What is a Macchiato? All You Need to Know About This Espresso Delight

Last updated on September 5th, 2023 by Jules Winnfield

what is a macchiato
A foamy creamy macchiato with cinnamon dust to tempt you with…
Photo by Sigmund

When it comes to coffee, there’s a lot of different varieties. From a cappuccino, flat white, to a mocha, macchiato, they’re all different in taste and how they’re uniquely made.

It’s easy to stick to your go-to coffee order. Sometimes, coffee houses can be so fast-paced it’s difficult to understand the menu, and it can feel uncomfortable to ask during peak hours. Although your barista would be happy to help, it’s always good to understand a menu before you go to order.

This is especially when it comes to coffee, given there are so many variations. You can find a variety of unique coffee drinks depending on whether it’s a chain or a traditional coffee house. 

Today, we’re going to answer the questions… what is a macchiato, what are the variations, and who does the macchiato appeal to the most. Let’s get started!

How is a Macchiato Made?

A macchiato is a primarily espresso-based beverage, topped with a splash of steamed milk. Some coffee houses use foamed milk, or a mixture of steamed and foamed milk, but the traditional way to prepare a macchiato is with a small amount of steamed milk. 

There are variations of the macchiato, which we will discuss below. 

What Exactly is a Macchiato?

Types of Coffee Drinks
The Macchiato is just one of MANY espresso based drink beverages to enjoy…
Which is your favorite?

Like most of the terminology that surrounds coffee, ‘macchiato’ is of Italian descent. The translation of ‘macchiato’ roughly means ‘marked’, or ‘stained’, therefore referring to coffee that has been ‘marked’. 

An espresso is a concentrated short of coffee. So it makes sense that a macchiato is a ‘marked’ coffee. The top layer of a macchiato is white, due to the steamed milk, and usually, there is a small amount of espresso peaking through — hence, the ‘marked’ coffee. 

The Origin

The history of the macchiato derives from baristas needing to show servers the difference between two coffees. One, the original espresso, the other being an espresso with a dollop of milk. The macchiato developed its title due to the ‘stained’ appearance, which differs from the pure black appearance of an espresso.

While the cappuccino is traditionally reserved as the morning coffee drink, the macchiato takes its place from midday. It has a stronger punch than a cappuccino, but it is gentler than a typical espresso. 

Types of Macchiato

There are two main types of macchiatos. The espresso macchiato, and the latte macchiato. 

Espresso Macchiato 

In Italy, the espresso macchiato is called a “caffé macchiato”. It is the traditional form of macchiato, which we referenced earlier in the article. As it’s the original recipe, the espresso macchiato refers to the milk ‘staining’ the espresso. 

It’s an excellent choice if you find espresso too rich in flavor and depth. The small splash of milk slightly dilutes the strength of the espresso, providing a strong flavor, with a small amount of creaminess. 

Traditionally, the espresso macchiato is served in a small espresso cup, a demitasse. Given that there are so many varieties of coffee drinks, an espresso macchiato is sometimes adapted. If you want to try this specific variant, ask for a ‘traditional’ espresso macchiato with steamed milk’.

Some coffee shops prefer to use milk foam or a mixture of steamed milk and milk foam. If this option sounds more like you, then, by all means, adjust the macchiato to your liking.

Just be careful to specify what type of macchiato you would like, or ask how they prepare it, so you’re not surprised if you don’t receive a traditional macchiato. 

Latte Macchiato 

what is a macchiato latte
Enjoy a delicious espresso macchiato with a dollop of milk foam.
Photo by Anderson Barbosa

The latte macchiato is comparable to a reversed espresso macchiato. In other words, if the espresso macchiato is primarily made of espresso, the latte macchiato is primarily made of milk. 

It’s still a ‘stained’ coffee, but instead of the milk traditionally staining the espresso, the espresso stains the milk. 

A latte macchiato is served in a tall glass, as it is a layered espresso drink. 

The glass should be pre-warmed, and it should be filled with roughly ⅓ to ½ of steamed milk. A single espresso shot (although, some coffee houses will offer double) is pulled from an espresso machine and poured slowly over the steamed milk, right in the center.

This creates the ‘stained’ effect. The purpose of the glass, opposed to a coffee cup, is to admire the layers. You should see a clear gradient of steamed milk, the shot of espresso, and the final top layer of milk, pertained by the espresso. 

Sometimes, both steamed milk and milk foam are used. Some coffee shops like to include frothed milk, as it adds volume to the coffee drink, creates a thicker consistency, and overall, adds to the ‘gradient’ effect.

