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How to Make a Macchiato (Traditional Recipe)

Did you know that a real Italian macchiato is totally different from the caramel topped beverage at your local Starbucks? It’s true! It’s a delicious drink 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 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 your beans at a local coffee shop and have them do an espresso grind for you.
  • If your espresso machine doesn’t have a milk frothing system, you will need a separate milk frother.
  • Also known as a demitasse, these measure between 2.5 and 3 ounces.

How to Make 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 espresso shot 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.

Macchiatos 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 espresso macchiato. In this case, you stain the milk with espresso. A glass is partially filled with steamed milk, and you pour a double shot of espresso into the center. This produces a characteristic gradient in the glass and a distinct dot (or “stain”) of espresso in the center.

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 syrup-filled milky concoctions are undoubtedly tasty treats, but they’re a far cry from Italian espresso drinks.

So with that out of the way, let’s get started with our espresso macchiato recipe.

how to make a macchiato
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Step 1: Make espresso.

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

Any real espresso machine with the ability to generate 9 bars of pressure will work to make espresso. But because this 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.

If you have a Nespresso machine, it will make something close enough to espresso to work for this, though Italian purists might not be impressed.

Pro tip: You don’t need to use espresso beans to make espresso. 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.

Step 2: Froth the milk.

Again, the details of this step will depend on the device you have. 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.

The milk is only added to enhance the flavor 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.

Step 3: Stain the espresso and drink up.

Add a dollop of foam 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 caramelization that occurs during the roasting process. Try beans from Central and South America, which often have inherent nutty and chocolatey flavors. 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 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/
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I’m a semi-reluctant homebody who enjoys cold brew in the company of two Dachshunds, Mommy Dog and Bibbo, and 20 house plants.

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