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Is a macchiato a coffee or espresso?

Is a macchiato a coffee or espresso?

Is a Macchiato a Coffee or Espresso?

Macchiato, a word that’s been popularised around the world through high-street coffee chains, evokes curiosity about its true essence. While some refer to it as coffee, others argue it’s a type of espresso. So, what exactly is a macchiato?

In the simplest terms, a macchiato is an espresso-based coffee drink. It starts with a shot of espresso, which is then “stained” or “marked” with a small amount of frothed milk.

The Origins of Macchiato

The term “macchiato” originates from the Italian word for “stained” or “marked.” Its conception was likely driven by the desire for a middle ground between a strong espresso and a milkier cappuccino. Thus, a macchiato provides the robust flavour of espresso with just a hint of milk to soften its intensity.

“In every sip of macchiato, you’ll find a dance between the boldness of espresso and the subtlety of milk.”

Does Milk Go First in a Macchiato?

The preparation of a traditional macchiato sparks discussions among coffee enthusiasts. In most cases, the answer is straightforward: No, milk does not go first.

  • Espresso First: The base of a macchiato is its espresso. The hot, aromatic shot is poured into the cup as the primary layer.
  • Milk is Added: After the espresso, a dollop or a small amount of frothy milk is added on top, “marking” the espresso beneath it.

However, with the proliferation of coffee cultures and adaptations, variations exist. Some modern renditions might add milk first, especially in larger, iced versions commonly found in commercial coffee chains. Yet, purists would argue that this strays from the essence of the traditional Italian macchiato.

What is the Opposite of a Macchiato?

In the world of coffee, if the macchiato represents an espresso “stained” with milk, its antithesis is the latte macchiato.

Latte Macchiato: The Reverse Macchiato

Latte macchiato literally translates to “milk stained.” Here’s how it differs:

  1. Milk First: Unlike the traditional macchiato, a latte macchiato starts with steamed milk as its base.
  2. Espresso is Added: A shot (or two) of espresso is then poured into the milk, “staining” it. This results in a layered appearance, with a strong milk flavour up front, followed by the deeper tones of the espresso.
DrinkBaseAdded Ingredient
MacchiatoEspressoFrothy Milk
Latte MacchiatoSteamed MilkEspresso

Choosing Between the Two

Whether you opt for a macchiato or its opposite, the latte macchiato, is a matter of personal preference. Both offer unique experiences:

  • Macchiato: Perfect for those who prefer the robustness of espresso but want just a hint of creaminess to balance it out.
  • Latte Macchiato: Suited for those who enjoy the creaminess of milk with an aftertaste of strong coffee.


Understanding the nuances of coffee drinks enriches the experience of enjoying them. Whether it’s the traditional macchiato or its opposite, the latte macchiato, each drink tells a story of flavours, cultures, and evolving tastes. In the end, what truly matters is finding that perfect cup which resonates with your palate.