Having trouble deciding between a latte, a latte macchiato, and a regular macchiato ? Truth be told, the names won’t really tell you much so you kind of have to guess at them.
Or, you could look them up like you’re doing now, and see the differences between each of these espresso based drinks.
I’ve had these drinks before, and I have to admit that pure lattes are my favorites. Partly because they can be flavored, and partly because they’re one consistent flavor and texture all the way to the bottom.
Before we start with the main differences between the drinks, let’s first see how each of them is built. This will make the comparison that much easier.
What a latte, latte macchiato, and macchiato look like
Knowing what each of these drinks looks like will spare you a lot of trouble. Depending on where you’re getting them from, you might even be able to look at the different layers through the glass.
If you’re getting them to-go, then your only chance is to watch the barista.
The latte contains a whole lot of milk. The name itself means ‘milk’ in Italian, so this should tip you off if you speak any Latin language.
The milk is a lot, but mostly by volume rather than by weight. There’s steamed milk, microfoam, and regular milk foam in a latte.
It’s usually a large drink, reaching anywhere between 8 to 16 oz/236 to 470 ml, depending on where you get it from.
You add in the espresso shot first (usually a double shot), then about 6 times more steamed and frothed milk, in a fluid motion. The way you incorporate the milk dictates what the latte art will look like.
A latte macchiato is also milk-heavy, but the espresso is added last
As for a latte macchiato, it’s got a lot of milk as well. Actually the same amount as a regular latte, but there’s a twist.
Instead of adding the espresso first, it’s added last. This means that after the barista’s finished steaming and foaming the milk, she’ll gently pour it into your cup or glass.
Then, on top (usually right in the middle for effect) she pours the espresso, crema and all. This results in a very different flavor experience, and if your glass is transparent you’ll notice a beautiful transition from milk foam to milky espresso to steamed milk.
This one can be as large as the regular latte.
A macchiato (or espresso macchiato) is a shot of espresso with a dollop of foamed milk on top
When ordering a macchiato, you should be very clear if you want it espresso macchiato or latte macchiato. The original, traditional macchiato is a pure shot of espresso, no sugar or anything added, to which a teaspoon or two of milk froth is added, right on top.
This results in a very strong but small drink, and the small amount of frothed milk is only meant to take the edge off the espresso.
Some baristas may feel indulgent and add a tiny bit of steamed milk. It’s not the original way to do it, but many people prefer it like that since it’s a little easier to drink.
If you’re wondering about the name, it’s Italian for ‘marked, spotted’. This is because of the dollop of milk added to it. And yes the latte macchiato is called that because it’s marked with the shot of espresso.
Now you know what each coffee drink looks like (roughly), let’s get into the finer details of each of them and really compare them.
1. Milk content – lattes always have more
Milk content is always important. We got to the point where people argue over which milk is best for a latte, the 2% or whole milk. So yes, the milk matters.
A latte and a latte macchiato are always going to have a lot of milk, pretty much the most milk of any kind of coffee drink. There’s just the one shot of espresso involved (usually a double shot but can sometimes be single), and then all the milk in the pantry.
There’s roughly 6 times more milk than espresso in any sort of latte. Now, some coffee shops might use more, or they might use less, depending on what the barista thinks is tasty and how she’s been trained.
A macchiato is going to have the lest amount of milk possible, since this is pretty much just a shot of espresso with some foamed milk on top. Not really much to froth milk for.
The milk foam is usually added last, as a spoonful on top of the espresso’s crema. Other times, if the barista thinks it helps improves the flavor or you specifically ask for this, she can put the milk in first, then pour the espresso into the milk foam.
This results in a more even flavor, and a less impressive overall presentation.
2. Coffee flavor is dominant in a macchiato
Since there isn’t really any milk to tone down the espresso – after all, it’s milk foam not actual liquid milk – the macchiato is going to be your best friend if you’re looking for a strong espresso flavor.
It’s not as harsh as a pure, black espresso but it’s still going to be a drink you’ll finish in 4-5 sips and really feel its effects afterwards.
However, if you’d rather have a more mellow version than you should go for the latte macchiato. I say this because with the way the espresso is added on top of the drink, the first few sips are going to be more bold than the last ones.
This is also because of the fact that latte macchiato often uses whole milk, as opposed to 2% milk. The result is a clearer difference between the layers and flavors.
Finally, if you’re aiming for a very mild and friendly coffee flavor, then opt for a simple latte. This is because the milk is poured on top of the espresso, which helps it blend together better, and result in a more coherent flavor from top to bottom.
It also means the espresso flavor will be toned down quite a bit, and you’ll get a creamy, milky drink to sip on.
3. The top of the drinks looks very different
Since the drinks are built differently, it also makes sense that their tops are going to look different.
You might wonder why this matters, aside from pleasing the eye. Well, aside from telling each drink apart, the tops look different because of the order in which each item was introduced into the drink.
For example, in a latte you’ll have a foamy top, made up of milk foam and espresso crema. If your barista is tired or just doesn’t have her latte art down pat, she’s probably going to serve you a drink with a white top and a nice tan/orange circle towards the edge of the drink.
Maybe attempt some cocoa powder art over the top, but those are rare.
But, as you know lattes have latte art on top. Those pretty flowers and hearts and leaves that make everyone queue up to one barista over the other.
