What Is a Macchiato, Really?

Updated: July 19, 2022 by Owen Richardson

What is a Macchiato?

If you’re obsessing over espresso and espresso drinks, you may be wondering what certain terminologies mean, like what is a macchiato?

While the basis of many designer coffees is the same, the differentiating factor comes in with the varying quantities of coffee and milk. Some coffees have a considerable amount of foam, while other types have none. Believe it or not, these minor tweaks in each variation are what determine each brew’s unique flavor.

If you enjoy coffee as much as I do, then this article is for you. I’ll delve into another coffee shop favorite, the macchiato. I’ll also be examining its flavor, caffeine content, and how it differs from other coffees.

Additionally, I’ll share the easiest way to make this delicious drink at home. I’ve also researched the caramel macchiato, which is a current Starbucks favorite. Read on as I take a look at what makes the macchiato a firm favorite at many coffee shops all over the country.

So What Is a Macchiato?

Essentially, a macchiato is an espresso coffee drink. It’s usually topped with a small amount of steamed milk and foam. This allows the espresso to shine through the milk.

Macchiatos are generally the preferred drink of people who want a coffee that lies between the harsh espresso and the weaker cappuccino.

What Makes a Macchiato Different From Regular Coffee?

Since a macchiato is made by just adding a small amount of milk, it has a much stronger flavor than regular coffee drinks. And, since it’s served in a smaller glass or cup, you can expect a robust beverage.

The History of Macchiato

The term “macchiato” translates from Italian as “stained” or “marked.” It refers to staining or marking the coffee with a dash of milk. It’s believed that the macchiato was invented in the early 1980s by Italian baristas who needed to distinguish a plain espresso from one containing a splash of milk.

An interesting fact is that a similar coffee beverage is made in Portugal. The cafe pingado is a strong espresso drink with a drop of steamed milk.

How Does a Macchiato Taste?

Since macchiato is made from espresso, you can expect a full-bodied flavor. There’s a higher milk ratio, so it’s generally weaker than a regular espresso but slightly stronger than a cappuccino. In short, it’s a tasty middle ground that many coffee drinkers enjoy.

To achieve the most flavorsome profile, it’s a good idea to use high-quality beans. For a sweeter variation, some coffee drinkers prefer to add extra sugar.

Types of Macchiato

There are generally two main types of macchiato coffee: the latte macchiato and the espresso macchiato. Aside from these two types, several different variations can be created by simply adding different flavored syrups such as caramel or vanilla.

Espresso Macchiato

Also known as the “original” or “plain macchiato,” the espresso macchiato is made with a single shot of espresso that gets diluted with one to two teaspoons of steamed milk. This then creates the famous “stain.”

The espresso macchiato also has the highest ratio of espresso to milk. In fact, the addition of the milk is actually complementary, leaving an extremely rich espresso flavor profile.

How Does a Macchiato Taste?

Latte Macchiato

If you’re looking for a sweeter, layered variation then the latte macchiato is the drink for you. It’s made by adding either a single or half a shot, if you prefer, to steamed milk. That’s then topped with a generous milk foam layer.

While the espresso macchiato is served in a short glass or smaller mug, its latte counterpart is generally served in a taller, transparent glass.

Should You Stir a Macchiato?

Macchiatos are all about the layers. Unlike most other coffee drinks, you shouldn’t stir a macchiato. The layers in a macchiato drink create the unique “stained” look.

Furthermore, since the layers are supposed to be sipped in the order they lie in, stirring or mixing the layers ruins the drink’s design. If you need to add sugar, stir the sugar into the espresso before adding it to your glass or cup. To enjoy the full layering effect, use a transparent glass or cup.

If you’re serving a macchiato to a customer, you should refrain from stirring the drink. Allow the customer to enjoy the different layers of flavor when sipping it.

Easy Guide to Making a Macchiato at Home

When it comes to brewing a tasty macchiato, the good news is that you can easily make it at home, with or without an espresso machine. Once you perfect your desired flavor ratio, you won’t have to stand in long queues at your local coffee shop. Let’s dive in and see just how easy it is.

Equipment

Here’s a list of the equipment you’ll need to make a tasty macchiato at home:

  • Espresso machine or Moka pot
  • Milk steamer
  • Conical coffee grinder
  • Your favorite coffee mug

Ingredients

Here are the ingredients you’ll need to make your macchiato:

Step 1: Grind Your Coffee Beans

To get the best flavor from your beans, I recommend grinding them just before brewing. Also, be sure to grind them to the perfect texture for your brewing method.

Step 2: Pull an Espresso Shot

If you’re using an espresso machine, it will be quite easy to pull a shot of espresso.

Alternatively, if you don’t have a coffee machine, you can use strong coffee or instant espresso.

While opting for strong coffee might not give you the same coffee shop flavor, your macchiato will still be worth enjoying.

Step 3: Steam Your Milk

  • Place milk into a cup and froth with the frothing wand of your espresso machine.
  • Froth until the milk doubles in size.
  • If you’re not using a milk steamer, heat the milk in a microwave or pot on the stove.
  • Pour the milk into a mason jar and shake or whisk until it’s fully frothed.

