Macchiato Vs Espresso: What Is The Differences

Coffee lovers in the United States often face a tough choice between different types of coffee beverages. One such common debate is the one between macchiato vs espresso. 

small cup of espresso

Both originating from the same source and providing a unique taste, these two classic drinks cater to different preferences and varied palates. 

We’ve got the scoop on the key differences between macchiato and espresso drinks to help you coffee aficionados decide which one suits your taste buds better the next time you visit your favorite coffee shops.


Espresso is a concentrated form of coffee, made by forcing hot pressurized water through finely-ground coffee beans. 

Known for its strong, bold flavor, plain espresso is the foundation for many other coffee beverages, including macchiato. 

On the other hand, a macchiato is an espresso-based coffee drink that is served with a small amount of steamed milk and foam. 

Macchiatos offer a milder, lighter experience than a straight espresso shot while still retaining much of the original taste.

When comparing macchiatos and espressos, the key factors that differentiate them boil down to taste, texture, and preparation methods. 

As you learn more about these, it becomes apparent that each coffee drink offers a unique experience that appeals to various preferences. 

Macchiato Vs Espresso: Understanding the Drinks

close up of macchiato with foam and beans on top

Here’s the scoop on the explanation of the drink macchiato and espresso!

The Origins of Macchiato and Espresso

In Italian coffee culture, espresso is a strong, bold coffee of Italian origin, made by forcing hot water through finely-ground coffee beans under high pressure. 

Espresso is also enjoyed in Spanish coffee culture, as Spaniards like to drink cafe solo, a dark variation of this drink.

The word macchiato, also of Italian origin, is an Italian word that means “stained” or “spotted. It refers to an espresso that has been “stained” with a spot of milk that is either steamed or frothed. 

While both of these popular drinks have their roots in Italy, they differ in preparation, flavor, and intensity.

Differences in Preparation

brewing a shot of espresso
  • Espresso: Prepared by boiling cold water, and then forcing the hot water through finely-ground coffee beans under high pressure. Resulting in a concentrated, thick coffee with a rich crema on top of the espresso.
  • Macchiato: Derived from an espresso shot, but with a small amount of steamed warm milk or froth added to it. There are variations like the latte macchiato, where steamed hot milk. Whether it’s skim or whole milk, is the primary ingredient with espresso poured into it afterwards.

Espresso macchiato brings the boldness of espresso with a touch of milk. Whereas the latte macchiato is milk-based with espresso added creating a balance between the two coffee flavors.

If you’re a coffee lover looking for a similar drink to the caffe latte with a double shot of espresso and a smaller dash of milk, a flat white is your best bet. 

Contrasting Flavor Profiles

Espresso has a robust, bold, and bittersweet taste due to its use of Robusta beans. 

This type of coffee bean has a strong earthy flavor. 

Macchiato, on the other hand, while still having an espresso base, softens the bitterness and intense flavor of espresso with the addition of the steamed milk or froth. 

This creates a lighter and frothier texture, making it a milder option and better choice for those who find straight espresso too strong.

In terms of caffeine content, a small or medium macchiato (around 2 oz or 60 ml) has about 80mg of caffeine, while a large one contains around 120mg. 

A single shot of espresso, containing about an oz of undiluted coffee, has 63mg of caffeine. 

However, the overall caffeine content in your drink will also depend on the number of espresso shots used.

Overall, being aware of the origins, preparation differences, and contrasting flavor profiles of macchiato and espresso can help you choose the right coffee drink based on your preferences, flavor, and intensity expectations.

Ingredients and Ratios

shot of espresso with coffee beans

Espresso Ingredients and Ratios

Here’s the scoop on the drink espresso:

Espresso is a concentrated coffee made by brewing finely-ground coffee beans under high pressure. 

It serves as the base for several coffee drinks, including macchiatos, cappuccinos, and lattes. 

A standard espresso shot has a volume of 1 ounce (30ml) and contains about 63mg of caffeine. 

Since espresso is the primary ingredient in many beverages, let’s look at its ratios in these drinks:

  • Espresso: 100% espresso (single or double shot)
  • Americano: 1 part espresso, 2 parts water
  • Mocha: 2 parts espresso, 2 parts foamed milk, 1 part chocolate syrup

Macchiato Ingredients and Ratios

shot of macchiato with foam on top

A macchiato is an espresso-based drink that consists of a small amount of milk foam. Typically about 1 to 2 teaspoons. 

