What Is an Espresso Macchiato? All You Need to Know About the Barista’s Favorite

Hi! My name is Arne. Having spent years working as a barista I'm now on a mission to bring more good coffee to the people. To that end, my team and I provide you with a broad knowledge base on the subject of coffee.

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So, what is an Espresso Macchiato? 

So, what is an Espresso Macchiato? 

If you ask a barista, they’ll say, it’s a small, elegant and delicious way to enjoy coffee. 

But there’s so much more to it than that. And in this article, you’ll learn everything you need to know about this refined beverage. I’ll also clear up a few things about espresso preparation and give you my delicious Espresso Macchiato recipe. 

As always on Coffeeness, this article isn’t about Keurig or Nespresso but about real whole bean coffee.

Before we go any further, let’s first get on the same page. 

Technically, an Espresso Macchiato is a single or double espresso garnished with a little fine milk foam. Sounds pretty simple, right? Well, yes and no. But keep reading to learn how to properly prepare an Espresso Macchiato because there are some important things to keep in mind.

What Is a “Real” Espresso?

Even today, there still seems to be some confusion in the coffee world about what a “real” espresso is. 

It all starts with the uncertainty surrounding the correct shot volume for an espresso. When I order an espresso, I expect a Ristretto shot with a volume just under 20-25 milliliters (.6-.8 ounces). 

A proper Espresso out of an espresso machine

I’m often out of luck, though. It isn’t unusual to get a single shot with a volume of up to 100 milliliters (3.3 ounces).

To be fair, I’ve worked behind the bar as a professional barista, so I’m intimately familiar with the disappointed face of a customer who just got what they ordered — an espresso. Of course, I’m not saying it’s the customer’s fault. 

After all, for those who don’t work with coffee all day, it can be difficult to know what an authentic espresso should look like. Less than an ounce of liquid in a demitasse can seem like almost nothing — especially when you’re used to getting something different elsewhere.

Bear in mind, though, when you’re learning how to make espresso, a Ristretto shot has a volume of 20-25 milliliters (.6-.8 ounces) and a doppio espresso should clock in at 40-45 milliliters (1.3-1.5 ounces).

Plus, the crema sits on top of the espresso and can vary in density, color and thickness, depending on the espresso beans and the quality of the extraction. Because the crema holds many complex aromatics, the old adage, “if the crema looks good, then the espresso is good,” just doesn’t hold true. 

But have a little heart for the ugly duckling and don’t judge a book by its cover!

Espresso with a beautiful crema

What Is an Espresso Macchiato?

Now I don’t want to talk too much trash, but if it weren’t for the Starbucks Caramel Macchiato abomination, then I wouldn’t need to explain Macchiatos at all. Still, if I can help clear up some of the confusion, then all the better. 

Many of you already know that the traditional Latte Macchiato is an Italian beverage, literally translating to “stained milk.” 

The barista pours hot milk and foam into a glass, then “stains” the milk by drizzling espresso on top, resulting in a drink that always looks impressive. That’s why a Latte Macchiato is usually served in a tall glass. 

So what’s stained in an Espresso Macchiato? 

Actually, it’s the other way around. First, the espresso goes into the cup, then it’s stained by a small amount of milk foam. So while a Latte Macchiato has dark espresso stains on the milk, an Espresso Macchiato has white foam stains on the espresso.

Picture of an espresso macchiato

If you’re in Italy, you’ll need to order a Caffe Macchiato if you want to drink an Espresso Macchiato. In the U.S., you’ll have to be a little more careful. 

Depending on where you get your daily fix, you’ll need to make sure the barista understands that you want an Espresso Macchiato and not just a Macchiato. Otherwise, you run the risk of ending up with a huge, sugary drink with barely any evidence of espresso present.

What Are the Espresso Macchiato Ingredients?

It’s really very straightforward. You’ll only need two things for an Espresso Macchiato:

  • Fresh, high-quality espresso beans

  • Fresh (ideally, full-fat) milk

For those who’d rather not drink espresso with milk, you can, of course, use a substitute of your choosing. My vegan friends tell me oat milk makes an especially delicious Espresso Macchiato. 

Just please don’t use non-fat milk — you’ll sacrifice so much richness and texture. Besides, we’re only talking about a couple of sips, so you’ll never even notice those extra Espresso Macchiato calories.

Ideally, you should prepare the espresso using a portafilter machine. Still, a well-calibrated super-automatic espresso machine is also an option. In a pinch, you can even use coffee from a moka pot

But keep in mind that stovetop coffee makers don’t produce real espresso, so you won’t end up with a real Espresso Macchiato. You also have to steam the milk.

