How is a Macchiato Different than a Latte? (And a Recipe!)

Macchiato menu

It can be troublesome to find your way through the array of espresso-based beverages choices that are offered these days. Even harder is determining if your coffee is a classic cafe drink, or a syrup-heavy, watered down variation of the same.  Most western cafes and coffee shops have integrated traditional Italian coffee culture but have twisted the essence into something different- the Frappuccino being a prime example. Macchiatos are another instance of this predicament: is the sugar-infused Starbacks Caramel Macchiato truly representative of authentic Italian cafe fare?

While many would recognize that it is indeed not, most couldn’t identify a true macchiato out of a lineup of other similar espresso based beverages like lattes or cappuccinos.  If you’re accustomed to a macchiato ordered at Starbucks, and then have one at a specialty café, you will receive two different tasting drinks (the latter of which comes significantly more authentic). And that’s not to say that there’s anything wrong with a Starbucks Caramel Macchiato once in awhile! 

But what makes a macchiato really a macchiato? We’re prepared to take a look at the history of the macchiato and compare it to drinks most people are more familiar with, the cappuccino and the latte.

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What is a Macchiato? (And the History of the Macchiato!)

The History of the Macchiato

The macchiato- the (real) espresso variation- originated as an approach to justifying mid-day espresso consumption. The other espresso-centric choice – cappuccino – was generally consumed to give people a morning jolt.

Traditional  Macchiato

(By Takeaway – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Macchiatos offer coffee lovers a half-way point between a cappuccino and an espresso. It’s not as strong as a shot of espresso, but it is more potent than the average cappuccino.

Is there any significance to the name “Macchiato”?

Macchiato is an Italian word and means “stained” or “marked” in English. 

The core macchiato options – namely, the latte macchiato and the espresso macchiato – involve “staining” a single item of the espresso/milk pairing with the other. 

Be mindful, though, that the term “staining” does not mean thoroughly diluted, dyed, or bleached. You should mostly get one item, with only a hint of the other, and nothing more.

So, what is a Macchiato and how is it different than a Latte?

Production of these unique drinks fundamentally begins with a shot of an espresso, brewed to perfection.  But while each of them originates from espresso, milk is what separates the two drinks: the amount of it and the way it is used. 

There is more dilution in lattes because they integrate the milk with the espresso completely. On the other hand, macchiatos have a stronger flavor because they’re essentially a shot or two of espresso with a milky foam layer at the top.

Macchiato vs. Latte

The foaming of the milk in a macchiato makes a significant impact on the overall texture and flavor experienced. An ideally prepared macchiato achieves what is known as “velvet microfoam.” This term refers to tiny air bubbles within the milk, making the texture velvety and smooth.

“Dry foam” is an alternative option sometimes used; dry foam is the dense, heavy foam normally covering cappuccinos.  Because there is less milk than air in dry foam, it ends up giving your mouth a “dry” sensation.

Dry foam macchiato

(By Jazzbobrown – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Which drink is stronger, a Latte or a Macchiato?

For the most part, a macchiato.

As far as taste goes, macchiatos are more potent than lattes. As noted earlier, lattes are fundamentally shots of espresso fully integrated into the milk, mellowing out the flavor significantly.

In comparison to lattes, macchiatos have the full flavor of a pure espresso with a hint of milk at the top, producing a distinctive taste.  With that said, if you’re unable to tolerate potent flavors, you should probably continue to opt for lattes rather than macchiatos.

Macchiato classic

(By Marcingietorigie – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

With regards to the content of caffeine, both have varying amounts depending on the amount of espresso used.  A shot of espresso is about 80mg of caffeine, so 2 shots of espresso- an amount fairly typical in either drink- would amount to 160mg of caffeine.  For comparison, 8 oz of drip coffee contains about 100 mg of caffeine.

Two Types of Macchiatos: Contrasting Each with the Latte

The Espresso Macchiato vs. Latte Macchiato

Macchiato translates to the word “marked” in English; the central concept of a macchiato is a shot of espresso with a foamy milk marking. 

Macchiatos come in two different variations. There’s the classic version- quite a potent beverage- espresso with a small layer of milk foam marked at the top.  This variety would be the type you would receive if ordering in a traditional italian cafe and is also known as an espresso macchiato.

espresso macchiato vs. latte macchiato

The other option is the Starbucks variation of the coffee, which is comprised of foam at the top, espresso in the middle, and milk at the bottom.  This is known as a latte macchiato.

Latte macchiato vs. espresso macchiato

(By Wedesoft at the English language Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Making a Traditional Espresso Macchiato

When making a macchiato (as opposed to a latte), it is vital to use espresso beans of high-quality as they are the central flavor of the beverage, with minimal dilution by milk.

Prepare one or two 2 oz shots of espresso.  After your cup of espresso is prepared, stir it up to bypass a bitter flavor when you sip it the first few times.  

Steam a few ounces of milk.  Now, add between 1 and 2 ounces of the foamy, steamed milk right into the middle of the cup. To give your milk a gentle foam, draw the jug of milk moderately low while you steam.

steaming milk macchiato

(By Original uploader was Tijuana Brass at en.wikipedia – Transfered from en.wikipedia Transfer was stated to be made by User:Tijuana Brass., CC BY-SA 3.0,

Macchiatos are typically served in a transparent, tall, glass so that the different layers are noticeable. Coffee doesn’t just please your taste and smell senses—it’s very much a visual experience, too.

