The Macchiato Vs Latte Showdown: Unveiling the Differences!

Are you feeling overwhelmed by your local cafe’s menu?

The macchiato and latte are two of the most ordered milk coffee drinks, but even though they have similar ingredients they actually vary greatly.

In this guide we’ll give you the full macchiato vs latte breakdown, explaining all the main differences and similarities, and providing easy methods to make them at home without needing a fancy coffee machine.

The macchiato vs latte key difference is the ratio of milk and coffee.

While lattes use about ⅓ espresso to ⅔ hot milk, a macchiato is mostly espresso, with a single or double shot of espresso and a small amount (or dollop) of warm milk on top.  

This is the main difference, but it’s not the only difference between a macchiato and a latte.

Here are a few more things that set them apart:  

1. What's In These Drinks?

At first look, it’s easy to assume that the ingredients are exactly the same for both espresso drinks.

A regular latte contains:

  • shots of espresso 
  • steamed milk
  • foamed milk

An espresso macchiato has:

  • espresso shots
  • a dollop of foamed milk 

The big difference is the milk content. A latte has a lot of creamy steamed milk which gives it a mild, and slightly sweet taste.

An espresso macchiato has less milk, and usually only has a small amount of milk froth and very thin layer of foam on top (or microfoam).

The small amount of steamed milk makes the espresso shot more noticeable, giving it a bold and delicious espresso taste. 

2. Preparation Is Everything

The main preparation for both coffee drinks is in the espresso. They both start with you brewing a single or double shot of espresso, followed by a milk steaming process

The preparation is very similar and the main difference in preparation is the ratio in which the same two ingredients are combined. 

Barista preparing espresso grounds for extraction

3. Caffeine Kick

It's always important to know how much caffeine is in your drink, and all the caffeine comes from the shot of espresso. A macchiato and latte actually contain the same amount of caffeine.

Of course, this depends on whether you drink yours with single or double shot of espresso, but the two drinks are traditionally made with a single espresso shot, which ranges from 80-120mg caffeine. 

4. What Sizes Can You Order?

For coffee drinkers, the size of a beverage can make a real difference to how you enjoy it.

Some people want a short drink to perk them up, whereas others want longer espresso based drinks they can enjoy over an extended time. 

A cafè latte can vary in size, but almost all coffee houses serve it in a tall glass. It's bigger than traditional cappuccinos or a hot chocolate, and tends to be larger than a chai latte.

In fact, compared to the other most popular coffee drinks it definitely has the highest volume.

For the drink to actually be considered a cafè latte it has to be at least 8oz, though most coffee chains will offer a latte up to 16oz. 

In comparison, an espresso macchiato is much smaller, usually around 2-3oz, because there is a smaller amount of milk.

They're served in a very small shot cup, and this makes the espresso macchiato flavor profile much more intense than a cafè latte.

But naturally, you'll drink it a lot faster because there's less milk.

When it comes to macchiato vs latte, coffee drinkers who like short, strong coffees should order a macchiato, but those who enjoy a longer Italian espresso drink to sip and enjoy should choose a cafe latte.

latte and macchiato sitting next to each other on a table

5. Do You Want It Hot Or Cold?

Both macchiatos and lattes are available as hot or cold drinks, and the two drinks are commonly served iced during the summer months.

You shouldn't surprise your local barista by ordering a cold version but bear in mind that not every coffee shop will have them on the menu. 

When comparing an iced latte vs iced macchiato, the same differences apply - a macchiato contains less cold milk, less foamed milk (if any at all), and has a strong espresso flavor.

6. Which One Is Healthier?

If you’re looking at it from a calorie perspective, the macchiato has fewer calories. This is because it has a lower amount of steamed milk and foam, and milk is the culprit for the majority of the calories in almost every coffee drink. 

  • A macchiato has 15 calories
  • A latte has over 150 calories

As you can see, if you're trying to lose weight then there's no real contest between a macchiato vs latte.

For either espresso drink, you can can switch your whole milk for a low fat milk to reduce the calories and make it healthier. 

You can also choose a dairy-free coffee milk. Almond milk or oat milk work well, and they are both relatively low calorie. 

7. How Can You Customize These Drinks?

Both drinks come in a range of variations, and this is all thanks to the many syrups and amazing coffee flavors lining coffee shop shelves. 

Common macchiato variations include:

  • latte macchiato
  • caramel macchiato (with extra caramel syrup and whipped cream on top)
  • chocolate macchiato (with added chocolate syrup and whipped cream)

Common latte variations include:

  • vanilla latte
  • caramel latte
  • mocha latte 
  • cinnamon latte
  • toffee nut latte

There tend to be more latte variations on the actual menu, but you can still order a macchiato which suits your tastes. 

latte with art sitting on a table

What Exactly Is a Macchiato? 

First, let’s talk about the classic macchiato. Although the name is fancy, the espresso drink itself is very simple. It consists of a small amount of steamed milk and espresso shots - that’s it!  

So why the fancy name? Well, the history of the cafe macchiato traces back to Italy, and in the Italian language, macchiato means stained or spotted.

This means that caffè macchiato literally translates to spotted coffee. This name makes sense since the coffee is mostly espresso “spotted” with a splash of steamed milk.  

