Macchiato Guide: What is A Macchiato & How to Make One

macchiato recipe guide: what is a macchiato & how to make a macchiato at home

Not every coffee lover prefers an espresso shot’s full intense, rich flavor. That’s why the milk + espresso combo works so well. Adding milk to espresso makes your coffee drink taste better and adds extra depth and creamy texture to your cup. Every shot of espresso that adds steamed milk or foamed milk creates an innumerable amount of drinks. One such classic coffee drink is macchiato.

The macchiato: you’ve probably heard of them or maybe seen them on your favorite coffee shop’s menu. You may have even considered ordering one once at your local coffee shop. And you’ve probably found yourself asking: what is a macchiato?

Wonder no more, coffee lover. We broke down what exactly a macchiato is, its variations,  what you should be looking for if you order one and how to make a macchiato at home for yourself.

What Is A Macchiato?

The word macchiato is of Italian origin, just like most espresso drink names. It means “marked,” “stained,” or “spotted.” This description refers to the stain left on the milk when combined with the dark, rich espresso. The amount of milk used is just enough to brighten the color of the coffee while also piercing through its smooth, black surface.

The macchiato is a coffee drink with two components: milk and espresso. The espresso macchiato and latte macchiato are the most common varieties, both of which “stain” one component of the milk+espresso duo with the other. They act as a nice middle ground between an espresso and a cappuccino. 

It’s also much smaller than other espresso beverages, with a standard serving size of just 1 1/4 ounces (37 ml).

Who will love it?
It is the perfect drink for people who want to taste espresso’s rich and diverse flavors without getting a full punch. The milk foam does an excellent job smoothing out any rough edges while preserving the entire flavor profile!

what is a macchiato & how to make a macchiato at home

History of the Macchiato

According to coffee experts, macchiato dates back to the 18th century in italy where it was created to distinguish black espresso from espresso with milk. Since it is not a universally known recipe, you’ll find many macchiato variants in cafes. For instance, a piccolo latte is an espresso drink containing espresso topped with foamed milk, whereas a caramel macchiato is made of steamed milk with some espresso, topped with a layer of caramel syrup. In Italy, macchiatos are commonly referred to as espresso macchiatos (caffè macchiatos). For latte macchiato, let your barista know ahead of time to prepare it for you.

Macchiato is socially acceptable for afternoon pick-me-ups. No one will stop you when you order one in the early morning in Italy, but you will surely get some odd looks from people around you. Espresso macchiatos are exclusively viewed as a way to enjoy espresso in the afternoon as they are much more palatable. 

istory of macchiato

Macchiato Versions

Espresso macchiato and latte macchiato are two common variants of macchiato. Both versions of the macchiato combine the boldness and power of a regular espresso shot with the creaminess of a cappuccino. The amounts of the components (steamed milk and espresso) in each macchiato variation are different.

What’s the simplest way to distinguish between two types of traditional macchiatos? Whatever is first in the cup, whether steamed milk or espresso, corresponds to the type.

Espresso Macchiato:

A caffè macchiato or espresso macchiato is a shot of espresso with a dollop of milk microfoam on top, usually served in 2-3 ounces in size. The milk forms a dollop in the center of the espresso, which is where it gets its name. An espresso macchiato has a rich espresso flavor with just a splash of milk to cut through all that bitterness.

The barista prepares an espresso macchiato by first pouring an espresso, then adding 1-2 teaspoons of steamed milk and foam on top. In this macchiato variant, the milk stains the espresso. Espresso macchiatos are usually served in espresso glass or small ceramic demitasse cups.

macchiato recipe guide: what is a espresso macchiato

Latte Macchiato:

A latte macchiato is just the opposite of its counterpart. What is a latte macchiato in comparison to an espresso macchiato? In this macchiato variation, it’s the espresso that “stains” the steamed milk. This results in a dark spot on the white foam. It differs from an espresso macchiato in that it focuses on the milk rather than the espresso. It has a flavor profile comparable to that of a cafe latte. 

The latte macchiato is usually served in a 12oz glass filled with about 1/3 to 1/2 full of steamed milk. In order to create the layered look, the key is to VERY slowly pour the espresso over the steamed milk. Some baristas even use the back of a spoon to help slow the pouring and cause layers to form.

When it’s poured correctly, you can see a clear gradient starting from steamed milk in the bottom of the cup, to the espresso, with the foamy layer on top, and that’s what gives the latte macchiato its signature layered look.
The main difference between a  latte macchiato and a regular latte is that the espresso rests between the milk foam and steamed milk rather than under them.

A latte macchiato is perfect for you if you only want a hint of espresso flavor and more of that milky goodness.  

macchiato recipe guide: what is a latte macchiato- macchiato version

Why is the Starbucks macchiato different?

Wait: so a macchiato isn’t flavored with caramel? Nope, Starbucks’ version of macchiato is far from the traditional one. I’m not really sure why they made up their own definition.

So what is a Starbucks macchiato, anyway?  Many years ago, Starbucks introduced it as a 12-20 ounce beverage with a thick layer of caramel syrup. You have steamed milk, foam, and espresso layers before the sweet drizzle of caramel or hazelnut are added on top. Simply put, it’s a latte with additional foam and taste. It’s really nothing like a caffè macchiato at all!

caramel macchiato

Fun Facts About Macchiato

  • There is no standard technique for making a macchiato.
  • Macchiato translates to “marked” or “stained”. The contrast between the black coffee and the milky top of the drink gives it its name.
  • On November 19th, National Macchiato Day is celebrated.
  • In 1987, Starbucks began selling a latte macchiato-style drink that became their most popular drink.
  • In Italy, macchiatos are considered an afternoon pick-me-up, and they aren’t commonly ordered in the morning.