This milk foam softens the intensity of the espresso and allows its bold flavors to come through. 

There are two main types of macchiato: espresso macchiato and latte macchiato.

To help you avoid getting confused about the two different names, let’s take a closer look at these espresso-based drinks:

  1. Espresso Macchiato: 2 parts espresso, 1 part steamed milk, microfoam
  • Taste: Creamy with a strong espresso taste
  • Caffeine: It depends on how many shots of espresso are used
  • Calories: 10-30 calories per serving
  • Ratio comparison: An average size espresso macchiato has a 2 to 1 ratio of espresso to milk, so not much milk is used
  1. Latte Macchiato: Starts with cold milk that is steamed, topped with a shot of espresso
  • Taste: Smooth and milky with a mild coffee flavor
  • Caffeine: Similar to that of a cappuccino or latte, depending on espresso shots
  • Calories: Depends on the type of milk used (e.g., whole, skim, or alternative)
  • Ratio comparison: A latte macchiato has a higher ratio of milk to espresso than an espresso macchiato, typically around 3:1

In terms of boldness, espresso is the strongest, followed by an espresso macchiato with its creamier texture but intense taste. 

The traditional version of the milk drink, latte macchiato, provides a more balanced mix of milk and coffee flavor, making it less concentrated but still rich in taste. 

It’s essential to understand these differences when choosing between a macchiato and espresso-based beverages to find the perfect balance of flavor and intensity for your preference.

Brewing Techniques and Equipment

macchiato shot with foam on top

Perfecting Espresso

Espresso is a concentrated coffee beverage typically created using an espresso machine. Which uses pressure to force hot water through finely ground coffee beans. 

This extraction process results in bold and rich flavors, with coffee enthusiasts often describing it as intense and slightly bitter.

The first thing you should know is that an espresso coffee comes in a small size because of its strong and intense flavor. 

The brewing technique involves a few important factors:

  • Coffee beans: Use freshly ground, high-quality beans for the best taste.
  • Grinding: Coffee beans should be very fine, as this allows for better extraction of flavors.
  • Pressure: The brewing process requires approximately 9 bars of pressure to extract the coffee properly.

By taking into consideration these factors, a barista can create a perfect espresso with a rich and full-bodied taste.

Mastering the Macchiato

show of espresso in small cup

The macchiato is derived from the traditional espresso, with the addition of a small amount of frothed milk. 

This results in a beverage that is marked with a thin layer of milk on top. Offering a contrast between the strong espresso flavor and the sweetness of the milk.

Key aspects to consider when creating a macchiato:

  • Ingredients: Macchiatos have a 2 to 1 ratio of espresso to milk, which maintains the bold espresso taste. While adding a touch of sweetness from the milk.
  • Frothed milk: A dollop of milk foam is added to the espresso, creating the distinct “mark” on the surface.
  • Texture: This coffee beverage should have a balance of flavors and textures, with the espresso being the primary ingredient but not overpowering the milk.

Similar to a cortado, which has an equal ratio of espresso and milk, the macchiato is made to cater to those who seek a slightly less intense coffee experience with a creamy texture.

A barista’s skill in controlling the extraction of espresso, as well as properly frothing the milk, is instrumental in creating a delightful macchiato. 

While Starbucks’ macchiatos may differ from traditional preparation, the recipe’s essence remains grounded in the rich, bold flavor of espresso marked with the sweetness of milk.

Calories and Health Considerations

shots of espresso being made

When comparing macchiatos and espressos, it’s essential to consider the nutritional aspects, such as calories, caffeine, and fat content.

A macchiato typically has fewer calories than an espresso. 

For example, a macchiato has around 23 kcal per 100g, whereas an espresso has approximately 9 kcal per 100g. 

The main difference in calories mainly comes from the addition of steamed milk and foam in a macchiato.

In terms of caffeine, a macchiato has slightly less caffeine than an espresso, with around 80 mg in a small or medium serving (about 2 oz or 60 ml). 

A large macchiato contains about 120 mg of caffeine. 

