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Cappuccino vs. Macchiato: Which Should You Choose?

Cappuccino vs Macchiato

The cappuccino and the macchiato. Both are classic espresso-based drinks that are deceptively difficult to differentiate to the untrained eye. They taste similar, look similar, and contain the same ingredients, so why do they have different names? Are they literally the same drink? Technically, no, but some people hardly bother to try to tell them apart since they are fundamentally the same beverage.

In this article, we’ll briefly go through the differences between a cappuccino and a macchiato and set the record straight, so you’ll never get them confused again. Even though they are extremely similar, some subtle but straightforward differences can help you tell them apart.

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Overview of the Cappuccino

A cappuccino is a classic Italian espresso drink and a staple of every barista’s repertoire. Italians typically drink cappuccino in the mid-morning, but outside of Italy, they are consumed at any time of day and are commonly enjoyed after dinner in the United States.

There are only three ingredients – sort of two, actually – in a cappuccino: espresso, steamed milk, and milk foam. Some people might raise an eyebrow at counting steamed milk and milk foam as different ingredients since milk foam is aerated steamed milk.

Cappuccino
Image Credit: Free-Photos, Pixabay

For a drink to officially be called a cappuccino, it must be approximately equal parts espresso, steamed milk, and milk foam. Anything else is technically not a cappuccino, even though many coffee shops don’t make this distinction.

Taste

Compared to other espresso drinks, a cappuccino has a softer taste, owing mostly to the high milk content. Between the steamed milk and milk foam, a cappuccino is two-thirds milk. If you like mellower drinks with less focus on espresso, a cappuccino is a perfect choice for you.

Texture

Cappuccinos are known for having a smooth, velvety texture that comes from the milk foam. The order in which the ingredients are added to the mug is important if you want to have an authentic cappuccino experience. The milk foam is usually added last so that the first sip breaks the “crust” and gives you the rush of coffee and milk foam that cappuccino-lovers crave.

Ease of Preparation

We love cappuccinos, but we usually order them at coffee shops rather than make at home. Steaming milk is fairly easy, but frothing the steamed milk to make milk foam is a messy, difficult process that is more trouble than it’s worth.

Pros
  • Less powerful coffee taste
  • Smooth, velvet-like texture
  • Milk foam is delicious
Cons
  • Too milky for some people
  • Making a cappuccino at home is a pain

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Overview of Macchiato

A macchiato is very similar to a cappuccino, and they are often confused because they contain the same ingredients – kind of. Like a cappuccino, a macchiato only contains espresso and steamed milk. However, a macchiato doesn’t have any foamed milk, and the ratio of espresso to steamed milk is much higher in a macchiato than it is in a cappuccino.

Cafe Macchiato
Image Credit: Polymanu, Pixabay

Macchiatos are mostly espresso and only have a thin layer of steamed milk floated on top of the coffee. Some people prefer to use barely any milk and add only a tiny dash of steamed milk. Unlike cappuccinos, how much milk a standard macchiato has is not well-defined. It mostly comes down to personal taste how much milk you add. The clearest way to put it is that macchiatos have less milk than cappuccinos.

Flavor

Since macchiatos are virtually all espresso, they have a much stronger coffee flavor than cappuccinos. If you don’t love the taste of espresso, chances are good that you won’t like a macchiato as much as a cappuccino. On the other hand, if cappuccinos are too milky for you, you will probably like macchiatos much better.

Mouthfeel

You might be surprised at how different a macchiato feels in your mouth than a cappuccino. The layer of milk foam in a cappuccino has a big impact on how a cappuccino tastes and flows across your lips. Whether you prefer one or the other depends on personal preference, but there’s no denying that a macchiato is a harsher experience overall.

Convenience

If you like to make espresso drinks at home, macchiatos are a great option because of how easy they are to make. If you can make espresso, you can make a macchiato since all you need is a tiny amount of steamed milk. The milk foam adds a nice flair to cappuccinos but also makes them much more complex to make than macchiatos.

Pros
  • More coffee-flavored
  • Stronger taste
  • Easier to make
Cons
  • Harsher flavor profile
  • Can be too strong for some people

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Which is Better for You?

As with most things, which coffee beverage you prefer depends on your personal preferences. Cappuccinos are great for people that like milky coffee and a smooth mouthfeel. The milk foam in a cappuccino is the highlight for us, and we miss it when we order a macchiato instead.

Froth coffee
Image Credit: StockSnap, Pixabay

If you love strong coffee and occasionally drink espresso straight, you will probably prefer macchiatos over cappuccinos. Macchiatos have a stronger flavor and more caffeine, which makes them ideal for people looking for a quick energy boost.

Macchiatos are also easier to make than cappuccinos since they don’t contain any milk foam, which leads us to the next point.

Which is Better to Make at Home?

We have a slight preference for cappuccinos over macchiatos, but we’ll still be the first to admit that macchiatos are significantly easier to make at home. The single step of making milk foam is enough of a nuisance that we rarely make cappuccinos at home, even though we prefer them. If you have the patience for cleaning up a mess, then you might not mind as much, but it’s still easier to make a macchiato.

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Conclusion

If you’re ordering an espresso drink at a coffee shop, you can’t go wrong with a cappuccino or a macchiato. They’re closely related, and to a new coffee drinker, they’re essentially identical. If you like smoother coffee with a lot of milk, then a cappuccino is the way to go. For people that prefer a stronger, robust coffee, a macchiato is the right choice.

You will really feel the difference between cappuccinos and macchiatos when you make both at home. Making milk foam is a surprisingly painful experience and one we prefer to avoid. If you’re looking for a quick and easy espresso drink to make at home, a macchiato is the clear choice for us.

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Featured Image: Kellydo, Pixabay

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Sean Brennan

Sean’s obsession with coffee started when he received his first French press as a gift almost ten years ago. Since then, his love of coffee – and the number of coffee gadgets he owns – has grown considerably. A scientist by training, there is no stone he has left unturned in the never-ending quest for the perfect cup of coffee. He has spent many hours tuning his pour-over technique, thinking about how to best compare grind quality, and worrying about whether the Nicaraguan or Kenyan beans will make the best cold brew. These days he favors the Hario V60, and starts each day by hand grinding his coffee before enjoying a cup prepared with care and attention to detail.

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