Whether it be a morning cappuccino or an Instagram-worthy latte, most cups of coffee are easily recognisable. However, the same can’t be said for a macchiato. Even between professionals and avid macchiato drinkers, you’re sure to get different opinions on what you should be getting when you order one.
Origins of the Macchiato
Nowadays, the macchiato will have different meanings depending on where you are. However, the best place to start is at the beginning. Like most espresso drinks, the word itself is derived from Italian. It means “stained” or “marked” because of the “staining” involved when you combine the milk and espresso.
The macchiato first started being made for those looking to get a caffeine fix in the afternoon. Cappuccinos were generally only used in the morning. Macchiatos were made to be lighter than an espresso shot but stronger than a normal cappuccino, becoming the perfect sweet spot for those looking for a bold but rich taste.
General Definition of a Macchiato
All that being said, what exactly is a macchiato? In general terms, it’s an espresso with a splash of milk, essentially “staining” the coffee. A splash of milk is, of course, very subjective. It could mean a dash, a teaspoon, two teaspoons or more. However, most of the time, it would be just enough to smooth out the espresso and to add body to the drink.
Variations of the Macchiato
The macchiato has grown over time into two general categories, the espresso macchiato and the latte macchiato. The first variation, the espresso macchiato, is the original form. It is also known as a traditional macchiato or caffè macchiato in Italy. The second variation, latte macchiato, has become more popular over the years.
Coffee enthusiasts typically agree that a true macchiato is an Italian, traditional espresso macchiato. The latte macchiato is dubbed an “Americanised” variation but at least sticks to just espresso and milk. Starbucks takes the latte macchiato to an even more American level by adding vanilla syrup and caramel sauce.
The espresso macchiato is comparable to a mini foamy flat white. The milk “stains” the espresso to make it more subdued. Most espresso-based drinks have more milk or foam than the espresso itself. However, an espresso macchiato has more espresso, a little milk and sometimes a bit of foam on top.
An espresso macchiato is ideal if you’re looking for something similar to a cappuccino but with less milk. You’ll be getting a stronger, richer espresso flavour without being hit with the complete strength of an espresso shot on its own.
The latte macchiato is a lot more complex in how it’s made. Its signature layered look comes from starting with a third to a half glass of steamed milk. A shot of espresso is poured over very slowly or using the back of a spoon. When it’s poured correctly into the centre, a dot or “stain” is created in the milk. Finally, a layer of foam is added.
You’ll want to get a latte macchiato if you only want a hint of espresso flavour. Steamed milk makes the espresso a lot easier to drink. However, a latte macchiato isn’t a strong drink. A normal latte might be more suitable if you need a bigger kick of energy.
Long Macchiato vs. Short Macchiato
Unfortunately, the confusion doesn’t stop there. Espresso macchiatos are also broken up into short and long variations. On top of this, you might be getting a different ratio of ingredients depending on where you’re ordering.
A traditional short macchiato is a single shot of espresso with a splash of textured milk. A topped-up short macchiato is also a single shot of espresso, however, the cup is filled with textured milk rather than left partly empty.
We then have the long macchiato, a concoction served in a latte glass and originated in Australia. A traditional long macchiato is a double shot of espresso with a dash of textured milk and most of the glass left empty. If you’re ordering in Perth though, you’ll most likely get a double shot of espresso with the glass filled with textured milk. In Melbourne, you’ll get a double shot of espresso, the glass half-filled with water and then a dash of textured milk on top.
Overall, ordering a short or long macchiato will get you something different depending on the cultural influences of where you are. However, a short macchiato usually means there will be less espresso and a long macchiato usually means there will be a double espresso.
Espresso Macchiato vs. Latte vs. Cappuccino
To better explain exactly what a macchiato is, it might be helpful to compare it to two of the most popular espresso-based drinks, latte and cappuccino. In terms of appearance, a traditional macchiato is darker than a latte or a cappuccino since it only has a small amount of milk on top rather than a lot of milk mixed in.
Ingredients wise, an espresso macchiato and a latte both have espresso and milk. However, a latte has a thin layer of foam on top. A cappuccino has similar ingredients to a latte but is in a different ratio, equal parts of espresso, steamed milk and frothy milk.
These differences in ingredients translate into differences in taste and strength. Where a macchiato is strong, bitter and potentially a bit acidic, a latte has a more diluted flavour. A cappuccino also has a more diluted flavour and feels creamier. The diluted espresso in lattes and cappuccinos make it much less strong than an espresso macchiato.
Overall, the macchiato has evolved to have a range of different definitions. None of these definitions are right or wrong, just culturally different. However, the original macchiato will always be the traditional, espresso macchiato with espresso and a splash of milk. With all these variations, it’s important that you’re specific when ordering to avoid any disappointment.