What Is A Macchiato [A Coffee Lovers Guide]

What Is A Macchiato [A Coffee Lovers Guide]

Last updated on October 27th, 2023 at 17:01

I often get asked “what is a macchiato” in our online coffee community on Facebook/Meta.

While it may sound like a simple answer for many coffee enthusiasts, there is unfortunately a lot of confusion as there is a big difference to what an original macchiato is, and quite frankly, the classic and traditional macchiato and what is sold at Starbucks.

Keep reading to find out all about a macchiato and what the different macchiato drinks are.

What Is A Macchiato?

A macchiato is an espresso shot that is well brewed and has a small amount of steamed milk added. Typically, only two teaspoons of milk are used.

Traditionally and dating back to the original Italian macchiato, no foam is added to the drink but in modern times a small amount of milk foam is added. Typically, only a dollop of milk foam is added.

The word “macchiato” is imported from the Italian language and means stained, with the stain being in reference to the small amount of milk foam used.

The term came around as waiters and baristas needed a way of naming the unique drink and differentiating it from a regular espresso.

What Is A Macchiato The Definition
A Macchiato

Read: Latte Macchiato Vs Caramel Macchiato

The History Of Macchiato

To first talk about macchiato and understand the drink we need to first talk about how espresso became a popular drink in Italy. There is no exact definitive time or place but we at least have a starting reference point of when it could not have started before.

This of course is the date that the espresso machine was invented by Angelo Moriondo of Turin, Italy, in 1884. The machine, although on display at an exposition, was not in general use until just over 20 years later in 1905.

Most sources point to Vienna, Austria as the starting place for the espresso drink, which later became popular in Italy.

One thing that is certain, the macchiato started in Italy. The name is so used as it is descriptive of the tiny amount of milk used to stain the espresso. It is said and generally accepted that the drink began in the 1980s in a bid by coffee shops to increase sales and encourage the drinking of coffee and espresso based drinks in the afternoon.

The History Of Macchiato
A Perfect Macchiato Italiano

What Is Macchiato Flavor? – What Does A Macchiato Taste Like?

A macchiato has a strong prominent coffee taste with a prominent coffee flavor that is very notable and makes the drink very similar to that of an espresso. The presence of steamed milk adds a touch of creamy texture and taste.

Due to the dominance of the espresso shot, this is a great drink to enjoy with high-quality coffee specialty beans. as their taste and flavors will be very noticeable.

What Are The Different Macchiato Drinks?

There are, thanks in kind to the third wave of coffee, a number of macchiato variations that are readily and easily available.

Some vary based on the espresso to milk ratio with more milk being used and more frothed milk.

Others vary with the wide range of different coffee syrups used to make a flavored macchiato. When there is a particularly large macchiato, a double shot of espresso is used.

Espresso Macchiato

An espresso macchiato, also known as an Italian Macchiato, classic macchiato and a traditional macchiato.

This is made with a well-brewed single shot of espresso and just two teaspoons of steamed milk with no foamed milk.

It was rumored that the original used cold milk, this is not true, it is indeed a splash of hot milk.

Latte Macchiato

A latte macchiato is the same as the above drink, a traditional macchiato with a lot more steamed milk used. It is also topped with a lot more frothed milk.

Caramel Macchiato

This type of macchiato, a caramel macchiato, is as the name sounds, it is the drink that is caramel flavored.

A caramel macchiato has a vanilla syrup added to the bottom and then the espresso is added.

Once the espresso shot, which can often be a double shot, is poured, steamed milk is added on top of the shot and then the frothed milk.

It is then topped with a caramel drizzle with caramel sauce, usually in a signature crosshatch design.

Caramel Macchiato Starbucks Copycat
Caramel Macchiato With The Crosshatch Design

Iced Macchiato

This is as exactly as it sounds: an excellent well-made macchiato with ice. The main difference is no milk foam is added unless requested and makes for a great summer drink that you can enjoy cold.

Often this is made with cold milk and not hot milk. If you really want the silky texture of steamed milk, you request it. You can also request an iced caramel macchiato, which usually had the caramel syrup added to the drink or the inner lining of the glass.

Iced Marble Mocha Macchiato

This is a specialty from Starbucks and can easily be replicated at home. An iced marble mocha variation of this beverage has a white chocolate syrup at the bottom.

