Are you one of the many people wondering ‘what is a macchiato?’, or are you an established fan? As our coffee-supping society seeks out new ways to get a stronger caffeine hit, coffee shops are offering up smaller, stronger and tastier options. The latest - and perhaps greatest - in this long line of awesome caffeinated beverages is the mighty macchiato.
While it’s only caught on recently, the macchiato isn’t a new invention at all - it was first thought up in an official capacity sometime around the ’80s. What started as a way for Italian baristas to distinguish a straight espresso from one containing milk has now become a global phenomenon.
But what is a macchiato, exactly?
This is where it can get a bit confusing. While the recipe for a true macchiato is little disputed, a certain Seattle-based coffee shop muddied the waters when they released their tall, milk heavy version of the drink in the 2000s.
As this drastically different recipe was many people’s first introduction to the drink, they would often end up ordering one in another cafe, only to get something very different to what they were expecting. Let’s take a look then at what sets these two drinks apart:
The word macchiato comes from the Italian word for stained, or marked, which is a perfect way to remember what the coffee consists of: a single or double espresso shot, served in an espresso cup of the correct size, topped with a small amount of frothed hot milk - the same type of milk as a cappuccino.
You can also ask for a wet or tall macchiato, which is when the drink is then topped up with hot milk. As it is served in a small espresso cup, it will still remain a short drink. Some would argue that this simply turns it into a cortado, though, and some coffee shops may not know what you are asking for.
The important thing to remember is that macchiatos contain the highest ratio of coffee to milk of any of the milk-based espresso drinks. Most coffee shops will include six teaspoons of the stuff in frothed form, making it perfect for people who want to really taste the coffee, but who also need something to cut through the bitter edge that straight-up espresso can bring.
Latte macchiato vs caramel macchiato
While a latte macchiato is the most popular coffee-based drink in countries such as Germany, it is not very well known in the UK, and most coffee shops don’t even have it on their menu. What you get when you order a latte macchiato or a caramel macchiato can thus vary wildly, both depending on where you are and on the training a particular barista has.
So what is a latte macchiato? In essence, it’s a reversed latte, with the espresso poured in last to enhance the first taste. It is sometimes served in a tall glass to better display the layers formed when pouring.
And the caramel macchiato? The aforementioned confusion came about when Starbucks first launched their caramel macchiato: a large sugar-based latte-style drink. As this was the first exposure of the name macchiato to many people in the UK & USA, it led to a glut of confused orders in other coffee shops.
A caramel macchiato is generally two shots of espresso poured into a tall cup of steamed latte milk and vanilla syrup, which is then topped with a drizzle of caramel sauce on top. As you can see, it’s probably as far from a traditional macchiato as you can get.
Pro tip: because the espresso is added last in a latte macchiato, the drink won’t be mixed together as well as a latte, which benefits from the motion and movement of the milk passing through the crema, and swirling with the espresso. For this reason, it’s worth remembering to stir your latte macchiato before drinking it, or you risk having a strong first few sips and a largely milk-filled end of the drink.
Other macchiato variations
Another variation of the macchiato that is particularly popular in hotter climates is the macchiato freddo, which simply means cold macchiato.
These are essentially the same as a traditional macchiato, but made with cold milk, and sometimes even one or two ice cubes. As with other cold or iced coffee drinks, sugar or honey is sometimes also added to further cut through the bitterness.
There are also regional variations to the macchiato. Some countries replace the milk with cream, while the closest drink to a macchiato in France is the cafe noisette. There are even types that add in other flavours, such as a sprinkling of cinnamon powder on top, or caramel vermicelli mixed into the espresso.
How to make a macchiato
While macchiatos can be easily made at home with an espresso machine, a relatively similar one can also be obtained using an Aeropress or Mokka pot. The only stipulation is that you should decrease the brew time and amount of water to create something close to an espresso shot.
- Obtain either one or two shots of espresso from your chosen brewing method and serve in an espresso cup.
- Heat and froth milk with an espresso machine
Heat your milk as usual either in a pan or in a microwave. Careful not to go over 60-68°C, as it will burn!
- Froth your milk using a:
- Milk wand: place the milk in a short round glass, or high-sided bowl.
Put the wand under the top of the milk and turn it on, moving in a large circular motion. Move the wand up each time the milk has expanded so that the wand stays on the edge of the milk - round and up, round and up - until you have the desired amount of bubbles.
- Jar: place the hot milk in a jar, put on the lid and shake like crazy. Use straight away as the foam will collapse pretty quickly. Add a tiny bit of sugar to hold the foam a little longer.
- French Press: place the heated milk into the cafetiere where you would usually put the coffee. Plunge the pump 10-15 times while holding the lid in place. Let the milk rest for 30 seconds, then swirl to incorporate.
- TIP*: don’t put in too much milk as this method uses pressure, and hot pressurised milk expands quickly!
(*you will want to use a bit too much milk rather than too little. Remember the golden rule: milk that is sparse heats up quicker, and hot milk = froth. Froth is good, but it quickly turns to burnt milk, meaning an overly bitter end result)
- Now that you have your frothed milk, take it over to your espresso cup. Using a teaspoon, scoop out six spoons of milk (trying to get the frothiest part of the milk as possible) and place them on top of the coffee until it resembles a tiny cappuccino.
- Drink immediately! Due to its diminutive size, the macchiato goes cold quickly. As such, it’s traditionally seen as a drink to be sipped and concentrated on, not forgotten about over a long afternoon.
What coffee beans to use for a Macchiato
Luckily, it’s possible to use pretty much any coffee bean blend for making macchiato, as the small amount of milk allows the full flavour and notes of the blend to come through without too much masking. When you first start out, you’ll be aiming for the traditional flavours of a macchiato, so stick to dark roasts - especially ones with espresso in the name (you cannot go wrong with an everyday espresso blend). If you are looking to be more adventurous, the macchiato can be the perfect vessel for trying out more unique flavours, such as a single origin. Alternatively, you could always treat yourself to some best-selling Jamaica Blue Mountain beans.
Interested in learning how to master the basics of coffee? Why not take a look at our other guides to popular coffee drinks, such as how to make a cortado, Iced latte or even a range of cooler Summer coffee drinks.
However you like your coffee, the Coffee Bean Shop will always be here to provide you with the very best beans for your coffee. All of our coffee beans are ethically sourced and freshly roasted, and can be ground to whichever grind level your preferred brewing method requires.