Both these drinks were invented by Italians, yet they each serve a different purpose in the coffee world. The macchiato is a truly classic Italian beverage that celebrates espresso, while lattes are a creamier option with flavor add-ins that make them a hard choice to resist as well. Let’s look at the basics of the two drinks, and the reasons they are different.
What is a Latte?
This marriage of milk and espresso is a simple drink. A latte starts with bold espresso shots, and then a good amount of creamy steamed milk is added, often with a thin layer of foam on top. Most folks like to be able to personalize their coffee. This is easy to do with a latte, which is the reason lattes became more popular. There are a wide variety of flavors available to add to give it a little something just for you. They are also really easy to make today with the use of latte machines.
What is a Macchiato?
Italians, the gods of coffee, are unsurprisingly responsible for this simple yet strong drink. The one you might get at a coffee shop isn’t authentic if it’s flavored with tons of sugary syrups or sauces. Needless to say, the Italians would not be happy. They intended for macchiatos to highlight the flavor of espresso, not hide it.
So what is an authentic macchiato? In Italian, “macchiato” translates to “stained” or “marked.” The original version of the macchiato, now deemed an “espresso macchiato,” is simply an espresso marked with a small amount of steamed milk with a bit of foam on top. This drink offers you the bold, strong espresso flavor, but with a little milk for slight relief and texture. It may have a big flavor, but it comes in a small package averaging between two to four ounces.
RELATED READ: Our Guide to Brewing the Perfect Macchiato
Something in the Middle: Latte Macchiato
While we are focusing on the original versions of these two drinks, we have to mention the latte macchiato. This drink is mostly steamed milk instead of mostly espresso. However, it isn’t a latte because there is less milk, and there’s more of a technique involved.
In this case, a large amount of milk is steamed, and the espresso shots are pulled as usual. This time the espresso marks the milk. It’s poured slowly over the milk, creating layers of espresso and milk throughout the drink. This type of macchiato is more similar to a latte, except for the slow pour and the layers created.
Macchiato vs Latte: The Bottom Line
In essence? Espresso macchiatos are bold espresso drinks lightly cut by steamed milk. Lattes, on the other hand, contain much more steamed milk, and have a creamy mouthfeel and smooth flavor. Which should you choose? Order a latte if you’re in the mood for a large, milky drink — or want to add caramel or peppermint flavors. Ask for a macchiato if you want an espresso-forward drink with just a touch of foam. And above all, enjoy your coffee!
Want to make things a little more complicated? There’s something called a latte macchiato, too.