Time for a Quick Coffee Q&A—What Exactly Is a Macchiato?

Plus, how it's a lot different than a Caramel Macchiato from Starbucks.

Coffee is a wonderful thing—it's smooth, strong and sweetly soul-tingling. But finding that perfect little cup of happiness when out at a coffee shop can be a bit nerve-wracking. There are cappuccinos, espressos, mocha this and double that, and some choices you've never even heard of. What is a macchiato, for example?

While there are a lot of differences between the various drinks, a lot of them share some common ground as well—such as using espresso instead of drip coffee (with the exception of a café au lait). However, they differ in how much milk is added in and whether or not the milk is steamed and/or frothed.

So, not totally sure what to expect from a macchiato? Continue reading for more info on what just might become your next go-to coffee drink.

What is a macchiato?

A macchiato is an espresso order that includes at least one shot of espresso, as well as a splash of milk and/or small dollop of foam.

If we look at history a bit though, we can see that macchiato is an Italian original. The word itself, “macchiato” is an Italian word meaning “marked.”

This refers to the addition of a little milk to the espresso, enough to “mark” it. So, an original macchiato is just espresso with a dash of milk—just enough to change its color.

An authentic macchiato should be full-bodied, with a silky-smooth texture. Darker in color and taste, with a hint of milk to barely lighten it up.

Related: We Were Today Years Old When We Learned There Are Actually Six Starbucks Cup Sizes, Not Three—Here's a Handy Guide

The history of the macchiato

Sometimes called an "espresso macchiato" or "caffè macchiato," baristas use just a shot of steamed milk in an espresso. The little bit of “stain” to the espresso signals that it is in fact a macchiato. The drink is meant to be only subtly different from an espresso, so the milk doesn’t overwhelm or change the shot significantly.

The Italians came up with this drink sometime in the 80s and it has made its way around the world as a popular coffee drink. You can customize your macchiato with slight changes, such as requesting additional shots of espresso (double or triple shots are common) still with a small amount of milk, or you can ask for a "cortado," which is very similar to a macchiato, but with extra milk (about the same amount of milk as there is espresso).

How is a macchiato made?

Making a macchiato is quite a simple process. It is made up of one shot of espresso, and enough steamed milk to tint the color of the espresso.

It sounds fantastically simple, and this particular coffee is a little lighter in calories than some of the others like cappuccino and lattes. This drink is perfect for those who want to simply taste the espresso instead of added sweeteners, while getting that pick-me-up zip—without feeling weighed down.

Related: 45 Delicious Drinks Only Found on the Dutch Bros Secret Menu



Making a macchiato at home

Let’s get going on how to make this super simple coffee drink.

You will need:

  • Espresso roast coffee grounds or beans: This coffee is not the same as regular coffee. Espresso roast is usually darker and may have a bitter flavor.

If you are grinding your own beans, make sure to make it finer than your normal roast.

  • Espresso machine, manual espresso maker or AeroPress: There are a few optional espresso machines. Countertop versions are available, or you can use a manual espresso maker (these are cheaper and portable).

Although the flavor isn’t as good (think Keurig vs. French press) the AeroPress is the cheapest option, but also makes the least quality espresso.

  • Whole milk: You only need a shot of whole milk to make a fantastic macchiato.

No fancy steamers are needed (unless you prefer foam). Just heat your milk and add it to the espresso (frothing optional).

How to make it:

  • Make the espresso using your gadget of choice.

  • Heat the amount of milk you want to use in the microwave.

If frothing your milk, you will need enough to be able to whisk it into a froth, so you could also heat over a stovetop in a small saucepan.

Your espresso maker may be able to steam your milk for you too. You are looking for the milk to reach 150 degrees (Fahrenheit); the perfect sipping temp.

  • Add the shot of milk slowly to the center of your espresso. It should just be enough to tell that it is no longer an espresso, barely discoloring it.

If frothing your milk, use a frother, French press whisk or just a regular whisk. You need a froth that looks like a “dry foam,” nice and fluffy.

  • Remove the top of the foam and add it gently to the top of the espresso.

Related: How To Choose the Right Milk Frother To Elevate Your Coffee, According to Baristas

Who is a macchiato best for?

Espresso is an in-your-face kind of coffee, while cappuccinos or lattes are known to be creamy and sweet (as they are mostly milk). A macchiato is closer to an espresso, and perfect for anyone who savors the taste of strong coffee with a hint of creaminess and doesn't need a cup to sip on throughout the morning—after all, this drink is only a couple of ounces.

Where's the macchiato most popular?

As a drink with humble beginnings in Italy, the people there think of it as a morning drink. However, macchiatos are enjoyed pretty much at any time.

What is a macchiato vs latte vs cappuccino?

Although these three drinks start off the same, they all finish differently. If you laid them out in front of you, you would probably be able to figure out each one based on the following descriptions:


The original drink (and even most versions) is made with one shot of espresso and then has a very little amount of steamed milk added to it.


Starts off like a macchiato, with a shot of espresso, but is distinctly different from a macchiato from the amount of milk, which fills up the rest of a regular-sized coffee cup or mug.


Has the same shot of espresso but varies greatly from the other two. Not only does it have almost an equal part of steamed milk added to it, but then it is filled up the rest of the way with milk “foam.” This drink would not only taste different, but it would also feel much lighter in your hand thanks to the foam.

Is a macchiato stronger than a latte?

Since a latte would have quite a bit more milk in it than a macchiato, the macchiato would surely hold more of the strong (possibly) bitter taste of the base ingredient, espresso. But since both drinks have the same amount of espresso (unless you choose to order one with a double or triple shot), a macchiato and a latte would technically be the same strength.

Tips for ordering a macchiato

It can be a little intimidating when entering a coffee shop to sift through all of the available coffee drink options. To ensure you are getting the perfect macchiato, here is how to order one.

If you like a robust coffee and want one closer to how the Italians make a traditional macchiato (one with just espresso and a little milk), then order a caffè macchiato or an espresso macchiato.

If you need an extra jolt of energy or you're feeling cheeky, then order your macchiato with a double shot of espresso.

If you'd still like a tiny cup of espresso but equal parts milk instead of just a dollop, then order a "cortado" instead.

What is a Starbucks Caramel Macchiato?

Straight from their website, “Debuted by Starbucks in 1996, the Caramel Macchiato has been a café favorite for over two decades.”

The Starbucks caramel macchiato is described as: “Freshly steamed milk with vanilla-flavored syrup marked with espresso and topped with a caramel drizzle for an oh-so-sweet finish.”

Sounds delicious and seems like it would be pretty easily made at home if you want to take the extra time to do it yourself.

All you need is the following:

Since we've already reviewed that a traditional macchiato is a shot (or two or three, if requested) of espresso with only a little milk added, it's important to understand that the Caramel Macchiato is not the norm at other coffee shops (at least when it comes to ordering a macchiato).

If you're at a different coffee shop and you're looking for something sweet like the Starbucks option, you'll have better luck ordering a vanilla latte with caramel drizzle.

Interested in trying something new? Make your next coffee a macchiato and find out what you may have been missing all along. This could be your new favorite drink!

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