Comparatively, a single shot of espresso, containing around 1 oz of undiluted coffee, has 63 mg of caffeine.

The brewing process for both beverages involves extracting a concentrated, robust coffee flavor from the beans. 

The crema, which is a layer of creamy foam, forms at the top of an espresso due to the high pressure used in the brewing process. 

On the other hand, the foam on a macchiato is created by the addition of steamed milk.

When it comes to texture, a macchiato tends to be creamier than an espresso due to the steamed milk and foam. 

Baristas usually use a thermometer to maintain the ideal temperature for steamed milk, ensuring a consistent and delicious texture.

In comparison, a double espresso contains two shots of espresso, providing a more concentrated and robust flavor. 

This process intensifies the espresso flavor without diluting it with milk or foam.

Both macchiatos and espressos are brewed coffee options that deliver a strong aroma and strength, which coffee enthusiasts appreciate. 

However, it’s crucial to note that the number of calories, fat, and caffeine content will vary depending on the specific brewing process, serving size, and ingredients used.

Customizing and Enhancing Your Drink

cup filled with macchiato and foam on top

Whether you prefer macchiatos or espressos, there are several ways to customize and enhance the taste of your beverage to suit your personal preferences.

Adding Flavors and Toppings

You can add a diverse range of flavors to your macchiato or espresso by incorporating various syrups and seasonings. 

Vanilla syrup, for example, can provide a hint of sweetness that complements the boldness of the espresso. 

Likewise, a sprinkle of cinnamon is a great option if you’re looking to add a touch of warmth and enhance the coffee’s natural flavor notes.

For those with a sweet tooth and love a good caramel macchiato, consider adding caramel sauce to your macchiato. Creating a deliciously indulgent spin on the traditional beverage. 

Whipped cream is another popular topping that can be generously applied to create an even more decadent treat.

You could make all of these specialty drinks at home with the proper coffee maker and espresso beans, or go to your local coffee shop where they are sure to offer these popular coffee drinks on their coffee menu.

Adjusting Espresso and Macchiato Ratios

If you’re seeking a quick pick-me-up, a possible best choice that can hit the spot is a single espresso in a small cup. 

Alternatively, a ristretto, which uses less water and packs a more concentrated punch, could be your go-to option.

If you prefer a more diluted espresso, consider caffé americano or lungo. Both of which contain more water and a milder flavor compared to a traditional espresso.

In contrast, a caffe macchiato contains a dollop of foam and sometimes a splash of milk which softens the espresso’s acidity. 

A traditional macchiato, however, focuses on the coffee and only features a small amount of microfoam to distinguish it from a cappuccino. 

In other words, a classic macchiato uses less milk than a cappuccino.

When adjusting the milk and espresso ratios, remember that a caffè macchiato with a larger splash of milk may resemble the popular choice for milk coffee, the caffe latte, while a cappuccino typically contains equal parts espresso, steamed milk, and foam.

Equipment Essentials

woman holding a cup of macchiato

To create the perfect macchiato or espresso at home, some essential equipment includes a reliable coffee machine and steam wand to generate the necessary pressure and heat for precise extraction and beautiful latte art. 

Remember that you will not be able to make latte art with dry foam.

A milk jug is also vital for steaming and frothing milk to achieve the desired consistency for your chosen drink of personal preference, whether it’s a homemade macchiato, drip coffee, a flavored caffè latte, or a traditional espresso macchiato. 

By experimenting with various ratios, flavors, and techniques, you can find the perfect balance to suit your taste buds and enjoy a customized coffee experience based on personal taste, whether you love espresso-based coffee drinks or cold brew coffee.

Final Thoughts

When comparing macchiato to espresso, both options offer distinct characteristics that cater to different preferences.

Macchiato is an espresso-based beverage that features a small amount of foam. Providing a delicate balance between the intensity of the espresso and the velvety texture of the foam.

On the other hand, espresso is a concentrated and strong coffee that delivers a bold flavor and aroma.

While macchiato offers a smoother and slightly milder experience with the addition of foam, espresso appeals to those seeking a robust and straightforward coffee experience.

Ultimately, the choice between macchiato and espresso depends on individual taste preferences, with each option providing a unique and satisfying way to enjoy a small yet powerful cup of coffee.

macchiato vs espresso Pinterest image

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