Coffee Facts

Macchiato vs Cappuccino: Morning to Evening Coffee Fix

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Not everyone’s tastebuds can commit to the full intensity of an espresso shot. That’s why the milk+espresso combo is so popular. 

But how do you decide WHICH one of these seemingly infinite options is the. best compliment to your day? That’s what we’re here for. Read on for a full comparison of two of the most popular milk+espresso drinks: the macchiato and the cappuccino. 

macchiato vs cappuccino

Milking It

…”it” being espresso.

Both the macchiato and the cappuccino include a combination of milk products and espresso. This puts them among the ranks of other popular milk and espresso based drinks including lattes, mochas, and more. 

The key difference between these drinks, though, is exactly how much milk is in them.

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Macchiato Overview

Let’s start with a quick run-down of the macchiato. For a more thorough coverage of this drink you can check out this article

The word “macchiato” means “marked” or “stained,” which is a pretty good clue to what the drink is all about. Regardless of whether you’re drinking an espresso macchiato or a latte macchiato, you’re getting lots of either steamed milk or espresso with just a dash of the other ingredient. 

Espresso Macchiato

If you’re at a coffee shop and just ask for a “macchiato,” this is what you’re going to get.

This drink is usually served in an espresso glass or small, white ceramic cup. Either way, it’s pretty small and often surprises customers who are used to the super-sized glorified latte-style drink that’s usually served at coffee chains. 

The barista prepares an espresso macchiato by pulling a shot of espresso and pouring a couple teaspoons of steamed milk into it. There is the tiniest hint of foam on top and the steamed milk is just enough to slightly subdue the intensity of the shot. 

Latte Macchiato

Specifically ask for this variety of macchiato if you’re at a coffee shop and are looking for what you’d normally get at a chain coffee joint. 

The latte macchiato consists of a 12oz glass filled about 1/3 to 1/2 full of steamed milk. Then, one shot or less of espresso is very slowly added in. This creates a layered drink that is similar to a regular latte.

The main difference between those two is that the espresso should rest between the milk foam and steamed milk rather than under them.

Cappuccino Overview

Whereas a macchiato might sound pretty simple, the cappuccino is a whole new ball game. It is more similar in style to the layered latte macchiato. However, its taste more closely resembles the espresso macchiato. 

This low-acid, well-balance espresso drink includes equal parts steamed milk, foam, and espresso. The milk products compliment the bold espresso flavor rather than overwhelming it. Nevertheless, the espresso macchiato is still a good bit stronger than this one. 

Let’s Talk Ratios

The most important part of a cappuccino is its ratios. It should be exactly 1/3 espresso, 1/3 steamed milk, and 1/3 milk foam. The layering creates a unique experience as the espresso becomes more intense as you continue drinking it. 

At specialty coffee houses, this drink will likely be served to you in a 6oz cup. Glass is preferable because it shows off the layering, though many places still opt for the classic-looking white ceramic. Well-trained barista’s can still tell if the drink is made properly without the visual by the weight of the drink. 


Like the macchiato, the cappuccino has a couple popular variants including the wet cappuccino, dry cappuccino, and bone dry cappuccino

The wet cappuccino includes more steamed milk, making it closer in flavor to a latte. On the other hand, the dry cappuccino has less steamed milk and sometimes a little extra foam. Lastly, the bone dry has absolutely no steamed milk and a large helping of milk foam. 

It’s All about Timing

The macchiato actually developed as a means of incorporating espresso drinking later in the day. Cappuccinos are a fan favorite for the morning. There’s enough espresso to wake you up and enough milk to keep you from seeming frazzled. 

However, traditionally (ie. in Italian coffee culture) cappuccinos are relegated to breakfast hours. In order to sneak espresso into the afternoon, the macchiato was born. It gives coffee lovers a safe in-between for espresso shots and a cappuccinos.

The milkiness and layered dynamic of the cappuccino is perfect for a progressive morning walk-up. On the other hand, the slightly tempered macchiato is better suited for a mid-day pick-me-up. 

Wrapping Up

So, in a nutshell, a macchiato will have a flavor that is slightly more intense than a cappuccino. But, the milk makes it less bold than a straight shot of espresso. This makes it perfect for a mid-day coffee fix. 

On the other hand, a cappuccino is a little more subtle in flavor because you start off primarily with foam and milk as the espresso flavor slowly works in. This result of its layering makes it great for a gentle morning without being as milky as a latte. 


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