What Is a Traditional Macchiato? (Hint, It’s Not What You Get at Starbucks)

Ahh, the macchiato. You immediately conjure up an image of a Starbucks to-go cup with coffee, caramel, and steamed milk if you’re like me. The caramel macchiato is one of the top choices on the Starbucks menu.

However, if you order a traditional macchiato in another coffee shop. It will come without any flavor shots and just a tiny bit of milk foam. So, what’s up with that?

A caffe macchiato, or espresso macchiato, is a shot of espresso with roughly two tablespoons of milk foam on top. The word macchiato means “stained” in Italian. So, the espresso is topped off with just enough milk foam to stain or mark your coffee. This drink is often an afternoon pick-me-up. The Caramel Macchiato at Starbucks is actually a latte macchiato.

Macchiatos are a tasty treat! But, what are they exactly, how much caffeine do they contain, and how do they compare to other espresso coffee drinks?

We’ll point out the similarities and differences between traditional macchiatos and other espresso drinks. Next time you go to a coffee house, you can decipher which drink is the best for you and order like a pro. Ready?


Where (and when) did the macchiato originate?

The macchiato has a more recent history than the espresso, Americano, French press, and other coffee drinks. Rumor has it that baristas in Italy in the 1980s came up with the espresso macchiato. Putting the espresso macchiato on the menu was a way to differentiate plain espressos from espressos with milk.

If we just describe it as an espresso-based drink with steamed milk, it sounds like any other specialty coffee drink on the menu. So, what sets the traditional macchiato apart from others?

Traditional macchiatos vs. other specialty coffees

Several specialty coffees combine an espresso base with milk on top. We can spot the similarities. But, what are the differences in these drink recipes? Let’s look at how espresso macchiatos, macchiato lattes, and your average latte are made.

Espresso macchiato (or caffe macchiato)

If you can’t decide between a cappuccino and an espresso, the espresso macchiato gives you the best of both worlds. This coffee drink has a rich espresso base, with just a splash of steamed milk and a small amount of milk foam. The general rule is that cappuccinos are for breakfast (and you’re not supposed to drink one after 11:00 a.m.). Espressos are for after dinner, and a macchiato is for the afternoon.

Latte macchiato

A caffe macchiato is a one to two-ounce drink served in a demitasse cup, but a latte macchiato can fill up a regular mug. A latte macchiato is like a regular latte if you go through the steps backward to make it. For this drink, use a glass mug if you have one. A see-through mug showcases the beauty of the latte macchiato when you make it.

First, you steam milk and pour it into your mug with a bit of foam. Then, brew a shot of espresso and pour it slowly into the center of the milk foam.

Pro tip: Add a bit of cold milk to the bottom of the glass before you pour in the steamed milk. This will help the milk separate into layers to give that distinct look to your latte macchiato.

If you want your espresso coffee drink to last longer, the latte macchiato may be your cup of tea.

Espresso Macchiato What it is how to make it how it tastes

Cappucino vs. Macchiato

The cappuccino and espresso macchiato both contain espresso and milk foam. However, you get much more foam with a cappuccino. The espresso macchiato is just a shot (or two) of espresso and a dollop of foam, but the cappuccino piles on the foamy, frothed milk.

To make a cappuccino, use the rule of thirds. This drink is equal parts espresso, steamed milk, and milk foam. It’s a coffee drink with latte art and a milk mustache type of finish.

Latte vs. Macchiato

The latte is easier to make than a latte macchiato. First, pull two shots, then add steamed milk and a tiny layer of foam to the top of the espresso. You don’t have to worry whether your layers form or don’t form. You just pour it up, add a flavored syrup (if you’re into that), and you’re ready to go. To make it a mocha, just add chocolate sauce.

Like a latte macchiato, you get more drink with a latte than you do with a caffe macchiato. While the flavor of caffe macchiatos and latte macchiatos center more on the rich espresso taste, a regular latte eases you into the coffee flavor slowly.

Flat White vs Macchiato

A flat white has an espresso base like the macchiato. However, you want to pay more attention to how you use a steam wand to foam the milk. A flat white is topped with steamed milk and microfoam. This microfoam is steamed milk infused with air to create tiny bubbles and a rich, velvety texture. The flat white contains more milk, while a traditional macchiato is a shorter, stouter drink.

