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What is a Macchiato? Setting the record straight

I was first introduced to macchiatos by chain coffee shops. Incidentally, the macchiato in a chain coffee shop is nothing like a proper, true macchiato. Since you’re here, you must be wondering the same thing: what is a macchiato?

A macchiato is a classic Italian beverage prepared from an espresso shot and marked with a spot of steamed milk.

So next time you walk into a coffee shop(a real one), you wil be more informed and you can try this really awesome espresso-based coffee.

what is a macchiato?

What is a macchiato and how did they come about?

Interestingly, macchiatos were invented as a way to have a cup of coffee later in the day. In Italian coffee culture, people normally only drink cappuccino in the morning and at no other time. So if you have a hankering for some caffeine in the afternoon, you’d have to try something else.

The word macchatio means “marked”. When you look at a macchiato, it is unmistakeable. A skillfully made macchiato will have a distinct white mark or spot of milk in the middle of an otherwise dark brown espresso shot.

Waiters needed to have a way to quickly convey to servers that one particular coffee was a straight espresso shot and the other drink was marked with milk, and the preparation of macchiato made it quite easy to do. The macchiato is also said to be similar to a Portuguese version of the drink called a Cafe Pingado, which means coffee with a drop.

Source

How to tell if you have a good macchiato

A macchiato is a shot of espresso with a small amount of milk. The name itself suggests that the espresso should only be marked with milk, not overwhelmed by it!

So a good macchiato will look pretty much like an espresso shot except it will have a dot of steamed milk on top. Some of the milk will inevitably mix into the espresso and make it a little lighter, but the dot of milk should be very obviously visible on top.

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Espresso macchiato vs latte macchiato

Another common point of confusion is the difference between an espresso macchiato and a latte macchiato. Both are macchiatos, so is there a real difference between the two?

Espresso macchiato

Since the word macchiato means marked, an espresso macchiato is the classic drink where a shot of espresso is marked with a spot of milk.

The small amount of milk foam tempers the intensity of the espresso shot, so you’ll be able to experience both the intensity of the espresso shot and the smoothness and richness of steamed milk.

It is very easy to make an espresso macchiato, even at home. Just brew a shot of espresso, steam a small amount of milk, and place a spoonfull of the foamy milk on top of the espresso shot. The air bubbles in the milk will keep it floating at the top of your drink.

The resulting beverage will be quite small, so there’s no real need to stir ir. Just down the shot and enjoy!

When should you get an espresso macchiato?

Espresso macchiato is a great coffee drink to order when you want to have something intense. The little spot of milk only dulls the espresso flavor slightly, so you get the rich mouthfeel and intensity of an espresso shot tempered by the velvety milk.

An espresso macchiato is only slightly bigger than an espresso shot, though, so if you were looking for a large fill of coffee, you may find that the espresso macchiato gets over way too quickly.

For a one off coffee injection, it’s perfect.

Latte macchiato

The latte macchiato stems from the same concept of being marked by something. While an espresso macchiato was espresso marked with milk, a latte macchiato is the opposite: it’s steamed milk marked with a shot of espresso.

A latte macchiato is not the same as a regular latte, as the espresso to milk ratio is greatly different. There is typically a lot more milk in a latte macchiato than there is in a regular latte.

Latte macchiatos are typically served in large 12 ounce glasses. The glass will be filled half way or 2/3 of the way with hot milk that’s been steamed. The barista will then slowly pour a shot of espresso on the center of the milk.

The speed of the pour is critical, as it helps create a gradient, which is why latte macchiato is best served in a transparent glass.

A good latte macchiato will have a very distinct gradient of brown and foamy at the top to white at the bottom.

When should you get a latte macchiato?

Latte macchiato is a lot more milk than coffee, so it’s ideal if you want a very slight coffee kick but mostly wish to taste the richness of milk.

If you’re just starting out with coffee, the latte version of macchiato can be a great way to wet your feet with tasting the intensity of coffee without overwhelming your taste buds.

Many cafes serve latte macchiatos with syrups added for flavoring.

What about caramel macchiato?

Starbucks and other chain coffee shops have kind of distorted the meaning of macchiato. If you walk into a coffee chain and order a macchiato, you won’t be served a shot of espresso with a spot of milk: instead, you’ll end up with something that is a lot more similar to the latte macchiato.

Chain coffee shops have to appeal to the broader population, so they end up stuffing their coffee drinks with sweeteners and flavorings to make them more palatable.

This is one of the reasons there is so much confusion about the macchiato: we typically think of macchiato as the Starbucks version, which is a whole lot of steamed milk, caramel syrup, and one or two shots of espresso.

There’s no doubt that it tastes really good, it’s just not what we’d call a traditional macchiato!

How to make a macchiato

Making a macchiato is super easy! This easy to follow recipe will help you brew like a barista in no time.

