very difficult to tell one from the other at a glance since the espresso sinks under the foam.

Latte macchiatos aren’t especially popular in Italy, but they did make it onto the original Starbucks menu. In the mid-90s, a barista built a new drink recipe based on this idea, called the caramel macchiato, and effectively launched the latte macchiato into the national spotlight (and began three decades of drink name confusion).

The caramel macchiato was supposed to be a limited-time drink to celebrate the café chain’s 25th anniversary. It was so popular, though, that the company decided to keep it on the menu permanently. They’ve since developed variants of the drink, as well, including an iced version, a coconut milk version, and a cinnamon macchiato.

Despite the increase in popularity of the latte macchiato at Starbucks, it’s not a drink you’ll see on most café menus. Still, American café customers are often familiar with the drink from their experiences at Starbucks. Because of this, most baristas are trained to make a latte macchiato, even if it’s not something they offer officially.

4 Best Macchiato Coffee Recipes

Classic Espresso Macchiato Recipe

The traditional espresso macchiato is designed to emphasize the flavor of the espresso. If you want it to taste the way it does in a café, you’ll need to have a true espresso machine capable of producing crema. 

Similarly, the difference in texture between the steamed milk and the foam is important to getting the right layers, so you’ll want to work on your steaming technique for the best results.

Ingredients:

Espresso coffee
Milk to taste

How to Make It:

1. Make espresso.
2. Add sugar to taste.
3. Splash in some milk of choice to ‘stain’ the macchiato.

Classic Latte Macchiato Recipe

Since the milk dilutes the flavor of the espresso, latte macchiatos are more forgiving when it comes to brewing shots. You can reasonably use AeroPress or stovetop espresso shots in this drink without losing too much from the taste. 

The more important consideration is the quality of the milk foam. A creamy microfoam will give you that distinctive mouthfeel you expect from a café latte macchiato.

Ingredients:

Espresso coffee
Sugar

How to Make It:

1. Froth the milk with your espresso machine’s wand or a manual milk frother.
2. Put the frothed milk into a glass.
3. Make a shot of espresso and add to milk.
4. Add sugar to taste.

Caramel Macchiato Recipe

The key to the taste of a Starbucks caramel macchiato is the quantity and distribution of the syrup. The vanilla syrup goes in the cup first so it can sweeten the milk as you pour. Pouring gently and slowly will give you the best distribution since you don’t want to stir the drink and disturb the layers. 

The caramel on top isn’t just for looks, either. While you don’t have to do the Starbucks cross-hatch design, you want to make sure you distribute it evenly across the foam so each sip has that front-end sweetness.

We have the perfect Caramel Macchiato Latte Recipe right here.

Iced Caramel Macchiato Recipe

Iced caramel macchiatos are a great drink to enjoy on a hot day. If you don’t have an espresso machine, using cold brew concentrate can be a great workaround. For those using traditional espresso shots, you should brew them first and allow them to cool so they don’t melt the ice and dilute the flavor. 

Be gentle when you’re drizzling the caramel sauce on top so it doesn’t sink right to the bottom, which it’s more likely to do with no milk foam to rest on.

 You can turn our popular Caramel Machiato Recipe into an iced version by simply pouring it over ice cubes!

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