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How to Make a Macchiato (Traditional Recipe)

So you want to know how to make a macchiato — the real one. Not the one that you can get from a popular coffee shop. This drink is well-known in its own right, and it doesn’t come with a side of a sugar crash.

Keep reading to find out how you can make a traditional Italian macchiato in the comfort of your own home. You might be surprised to discover you prefer it to the syrup-filled versions you’ve had before.

What is a Macchiato?

Before we make a macchiato, we had better define a macchiato. There is plenty of confusion on this topic — and for a good reason. 

A proper Italian macchiato, also known as an espresso macchiato, is simply a double shot of espresso with a small amount of milk foam. It gets its name from the Italian word for “stained” because you stain the espresso with a milk dollop. This is the version we’ll be making in this article.

The macchiato gained popularity in Italy because Italians typically don’t enjoy cappuccinos after breakfast time. They are considered to be too rich in dairy for later in the day. So the macchiato is an afternoon drink (1).

The day is defined by coffee rituals: a cappuccino with breakfast, a caffè macchiato – or two – as an afternoon pick-me-up, and espresso after dinner.

A latte macchiato is also a traditional Italian drink, but it’s the reverse of the traditional macchiato. In this case, you stain the steamed milk with espresso. A glass is partially filled with steamed milk, and you pour a double shot of espresso into the centre. This produces a characteristic gradient in the glass and a distinct dot (or “stain”) of espresso in the centre.

Related: Different Coffee Drink Types (with FREE DOWNLOADABLE infographic)

Then there’s the Starbucks versions, the Caramel Macchiato or the Cloud Macchiato, which have nothing to do with tradition (2). Their only similarity with their Italian counterparts is the presence of espresso and milk. These caramel syrup-filled milky concoctions are undoubtedly tasty treats, but they’re a far cry from Italian espresso drinks.

WHAT YOU NEED

  • Coffee beans
  • Milk
  • A burr grinder
  • An espresso machine
  • A way to froth milk
  • An espresso cup

AT A GLANCE

BREW TIME

10 minutes

YIELD

1 espresso macchiato

A few important notes, before we dig into the details:

  • 1% or 2% milk is standard, but because a macchiato requires a dollop of foam on top, nearly any milk or plant-based milk substitute will work.
  • Make sure you have a grinder that can handle a fine espresso grind. If you don’t have access to one, buy espresso beans at a local coffee shop and have them do an espresso grind for you.
  • For your espresso, you can use any of the following: an espresso machine, a manual lever espresso maker, or a portable espresso maker.
  • If your machine doesn’t have a milk frothing system, you will need a separate milk frother.
  • Espresso cups, also known as a demitasse, these measure between 2.5 and 3 ounces.

How to Make a Macchiato

Now, let’s get started with the traditional macchiato recipe.

how to make a macchiato

1. Make espresso.

Finely grind your coffee beans, if they’re not already ground, and use an espresso machine to make a double espresso, which should measure about 2 oz. 

Next, pull a double shot of espresso. You can do it without a proper machine, BUT any real espresso is pulled with a machine that has 9 bars of pressure. But because this coffee drink is so espresso-focussed, a strong coffee like you might get if you brew with a Moka pot or Aeropress is not a great alternative. The body of the beverage won’t be as rich and creamy as it should be.

A Nespresso machine will make something similar to espresso to work for this, though Italian purists might not be impressed.

Pro tip: You don’t need to use espresso beans. You can use any coffee beans as long as you grind them finely enough, though darker roasts are usually easier to extract. So with that in mind, feel free to use whatever coffee you enjoy.

2. Froth the milk.

Use either a milk frother or your espresso machine’s steam wand to foam a small amount of milk. Here’s a guide on how to froth milk.

You only need an ounce of milk or less for this drink, but most frothing systems will require more than that to operate correctly. Don’t be tempted to add too much milk, or you can ruin the drink’s balance.es

The milk is only added to enhance the flavour of coffee, and should never be overpowering.

You want to make an airy foam, as you would for a cappuccino, rather than a creamy microfoam you might use for a latte (3).

Pro tip: Even if you don’t have a steam wand or milk frother, you can still foam milk using a French press. This technique won’t generate the fine microfoam you need for latte art, but it’s perfect for a simple dollop on a macchiato.

Related: Frothed Milk vs Steamed Milk

3. Stain the espresso and drink up.

Add a dollop of foamed milk on top of your espresso shot and enjoy. Some people will also add a bit of sugar to their espresso first, but this isn’t traditional.

Pro tip: If you’re inclined to add sugar to your coffee, try going for a darker roast first. These have a natural sweetness from the caramelisation that occurs during the roasting process. Try beans from Central and South America, which often have inherent nutty and chocolatey flavours. You might just find you don’t need that sugar after all!

Final Thoughts

When it comes right down to it, an espresso macchiato is one of the simplest drinks to make. It’s just espresso with a bit of froth on top. You don’t have to measure your milk or worry about mastering that perfect microfoam.

So as long as you have access to an espresso machine, why not give it a try at home? For the whole Italian experience, brew one (or two) as an afternoon pick-me-up!

FAQs

The best beans for espresso are the ones that taste the best to you. Most people tend to use medium or dark roasts because these yield sweeter and fuller-bodied espresso. But if you love a good light roast, there’s no reason not to try it as espresso.

The difference between a macchiato, a latte, and a cappuccino is in the ratio of milk to espresso and the milk’s texture. A latte has the most milk, and a macchiato has the least. A cappuccino and a macchiato both use airy-frothed milk, whereas a latte needs a creamier microfoam. For more details, check out our articles on Cappuccino vs Latte vs Macchiato or how to make a latte. You can also learn more about the different types of coffee here.

You can sometimes make macchiato with cold milk instead of hot-frothed milk. In Italian, the cold version is known as a Macchiato Freddo, and the hot version is a Macchiato Caldo. Of course, if you go to Starbucks, you can order an Iced Caramel Macchiato.

  1. Eataly Magazine (n.d.). A Guide to Italian Coffee Culture. Retrieved from https://www.eataly.com/us_en/magazine/how-to/italian-coffee-culture/
  2. O’Malley, N. (2019, March 8). Starbucks’ new Cloud Macchiato is silly anti-coffee, and I hate how much I like it. Retrieved from https://www.masslive.com/food/2019/03/starbucks-new-cloud-macchiato-is-silly-anti-coffee-and-i-hate-how-much-i-like-it.html
  3. Kilmanova, Y. (2018, December 14). Why Does Milk Foam & How Does It Affect Your Coffee? Retrieved from https://perfectdailygrind.com/2018/12/why-does-milk-foam-how-does-it-affect-your-coffee/
Julia Bobak
I love trail running, rock climbing, coffee, food, and my tiny dog — and writing about all of them. I start every morning with a fresh Americano from my home espresso machine, or I don’t start it at all.

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