by Neptune Coffee  | 

What is a Macchiato? Differences With Latte Macchiato

William Shakespeare penned, “what is in a name?” and macchiato-loving coffee connoisseurs everywhere replied, “exactly what you’d expect - espresso with a dash of foamed milk.”

No, it’s not a cappuccino, it’s not a latte, and it’s definitely not a frappuccino. So what exactly is a macchiato?

Well, despite its humble beginnings, the macchiato we know today has undergone centuries of transformation. What was once a simple Italian translation for espresso “stained” with milk, has been turned into a pseudo macchiato left up to coffee franchise interpretation.

For that reason, we’re here to take the mystery out of the macchiato, so you know exactly what you’re ordering the next time you step up to the counter at your local coffeehouse.

What is an Espresso Macchiato?

The macchiato (Mock-key-a-toh) made its debut in Italian coffee culture as a way to slightly dilute a shot (or two) of espresso with a drop or two of steamed milk. To make a traditional macchiato, simply add two parts espresso and “stain” with one part steamed milk.

Unlike other espresso-based beverages, the macchiato has the highest ratio of espresso to milk, and the addition of milk is meant to complement the espresso, rather than overpower it. So, if you’re not familiar with the rich flavors of espresso, ordering a macchiato may shock your senses a bit.

In fact, it’s not uncommon for a macchiato to be referred to as an espresso macchiato or cafe macchiato to help differentiate this classic brew from sweeter espresso-based beverages, like the latte macchiato or cappuccino.

When to Order a Macchiato

Espresso is the heart of a traditional macchiato, so if you’re mildly (or majorly) obsessed with the bold flavor of coffee, channel your inner Italian and order a macchiato.

Generally, macchiatos are made with high-quality beans and have a rich, authentic espresso flavor. So, if you’re the kind of coffee-lover that prefers creamy, sweet, or subtle coffee flavors, a macchiato isn’t your cup of joe.

Keep in mind, espresso macchiatos are not usually served in large cups or glasses, especially outside of the states. If you’re accustomed to your coffee fix coming in 32 oz options, you may want to opt for an Americano or cappuccino, instead.

What is a Latte Macchiato?

Like an espresso macchiato, the ingredients to a latte macchiato are simple: milk and espresso. However,

while a macchiato is made by “staining” espresso with a dash of milk, a latte macchiato translates to “staining” milk with espresso. That’s right, espresso is no longer the star of the show.

By now, you’re probably wondering how the same two ingredients could yield such different results. Well, the answer to that question is in the ratio of milk to espresso and how the drink is prepared.

If you remember, a macchiato is made by adding a small amount of steamed milk to the top of a shot (or two) of espresso. A latte macchiato, on the other hand, is a layered espresso-based drink. First, your barista will add a half a shot of espresso to milk, then they will add foam to the top layer and voila, latte macchiato!

Unlike a macchiato, which is stirred and served in a small porcelain cup, a latte macchiato is typically served in a short clear glass that displays its various layers.

When to order a Latte Macchiato

A latte macchiato is generally much smoother than a macchiato and produces a sweeter cup of coffee overall. So, if you’re the “I’ll have some coffee with my creamer” type of coffee drinker, but you’re looking to branch out and try espresso-based beverages, a latte macchiato is an excellent choice.

Not to mention, because latte macchiatos are milk-based beverages, coffee shops tend to offer more variety of syrups, flavors, or spin-offs of this classic beverage. If you, or a friend, aren't in love with the flavor of coffee, but still want the subtle kick of espresso, you can't go wrong with a latte macchiato.

Not only will the espresso jumpstart to your day, but the sophisticated presentation of the drink means you'll look pretty cool drinking one.

How to order in a coffee shop

If only we lived in a world where ordering a macchiato, was as simple as telling the barista you wanted a macchiato. Unfortunately, how you order a macchiato and the type of macchiato you will get varies based on where you’re ordering your drink.

As a general rule, if you’re visiting a large coffee chain (i.e., Starbucks) and order a ‘macchiato,’ you might wind up with an iced coconut milk pumpkin spiced macchiato. So, if you want a classic, no-frills macchiato, we recommend you ask for an espresso macchiato.

If you drop by a smaller, local coffee shop, you can probably get away with just saying “macchiato,” but it doesn’t hurt to specify what you’re looking for. Just remember, if you ask for a latte macchiato, you’re asking for the taller, prettier, smoother sister-drink of the traditional macchiato.


Who knew that so much confusion could be stirred up with two simple ingredients: espresso and milk?

Nevertheless, now that you’re an expert on all things macchiato, it’s time to head into your local coffee shop and order, drink, and enjoy a delicious espresso-based brew!