Cortado vs Macchiato

A cortado is a coffee drink that is common in Spain. Out of all the specialty coffees listed here, the cortado and the macchiato are perhaps the most similar. Both are espressos with a small amount of milk. However, the cortado is usually equal parts espresso and steamed milk (or, in some areas, cold milk),. A macchiato, on the other hand, is topped with milk foam.

a barista pouring a cortado

How strong is a macchiato?

A caffe macchiato gives you a strong coffee flavor. The milk adds a creamy texture to the drink without covering up the coffee taste. You get a strong punch of caffeine in this tiny (but powerful) drink.

Latte macchiatos and Americanos also contain one or two shots of espresso. So, you can get the same amount of caffeine with any of these espresso drinks.

However, the latte macchiato contains much more hot milk than a caffe macchiato and an Americano is an espresso topped with hot water. These drinks have a lighter coffee taste than a traditional macchiato. You also get more drink in your cup!

The caffeine count in a macchiato vs. regular coffee

A caffe macchiato generally contains less caffeine than a regular cup of coffee. How much less depends on how strong you brew your coffee and the size of your mug. An average mug contains 8-12 ounces of coffee.

To use Starbucks sizes as a reference point, an espresso macchiato contains 150 mg of caffeine, while a Tall Pike’s Peak coffee contains 235 mg of caffeine. That’s a significant difference! However, a caffe macchiato is only about two ounces, while a tall Starbucks coffee is 12 ounces. If you compare an ounce of brewed coffee to an ounce of espresso, the espresso would contain more caffeine per ounce.

Ordering macchiatos at Starbucks

Did you know that Starbucks spent the first 25 years without a caramel macchiato on the menu? The drink was created by the barista, Hannah Su, to commemorate Starbucks’ 25th birthday. It was supposed to be a limited-edition drink. However, the caramel macchiato became so popular that it became a permanent menu item. And it’s still a favorite today! So, what does the term macchiato mean at Starbucks?

Starbucks offers both espresso macchiatos and latte macchiatos in stores. However, Starbucks uses the term “macchiato” rather loosely. So, if you tell the barista you want a macchiato (and don’t give a qualifying adjective), you may just get a surprise in a cup.

Iced latte from Starbucks

Here are the macchiato coffee drinks to choose from at Starbucks:

Espresso macchiato

An espresso macchiato at Starbucks is a double shot of espresso that is marked with a little bit of steamed milk and milk foam. This small drink is only 1.6 ounces in size and has a rich espresso taste.

Latte macchiato

A grande latte macchiato at Starbucks comes with three shots of espresso. That’s one shot more than the usual Starbucks grande latte. The latte macchiato is made by first adding steamed whole milk and milk foam to the grande-size cup. Then, the shots of espresso are poured into the center of the drink to create beautiful layers of milk and coffee. The secret menu “upside-down lattes” are basically macchiatos.

Caramel macchiato

A grande caramel macchiato is made with only two shots of espresso. These shots are poured into the steamed 2% milk and foam. This coffee drink contains three pumps of vanilla syrup and caramel drizzle tops it off. It’s caramel-y, it’s delicious, and it’s a favorite among many customers.

Wrap up

The Starbucks caramel macchiato gave the macchiato some attention in the spotlight. However, traditional macchiatos (although much different) are delicious espresso drinks with a creamy finish. Which specialty coffee drink will you order next?


What is a piccolo coffee?

A piccolo coffee is a 3-4 ounce drink. It is a shot (or two) of espresso with steamed milk on top. This drink is usually served up in a small glass rather than a demitasse. It contains more milk than a cortado or a espresso macchiato, however, the piccolo is much smaller than a caffe latte.

Can I make a macchiato at home?

A macchiato is simple to make at home, especially if you have an espresso maker and a steam wand. The milk to coffee ratios are not carved in stone, and some baristas add a little more (or less) foam according to taste. Just brew a double shot of coffee and froth a small amount of milk. Spoon one large spoonful of foam on top of the espresso and voila! You have an espresso macchiato.

Can I make an espresso without an espresso maker?

Most specialty coffee drinks require espresso, but an espresso maker can be an investment. To make an espresso at home without an espresso maker, you can try a Moka pot, handheld espresso maker, or Aeropress. Even a French press will give you a richer-tasting coffee than your average drip machine. To be an “authentic espresso” the SCA standard says that it should be made with 9 bars of pressure. While a Moka pot and French press won’t give you that much pressure, you can get close to an espresso taste with these methods.

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