The Macchiato can be a confusing drink to order because what you get depends on what coffee shop you are ordering it from. Unlike other milk-based drinks, there are no universally accepted ratios for what a Macchiato should be. To top things off, there are two types of macchiatos which are very different drinks. An espresso macchiato, which resembles the traditional Macchiato or a latte macchiato (think Starbucks) often complete with whip and caramel syrup.
In this article, we will dissect the Macchiato to help you understand what a Macchiato is, what the variations are and which type you should order.
What is a Macchiato?
A Macchiato, also known as a Caffè Macchiato or Espresso Macchiato, is traditionally made with one shot of espresso that is topped with 1-2 spoonfuls of frothed milk. It is usually served in a ceramic demitasse cup. The drink was created as a way to slip an espresso into the afternoon- as Cappuccinos were typically only drunk in the morning.
The Macchiato falls in the sweet spot between a straight espresso shot and a cappuccino. It still has the sharp kick of caffeine but is slightly mellowed out with a dash of creamy milk.
The Origin of the Macchiato
Like many of our beloved beverages, the Macchiato originated in Italy, most likely in the mid-eighties. Macchiato is loosely translated in Italian to mean stained or marked. The rich espresso was stained with a dollop of milk foam (or vice versa). The story goes that baristas wanted a way to differentiate an order for a straight espresso from that of one topped with a dash of milk. And hence the Macchiato was born.
Fast forward a few years, and the Macchiato is still a staple in Italy (although most people now drink it in the morning). The Macchiato has become popular worldwide, with many favoring newer versions of the drink, often topped with copious amounts of frothed milk and flavored syrup.
Variations To The Macchiato
Espresso Macchiato- milk stains espresso
An Espresso Macchiato is the authentic Macchiato and what you should be ordering if you are a coffee enthusiast. It is made with an espresso shot and topped with a spoonful of steamed milk and foam. The dollop of milk froth is just enough to cut through the espresso and add somebody to the drink.
Traditionally, the macchiato has thick, dense milk foam (like a cappuccino) dolloped in the center of the espresso shot. But the modern Macchiato is now all about latte art. The milk is steamed to microfoam and poured with beautiful designs on top. This third wave version is a more balanced drink with a 50/50 split of espresso to milk.
With an Espresso Macchiato, the emphasis is on the espresso. This version is for the enthusiast who wants a caffeine kick without the full strength of a straight-up shot. The milk smooths out the edge of the strong espresso and adds sweetness and texture to the drink.
Latte Macchiato- espresso stains milk
The Latte Macchiato is the Americanized version of the Macchiato and, in some ways, is the polar opposite of the Espresso Macchiato. The Espresso Macchiato is all about the espresso, whereas the Latte Macchiato is all about the milk and flavorings.
The Latte Macchiato is a layered drink typically served in a tall glass. First, thick steamed milk is added to the glass (about ⅓ to ½ full) then an espresso shot is slowly poured into the center of the steamed milk to create the stain. Finally, the drink is topped with a layer of foam and often drizzled with flavored syrup. This creates the signature layered appearance, with clear distinctions between the steamed milk at the bottom, the layer of espresso, and the foam on top.
The Latte Macchiato is for the coffee lover who is not ready for a full-blown espresso shot. This drink has only a hint of espresso flavor diluted by creamy milk and often flavored syrups. A latte may be a better option if you are after more of a caffeine hit.
A Caramel Macchiato is Starbucks’ rendition of the Macchiato. Their version includes layers of vanilla syrup, steamed milk, a shot of espresso topped with milk foam, and caramel drizzle. While a far cry from the original Caffee Macchiato, the Caramel Macchiato is a popular choice for those with a sweet tooth. Starbucks also offers a traditional Macchiato, which is more similar to the original version.
Just to add to the confusion, if you are in Australia, you may see a Short or Long Macchiato on the coffee menu. A Short Macchiato is the same as an Espresso Macchiato with a single shot of espresso and a dash of milk. A Long Macchiato is a slightly larger version of the drink. It is served in a latte glass and consists of a double shot of espresso with a generous splash of textured milk. Typically when it is served, the glass is left half empty. If you prefer a slightly weaker version, you can ask for a topped-up Long Macchiato with more textured milk.
