What’s an Italian Macchiato Coffee?

Macchiato on the left, Americano on the right
For comparison, a macchiato on the left compared to an Americano coffee on the right.

by Erin Marissa Russell

Ready to find out everything you need to know about Italian macchiato coffee? Coffee on its own is simple, but when you start getting into espresso drinks, it can be harder to know the difference between macchiato and mocha or cappuccino and americano. We’ll tell you exactly what an Italian macchiato is and also tell you how to make one.

You may also hear Italian macchiato drinks referred to as caffe macchiato, espresso macchiato, or simply macchiato. The Italian word “macchiato” translates to “marked, stained, or spotted” and refers to the way the pale milk colors the dark espresso when it is added. An Italian macchiato is simply espresso with a bit of milk added. In Portugal, it is called “cafe pingado,” which means “coffee with the drop [of milk].” 

A latte macchiato includes much more milk than an Italian macchiato. Think of it this way: For an Italian macchiato, a bit of milk is added to espresso. For a latte macchiato, a bit of espresso is added to milk. A latte macchiato is a layered drink made up of espresso and milk froth. Like the Italian macchiato, a latte macchiato gets its name from the distinctive spot the espresso makes in the milk froth.

Of course, you may also be familiar with the Starbucks drink called a caramel macchiato. The Starbucks caramel macchiato is not a traditional Italian macchiato. Instead, the Starbucks caramel macchiato is a latte macchiato with vanilla flavored syrup and caramel drizzle. In other words, it combines steamed milk and vanilla flavored syrup with espresso and caramel drizzle.

To review …

  • An Italian macchiato is espresso served with a bit of milk.
  • A Starbucks style caramel macchiato drink is a latte macchiato with vanilla flavored syrup and caramel drizzle.
  • A latte macchiato is a drink made of frothed milk and espresso. It differs from the Italian macchiato in that a latte macchiato contains more milk. (Remember, an Italian macchiato adds milk to espresso, while a latte macchiato adds espresso to milk.)

How to Make an Italian Macchiato Coffee

The trick to making a perfect Italian macchiato is getting just the right amount of milk. Add too much, and your macchiato will turn into something more like a cappuccino or latte. You want enough milk to add an undercurrent of sweet creaminess to the drink without infringing on the bold taste of the espresso. The milk should be a complement to the coffee, not an addition that changes the flavor.

At a coffeeshop, an Italian macchiato starts with a single shot of espresso, which is served with a splash of hot milk in a demitasse cup. You will sometimes see this topped with a fine foam or microfoam.

At home, you’ll probably need to experiment a bit in order to get your espresso and milk in the proper proportion. Start at the espresso machine, using freshly ground coffee beans to brew a single shot of espresso. Steam your milk until it reaches 160 degrees Fahrenheit. Use the steam wand, held just under the surface of the milk to create foam. Then spoon your desired amount of milk into your espresso, topping with your desired amount of foam.

How to Make a Starbucks Style Caramel Macchiato Drink

We’ve discussed the difference between an Italian macchiato and the Starbucks drink caramel macchiato. Here’s a recipe for how to make your own Starbucks style caramel macchiato drink.

Brew one shot of espresso using freshly ground coffee beans. Froth three quarters of a cup of milk using your preferred method. Add one tablespoon of vanilla syrup to a coffee mug. Then add the frothed milk to the coffee mug. Pour the shot of espresso into the mug through the milk foam. Drizzle your drink with caramel sauce to taste.

How to Make a Latte Macchiato

Unlike when you make a cafe latte, when you’re making a latte macchiato the main difference is that you add the espresso after the milk.

Start by preparing a single shot of espresso, using freshly ground coffee beans. Keep the espresso in a pour pitcher or small cup for a moment. Foam a third of a cup plus two teaspoons of whole milk—you need enough foamed milk to fill one cup. Pour the foamed milk into the mug you will use to serve. Gently and slowly pour the espresso into the foamed milk. If you get it just right, you’ll see the “spot” or “mark” from which macchiato coffee gets its name.

Now you’re an expert on macchiato coffee. You’ve learned about what an Italian macchiato is, as well as learning about Italian macchiato versus a Starbucks caramel macchiato. We also cleared up the difference between an Italian macchiato and a latte macchiato. You’ve learned what goes into each of these drinks as well as exactly how to make them yourself. Enjoy your macchiatos!

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