What is a Macchiato? Un Macchiato Per Favore!

Updated on: June 16, 2022
Author: Nick
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What is a Macchiato?

Hello Dear Coffee Enthusiast!

What is a Macchiato you ask? Well, a macchiato is a coffee drink that is made with mostly espresso and a bit of steamed milk. The word "macchiato" means "marked" or “stained” in Italian, and refers to the fact that this coffee drink is marked by the addition of milk.

But things can be a bit confusing because within the world of macchiatos there are many variations. Depending on where you are, when you order a macchiato you could get totally different drinks!

For example, if you’re at Starbucks you are likely to get a latte macchiato or a caramel macchiato. In Italy, you would certainly get a traditional espresso macchiato.

To add to the confusion, there are other coffee drinks that are quite similar, such as cortados, lattes and cappuccinos - they all are espresso drinks with some milk!


But no worries here, we got you!

In this blog post, we will explore the origins of the traditional macchiato, as well as its variations. We will also provide a simple recipe if you want to make your own macchiatos at home (and save some money along the way)!

So, What is a Macchiato?

Traditionally, a macchiato (pronounced mah-key-AH-toe while attempting to sound Italian) consists of two shots of espresso and about 2 teaspoons of steamed milk. The point of adding a bit of milk is to mellow the rich espresso flavor.

By the way, we said above "about 2 teaspoons" because there are no universally accepted standards. We actually love this because this allows baristas and coffee shops to add their own interpretation of what a macchiato is.

This means the proportions depend from region to region and even from coffee shop to coffee shop. For example, in Australia some baristas will prepare a macchiato based on a 1:1 espresso to frothed milk ratio. More like a cortado

Some people consider a macchiato something between an espresso shot and a cappuccino.

In case you weren’t paying attention (or skimmed through our article, hah!), '"macchiato" means "marked" or "stained" in Italian, and here the milk is what "marks" or "stains" the espresso and gives the coffee drink its distinctive look. The milk and espresso are mixed together, resulting in a layered coffee beverage that has a strong espresso flavor at the bottom and a creamy layer of milk on top.

In North America, things can become a bit more nebulous because there are many variations of the macchiato. For example, you may have heard of the coffee drink called caramel macchiato (popularized by Starbucks), or macchiato latte or even iced macchiatos!

But are these really macchiatos

Go try ordering a macchiato in Italy and ask your barista to add caramel sauce. You may get some weird looks!

But Starbucks would add even more caramel to your caramel macchiato!

The Origins of the Macchiato

The macchiato has its origins in Italy like many other coffee drinks.

The story naturally takes place in Italy it was, where it is customary to order an espresso during lunchtime. Many of these customers would also ask the barista to add a bit of steamed milk. But just a bit, as adding too much would render the drink a cappuccino.


And cappuccinos in Italy are a breakfast drink!

To avoid long explanations and expedite orders, baristas came up with the name macchiato.

What Are Some Other Types of Macchiatos?

We have covered the traditional espresso macchiato.

But this does not mean we can ignore other types of less traditional macchiatos, because they are also delicious and have become quite popular!

These include latte macchiatos, caramel macchiatos, and iced latte macchiatos, and many other variations!

So let's cover these!

What is a Latte Macchiato?

A latte macchiato is in a way the opposite of a traditional macchiato!

Remember that macchiato roughly means "stained"? In the case of latte macchiatos, the espresso stains the hot milk.

You start with about 2/3 of tall glass of steamed milk with some foam on top, and to it you very slowly pour an espresso shot to allow for layering.

See the picture below, you can see that on the left side the traditional espresso macchiato has a white stain, whereas on the right side the latte macchiato has a dark stain with some layering.

Traditional Macchiato vs Latte Macchiato

What is the Difference Between a Latte and a Latte Macchiato?

We are glad you asked!

A latte is also an espresso drink with milk. But the main difference between these two drinks is that a latte macchiato has more milk than a latte, and it's a layered drink.

Remember, the espresso stains the foamed milk!

What is a Caramel Macchiato?

A caramel macchiato is a variation of the latte macchiato.

As we mentioned earlier, this drink was popularized by Starbucks and it's one of their most popular coffee drinks!

A caramel macchiato calls for one shot of espresso, added to steamed milk through the milk foam on top. Vanilla syrup is added to the bottom of the cup, and caramel added on top.

Some people request whipped cream! But careful, watch those calories!

Torani Salted Caramel Flavor Syrup

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Caramel Macchiato

What is an Iced Macchiato?

An iced macchiato is a drink that takes the latte macchiato and turns it into an icy cold beverage perfect for those hot summer days!

