What is the Difference Between a Macchiato and a Latte?

Do you know what is the difference between a macchiato and a latte? Here I will answer that question and explain the main differences.

In short, a macchiato is an espresso with a stain of milk on top. The amount of coffee is higher than the milk and it is served in a small cup. A latte has more milk than coffee and the ingredients are mixed together. It is served in a bigger cup.

After many years of drinking both macchiato and latte in Italy and now in China, I found out that many bar owners and consumers confuse the drinks.

In this article, I want to clarify the main differences, so to help you to understand and enjoy more these drinks.

Keep reading to learn more about the differences between a macchiato and a latte!

What is a Macchiato?

The word macchiato is Italian, as is most of the language surrounding coffee drinks. It translates to “marked” or “stained”.

Both the espresso macchiato and the latte macchiato involve “staining” one element of the milk+espresso combination with the other.

Keep in mind that the name implies “stained,” not “bleached,” “dyed,” or “diluted.” That is, you should focus on one element, with a smidgeon of the other.

Many believe that the beverage macchiato originated in Italy in the 80s to give a name to distinguish the specific espresso with a drop of milk in it.

Macchiatos (especially espresso macchiatos) were created as a method to sneak espresso into the afternoon. While Cappuccino, the second main espresso-based choice, was reserved for morning pick-me-ups.

Ingredients for macchiato

The ingredients for macchiato are two:

  • Fresh ground coffee
  • Cold milk

As explained before, the macchiato is an espresso with a mark or drop of foamed milk. It should be 90% coffee and 10% milk. 

Steps to prepare a macchiato

To make a perfect macchiato, you need some tools like a coffee machine (automatic, Moka, etc), and a milk frother (a French press can be used too). You will use the first to make the espresso shot and the second to make the milk foam.

Step 1 – Grind the beans (skip this if you have ground coffee already). For a cup, we would need 6 to 8 ounces (18 to 21 gr) of coffee beans.

Step 2 – Fill the filter with ground coffee

Step 3 – Make the espresso shot and pour into an espresso cup (time varies depending on the kind of coffee machine that you have).

Step 4 – Foam the milk (as you froth your milk, keep in mind that you should be expanding it and incorporating in as much air as you can. What we need is that milk foam!).

Step 5 – Pour the milk foam into the espresso shot. For a traditional macchiato, you should pour only the foam. You can add a little bit of milk depending on your personal taste.

Variations of macchiato

The macchiato that I talked about up until now is the traditional macchiato, but variations exist.

In Australia, for example, you can request a long macchiato, which consists of two espresso shots and a smidgeon of milk. 

You can also order a caramel macchiato from Starbucks, which is a drink made with steamed milk and a dash of espresso, topped with caramel syrup or flavoring and first introduced in the 1990s.

The iced macchiato is another variation of the traditional macchiato. To make an iced macchiato, pour whole milk into a glass, top with ice, and pour two shots of espresso on top. Between the milk and the coffee, this will create a cool marble appearance.

The macchiato will continue to evolve and different mixes will be created. In the end, the most important part is to enjoy a good cup of coffee – my personal preference is for the traditional 😉

What is Latte?

A latte is a traditional coffee drink made with two main ingredients: espresso and steamed milk. The word “latte” is derived from the Italian phrase “caffè e latte”, which simply means “coffee and milk.”

A latte is typically made with 1/3 espresso, 2/3 heated milk, and a small, thin coating of microfoam on top. 

Since the 17th century, coffee and milk have been a feature of European cuisine. Traditional forms of drinking coffee, such as caffè e latte, Milchkaffee, café au lait, and café con leche, are referred to as caffè e latte. 

Although Kapuziner (cappuccino in Italian) is described in Austrian coffee shops in Vienna and Trieste in the second half of the 1700s as “coffee with cream, spices, and sugar,” public cafés in Europe and the United States appear to have no mention of the terms until the twentieth century.

The term caffè and latte was first used by the American William Dean Howells in his essay Italian Journeys. 

