What The Heck Is A Macchiato And How Do You Make It?

by | Jul 2, 2018

In the family of espresso drinks, there are those that have remained mostly the same. The latte, mocha, and cappuccino have been made the same way ever since their invention. Sure, there are extras you can add to them like flavored syrups, spices, and so on. The core recipe is the same. While the recipes for the latte, mocha, and so on have remained the same for 100 years.

However, there is one drink that the coffee industry decided to try to change. For some reason, it wasn’t good enough in its original form. This drink is the boldest out of all espresso beverages: the macchiato. However, there are drinks made at coffee shops that claim to be macchiatos but are not. So, to clear up the confusion, here is the answer to the question: what is a macchiato?

History Discourse: What Is a Macchiato? 

One cannot discuss macchiatos without first mentioning espresso. Espresso is an extremely concentrated form of coffee that was created in the 19th century. To make espresso, you will naturally need an espresso machine. What the espresso machine does is force very hot, pressurized water through finely ground coffee beans. This process extracts much more flavor out of the grounds than drip brewing does. Espresso is so strong and so bold that it is only served in 4 oz. “shots” by itself. Since its invention, espresso has had a huge impact on the coffee world. As author Mark Helprin once said,

The voodoo priest and all his powders were as nothing compared to espresso, cappuccino, and mocha, which are stronger than all the religions of the world combined, and perhaps stronger than the human soul itself.

While espresso can be drunk by itself, it can also serve as a backdrop to other flavors. The strength of espresso means that milk or syrups won’t overwhelm it. In many cases, milk is to espresso what eggs are to bacon. Usually, the milk in espresso drinks is steamed using a wand attachment on the espresso machine.

what is a Macchiato

The birth of the macchiato was actually a bit of an accident. When baristas would prepare espresso for serving, they would have to mark the drinks to show which had milk and which did not for servers. Thus, they started calling these marked drinks caffè macchiatos. The name caffè macchiato is literally Italian for “stained coffee.” Currently, the macchiato is an immensely popular beverage in the United States, Europe, Ethiopia, and around the world. Although it may be known by different names in some countries, the drink is the same. The Portuguese name for a macchiato is actually caffè pingado, which means “coffee with a drop.”


Making a Macchiato

The name “stained coffee” is quite apt because that’s really what a macchiato is. A macchiato is simply a serving espresso topped with a bit of steamed milk. This recipe is the simplest out of all espresso drinks, apart from a straight espresso shot. Some drinks are made to balance the strength of espresso with other flavors, such as a latte. The macchiato is anything but. The ratio of espresso to milk is such that the sweetness of the milk barely blunts the attack of the espresso. While a latte is silky smooth, the macchiato is rough and tumble.

In terms of boldness, the macchiato is far and away the strongest flavored of all espresso drinks. The macchiato is almost like the recoil on a 10-gauge shotgun with a foam pad on the stock. While it is not a large drink, the Macchiato packs more than enough punch for those who love intense coffee. Actually, the macchiato is a good jump-off point for preparing to try espresso straight-up. While all espresso drinks have roughly the same amount of espresso in them, the presentation is different in all of them.


Most Popular Coffee Drinks

To give you an idea of the progression of espresso presence, here is a breakdown of popular drinks. The weakest is the mocha with its chocolate syrup. In the middle, we have the latte and cappuccino. Then you have the macchiato, and lastly, of course, you have pure espresso.

Fake Macchiatos
Now, some of you may have been confused by the previous readings. After all of this discussion, the infamous caramel macchiato from Starbucks has not been mentioned.

Well, there’s a good reason for that. The Starbucks caramel macchiato is not a real macchiato. The making of a caramel macchiato is infinitely more complicated than a regular macchiato. It also requires a lot more ingredients. While a normal macchiato is like an AC/DC song, the caramel macchiato is like Vitamin String Quartet doing Flight of the Bumblebee.

To make a caramel macchiato, you start with steamed milk and vanilla syrup (already it’s wrong). Then you add the espresso and foamed milk and the barista tops it with a caramel syrup crosshatch. So to make a macchiato before, you just needed to know how to work the espresso machine. Now you also need an arts degree.


Grande Caramel Macchiato For Janice

To make things even more ridiculous, you can order an iced caramel macchiato. This replaces the steamed and foamed milk with cold milk and ice. Then you add the espresso and caramel drizzle. However, iced coffees do have their place. They do provide relief during scorching summer days and you don’t want hot coffee. Now, before anyone starts getting outraged, let this be said. The caramel macchiato is a delicious drink in its own right. It is also insanely popular in Starbucks and other coffee shops.

You almost can’t go into one without hearing the barista call out: “Grande caramel macchiato for Janice” or something of that nature. However, while it may be tasty, simply calling a beverage a macchiato does not make it so. This is like buying a pair of Clark’s boots and then stenciling the name Gucci on them with spray paint. The boots will function perfectly for their purpose, but to call them Gucci would be ridiculous.


Ordering a Macchiato

To summarize, a caramel macchiato is not a true macchiato. A true macchiato is an espresso and steamed milk. That’s it. No caramel drizzle, no vanilla syrup, just espresso, and milk. So, the question is, if you want to order a true macchiato at Starbucks, how do you do that? Well, in most cases you would have to specify that you want an espresso macchiato. An espresso macchiato is an original macchiato, with just the espresso and milk. Starbucks calls this drink “European style.”

how to make Macchiato coffee

Granted, this drink was invented in Europe. But, there also seems to be this idea that Americans don’t like strong coffee. An Italian once remarked in an interview that our drip brew coffee is “coffee-flavored tea, neither one nor the other and not fit to drink.” Another beverage that, although is not quite a true macchiato, is very similar. This beverage is the latte macchiato from Starbucks. This drink begins with steamed milk. Then shots of espresso are poured through the middle. This gives you the drop-kick boldness of the espresso tempered by the milk.


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If you would like to make a Macchiato yourself, we would highly recommend choosing the Dolce Gusto brand. It is a great light coffee for your morning. The coffee tastes sweet without needing sugar and makes up to eight cups of coffee. The packaging is lovely and saves a lot of money in the coffee shops.

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To Macchiato or Not to Macchiato

Espresso beverages are a must for any coffee shop menu. Those delectable combinations of espresso, milk, and other flavors provide that caffeine hit and a wonderful taste. In this family, the macchiato is the crazy uncle with the tattoos and a Harley Motorcycle. If you want an espresso drink that has less added flavor but aren’t ready for pure espresso, the macchiato is the obvious choice. The strength of the espresso is tempered by just a touch of milk. This drink would show up at your house dressed in a tuxedo but just might punch you in the gut.

Now, to clarify: this article is not a diss track on the caramel macchiato. The Starbucks beverage is certainly a wildly popular beverage, and no slouch in terms of flavor. However, why its makers didn’t give it a different name is a mystery. While it is an excellent drink, especially on a summer’s day, it is not a macchiato. If you’re looking for a true macchiato, order an espresso macchiato or latte macchiato. Both drinks remain true to the original spirit of “stained coffee.” Regardless of your preference, remember to not just drink your coffee, but also enjoy it.

  Last update on 2023-03-30 / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API.

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