Last Updated on September 30, 2021 by John Moretti
Ever had one of those coffee shop moments when you’re faced with the list of coffees, the barista is waiting for you to order, and the queue behind you is getting longer? You want something frothy, milky, and warming, but suddenly you don’t know the difference between a flat white, a café au lait, and a latte, let alone a macchiato or cappuccino. You know it’s on the tip of your tongue – what’s the difference between a macchiato and a cappuccino?
Macchiato and cappuccino coffee drinks are both a combination of espresso and milk. A macchiato coffee is an espresso with a splash of milk. A traditional or Italian cappuccino coffee is made with equal parts espresso and milk, topped with steamed milk, and milk foam.
If you’re a new explorer in the amazing world of coffee or just want to improve your knowledge of the different variations your coffee machine can concoct, you’ll want to know how to combine espresso with milk to create a variety of beverages. Two of the most popular coffees you can purchase at your local coffee shop or create in your own kitchen are macchiato and cappuccino. Both are delicious and flavorful, but there are some important differences between them.
Macchiato Vs. Cappuccino: A Quick Comparison
|Espresso coffee with a dash of warm milk
|Milky espresso coffee topped with milk foam and chocolate/cinnamon sprinkle
|Espresso, topped with steamed milk
|Espresso, with steamed milk and milk foam
|Bold, strong, rich
|Caffeine content (single)
|Calories (full-cream milk)
|Under 100 calories
What Is A Macchiato? A Quick Guide
A macchiato, caffe macchiato, or espresso macchiato is an espresso coffee with a splash of steamed milk, or milk foam added. In Italian, “macchiato” means marked, spotted, or stained – so the espresso is simply marked by the milk, not diluted. The Portuguese version, café pingado, is translated as coffee with a drop (of milk).
Traditionally served in a small espresso glass or cup, the macchiato is a quick pick-me-up beverage, usually enjoyed mid-afternoon. The milk offsets the bitterness of an ordinary espresso, which makes the macchiato a popular drink for those who like a strong coffee with a hint of sweetness.
A History Of The Macchiato
The macchiato’s history begins with in Italy in the late nineteenth century, with the invention of the espresso machine, which produced a powerful shot of pure coffee bliss. The macchiato was developed as an alternative to the bitter espresso for those who crave the punchy boldness of espresso, but like it tempered or moderated with a touch of milk.
How To Make A Macchiato
Baristas make a macchiato in the following way:
- Make a shot of espresso.
- Heat one to two teaspoons of milk to 150⁰F (66⁰C) in the milk steamer
- Pour the milk into the espresso.
The tiniest hint of foam will be on the coffee, combining with the crema to sweeten the espresso.
It is quite common for macchiato to be made with a double espresso for an extra caffeine hit.
Variations Of The Macchiato
Although the traditional espresso macchiato is still popular – and what you’ll get if you order a macchiato – there are some variations of this iconic coffee.
Not strictly a variation of the macchiato, but a coffee style of its own, the cortado is a Latin American beverage consisting of espresso with either an equal amount of steamed milk to coffee or half the amount of milk to coffee. The cortado is a great choice for those who enjoy the boldness of espresso, but find the macchiato a little strong.
Latte Macchiato/Tall Macchiato/Long Macchiato
The latte macchiato or tall/long macchiato is of the latte family, rather than a true macchiato. Instead of an espresso topped with a dash of steamed milk, the latte macchiato consists of two portions of steamed milk with an espresso (or two) slowly poured into it and topped with milk foam. The milky drink is served in a tall glass, like a latte, not a short cup, like a macchiato.
Starbucks have created various twists on the latte macchiato, adding vanilla or caramel syrup or even chocolate to create an entirely new beverage, not recognizable as a caffe macchiato at all (although really voluptuous and velvety, with a caffeine hit).
What Is A Cappuccino? A Quick Guide
Possibly the most popular coffee in the world, the cappuccino is an espresso topped with equal amounts of steamed milk and milk foam. Cappuccino fans enjoy the bold coffee flavor of the espresso combined with the smooth mouthfeel of steamed milk and the lightness of milk foam.
A cappuccino is usually served in a tall glass, showing the layers of coffee and milk or a large cup. In Italy, cappuccino is regarded as a breakfast drink because of the lightness of the milk and is often topped with shaved chocolate or cinnamon.
The layer of milk foam on cappuccinos has given birth to a new art form, where baristas vie to produce the most elaborate milk foam creations to top coffee beverages.
A History Of The Cappuccino
Although now a thoroughly Italian beverage, the cappuccino was originally invented in the coffee shops of Vienna, Austria, in the 1700s. Known as the Kapuziner, this early version of the cappuccino was a coffee sweetened with chocolate or spiced with cinnamon and topped with whipped cream and can still be found in Viennese coffee shops today.
Coffee in the 1700s wasn’t the smooth, flavorsome beverage of today – made with lower grade, cheaper beans, it was far more bitter and grainy, so the additions made it sweet and warming. The addition of cream also led to the name of the coffee, which refers to the Roman Catholic Capuchin monks, whose robes are the light brown of milky coffee. Another version of the name’s origins comes from the circle of white cream against the brown coffee, which resembles a monk’s tonsure or shaved head, also sported by the Capuchins.
As coffee bean production improved and once the espresso machine was invented in Italy, it was no longer necessary to hide the flavor of coffee with rich cream, and the modern milk-based cappuccino was born. The Italian version of the coffee first appeared in the 1930s, but during the Second World War (1939-1945), the cream version became popular again, as the quality of coffee declined. By the 1950s, the modern cappuccino’s popularity had grown, and a world favorite was established.
The cappuccino only became widely popular in the States in the 1980s, and has become the middle ground for those who find espresso too strong and a latte too milky. However, the American cappuccino is often made with a double shot of espresso and a greater proportion of milk than the traditional Italian version.
How To Make A Cappuccino
To make a barista-worthy cappuccino, do the following:
- Make an espresso.
- Heat 100 ml of milk to 150⁰F (66⁰C) in the milk steamer
- Pour the milk into the espresso.
- Top with a cap of milk foam.
- Dust with cocoa powder.
Variations Of The Cappuccino
Wet Vs. Dry Milk Foam
The biggest variation in cappuccinos is how the milk foam is prepared, either wet or dry.
- A wet cappuccino or cappuccino chiaro (light cappuccino) has more steamed milk than milk foam. A traditional Italian cappuccino is generally wet, with a very thin layer of milk foam.
- A dry cappuccino or cappuccino scurro (dark cappuccino) increases the ratio of milk foam. The foam can also be more or less dry, depending on the size of the bubbles. Microfoam has tiny bubbles that are hardly noticed, while “bone-dry foam” is filled with air, large bubbles, and lots of volume.
Just as macchiatos can be altered with the addition of vanilla or caramel syrup, so the humble cappuccino has come in for the peppermint, raspberry, and even cinnamon treatment.
Viennese Cappuccino Or Kaputziner
The original Austrian cappuccino is still popular and is sometimes called a cappuccino with cream. These cappuccinos are usually made with steamed milk, but the milk foam is replaced with cream.
The Final Word
The primary difference between a macchiato and a cappuccino is the ratio of coffee to milk. A macchiato is 90% coffee, with 10% milk, while a cappuccino is only 25% coffee and 75% milk. If you prefer a stronger flavor coffee or normally have an espresso, try a macchiato. If you’re a milky coffee fan, then a cappuccino is a good choice for something with more kick than a latte.