Should a Macchiato be Mixed?

A macchiato is moderately lighter in tone than a straight espresso shot. 

After steamed milk is poured into the shot, it will soon integrate into the coffee. The two liquids can’t be separated. 

If you opt to blend the small amount of foam that lingers at the top with the macchiato, you’ll cool the drink down because the foam isn’t as hot as the liquid beneath it. Keep in mind that in doing so, the air will break free, and as such, the foam won’t be enjoyable. 

Mixed Macchiato

A traditional macchiato will contain a bit of milk to lighten the shot of espresso. You’ll have some leftover that leaves a foam dot at the top. 

Making a Latte Macchiato

This beverage is slightly more complicated than the espresso macchiato.

What makes the latte macchiato different from a latte is the fact that it is a layered beverage with lower espresso and higher milk content. It is unique from an espresso macchiato in the sense that milk is emphasized instead of the espresso. Additionally, for a latte macchiato, an espresso shot is used to stain the steamed milk. 

The process begins with the barista using a 12-ounce glass (glass is essential so the layering can be seen). The glass, which is warmed up already, should be between ⅓ to ½ full of steamed milk.

The trick to this beverage is the fast pouring of the espresso. A single espresso shot (or less) is poured over the steamed milk very slowly. The barista will utilize the back of a spoon to slow down and diffuse the pour. Some baristas instead pour into the middle to produce a unique “stain” (dot) in the milk.

This approach to pouring produces the layered appearance for which latte macchiatos are known. When poured right, a gradient from the dense steamed milk at the cup’s bottom will make its way to the espresso before reaching the foam layer on top.

In Contrast: Making a Latte

Latte is an Italian word that translates to milk in English. As such, when you’re at a café and order a latte, you are presented with coffee mixed with steamed milk. The traditional size of a latte is between 8 and 12 ounces. However, coffee shops today normally offer more substantial quantities- think Venti at Starbucks!

Begin by brewing a shot of espresso- you will need at least 2 oz of espresso for an 8-ounce latte.

As the espresso brews, the milk can be steamed by keeping the jug steady beneath the steam spout. Don’t allow the milk to get too thin or foamy. Strive to achieve a fine microfoam with a subtle sheen, such that it sticks to the jug’s sides as you swirl it. When the milk achieves this texture, it is ready.

With circular movements, the steamed milk can then be poured into the shot of espresso. Round out your pour by creating a swirly shape on the surface through the motion of the milk jug.

Making a Latte

Choosing a Java: Macchiato, Latte, or Latte Macchiato?

Do you enjoy the silky feeling you get in your mouth upon sipping a latte for the first time? Alternatively, are you more inclined to the potent flavor of a macchiato? 

I enjoy drinking both macchiatos and lattes. My choice is influenced by the type of mood I’m in and the particular textures and flavors I’m craving.

If you desire a beverage with a rich, robust espresso taste, or if you feel a cappuccino is excessively milky, an espresso macchiato is your best option. This beverage is ideal for those who want an espresso taste without intensity.

Be mindful that espresso macchiatos are quite small (assuming you’re not ordering a double). 

Alternatively, if you’re partial to the smooth, milky flavor of a latte but want something new, give a latte macchiato a try.  It contains just a touch of the espresso taste, smoothed over by steamed milk. Additionally, latte macchiatos often have a variety of flavors added to them- like the Starbucks Caramel Macchiato- turning the drink into a sweet treat palatable by even those who generally find coffee too bitter.

Ordering a Macchiato

How these beverages are ordered will primarily be contingent on from where you’re ordering. Specialty coffee shops will serve you an espresso macchiato if you tell the barista you want a macchiato. However, if you’re ordering from a franchise location, you’ll likely be served a latte macchiato (probably comprised of a latte-esque drink with a hint of caramel).

More often than not, the macchiato won’t be seen on a menu of a café. Nevertheless, upscale coffee shops will understand what you’re ordering. If you’re at a coffee franchise location and desire a small beverage with a kick, order an espresso macchiato from the barista. 

Making Your Own Starbucks Style Caramel Macchiato!

Recipe for a Macchiato, Starbucks-Style

A totally homemade recipe for a caramel macchiato with a Starbucks taste. Simple to make and as tasty as it gets!

You don’t need store-bought caramel sauce to make this beverage – in fact, it takes less than 5 minutes to make your own! If you have some heavy cream in your fridge, it is easy to make this drink whenever you want.

After making the macchiatos, you can store your leftover sauce in the fridge to make more macchiatos later.  When taking the sauce out of the fridge, warm it up for a few seconds in the microwave to make it less thick. The caramel can also be used for candy apples and ice cream!

This sauce is somewhat troublesome to prepare in smaller amounts since it can easily be overcooked. If the directions aren’t followed properly, you can easily end up with solid candy instead of caramel sauce. Keep your eyes on the sauce as you prepare it!

Jay Arr

Jay Arr is passionate about everything coffee. What began as a simple interest in the history, production, and brewing of coffee led him to a job as a barista at a national coffee chain. That’s not where Jay’s story with coffee ends, however. Roasting and brewing day in and out, he continued to gather knowledge about all things coffee.

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