The word “latte” has become popular because it is a simple shorthand slang for “caffe latte,” which is coffee with milk. Over time, the term “latte” came to designate an espresso beverage that is primarily made up of milk. 

But keep in mind that if you go to Italy and you order a latte in a bar, you will probably end up drinking a glass of milk!

Ingredients for latte

The ingredients for latte are the same as the macchiato:

  • Ground coffee
  • Cold milk

But here the doses change because you will have to use ⅔ of milk and ⅓ of coffee.

Steps to prepare a latte

The steps for the preparation of a latte are like the ones of the macchiato, with the only variation of the last step and the amount of milk poured into the cup.

Step 1 – Grind the coffee beans (you can skip this step if you already have ground coffee)

Step 2 – Fill the filter with ground coffee and make the espresso shot

Step 3 – Steam the cold milk in a metal pitcher

Step 4 – Pour the milk into the espresso shot in a smooth way. The milk and the coffee have to mix together. Finish with milk foam on top.

Step 5 – Enjoy your perfectly made latte!

Variations of latte

While for the macchiato, the variations are not many and the most noticeable type of macchiato is the traditional one, the latte has many variations, due to the fact that it is possible to mix different ingredients with the milk to give that extra taste and enjoy even more this beverage.

For their varied latte flavors, some cafes choose to use simple syrups. Before putting in the milk, these syrups are frequently added to the espresso.

Some variations of latte are:

  • Vanilla latte: Vanilla is one of the most delicate latte flavors, and it’s also one of the most popular. It gives a touch of sweetness without being too sugary. 
  • Cinnamon latte: Cinnamon in coffee gives a latte a special warmth. Its earthy and deep flavors combine to make a smooth, peppery beverage. As a spice, it’s sugar-free and contains several potential health benefits.
  • Caramel latte: Caramel syrup is rich and sweet, giving coffee a deep, buttery, caramel candy flavor. You can make a caramel latte by combining espresso with a splash of store-bought caramel syrup, or you can make your own caramel. Simply melt the butter, sugar, and cream together. 
  • Pumpkin spice latte: One of the most difficult recipes on this latte list is the pumpkin spice latte. It’s not a difficult beverage to create, but it does need a few extra components beyond flavored syrup.
  • Coconut latte: Coconut and coffee aren’t exactly a match made in heaven—not it’s even close to coffee and cocoa. When done correctly, though, the flavors can work wonderfully. Coconut milk, rather than coconut syrup, is the finest way to prepare a coconut flavored latte.
  • Iced latte: An iced latte is made by combining milk and espresso in a glass with ice. Yes! That’s all there is to it!

Latte macchiato: the cool cuisine of latte

The latte macchiato is typical in Italy and asked by many people that want to just give a slight coffee taste to the milk. 

When making a latte, the espresso is often poured into the glass first, followed by the steamed milk. 

The latte macchiato, on the other hand, is the polar opposite of this process. 

Milk is steamed until it reaches a velvety microfoam consistency, then poured into a cup. A half-shot of espresso is put on top of the milk after it has been poured. This makes a “macchia,” a stain on top of the milk. 

Because the amount of coffee is less than the latte, it is also less strong than a normal latte.

Which one to order?

This is one of the debate that arise among people, and in the end depends on which kind of flavor you like and also in which part of the world you are in.

For example, here in China where I am based, 99% of the coffee shops, bars, restaurant, etc. does not have a macchiato on the menu. So, the main beverage that people order is latte.

But if you go to Italy, you have to specify that you want the latte that is more similar to cappuccino, otherwise you will probably end up with just a glass of milk.

If you go to the USA, there isn’t so much difference between a macchiato and a latte. A macchiato may have just a little bit less flavoring, but it will be served in the same cup as a latte, so the amount of milk and coffee will be very similar. 

Final thoughts

Macchiato and latte are two beverages that have basically the same ingredients, but different methods of preparation.

Remember the differences next time that you will order one of them and try them at home to enjoy the differences in the taste.

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