What Is a Macchiato? And How to Make Your Own

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If cappuccinos are too creamy and espressos too sharp for you, guess what? You’re a macchiato lover.

But what is a macchiato? 

Let’s skip the fancy Starbucks versions like caramel or cloud macchiato. Instead, I’ll introduce you to the authentic Italian macchiato – a simple yet delightful espresso drink with a touch of foam.

So, What Is a Macchiato?

A cafe macchiato in a clear glass to show the coffee-to-milk ratio

A macchiato is like a mini espresso adventure with a twist. It’s mainly strong espresso coffee with a tiny splash of warm milk and a dollop of foam on top. The Italian name “macchiato” means “stained” or “spotted,” perfectly describing this espresso lightly “stained” with milk.

A macchiato is all about the espresso’s bold taste, with just a splash of milk to soften it. It’s not meant to be creamy or milky, but perfectly balanced.

Other Names for a Macchiato

  • Cafè macchiato
  • Caffè macchiato
  • Espresso macchiato

Macchiato variants

When you ask for a macchiato at your favorite coffee spot, you’ll likely get the classic version. But, there are other types too. If you’re craving that espresso shot with just a touch of milk, make sure to specify you want an espresso macchiato. This is extra important at big chain coffee shops.

Topped-up macchiato

Want a foamier macchiato? Just ask to “top it up”! This means you’ll still enjoy the rich espresso base, but with a twist: a super thick layer of foam, sometimes even chunkier than the espresso itself. Perfect for foam lovers!

Latte macchiato

Two glasses of latte macchiato, showing the thick layer of milk below the splash of espresso

A latte macchiato flips the script on the classic espresso macchiato. Instead of espresso with a touch of milk, it’s all about milk stained with espresso. Picture this: a cup filled with warm, frothy milk and milk foam, then delicately “stained” by pouring a shot of espresso on top. Time to treat yourself with a biscotti!

Origin of the Macchiato

Macchiatos are key to Italian coffee, yet their origins split into two distinct tales.

Did you know the macchiato was created for those craving espresso in the afternoon? While cappuccinos dominated morning coffee scenes, cafes wanted to boost afternoon coffee sales. Enter the macchiato, crafted specifically to satisfy those afternoon espresso desires.

Did you know the macchiato might have started as a secret code? Baristas would add a little foam on top of espresso drinks with milk to tell them apart from plain espressos. This clever trick is how the macchiato got its start!

Comparisons to Other Espresso Drinks

A menu showing many types of espresso drinks including two macchiato variants

Discover the macchiato and see how it stands out from other espresso drinks. Let’s compare it to make it simple!

In all these coffee comparisons, you’ll see a pattern: most espresso drinks have more milk than a macchiato. If you want something close to pure coffee but not quite as strong as straight espresso shots, a macchiato is your go-to.

Cappuccino vs macchiato

A macchiato is a perfect middle ground between a bold espresso and a creamy cappuccino. While cappuccinos blend steamed milk, foam, and espresso evenly, making them smoother, macchiatos offer a stronger coffee kick with less milk. 

A macchiato packs a punch with more caffeine and fewer calories than a cappuccino. It’s smaller too, with less milk but the same espresso kick.

Flat white vs macchiato

Flat whites mix milk and espresso just like cappuccinos, but they use smooth, silky milk with a little foam on top. Unlike the stronger macchiato, flat whites are creamier, have more calories, and less caffeine per sip. They’re perfect for those who love a milder coffee experience. 

Macchiato vs latte

Lattes are creamier than macchiatos because they have more steamed milk, making them less strong in coffee flavor. They also have more calories and less caffeine compared to a cappuccino or macchiato. Enjoy the smooth taste!

Cortado vs macchiato

A cortado blends equal parts of espresso and steamed milk, topped with a touch of foam. It’s similar to a macchiato but creamier, with more milk, extra calories, and a softer caffeine kick. Perfect for those who love a balanced coffee treat!

How to Make a Macchiato

Dolloping foamed milk onto espresso to make a macchiato
  1. Pull a double shot of espresso. If you don’t have an espresso machine, you can use AeroPress espresso or a stovetop espresso from a Moka pot
  2. Steam 1/4 cup of milk. Use a steam wand if you have one. Otherwise, you can heat the milk on the stove. You want to get it to about 150 degrees Fahrenheit for the next step. (Note: if you have a hand milk frother, the frothing and steaming steps might be reversed. In that case, follow the instructions that came with your frother.)
  3. Froth the hot milk. Use a milk frother or whisk the milk until it forms a dry foam — lots of bubbles and little visible liquid. 
  4. Add the foam. Spoon the foam onto the espresso.
  5. Enjoy!

Make Mine a Macchiato

Dive into the world of Macchiatos, where a shot of bold espresso meets a whisper of foamy milk. This blend keeps the rich coffee taste front and center, unlike a cappuccino or latte. If you like just a hint of milk in your regular coffee, the Macchiato could be your new favorite.

If you love exploring flavors, a macchiato is your ticket to tasting coffees from around the globe. While a cafe Americano or long black coffee also keeps the coffee’s true essence, adding a bit of milk to a macchiato can highlight the distinct tastes of Costa Rican, Sumatran, or Ethiopian coffees in a unique way.

To explore how milk changes the taste of various coffees, start with a macchiato. It’s a perfect first step on your coffee adventure.

what is a macchiato

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