How To Order A Macchiato
As you can see from above, there are many variations on the Macchiato. This is primarily because there are no hard and fast rules regarding how much milk should be added. If you are ordering one from a third-wave coffee shop, you will likely receive an Espresso Macchiato. However, if you are ordering a Macchiato from a chain coffee shop like Starbucks or Dunkin, you’re more likely to end up with a Latte Macchiato or a sweet Caramel Coffee. Ultimately, you need to decide which variation you want and then communicate it to the barista to ensure you end up with the right drink.
How To Make A Macchiato
If you have an espresso machine, a Macchiato is relatively straightforward to create.
Tips For Brewing a Macchiato
For the best results, use whole milk as this froths better due to the higher fat content. If you are dairy-free, you can also use oat milk.
How good (or not) a Macchiato tastes depends on how good the espresso shot is. It is essential to ensure your grinder is dialed in correctly and that you are using fresh beans. Unfortunately, a lousy shot can’t be covered up with a small dollop of milk!
The video below is a very helpful guide to steaming the milk. In summary, there are two ways to steam milk resulting in either a dry or wet Macchiato.
A dry Macchiato is the more traditional form with foam on top. It involves steaming milk to a similar texture to a cappuccino- creating thick, dense foam. You then add a spoonful of frothed milk into the center of the espresso shot, making the trademark white spot in the middle.
A wet Macchiato is the third wave version with steamed milk. It involves steaming milk to a microfoam that blends well with coffee and enables you to create latte art on top of the Macchiato.
Differences Between Other Coffee Drinks
When comparing espresso-based drinks, all consist of espresso and milk. The key differences lie in the ratios of espresso to steamed and frothed milk.
Macchiato vs Latte
When it comes to comparing the Macchiato to the Latte, it depends on what version of Macchiato you choose. If you compare an Espresso Macchiato, the Macchiato has very little foam and is a much smaller and stronger drink. If you are comparing the Latte Macchiato, it is far more similar to a Latte. A Latte Macchiato is made in reverse with the milk added first and then the espresso, and finally the layer of frothed milk. The Latte Macchiato is a layered drink with more milk and less espresso than a Latte. And often, a Latte Macchiato is blended with flavored syrups.
In comparison, a Latte is made with ⅓ espresso to ⅔ steamed milk and is topped with a layer of milk froth. Lattes are served in a larger 6 oz glass. The milk for a latte is more textured with microfoam to enable latte art.
Macchiato vs Cappuccino
A Macchiato is a shot of espresso with a dollop of milk, so it is smaller and stronger than a Cappuccino. A cappuccino is a ⅓ espresso, ⅓ steamed milk, and ⅓ froth. It is a larger coffee drink with more milk and more foam. A cappuccino often has cocoa or cinnamon sprinkled on top.
Macchiato vs Cortado/ Gibraltar
A Cortado falls somewhere in the middle between a Macchiato and a Cappuccino. This coffee drink is of Spanish origin and is a small espresso drink made from equal parts espresso to steamed milk. A cortado has more milk than a Macchiato but far less foam, as it is only lightly steamed. It is also usually served at a slightly cooler temperature than a Macchiato.
Macchiato- In Summary
In summary, Macchiato means stained in Italian, which is why there are two versions of the drink. An espresso macchiato is the traditional drink made with a shot of espresso and topped with a dollop of foamed milk in the center- the milk stains the espresso. This is a short, strong espresso that is smoothed out with a touch of creamy milk.
The Latte Macchiato is the other version of this drink and is a layered drink composed of steamed milk, an espresso shot, and topped with foamed milk- the espresso stains the milk. This layered drink is sweeter, with only a mild espresso flavor, and is often combined with flavored syrups.
If you want to try the real deal, we recommend trying an Espresso Macchiato; you won’t regret it!