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Macchiato vs Cappuccino: Decoding The Italian Coffee Classics

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In the realm of specialty coffee beverages, two popular contenders are the cappuccino and the macchiato. These Italian espresso drinks may share a common foundation of espresso and milk, but their distinct characteristics and preparation methods set them worlds apart.

If you are confused by the differences, read on. In this article, I compare the similarities and differences between the macchiato vs cappuccino. I look at the contrasting ratios, textures, and flavor profiles that make these beverages unique.

So whether you seek the silky embrace of milk or the bold presence of espresso, this comparative guide will help you navigate the world of espresso coffee drinks with confidence.

A Short History Of The Macchiato

First up let’s take a look at the macchiato.

So the history of the café macchiato is a little unclear.  But it is most likely linked to the evolution of the espresso machine in the early 20th century.

Perhaps the small addition of milk helped smooth the often bitter flavor of the espresso in the early days. Others believe it evolved as an alternative to an espresso when drinking coffee in the afternoon.

Either way it has stuck around and is now a firm favourite for many people who love to drink coffee with an espresso dominant flavor.

What Does Macchiato Mean?

The term macchiato literally translates to ‘spotted’ in Italian. The small amount of milk literally spots the espresso shots in the cup. Interestingly:

  • Portugal has a similar coffee called a Pingado, which translates to ‘dripped’.
  • In Spain they have the Cortado. This literally means ‘chopped up’.
espresso macchiato coffee drink with brown sugar alongside.

What Is A Macchiato Coffee?

Pronounced ‘mah-key-AH-toe’ , a traditional macchiato is a single shot of espresso topped with a very small amount of foamed milk – often just a teaspoon of frothed milk layered on top of the espresso.

I state this with a little trepidation, as the macchiato coffee drink could well be one of the most contentious espresso beverages.

There are short macchiatos, long macchiatos, double macchiatos..the list goes on.

The most contention lies with how much milk should be added to a traditional macchiato.

Coffee houses often have their own take on traditional espresso drinks and make slight changes to each coffee style. 

However, I am quietly confident there is general agreement that a macchiato has the least milk of any milky espresso based beverage.

To define macchiato literally, the milk spots the espresso.

In the US it is more popularly known as an espresso macchiato, or caffé macchiato.

This is to differentiate the Italian macchiato from the well known, but very different, Starbucks latte macchiato (see below).

close up of espresso macchiato on table.

What Is The Macchiato Ratio Of Milk To Espresso?

The easiest way to understand the difference between a cappuccino and a macchiato is to look at the espresso to milk ratio.

The macchiato milk ratio is 1:2. So for every portion of milk, there is twice the amount of espresso.

So a double macchiato would have twice the espresso and twice the milk of a regular macchiato. A long macchiato is typically a double shot of espresso with just a dash of milk.

As a result of this ratio, the macchiato has a bold espresso taste.

The small amount of milk softens the flavour and gives it a little body.

But the robust espresso flavour is still the hero of the drink.

macchiato vs cappuccino vs latte

What Is The Ideal Macchiato Cup Size?

And the size? A classic macchiato cup size is an espresso glass or demitasse cup.

Total macchiato size is just 2-3 oz with less milk than a piccolo latte.

If you want to enjoy a macchiato at home, double walled espresso glasses are the right size and a great addition to your coffee bar. These ones by DeLonghi are an excellent option.

Macchiatos are great if you are looking to consume less milk but struggle with the robust flavor of a straight espresso.

A Short History Of The Cappuccino

Okay, so let’s now take a look at the cappuccino coffee drink.

The cappuccino coffee is thought to have originated in northern Italy in the 19th century. 

Originally made with black coffee and cream, the drink evolved as refrigeration made it possible to use fresh milk and espresso machines became more advanced.

While there are earlier examples of a similar drink in Austria, these beverages were typically espresso topped with whipped cream. This style of drink is now commonly known as a Vienna coffee.

But despite these early iterations, it was not until the 1950s, when espresso machines could heat milk with a steam wand, that the modern day cappuccino was born.

cappuccino coffee drink in cup with chocolate shavings on top.

What’s In A Cappuccino?

There are all kinds of modern variations to the cappuccino, but a classic cappuccino is a drink of thirds.

It has equal parts of espresso, steamed milk and frothed milk:

  • 1/3 espresso
  • 1/3 steamed milk
  • 1/3 milk foam

It is this careful layering that makes cappuccinos unique espresso based drinks.  In many countries they also top the cappuccino with a light dusting of chocolate or cinnamon.

What Is The Correct Cappuccino Ratio Of Milk To Espresso?

So the key difference between macchiato and cappuccino coffee drinks is the amount of milk added to the espresso.

The cappuccino milk to coffee ratio is 2:1. The opposite of the macchiato.