How to Steam Milk for an Espresso Macchiato

Arne enjoys a spoon of milk foam

Because an Espresso Macchiato is such a small beverage, you only need around an ounce of milk. The problem is you’re not going to get very good results if you try to steam such a small quantity of milk using a portafilter machine. 

So to achieve the correct consistency, you’ll need to start with at least 200 milliliters (6.7 ounces) of milk in your pitcher. That means you’ll have to prepare an extremely large number of Espresso Macchiatos — which, of course, creates new difficulties when making espresso. Or you can always just find someone who likes to drink hot milk. Because two things are for certain:

  1. Dumping fresh milk is a crime.

  2. Saving milk, then re-steaming it later isn’t OK.

If you’re using a super-automatic espresso machine, you’ll run into a similar problem. 

The first couple of ounces that come out of the automatic milk foam system are often subpar in terms of quality. So you’ll need to produce at least 100 milliliters (3.3 ounces) to avoid watery milk foam that isn’t homogenous.

No matter how you produce the milk foam, its temperature shouldn’t exceed 150 degrees Fahrenheit, and the texture should be fine and silky. You’re not creating a pillow that can support the weight of a cookie but rather a smooth, supple foam.

How to Make an Espresso Macchiato

There’s no reason why you shouldn’t be able to make a superb Espresso Macchiato at home. Here’s how to do it: 

  1. Extract a single Ristretto shot from your espresso machine or super-automatic. If you’re using a portafilter, you should aim to use about 7 grams of finely ground coffee. In a super-automatic machine, the amount of ground coffee is usually greater. The extraction time should be about 25 seconds, and the resulting shot volume should be slightly under 20-25 milliliters (.6-.8 ounces). Remember that the factory-set shot volume for many super-automatic machines is way too high, so you’ll need to tweak the settings.

  2. Steam the milk right before you pull a shot of espresso — at least that’s how I like to do it. And as soon as the espresso is ready, add milk foam to the center, using a demitasse spoon. I always try to add half the weight of the espresso in foam. So if I have a 20-gram espresso, I add 10 grams of milk foam to create my Espresso Macchiato.

Of course, you can also add a shot of hot milk to the foam if you like. For me, it’s still an Espresso Macchiato as long as there isn’t more milk and foam than espresso in the cup. Otherwise, at some point, it becomes something else — a Cortado, Gibraltar or whatever the latest hipster drink might be.

Note that the milk foam is lighter, with greater volume than the espresso. So only put in half the weight of milk foam, but double the volume of the drink. 

How to Make a Doppio Espresso Macchiato

For a Double Espresso Macchiato, the process is the same, but the amounts are doubled

You’ll use a double Ristretto shot of espresso and twice as much milk foam on top. Chances are you’ll also need to use slightly larger cups.

A close-up of an Espresso Macchiato with a LEGO barista

Choosing the Right Espresso Macchiato Cup

As you can see from the photos, I use double-walled espresso glasses

I find them practical because of their 60-milliliter (2-ounce) capacity. Plus, there’s a lot of space to work with, even though I only use about half of it for my Espresso Macchiato. 

Then, of course, they’re also great for photos and offer a perfect view of my espresso’s structure. The only downside to using glass is that it doesn’t hold heat as well as porcelain.

That’s why I generally recommend porcelain cups, which you should always preheat. You can buy a 6-piece set on Amazon here.

Conclusion on the Espresso Macchiato: How Does It Taste?

There’s a lot to say about the taste of an Espresso Macchiato, but it’s difficult to generalize

Obviously, espresso is the main element and plays a key role in the flavor profile of the finished beverage. And the milk fat is a very good vehicle, enhancing and altering many of the espresso’s complex notes.

An Espresso Macchiato is certainly a very good choice if you’re dabbling with becoming a purist but still find a straight espresso too intense. Aside from its rich, complex taste, what’s also great about an Espresso Macchiato is that it contains almost no calories. You’re welcome.

Just be cool and do without the sugar. It’s bad for your teeth, bad for your figure and very bad for the taste of the espresso — even if Starbucks says otherwise. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about the barista favorite, Espresso Macchiato. I’d love to hear any comments, questions or suggestions you may have! Thanks for reading!

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Arne Preuss

Hi! My name is Arne. Having spent years working as a barista I'm now on a mission to bring more good coffee to the people. To that end, my team and I provide you with a broad knowledge base on the subject of coffee.

More about Arne Preuss

Hi! My name is Arne. Having spent years working as a barista I'm now on a mission to bring more good coffee to the people. To that end, my team and I provide you with a broad knowledge base on the subject of coffee.

More about Arne Preuss

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