The espresso is then pulled on top of the white chocolate syrup and the textured milk, the steamed heated milk is added followed by the foamy milk is added and then topped with a dusting of cocoa.

Zebra Macchiato

This is a super “secret” “hack the menu” kind of drink that you can get from Starbucks.

It is a mix of white and dark chocolate which results in a rich chocolate flavor that mixes well with the coffee flavor. The name of the drink is from the use of two different chocolates.

Is A Macchiato Hot Or Cold?

A question that I hear a lot is about how a macchiato should be drunk, hot or cold.

The honest, accurate and best answer is that this drink can be enjoyed either hot or cold and is up to the coffee drinker.

You can enjoy a macchiato hot if you so want or indeed a rather tasty and equally enjoyable Iced macchiato. .

Traditionally, this drink is served hot and thus if you want a cold macchiato you must request so upon ordering the drink.

Iced Caramel Macchiato
A Macchiato Can Be Enjoyed Cold

Who Is A Macchiato Best For?

The sheer number of options available on the coffee menu these days can be confusing even for the most ardent of coffee lovers and coffee enthusiasts.

Some names can just simply lead to confusion and totally breaks with the Keep It Simple, Stupid rule.

Here is a kicker…

Not all macchiatos taste the same. Some can taste completely different.

Espresso Macchiato Taste

This is the original and classic macchiato and has a strong prominent and bold taste of coffee that really comes through with a light, very light hint of creaminess and milky sweetness for the small amount of milk used.

This is ideal for you if you enjoy espresso shots, ristretto and enjoy that notable and strong flavor of coffee in your drink.

Latte Macchiato Taste

This is a notably different tasting coffee from the traditional classic macchiato. The taste is like a milky coffee, fairly similar to a latte but with a more pronounced coffee taste.

The milkier taste is due to the extra milk used to make a latte macchiato. It is creamy, very nice and with a pleasant thick mouthfeel. Finally, a strong and bold coffee taste from the espresso.

If you enjoy a latte or cappuccino and coffees with milk and froth, a latte macchiato is the macchiato drink that is most suited for you.

The Perfect Latte Macchiato
The Perfect Latte Macchiato

Caramel Macchiato Taste

A caramel macchiato tastes a lot like a latte macchiato with hints of vanilla and caramel because this is exactly what it is: it is in the most basic description a flavored latte macchiato.

It is a sweet beverage; if sugar content is your major concern you can request that your drink is made with less caramel syrup and vanilla syrup or alternatively make it at home with Torani coffee syrups, who have an excellent and VERY extensive range of sugar-free syrups.

A caramel macchiato is the type of macchiato for you if you enjoy flavored coffees and flavored lattes.

Tips For Ordering A Macchiato

Now you know a lot about a macchiato and which one is suitable or most suitable for you. Here are a few tips for getting the right drink and making sure there is no confusion.

If it is a traditional macchiato that you want with very little foamed milk, simply order a macchiato or better still order an espresso macchiato.

There is no need to give your barista further instructions, unless you want a specific type of milk, now would be the time to do so.

If you want a traditional macchiato with a splash of milk and foamed milk, please say so when you order your coffee to ensure that it is added.

To the other drinks, like a latte macchiato with a strong taste of coffee, request that it is a double shot.

Where Is The Macchiato Most Popular?

Although this coffee drink has its origins in Italy it is now a truly global drink where every coffee shop in the world will know what a macchiato is and will know what to make.

Due to the diversity of the world of coffee, you will probably find a local variation. In Spain, for example, a cortado is a slight variation of a macchiato. Sure there are differences, mainly the way that the milk is prepared.

Similar can be said of a long Macchiato which is served in Austria.

The drink tends to be more popular in Europe, with the UK, Spain, Italy, and the Mediterranean nations dominating the sales of this type of coffee drink.

Sure, the Macchiato is popular in the US, but the Starbucks macchiato is slightly different from the classic macchiato sold in Europe.

A word to the wise, the macchiato that is sold in Starbucks in a latte macchiato.

Macchiato Vs Cortado
A Macchiato And A Cortado

How Is A Macchiato Made?