To make this, you'll need 1 shot of espresso, milk, ice and simple syrup. Fill about 3/4 of a tall 12 oz glass with the milk, add the ice, and slowly pout 1 shot of espresso.

This creates the layering that is characteristic of the latte macchiato!

How to Order a Macchiato

Now that we have learned all about what a macchiato is, let's take a quick look at how to order one in its country of origin.

When ordering an espresso macchiato in Italy, you can ask for "un macchiato per favore" or simply in English, “one macchiato, please.” Without needing to specify, in Italy you will be served the traditional espresso macchiato. This also applies to most coffee shops (reputable boutique style ones).

However, in other parts of the world, or chain coffee shops, you should specify what you actually want. For example, state you want a "traditional espresso macchiato", or you may get instead a latte macchiato or a caramel macchiato.

How Do You Serve a Macchiato?

Traditionally, a macchiato is served in an espresso cup (a demitasse). The drink is short and stout with a thick layer of crema on top with a white stain from the foamed milk. Some baristas will even perform some latte art!

The other types of macchiato - that is latte or caramel macchiatos - are usually served in tall 12 oz glasses made of glass, so that you can see the layering.

How to Make a Macchiato at Home?

Now that we know what a macchiato is, let's make one at home! It's one of the easiest coffee drinks to make!


  • 2 shots of espresso

  • Milk (whole milk works best)

Preparation Method

  1. Steam some milk to about 65 degrees Celsius.

  2. While the milk is steaming pull 2 shots of espresso (doppio) into a demitasse using an espresso machine. If you don't have a fancy machine the handheld milk frother below will do just fine!

  3. Slowly pour 2 teaspoons of steamed milk into the espresso.

  4. Enjoy!

PowerLix Milk Frother Battery Operated Electric Handheld Whisk Foam Maker

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Pro Tips for Making a Great Macchiato

Here are some tips to make the best macchiato while at home.

  • Heat up your demitasse by adding hot water to it, and discarding it just before you pull the espresso shot. This will ensure your drink is hot!

  • Use whole espresso beans! Ground beans are not as fresh or tasty!

  • The grinder is amongst the most important tools of the barista. If you are grinding your beans, make sure your grinder is a burr grinder. Most super automatic espresso machines come with a burr grinder.

  • If you don't have an espresso machine, fret not! Not everyone is rich enough to have an espresso machine at home! You can use an AeroPress or a French Press. You can even use a Nespresso machine, but please be mindful of the environment and use re-usable Nespresso pods.

  • For better results, start with cold milk before steaming it. I can be quite fussy so I put the milk carafe in the fridge so that it does not warm up the milk.

AeroPress GO Coffee Maker

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Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between a latte vs a macchiato?

The main difference between a latte and a macchiato is that a latte has more milk, while a macchiato has less. The other key difference is that lattes are not layered drinks, whereas macchiatos are.

Is a macchiato stronger than a latte?

That's a trick question!

If by macchiato you mean a traditional macchiato, then yes! The traditional macchiato is mostly espresso with a bit of steamed milk.

However, if you are talking about a latte macchiato, then the latte is stronger! This is because the latte macchiato is mostly steamed milk with a bit of espresso "staining" the milk.

What is the difference between a cortado and a macchiato?

Cortados are usually made with equal parts steamed espresso and steamed milk. Macchiatos, on the other hand, are traditionally prepared with 2 shots of espresso and just a dash of milk. So cortados contain more milk.

What is the difference between a cappuccino and a macchiato?

The main difference between a cappuccino and macchiato is that cappuccinos have equal parts of espresso, steamed milk and milk foam. Macchiatos are simply espresso with a dash of milk. So cappuccinos contain more steamed milk and have more foam.

Can a macchiato be cold?

Yes, there are ice latte macchiatos for example. However, traditionally, espresso macchiatos are served hot in a demitasse.

What is the difference between a macchiato and a flat white?

The main difference between a macchiato and flat white is that a macchiato has less milk while a flat white has more. A flat white is also usually served with more textured milk, whereas macchiatos are not.

How do you pronounce macchiato?

It's pronounced "Ma-kee-aa-tow". One of the most common mistakes is pronouncing "ch" as in chimney.

Espresso Macchiatto

Bottom Line

We hope that this post has helped to clear up any confusion about what a macchiato is. It's an easy coffee drink to make at home, and truly one of my favorites.

If you want to be truly authentic try having one after lunch to give you that much needed caffeine boost during the afternoon!

Nick loves coffee... Actually, he NEEDS coffee! So, he has dedicated his time to learning all he can about this magical bean. He can make a mean latte, is obsessed with flat whites, and is always up for a cup of java!
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