Step 4: Pour the Steamed Milk into Espresso

  • Pour the steamed milk into your espresso.
  • To add some flair to your drink, you can try your hand at some simple latte art.
  • Alternatively, you can simply add a spoonful of foam with some cinnamon sprinkled on top.

It might take a few tries to find your preferred flavor ratio, but keep at it!

What Is a Caramel Macchiato?

A very popular version of the macchiato is the Starbucks caramel macchiato. In 1996, Starbucks created this now iconic drink to mark its 25th anniversary. Essentially, a caramel macchiato is made of espresso, steamed milk, vanilla syrup, and a dash of caramel drizzle.

What Is a Caramel Macchiato?

How to Make a Caramel Macchiato at Home

Since the caramel macchiato is such a popular drink, it would be great to know how to make it at home. Here’s the tasty, flavorful Starbucks recipe:

Equipment

The equipment to make a caramel macchiato is the same as what you would use to make a regular macchiato as follows:

  • Espresso machine or Moka pot
  • Milk steamer or mason jar if you’re going to steam milk using your microwave oven
  • Coffee grinder
  • Tall glass (caramel macchiatos are served in taller glasses to accentuate the mixture of the vanilla and caramel syrup on the sides)

Ingredients

The ingredients for a caramel macchiato include the following:

  • Filtered water
  • 1 cup milk (Starbucks uses 2% but whole milk can also be used)
  • Dark roast coffee beans
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla syrup
  • Caramel sauce

Step 1: Grind Your Coffee Beans

  • Follow the same method of grinding coffee beans as I mentioned above for making a regular macchiato.

Step 2: Pull Two Shots of Espresso

  • For the classic Starbucks recipe, use your espresso machine or Moka pot to pull two shots of espresso.
  • If you prefer a milder coffee flavor, you can pull a single espresso shot.
  • As with a regular macchiato, you can use strong coffee if you don’t have an espresso machine or Moka pot.

Step 3: Steam the Milk

  • Steam the milk in one of the methods mentioned in the section for making regular macchiato.

Step 4: Prepare the Glass

This is where the key difference between a regular macchiato and its caramel version comes in.

  • Pour the vanilla syrup into the bottom of your glass (a tall, transparent glass is recommended to see the full effect of the ingredients)
  • Drizzle caramel sauce along the sides of the glass so that it runs down

Step 5: Prepare the Drink

It’s time to prepare this delicious drink.

  • Pour the steamed milk into your glass
  • Add the espresso on top
  • The vanilla syrup and caramel sauce will start mixing with the milk
  • For extra flair, garnish your caramel macchiato with whipped cream and another drizzle of caramel sauce over the foam

FAQs

Aside from the information I’ve already discussed, I’ve also answered a few other common questions about macchiatos and how they compare to other popular coffee drinks.

Which is stronger, a macchiato or cappuccino?

Since macchiatos have less milk, they have a stronger coffee flavor than cappuccinos. The higher milk content in cappuccinos creates a softer, milkier flavor. While the extra milk won’t completely mask the strong espresso taste, cappuccinos are easier on the palate for people who don’t enjoy the bold, robust flavor of a macchiato.

How is a latte different from a macchiato?

While there’s a latte macchiato, a regular latte is decidedly different from a macchiato latte. A latte also has espresso and steamed milk, but the difference lies in the additional flavoring that’s added.

Lattes are also layered and mixed differently. There’s much more milk in a latte, too, than in a macchiato. With more milk, a latte isn’t as strong as a macchiato.

Is a caramel macchiato better hot or cold?

There’s generally no set rule about how your caramel macchiato should be served. It’s actually a matter of personal preference. When it’s served hot it’s a great coffee drink to be enjoyed in the cooler months. Many people enjoy an iced caramel macchiato as a cool summer drink.

Interestingly enough, the iced caramel macchiato is one of Starbucks’ most popular drinks.

How is a macchiato different from an Americano?

The essential difference between a macchiato and an Americano is that a regular Americano is made with hot water and espresso. A macchiato is made with milk and espresso.

Americanos are also more bitter than macchiatos.

What’s more, a traditional Americano doesn’t have any milk or foam. An espresso has from 47-75 mg of caffeine, while an Americano has approximately 94 up to 150 mg of caffeine.

Is macchiato the same as a mocha?

No. It’s important to note that there is a considerable difference between a mocha and a macchiato. A mocha is generally made of chocolate, coffee, and milk. This makes it much sweeter and also tones down the robust espresso flavor. None of the macchiato variations have any chocolate added. Macchiatos are also served in smaller cups than a mocha.

Macchiato Wrap-Up

Whether you’re a regular coffee drinker or you’ve just started experimenting with some of the delicious coffee drinks on a regular coffee shop menu, it’s worth giving a macchiato a taste.

Aside from having a better idea of exactly what this drink entails, my easy guide can have you making your own in no time. Adding a macchiato to the coffee drinks you can now make at home will give you another option to delight your friends and family!

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