As any legitimate and bonafide coffee lover will tell you, the best coffee is made with not only the best ingredients but great attention to detail.

The key to making a great macchiato is making your macchiato with the correct ratios.

If you use too little of a dash of milk, your macchiato will be too strong and too much of a deep coffee taste. Too much milk and your macchiato will be too milky and too much like a latte macchiato than a classic Italian macchiato.

The name of the game here is to preserve that bold coffee flavor from the shot of espresso while getting a lovely touch of sweetness and hint of creaminess from the milk.

Traditionally, a single espresso shot is pulled into a demitasse cup with two teaspoons of hot milk added. It is common today for a dollop of milk froth to be added and the drink to be served in clear shot glass.

That, my dear friends, is the perfect traditional macchiato coffee.

Making The Best Macchiato At Home

The key to making the very best macchiato at home is in the quality of the espresso shot. With a home espresso machine you can make coffee shop quality shots.

You really need that home machine as strong coffee of any other brewing method just doesn’t have it as you lack the density and that thick rich crema on top of your espresso that other brewing methods don’t have.

You can get away with using an Aeropress to make your espresso shot. A Moka pot, sorry, no can do!

The second key ingredient that you need is quality freshly roasted coffee beans. The fresher your beans are, the better the quality of the crema.

At Latte Love Brew we encourage you to join the home roasting revolution for the ultimate in freshly roasted beans.

Ideally, a good quality medium-dark to dark roast coffee beans are the perfect roast as this roast profile has the right amount of oil on the surface to produce a good quality crema.

That rich crema is produced by the combination of the fresh beans of the right roast profile and the water pressure from the machine, 9 bars of pressure or 130 PSI. This is what eliminates literally other pieces of brewing equipment with the exception of an espresso machine.

An Aeropress does not quite reach that requires water pressure but is close enough, it is not perfect but is next best and acceptable.

Use top quality water, at the very least filtered water as the majority of coffee is water. The better your water, the better your coffee will be.

Finally, use the best quality whole milk that you can find. Don’t understate the quality of the milk in creating that hint of a rich creamy taste and texture.

Making The Best Macchiato At Home
Make Sure Your Machine Is Well Tuned

Instructions Making The Perfect Shot

The following instructions are for making an amazing double shot traditional macchiato.

Using your top quality freshly roasted coffee beans, weigh 30 grams of them. Weigh them as whole beans as the mass is the same when they are whole. 30 grams of whole means = 30 grams of ground beans.

Ensure your grinder is clean and always keep your hopper empty as a matter of keeping your coffee beans well-preserved and in top condition. Any old grinds and coffee oil between the burrs will spoil your coffee.

Grind your beans to a very fine grind size, ideally 200 microns.

Before you pull your shot, run a test to check the water temperature and ensure that it is within the perfect brewing temperature brewing range of between 92C to 96C (196F and 205F).

If your water temperature is below 92C (196F) you may end up with a sour shot; more than 96C (205F) you may end up with a shot that is overtly bitter. Stick to the higher end of this temperature range.

When you have the perfect temperature and checked the pressure is within the ideal 9 bars (130 PSI), you are good to go and pull your shot.

Pull your shot and have your coffee weighing scale below your shot glass and press the tare function to reset the weight to zero and pull your shot and time it.

Using the coffee to water ratio of 1:2 is perfect to make an espresso, producing the perfect balance of flavor and body without being too strong, with overtly nutty flavors like a ristretto.

30 grams of coffee grounds should produce 60 grams of brewed coffee with a coffee to water ratio of 1:2.

When you pull your shot stop when you reach 60 grams. Your brew time should be 25 seconds +/- 5 seconds. If you are outside this range, it is a sign that you have the wrong grind size.

If your brew time is too quick, you need to use a smaller grind size and if it is too slow you need to use a larger grind size.

When your shot is pulled, you are literally 90% of the way there. All that is left for you to do is steam your milk perfectly.

Steaming Your Milk Perfectly

To get the perfect texture and coffee shop quality in terms of the silky texture and quality foam, use whole milk. The higher fat and protein content results in a richer and better quality texture and foam.

I strongly suggest that you use a color-changing temperature tag on your milk jug. They are cheap and easy to use. They are basically the same as those temperature stickers on an aquarium.