For every portion of milk (foam or steamed), there is half the amount of espresso.

But what also differentiates the cappuccino to other milk coffee drinks like the latte or flat white is the ratio of steamed milk and frothed milk (foam). In a cappuccino, there is equal amounts of steamed milk and foam.

The result is a strong espresso flavor with silky smooth steamed milk for body and lightness in the foam.

Flat lay of cappuccino on table.

What Is The Ideal Cappuccino Cup Size

A classic cappuccino is typically served in a 5-6 oz ceramic cup with a saucer like these cups

It is possible to make a cappuccino using a larger cup size – the key is to ensure you maintain the ratio of thirds.

The shape and size of the perfect cappuccino cup is an ongoing discussion for coffee aficionados. If you are a cappuccino lover, you should read our reviews of the best cappuccino cups for home here.

Consumption Of Macchiato vs Cappuccino In Italy

Now we know the make up of the cappuccino vs macchiato, it is clear they are entirely unique espresso drinks in terms of their structure and the key difference is the ratio of milk to espresso.

But what also makes them different is how they are consumed in their native country, Italy.

In Italy the cappuccino is generally considered a breakfast or morning drink. Italians don’t tend to drink milky espresso drinks with meals and few people drink them after 11am.

Which may explain why the macchiato is a popular afternoon and evening coffee.

The espresso macchiato has less milk than a cappuccino, but is still softer in flavor and has more body than a straight shot of espresso.

Which makes it the perfect coffee drink for an afternoon break with your favorite slice or cookies.

top view of outdoor cafe seating in plaza in Venice Italy.

Is A Macchiato Stronger Than A Cappuccino?

As there is less milk added to a macchiato, it will have a “stronger” espresso taste than a cappuccino which is sweeter thanks to the higher ratio of milk.

However the amount of caffeine in the two drinks is the same. So the macchiato is not stronger than a cappuccino in terms of caffeine.

What Is A Latte Macchiato?

I thought I should include a definition of the latte macchiato here too because, well, it does coonfuse people.

Literally meaning stained milk, this drink was made popular in the US by Starbucks in 2016. It is the source of much confusion when comparing a latte macchiato vs macchiato vs cappuccino!

A latte macchiato is not really a latte, nor is it a cappuccino or macchiato.

Conceptually, it is the inverse of a traditional macchiato. It is milk stained with espresso.

This style of coffee drink is a popular milky breakfast drink in Europe, where a latte macchiato would usually have just 1/2 – 1 full espresso shot topped with hot milk.

The Starbucks latte macchiato version is steamed milk and froth with a shot or two of espresso poured on top.

layered latte macchiato coffee drink in tall glass.

Latte Macchiato Ratio Of Milk To Espresso

So unlike the macchiato and cappuccino, the latte macchiato has a larger milk to espresso ratio of 3:1.

For every three portions of milk there is one portion of espresso.

It is a popular drink choice for people who don’t enjoy the robust coffee flavor and is often mixed with popular coffee flavors like caramel and vanilla.

Starbucks have an iced caramel version of the latte macchiato – see our copycat recipe here.

Latte Macchiato Cup Size

And the size? The Starbucks latte macchiato is usually served in a tall 16 oz glass like these ones.

Expert Tip: Add the espresso last to create a layered effect in the glass.  The steamed milk on the bottom, the espresso hovering in the middle and the froth sitting on top.

How To Make A Macchiato At Home

For an espresso macchiato the quality and freshness of the coffee beans is really important as the espresso flavour dominates the drink.

I recommend you read our top espresso coffee bean recommendations here.

To make macchiato coffee at home you will need:

Steps to make a macchiato:

  • Step 1: Pull a shot or two of espresso into a small espresso cup.
  • Step 2: Steam a small quantity of milk until you have sweet creamy microfoam.
  • Step 3: Add a small spoon of milk foam to your espresso and enjoy.

Macchiato vs Latte Macchiato vs Cappuccino

In summary the main difference between cappuccino and macchiato and a latte macchiato is:

  • Different milk to espresso ratios
  • The order in which the components are added to the cup.

The result is three unique coffee beverages with very different taste and textures.

Before You Go

Now you know the differences between cappuccino vs macchiato, you may also like to know more about other espresso based coffee beverages.

Discover the differences between a latte vs flat white here and the comparison of the frappe vs Frappuccino here.

Or read this interesting article on unique and unusual coffee drinks you may not know.

More Coffee Brewing Guides

Or browse all the brewing guides here.

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An espresso macchiato and cappuccino with text overlay.
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Rachel Rodda

It's no surprise that as a former barista and founder of Creators of Coffee, I'm obsessed with all things coffee. I love to share easy and delicious coffee recipes, expert brewing tips and helpful coffee gear reviews with my fellow coffee lovers!

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