While the latte macchiato is consumed and enjoyed all over the world, it is often popular with children. The strength of the espresso is heavily diluted by the primary focus on milk, and so does not have the typical richness associated with espresso. 

Caramel Macchiato 

If you’re a traditionalist when it comes to coffee, this next section is probably going to be uncomfortable for you. If you’re not a traditionalist, then, well — you might love it! 

The caramel macchiato was developed by Starbucks in 1996, to celebrate its 25th anniversary. It was invented by one of their employees, and it ended up being a long-lasting favorite with the public. 

It takes a whole new spin on the traditional macchiato. The caramel macchiato involves steamed milk, followed by foamed milk, two shots of espresso, and then caramel sauce, which typically has a double circular, crosshatch design. It’s also very common to asks for pumps of extra caramel syrup or vanilla syrup. 

It’s an incredibly popular coffee beverage and is said to be one of the main reasons the macchiato gained ‘popularity’. I think that’s a bit of a stretch, but it did bring commercial awareness to macchiatos, and it helped transform the world of coffee. 

You can still purchase something similar to the original macchiato from Starbucks. However, you should note it will not be authentic — just far less sugary than the caramel macchiato. If you order this espresso drink, you’ll get a double shot of espresso with lots of foam.

You can also order a latte macchiato, which will be steamed milk, milk foam, and two shots of espresso. The ratios are completely different from how it is traditionally made, but they’re options if you prefer commercial coffee chains. After all, it’s good to be aware of what you’re getting and to specify your order. 

Who Does the Macchiato Appeal To?

Now, you might be wondering if there are some tell-tail signs of whether you’d enjoy a macchiato. 

The answer is yes. There’s some indication of whether you might be more inclined to enjoy one coffee over another. 

You still should be prepared to be surprised, because in many cases, the drink you think you’ll dislike, can end up being your favorite! Plus, it’s always good to get out of your comfort zone and experience something new. But that doesn’t mean you can’t make an informed choice.

The Espresso Macchiato is for You if…

So, the espresso macchiato generally appeals to those who love the depth and strength of an espresso. Those who thoroughly enjoy the bitterness of coffee. That’s because a macchiato is pretty much an espresso with a tiny dollop of milk. Although the milk does dilute the strength of the espresso, it does so on such a small level, that it’s better to view it as ‘enhancing’ the espresso. 

Equally, this espresso drink is a popular choice among those who dislike milky, sugary coffee. Now, while there’s no need for your latte macchiato to be riddled in sugar, it is, of course, going to be full of milk. Some people don’t like excess milk, it takes from the deep flavor of the coffee.

You can also also consider non dairy milk options like almond milk or pea protein milk if you want less sugary milk.

While sugar too can enhance coffee, some prefer their drinks to be undistributed and enjoy the authentic flavors. So, if you love a deep, roast coffee — with minimal milk, then you’ll probably enjoy a classic espresso macchiato. 

The Latte Macchiato is for You if…

If a strong, bitter coffee with minimal milk is not for you, then maybe you would prefer the latte macchiato. It has the same amount of caffeine, but the espresso shots are not overwhelming in taste. It’s probably a great introduction to coffee if you’re a beginner because it’s not as rich.

Usually, those who are very acquainted with coffee prefer stronger drinks, as they enjoy the flavor. That doesn’t mean that a latte macchiato isn’t a respectable drink, it just means that everyone has different tastes. 

The Caramel Macchiato is for You if…

If you dislike the taste of coffee and prefer drinking it for the caffeine hit, then maybe a caramel macchiato is for you. They’re not traditional, but they’re very popular due to their sweet caramel syrup taste

Final Thoughts 

We hope that you’ve found our article helpful. The world of coffee can be overwhelming. Sometimes, asking for help doesn’t feel comfortable, especially when you’re in a line full of people. Luckily you have this guide as a safe zone to learn about all the delicious coffee drinks that exist!

Whether you opt for an espresso macchiato, a latte macchiato, or the infamous caramel macchiato, we hope you enjoy it. Drinking coffee is an experience, and exploring the wonderful world of coffee should be enjoyable. 

Now go order your cup! Or, if you’re feeling adventurous, make your own macchiato from home with this step by step macchiato recipe and guide.

Need an espresso machine to make your favorite espresso drinks? Check out our full guide on the best Breville espresso machines or get your hands on a budget friendly option if you’re tight on cash.

Want to sip on more coffee drink types? Check these out!

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