There has been some confusion over what a café macchiato is. This has become particular confusing in North America due to the Starbucks caramel macchiato. The caramel macchiato is a successful drink. As such, other coffee chains have created similar concoctions under the name “macchiato,” which further confuses things. To put it simply, the caramel macchiato is NOT a café macchiato. In fact, the café macchiato is something completely different. The genius of the café macchiato is its simplicity.
Like I said, some coffee chains in America make macchiato drinks with the same formula or a similar variation of it. That formula consists of steamed milk with espresso dropped into it. Flavored syrups and sugary sauces are then added. It comes closer to a café latte with “stuff” in it. A lot of independent coffeehouses, quality focused espresso bars, and serious coffee connoisseurs know that this is incorrect. Guess what? Now you know too.
I’m sure by now you have heard that macchiato means, “stained” or “marked” in Italian. This term is used because of how the drink is made. The drink is a double shot of espresso with a splash of milk in it. The “mark” comes from the barista adding a small dollop of foam on top of the drink. But why does the barista do this? In Italy, the barista will prepare multiple espresso shots during the busy hours for efficiency purposes. However, some customers don’t want the fierce strength of the espresso. Therefore, milk is added to tame the espresso or to give it a sweeter taste.
This does present a new problem. Adding a splash of milk to an espresso will not really change the color of the drink. The color gets mixed with the crèma of the espresso. In order for the barista to know which drink has milk in it, a dollop of foam is added to the top of the drinks. In other words, the dollop of foam on top “marks” the drink that has a splash of milk in it. I told you it was simplistic!
Note: A short macchiato has one shot of espresso and a long macchiato has a double shot of espresso.
Just a quick disclaimer, I actually like the caramel macchiato. Although I know this is not a café macchiato, I find it to be a tasty, sugary, guilty, treat. You can actually get a café macchiato at Starbucks by asking for an espresso macchiato. Also, you can get a traditional macchiato at a lot of other coffee houses. Independent coffeehouses are a great source for traditional/real coffee drinks. Now that you know what it is, it should be easier for you to identify the correct version.