Macchiato

A macchiato is a really intense and flavorful espresso drink which is marked with a spot of steamed milk.
Prep Time5 mins
Cook Time1 min
Course: Coffee
Cuisine: Italian
Keyword: coffee
Servings: 1 cup
Calories: 15kcal

Equipment

  • Espresso machine
  • Milk frother(if you don't already have one)
  • Coffee grinder

Ingredients

  • 15 grams Coffee beans
  • 1 tbsp Whole milk Any kind of milk is fine

Instructions

  • Grind coffee beans to a fine espresso powder size
  • Tamp the grounds tightly into your portafilter and attach it to your machine
  • Pull a shot of espresso
  • Use the steam wand(or external milk frother) to froth one tablespoon of milk
  • Use a spoon to dollop the milk on top of the espresso

Notes

Whole milk will froth the best, but you can use any kind of milk: soy, almond, or other plant-based milks will work too.
Some plant-based milks are tougher to froth than others.

Related: compare macchiato to other drinks

Macchiato Vs Latte

Even though they are both based on espressos, the key difference lies in the milk: how much there is and how it has been foamed.

Just the same way a latte and flat white are different, lattes and macchiatos are different, too. The way milk has been foamed makes all the difference in the world when it comes to flavor and texture.

Milk can be foamed to just have what’s called “velvet microfoam” – which are small bubbles of air trapped in the milk, giving it a very smooth and velvety texture.

There can also be what’s called “dry foam” – which is the heavy, thick foam on top of cappuccinos – it would be rather hard to drink an entire cup of dry foam since there is more air than milk, giving it that “dry” feeling in your mouth.

The easiest way to tell the difference between a latte and a macchiato is to just look at the beverage! The images below will help clarify things even more.

latte

The picture above is of a latte preparation. Notice how the coffee has blended very well with the milk(becoming much lighter) and there is some light foam at the top of the cup.

macchiato

The picture above is a macchiato. Notice how the coffee is very strong and black(almost like a straight shot of espresso) and there is a layer of thick milk foam at the top which has not fully mixed with the coffee.

Lattes are much more dilute since they’re fully mixed into the milk, and macchiatos are much stronger since they’re essentially an espresso shot with a separate layer of foam on top.

Macchiato

  • Very small amount of coffee, just a little more than a single espresso shot
  • Very strong taste but slightly diluted by trace foamed milk
  • Only a small amount of steamed milk is added

Latte

  • A comparatively large beverage, 8 or more ounces
  • Contains lots of steamed milk, which dilutes the flavor  of the espresso shot but adds a rich, creamy texture

Is a Macchiato stronger than a latte?

Yes, most definitely.

Macchiatos are indeed stronger than lattes – at least to the taste. Like we mentioned above, lattes are espresso shots completely mixed into the milk, which will greatly mellow down the flavor.

Macchiatos by contrast will taste like a pure espresso shot with just a kick of milk at the top, creating a unique taste experience.

However, if you can’t tolerate extremely strong flavors then you may want to stick with lattes instead of macchiatos.

As far as caffeine content goes, there is not much difference, since both lattes and macchiatos contain espresso shots.

In that case, it depends on the kind of coffee grounds you use. Lighter roasts tend to have weaker flavors but greater caffeine content(by volume) and darker roasts have more intense flavors but less caffeine.

Most baristas and cafes use the same kinds of beans in making the espresso shot for macchiatos and lattes, so macchiatos will taste more intense than lattes. All that milk you add in the latte will dull down the flavor but add a creamy texture from the steamed milk.

What about cappuccinos?

Since we’re talking about macchiatos and lattes, we should also talk about cappuccinos, since they are pretty much in the same category of espresso-based beverages that are served with milk.

The most commonly used cappuccino ratio is 1/3 espresso, 1/3 steamed milk, and 1/3 foamed milk. You can actually think of a cappuccino as halfway between a macchiato and a latte.

This is because a macchiato is pretty much an espresso shot with a tiny bit of milk, and a latte is an espresso shot with a lot of milk!

Personally, I prefer cappuccinos as far as milky coffees go, but you should drink what you enjoy.

To make a cappuccino, you can use an automatic machine that will do everything for you, or you can pull an espresso shot, steam some milk separately, and combine the two.

Conclusion

As far as coffee drinks go, the macchiato is a really awesome halfway point between a cappuccino and an espresso, and there’s no surprise that the Italians came up with a new reason to drink coffee in the afternoon!

Frequently asked questions

What is the difference between a latte and a macchiato?

A latte has a lot more steamed milk added to an espresso shot: nearly 6 ounces, whereas a macchiato is just an espresso shot topped with a spoonful of steamed milk.

What is the point of a macchiato?

A macchiato is a great way to enjoy a shot of espresso with slightly dulled intensity! Some people may find a straight espresso too overwhelming, so this coffee drink is a good alternative that combines the best of both worlds.

What is the difference between flat white and macchiato?

A flat white is much more similar to a latte, except a latte will have bigger air bubbles, and a flat white will have smaller bubbles, so it will appear flatter.

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About Shabbir

Shabbir is the Chief Caffeine Officer at Coffee In My Veins. When he's not weighing out coffee beans for his next brew, you can find him writing about his passion: coffee.

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