Selecting The Java

When To Order An Espresso Macchiato

If latte and cappuccino are too milky for you, get yourself an espresso macchiato. This drink is for you if you want a stronger espresso drink with a touch of milky sweetness. It is perfect for a mid-day coffee fix. 

Its small size may surprise you if you are used to the super-sized glorified latte-style drinks. If that’s the case, ask for a double. Or opt for a cappuccino if you want to subdue the intensity of the espresso shot. 

When To Order A Latte Macchiato

If you prefer the smooth milk taste of lattes, or maybe you’re only so-so about the taste of espresso, try a latte macchiato. Latte macchiato contains less milk and more espresso than cafe latte. This milky drink will have espresso highlights and some caffeine, which the steamed milk smooths over. You can also customize your drink with extra syrups.

A perfect latte macchiato is the blend of the bold espresso flavor and the smooth mouthfeel of a latte. 

How To Order Your Macchiato

If you order a macchiato from a specialty coffee shop or in Italy, the espresso macchiato is what you’ll get. That is how most specialty coffee shops identify the traditional drink these days. But if you’re at a coffee chain, a latte macchiato is what you’re going to get(or a caramel macchiato).

So at a coffee chain, if you’re after a strong espresso punch, it is better to ask for an espresso macchiato specifically. Otherwise, the chances are high that you’ll end up getting latte macchiato or caramel macchiato.

How To Drink A Macchiato

Macchiato is meant to be sipped slowly without mixing/shaking.  If you prefer mixing the two layers of espresso and milk to create a uniform creamy brown-colored coffee drink, it would be better to order a latte next time. Mixing a latte macchiato will simply turn it into a plain latte. It’s layered for you to first drink the sweet foam, the flavorful espresso, and then the steamed milk. The whole point of these layers is to sip in order, so shaking will defeat its entire purpose. When drinking macchiato, you can experience not one flavor, rather multiple flavors and one at a time.

Clearing Up The Differences

Confused yet? It’s okay – to better get some clarity on macchiato once and for all, let’s compare it to the three of the most popular espresso-based drinks, latte cappuccino, and cortado.  Each of these drinks differs in terms of flavor profiles, textures, and caffeine content. 

Latte Macchiato Vs. Cafe Latte

The difference between a latte macchiato and a latte?  A latte macchiato is a layered drink made with more milk, less espresso, and less foam than a latte. Additionally, in a latte macchiato, espresso is added to milk, whereas a latte has steamed milk added to espresso. So lattes do not have the dotted stain that latte macchiato have, making them readily distinguishable from each other.

latte recipe- how to make a latte at home

Espresso Macchiato Vs. Cappuccino

The difference between a cappuccino and an espresso macchiato? The difference comes down to how much milk is used in your espresso coffee. A cafe macchiato has a little less milk; as a result, it packs a little bit more of an espresso punch. It is also slightly smaller in volume. In comparison, a cappuccino has more milk and more foam than a macchiato. It is also a little larger in volume and is a little more gentle on the caffeine resulting in a creamy, rich, and smooth taste. 

bone dry cappuccino - how to make a bone dry cappuccino at home

Espresso Macchiato Vs. Cortado

The difference between a cortado and an espresso macchiato? In the coffee spectrum, an espresso macchiato seems similar to a cortado, however, it is slightly more concentrated. The difference lies in the amount of milk you like in your espresso coffee. A cortado is equal parts espresso and milk, while a cafe macchiato is an espresso-heavy drink. Cortados became popular in Spain and can be ordered from any specialty coffee shop that serves espresso.

cortado in Gibraltar glass -espresso drinks similar to latte - latte recipe - how to make latte at home- cup of caffeine

Macchiato Recipe

The espresso macchiato is the original version of this espresso drink (also called a caffé macchiato in Italy). Here’s how to make an espresso macchiato…the classic way! Pull an espresso shot, then add a dash of steamed milk and a layer of frothy foam on top, and you’re good to go!

Tip: To make a dairy-free macchiato, use soy milk or oat milk; they both can froth in the same way as cow’s milk.

macchiato recipe guide: how to make a macchiato at home

Macchiato Guide: What is A Macchiato & How to Make One

Prep Time 10 minutes


  • 2 shots espresso
  • 1 dollop foamed milk


  • Make the espresso: Grind about 16.5 grams of espresso roast coffee beans using a conical burr grinder. Prepare 2 shots of espresso using an espresso machine or manual espresso maker. Pour the espresso into a demitasse or macchiato cup.
  • Froth the milk: Heat the milk to 150 degrees Fahrenheit for frothing. Pour about ½ cup milk into the metal steaming pitcher and use the steam wand in the espresso machine or a milk frother, French press or whisk to froth milk into small, even bubbles with the texture of melted ice cream.
  • Assemble the macchiato: Top your shot of espresso with a dollop(about a half of an ounce) of the steamed milk to "stain" it. Serve and enjoy.

Last Words On Macchiato

That’s all there is to it! Macchiato became popularized in America after Starbucks’ take on the classic latte macchiato. While macchiato came into being decades ago and it does not have a specific universal recipe, you can easily make one at home with your own espresso machine. These rich espresso drinks are the perfect way to sneak espresso in the afternoon.

Now that you know all about it, make yourself a macchiato with absolute confidence. While experimenting with macchiato at home, put your spin on this delicious espresso drink and find your signature style.

Happy caffeinating!

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