The macchiato vs latte battle is a tricky one. In general, macchiato can be considered a strong coffee with some steamed milk. Latte is not as strong and contains much more milk. However, these definitions oversimplify things.
There are different types of macchiato and, as you might know, there is even a latte macchiato. Not to sound nitpicky, but the fine nuances between these espresso-based beverages make all the difference.
To get to the bottom of all the characteristics that make them special, we will look into different recipes and macchiato types. As the cream on top, we will also provide a short historical overview of each drink.
Macchiato vs Latte: Similarities and Differences
Right off the bat, both macchiato and latte have an espresso base and some milk. That’s pretty much where their similarities end. Some would go as far as to call latte a milk drink with a light coffee flavor. However, unlike latte, a macchiato is nowhere near an espresso-flavored milk drink.
To make the distinctions clear, here is how each of the drinks is prepared.
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To make a latte, start by adding one or two shots of espresso into the cup. Steam about 6oz of milk and pour it gently over the espresso. Extra shots of espresso might make the latte a bit stronger, but it may be hard to notice the difference because of all the milk. Finally, a latte is finished off with a thin layer of frothed milk. 
There are two basic types of macchiato – espresso macchiato and latte macchiato.
Let’s take a closer look at the preparation process for both.
Espresso Macchiato Recipe
Grab a short glass, no more than 3.4oz, and pour a single shot of espresso. Then add a small dollop of frothed milk. Some variations might have a bit more milk and reveal three layers in a clear glass. The bottom is the darkest (just espresso), the middle layer mixes milk and espresso (light brown), and the top one is mostly milk (white).
Macchiato… It’s a fantastic drink. It’s small, it’s balanced, and it really does a good job at delivering both the flavor of the espresso and the sweetness and texture of the milk.Mike Phillips, Champion Barista
In a way, latte macchiato takes the preparation method upside down. To prepare it, steam about 5oz of milk first and then add the milk and the foam into a cup. Make one shot of espresso and pour it gently from the center of the cup.
Some baristas use a teaspoon back to control the pouring. This diffuses the espresso and allows for prettier layers.
Macchiato vs Latte: Origins and History
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines latte as an espresso with steamed milk.  This is probably one of the simplest ways to describe the drink, and it might even undermine its origins. One way or another, milk has been added to coffee since the 17th century.
The first mentions of café latte appeared in the 19th century, but it wasn’t standardized until the 1950s. Surprisingly, the standard latte might have originated much closer to home than you think. According to multiple sources, it was Lino Meiorin from Caffè Mediterraneum in California who invented and standardized latte.
It would be hard to verify these claims, but coffee experts still debate far and wide whether latte is indeed an American creation.
A word for word translation of caffè macchiato is coffee with a stain.  The macchiato is the stain part and hints at the small amount of milk. The exact date or century when macchiato first appeared is not known.
But according to folklore, this drink came out of necessity. Namely, baristas needed to mark the difference between a straight espresso and an espresso with a little milk, so they came up with the stained one (macchiato).
At the same time, you wouldn’t be wrong to assume that it’s more of a recent invention. Macchiato was probably created just before or after WWII, following the Age of Crema and the popularization of other espresso-based drinks.
When in Italy, ask for caffè macchiato. When in a coffee shop chain, ask for espresso macchiato.
Make a Tasty Mark
Have you ever tried a real, Italian-style latte or caffè macchiato? If not, head straight to your local coffee shop and give it a taste. Even better, make your own whether you have a nice espresso machine at home or not.
The difference between cappuccino and macchiato is in the milk-to-espresso ration. Macchiato usually has more espresso, so the coffee flavors are more pronounced.
You don’t usually stir a macchiato before you drink it. But if you ask a barista, macchiato can be stirred before it gets a dollop of milk. This removes the bitter ring from the coffee and provides a better flavor balance.
Starbucks calls their coffee a macchiato for marketing reasons – that’s the best guess, at least. Their macchiato has little to do with the traditional one and tastes more like a caramel-infused latte.
- Coffee breakdown: How much caffeine is in your daily espresso drink? (n.d.). Retrieved July 3, 2019, from https://www.upbeacon.com/article/2017/11/bhrt4pkzzlpk9tt
- Latte. (n.d.). Retrieved July 3, 2019, From https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/latte
- Daily, K. (2017, December 7). Think You’ve Got A Macchiato? Think Again. Retrieved July 3, 2019, from https://www.huffpost.com/entry/what-is-a-macchiato_n_1432821
Husband, father and former journalist, I’ve combined my love of writing with my love of coffee to create this site. I love high end products, but write all my content with budget conscious coffee enthusiasts in mind. I prefer light roasts, and my normal brew is some sort of pour over, although my guilty pleasure is the occasional flat white.