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Thanks to the mixing of authentic Italian coffee heritage and the “inventiveness” of American coffee shops (see Frappuccino), it can be hard to navigate the variety of espresso-based coffees on the menu. What’s even harder is figuring out if your coffee is the real-deal or simply a watered down (or syruped-up) version of the drink. One particular case of this phenomenon is the macchiato.
While many people could easily recognize a good shot of espresso or a cup of cappuccino, most people wouldn’t immediately recognize a macchiato. Is that sugar and caramel filled drink your friend just ordered really an Italian espresso staple? Absolutely not.
But don’t worry, we’re going to give you the full low-down on what exactly a macchiato is, what its variations are, and what you should be looking for if you order one.
The macchiato (particularly the espresso macchiato) came into being as a way to sneak espresso into the afternoon. The other primary espresso-based option, cappuccino, was exclusively for morning pick-me ups.
The macchiato gives coffee addicts a nice middle ground between an espresso and a cappuccino. It doesn’t pack as much of a punch as an espresso shot, but it’s also stronger than your regular cappuccino.
What’s in a Word?
The word macchiato, like most terminology surrounding espresso drinks, is Italian. It roughly translates to “marked”or “stained,” which gives us our starting point.
Both of the main macchiato variations, the espresso macchiato and latte macchiato, involve “staining” one element of the milk+espresso duo with the other.
But keep in mind, the name means “stained” not completely bleached, dyed, or diluted. Meaning you should primarily get one element, with just a dash of the other and not much else.
The espresso macchiato, simply called a caffé macchiato in Italy, is the original form of this drink. In this case, the milk stains the espresso.
The point of this drink is to have an espresso slightly moderated or subdued by a splash of milk. Compared to other espresso-based drinks, the macchiato tips the espresso to milk scale the furthest towards espresso.
This drink is prepared by first pulling a shot of espresso, as normal. Then about 1-2 teaspoons of steamed milk and a bit of foam are poured on top.
Espresso macchiatos can be served in glass or ceramic demitasse cups.
The latte macchiato is a little more involved than its counterpart. In this case, the steamed milk is stained by a shot of espresso.
The latte macchiato differs from a latte in that is has more milk, less espresso, and is a layered drink. It differs from the espresso macchiato in that it puts an emphasis on the milk, rather than the espresso.
A barista starts with a large, 12 oz glass (it should be glass so that you can see the layering). The pre-warmed glass starts anywhere from 1/3 to 1/2 full of steamed milk.
Next, the key to this drink is the speed at which the espresso is poured. One shot of espresso (sometimes less) is VERY slowly poured over the steamed milk. Some baristas will use the back of a spoon to diffuse and further slow the pouring, but most will just pour into the center to create the distinct dot (“stain”) in the milk.
This pouring method creates the signature layered look of the latte macchiato. If poured correctly, there should be a clear gradient from the thicker steamed milk at the bottom of the cup, to the espresso, and finally to the layer of foam on top.
Selecting a Java
When to Order an Espresso Macchiato
If you want something with a very strong, rich espresso flavor or a cappuccino is too milky for you, order an espresso macchiato. This drink is perfect for people who just can’t get enough of that distinct espresso flavor but don’t want the full strength of an espresso shot.
However, do keep in mind that espresso macchiatos usually aren’t very big unless you ask for a double. So if you want a bigger cup and are willing to compromise on the espresso-kick, maybe opt for a cappuccino.
When to Order a Latte Macchiato
On the other hand, if you’re more here for the dairy than the java or you’re ordering for a kid who might not be ready for a full blown espresso-drink, try a latte macchiato. It will have just a hint of the espresso flavor, which the steamed milk quickly smooths over. Also, in case flavoring tickles your fancy, these drinks often have extra syrups added to them (sometimes without you even asking for them).
If the latte macchiato is still too strong for you, we recommend a warm milkshake. If it’s too weak or you aren’t a fan of the flavor gradient, try a latte.
How to Order Your Macchiato
How you order one of these drinks will heavily depend on where exactly you’re ordering it. If you are at a specialty coffee shop, simply saying “macchiato” will probably get you an espresso macchiato. But if you’re at a chain, you’ll probably end up with a latte macchiato (more likely just a latte-like concoction with caramel).
Often times, the macchiato won’t even appear on a café’s menu. Reputable coffee shops should know what you’re asking for regardless. But if you want the smaller drink that packs a punch, and you’re at a coffee chain, specify that you want an espresso macchiato.
Trust us, espresso lovers; this java won’t disappoint.
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