The latte art is the result of pouring the milk and its microfoam into the espresso crema, and moving the stream in such a way as to create lines and circles.
A latte macchiato has no such thing, since the milk is added first. It has nothing to contrast with, so it’s going to be a white top drink. But, usually in the middle, you’ll find a tan/ brown mark that’s going to set it apart from other drinks.
That’s where the espresso was introduced into the milk, and left a spot (or mark, for macchiato).
And a regular macchiato is going to be a small drink, with a tan/orange foamy top (the crema), with one white blob on it. That’s the milk foam, and will often be right in the center of the crema.
4. The layers of coffee and milk are different
Let’s get back to the way the drinks are built for a moment. If your drink comes in a glass, or anything transparent, you’re going to be able to notice its structure and actually see where the milk blends into the espresso, if you look at it from the side.
So, for a latte you’ll notice a mostly uniform light tan liquid, where the steamed milk and espresso are near the bottom. The the bit of microfoam will be a bit lighter, but still a pleasant light tan color.
Finally, you’ll notice the milk froth on top as a mixture of distinctive orange/tan and white streaks, where the latte art is. Overall a uniform drink.
A latte macchiato is going to be more impressive, since you’ll the the lower part with is steamed milk, and that it hasn’t blended with the espresso just yet. As your eyes look up you’ll notice the espresso blending with the milk more and more, until you get to the milk foam on top.
That’s going to be completely white, and almost completely milky in flavor, expect the tan mark where the espresso was added.
And the little macchiato will be just the espresso shot, dark brown/black, with its half inch layer of crema (possibly less, depends on the coffee used).
You won’t notice the milk foam from the side, but you’ll notice it if you look from the top.
All these layers and the way they interact in each coffee drink bring about a different coffee experience, so you’re going to get different flavors from each of them.
A latte macchiato is just an upside down latte
you might think that the latte macchiato is a bit of an eye roll. It is, I think. And it pretty much is just an upside down latte, but latte macchiato sounds fancier, right ?
There is a slight difference, in that regular latte uses 2% milk while latte macchiato uses whole milk. But that’s only a Starbucks thing, since most coffee shops don’t really use anything but 2% milk anyway.
As for the name of the drink, sometimes you’ll find it as ‘upside down latte’ on the menu, but know that it’s actually latte macchiato. Unless the barista says otherwise, in which case please let me know, I’d like to find out about that.
5. A macchiato will always be smaller than a latte
Ah, serving sizes. Everyone likes their coffee hot, flavorful and lots of it. But, not all coffee drinks come in large sizes. And maybe that’s a good thing, since a 10 oz macchiato might be just too much for most of us.
Which is why you’ll always find a macchiato in a small cup, something like a 5 oz/150 ml one or smaller. The whole drink itself barely reaches 3 oz/100 ml so there’s no point to serving it in something larger.
As for lattes and latte macchiato these guys are always going to come in lots of sizes, anywhere from 8 to 16 oz/236 to 470 ml. This is mostly to accommodate for the large amount of milk that goes into all lattes, since the espresso itself is only a an ounce or two.
6. Lattes can sometimes be flavored, macchiatos aren’t
Often you’ll find lattes simple, but more often than that you’ll notice they comes with the option of flavoring. Now, which flavor you use doesn’t really matter, the point is that you can add nearly anything you like to the drink and it’s still a latte.
This also applies for latte macchiato, but much less often since you’re not exactly meant to stir the drink. And you have to stir it to get the flavor evenly across all the drink.
Macchiatos aren’t flavored, since they’re meant as a way to enjoy a pure shot of espresso, but a tiny bit toned down for those who would like a little less kick from their coffee.
There is no sugar in the original espresso macchiato recipe, meaning this really is a stiff drink.
A chocolate flavored macchiato is a mocha
You can get a flavored macchiato, I guess, but it’s not really a macchiato. However it’s the closest thing you can get to a flavored espresso macchiato.
It’s called a mocha, and it’s 1 part espresso, 1 part chocolate syrup or sauce, and one part milk foam on top.
You’ll notice the only thing resembling a macchiato from that sentence is the espresso shot and the milk foam, that’s it.
Common traits between latte, latte macchiato, and macchiato
Now that we’ve discussed every little difference between latte, latte macchiato, and espresso macchiato, let’s talk a bit about what they’ve all got in common.
All 3 drinks are espresso based
All these drinks absolutely need to be made using espresso shots, Anything else will result in a different flavor, and the ration of coffee flavor to milk will be off.
If you have no espresso machine, a Moka pot or Aeropress are the only vaguely acceptable alternatives. However even those won’t get you a true espresso shot.
You need frothed and steamed milk for all of them
And all these drinks need some form of milk in them, even if it means a little milk foam on top of a macchiato. Meaning you’re going to need an espresso machine for its steam wand to get the milk just right.
Or, use a milk frothing wand to get a similar result, but not quite the real thing.
Picking out your favorite from these 3 coffee drinks should be easier now. You know the milky one, the milder espresso one, and the punch-in-the-face espresso shot too.
If you’re a newcomer to coffee then the names of coffee drinks might not mean anything to you, but in time you’ll notice they have a sort of logic of their own.
I hope this guide helped you out by comparing latte, latte macchiato and espresso macchiato, so you know which drink to make at home or order when you’re out for coffee.
If you want to know more about coffee or tea, feel free to check the related articles below. Who knows what else you might find ?