They will help you to keep your milk temperature to not more than 55C (130F); above this temperature you start to destroy the milk fats and proteins.

When steaming your milk, dip the head of your steaming wand about an inch (2.5 cm) below the milk surface and tilt your milk jug slightly and watch for a whirlpool effect and screeching sound.

Once you hear this sound, submerge the tip more and slowly move it up and down through your milk to ensure a good even temperature. When it is ready, dip the tip just below the surface to create top quality steamed milk foam.

When your milk is ready, you can add just two teaspoons of milk to your double espresso shot and then, totally optional, add a dollop of frothy milk foam.

Enjoy your perfectly made macchiato.

Frequently Asked Questions About What Is A Macchiato

What Makes Something A Macchiato?

You can only make a macchiato with a shot of espresso. A strong coffee of any other type just cannot make this drink. What makes an espresso shot a macchiato is the addition of the splash of milk that is added on top of the thick rich crema.

Is A Macchiato Just Foam?

No, a true traditional classic macchiato does not have milk foam, or it only has foam added. The Italians added only a small amount of milk. Most modern macchiatos add a little foam on top of the dash of milk.

If you see a macchiato with milk foam, just know that there is a tiny amount of milk added, typically two teaspoons.

Do You Swirl A Macchiato?

No. Although it is tempting to swirl, shake or stir a macchiato, this is not something that you should do.

This is a drink that is designed to be enjoyed in layers with the tiny amount of foam, then the dash of milk and then the strong bold coffee as the mix in your mouth. The result is a very tasting different drink than had you swirled, stirred or shaken your drink.

This also negates the use of a straw.

Why Are Macchiatos So Expensive?

Specialty coffee unfortunately does tend to be expensive. At Starbucks all the tall coffee drinks have only one shot of espresso, another shot costs extra and then the additional milk, caramel sauce and vanilla syrup, espresso, and it all adds up.

A highly desired and much valued drink always tends to be expensive. Notably, at Starbucks you don’t get a true macchiato as it tends to be a macchiato latte that they serve due to the amount of milk used.

Do You Put Sugar In A Macchiato?

Sugar is 100% optional and better than sugar is to use simple syrup as it gives a better and more even distribution of sweetness.

If you must use sugar, or simple syrup, put it in the bottom of the shot and then pull the shot and your macchiato as you normally would.

What Is The Difference Between A Latte And A Macchiato?

A macchiato is made with a tiny splash of steamed milk, typically only a teaspoon and a shot of espresso. A latte is a shot of espresso and twice as much steamed milk.

Is A Macchiato Stronger Than Coffee?

Yes, a macchiato has a notably stronger flavor as the shot of espresso dominates the drink. It’s a very espresso-forward beverage.

Which Is Stronger Cappuccino Or Macchiato?

Yes, a macchiato is made with typically only 5 ml of steamed milk and a shot of espresso while a cappuccino is made with a shot of espresso, steamed milk and milk foam in equal ratios. 

Final Thoughts – What Is A Macchiato

By reading this far, there is no reason for you to be asking yourself what is a macchiato as you have the definitive answer in this article.

If you have any questions or anything that you need clarified simply ask us on our online coffee community on Facebook/Meta. Join us and introduce yourself, share your coffee fun, ideas and photos of your tasty macchiato recipes.

Derek Marshall, a certified barista by the Specialty Coffee Association possesses over two decades of experience in specialty coffee shops. He holds professional certifications for coffee brewing and barista skills. Derek is also an author with authoritative books covering various coffee topics including specialty coffee, sustainability and coffee, coffee brewing, coffee recipes, coffee cocktails and books focusing on Brazilian coffee, Vietnamese coffee, Indonesian coffee and Malaysian coffee. As a barista for over two decades, Derek Marshall has worked in specialty coffee shops across the United Kingdom, Spain, Thailand, Malaysia, Cambodia, Indonesia, and Vietnam. His expertise extends to the distinct coffee cultures, specialty beverages, and brewing techniques of each nation. Functioning as a coffee consultant, Derek charges US$50 per hour. To learn more about Derek Marshall and Latte Love Brew, visit his About Me Page. For coffee inquiries, contact him at +34-639-410-375 or Derek@LatteLoveBrew.com, mentioning your name and location

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