The main thing that sets the macchiato apart from other coffee drinks is the high ratio of espresso to milk. 

The small amount of hot milk, whether it’s full-fat or a dairy-free alternative, makes the espresso flavor strong and bold. 

This is why the macchiato is the drink of choice for many espresso lovers.  

macchiato sitting on a table next to a croissant

What Exactly Is a Latte? 

A latte is a very milky coffee.

In fact, it's really a milk coffee drink rather than a coffee with added milk, because it is mostly steamed milk.

Just like the macchiato, the latte originated in Italy as an important fixture in Italian coffee culture, where it is known as caffè latte.[1]

The latte is now enjoyed internationally, though it is known by several different names. The French sometimes call it a cafè au lait, the Spanish refer to it as a cafè con leche, and the Portugese call it a galao.

It's also sometimes confused with a similar drink called a flat white. 

The name may change, but the recipe remains the same in most coffee shops. A classic latte is made by combining a shot of delicious espresso with a lots of steamed milk, and then it is topped with milk foam.

It can be made with either one shot or two shots of espresso, but no matter which one you go with, the milk should take up about ⅔ of the entire drink. 

Since a caffe latte uses the same ingredients as a macchiato - espresso and milk - many people assume that both beverages taste the same.

However, the steamed milk content in a latte really changes the flavor profile, and it is noticeably different. 

Ordering lattes is a good choice for anyone wanting to sip on a creamy milky beverage with hints of coffee, rather than those who want to sip on a bold coffee beverage with a hint of milk.  

notebook and latte coffee drink on a table

The Latte Macchiato - The Perfect Happy Medium?

If you're in the coffee shop and you can't choose between an espresso macchiato and a latte then you should consider the latte macchiato.

This is another great espresso based coffee drink that ticks a lot of the same boxes.

Latte macchiatos are often described as a halfway house between an Italian espresso macchiato and a traditional caffè latte.

The latte macchiato is a milk coffee with all the same ingredients as a regular macchiato but with added steamed milk.

The reason it's called a latte macchiato rather than a caffe latte is because of the slightly different layering:

  • Steamed milk is poured into the bottom of the cup 
  • A top layer of milk foam is added 
  • A double shot of espresso is poured into the steamed milk, giving the strong espresso flavor through the whole drink

The latte macchiato is a larger drink, just like a traditional cappuccino or flat white, and it's popular because it has a strong coffee flavor.

The fact the drink is espresso topped really alters the flavor, so if you want something bolder than a caffè latte, but less intense than an espresso macchiato, then you should order a latte macchiato. 

How to Make Macchiatos & Lattes at Home 

Even though there's no such thing as a free coffee, amazing coffee shouldn't only be found in coffee shops and you definitely shouldn't have to pay coffee shop menu prices to get a decent drink. 

You don’t have to own a high-end espresso machine or buy the best coffee beans to make a macchiato or latte, and you don’t have to go through extensive barista training, either. 

It's totally possible to make both of these drinks at home, and all you need is the ability to make espresso and to steam milk.

The coffee recipes are quite similar, and you start the two drinks off the same way: 

  1. Start by brewing a shot (or two shots) of espresso. This can be done using an espresso machine, but you can also use a French Press with espresso coffee beans or even an espresso Keurig cup. 
  2. Add the steamed milk. Once again, you don’t need a fancy milk steamer or frother to do this, but a steaming wand can make the job a lot easier. Here are a few ways to steam milk without a steamer.[2] When you’re happy with the milk’s consistency, it’s time to combine it with your espresso.

The technique for the next step will vary slightly depending on your drink.

  • For a macchiato just add a dollop of frothed milk to the top of the macchiato - the foamier, the better - and you’re done! 
  • For a latte, slowly add the steamed milk until it fills up about ⅔ of the cup (and the espresso fills the other ⅓ of the cup).

Tips for Making A Caffe Latte at Home 

Traditional lattes have a thin layer of milk foam on top, and even though the drink is mostly steamed milk this foam layer is still important.

Unfortunately, getting this right can be difficult to accomplish without the right equipment. However, it is possible by following these steps:

  1. Pour your milk of choice into a jar, screw the lid tight, and shake vigorously for 30 seconds to a minute to create cold frothed milk.  
  2. Once it's frothy, microwave it (uncovered) for about 30 seconds, and it will have a nice, foamy consistency.
  3. Pour a thin layer of milk over the espresso, then use a spoon to gather up the foam and top the drink. 
  4. To give it a nice finishing touch, sprinkle some cinnamon or cocoa powder on top, and if you're feeling really brave you could even attempt some latte art.
a macchiato, coffee, and shot of espresso sitting on a table next to a donut

Common Latte & Macchiato Questions

Which is stronger, a macchiato or latte? 

A macchiato has a much stronger, bolder flavor since the coffee to milk ratio is higher. However, both drinks contain the same amount of espresso (unless you order an extra shot), so in regards to caffeine, they’re the same.

What is the difference between a latte and a macchiato at Starbucks? 

The difference between a Starbucks macchiato and latte is the milk to espresso ratio, cup size, and thickness of the layer of foam on top.

Why are Starbucks macchiatos different from other places? 

Starbucks macchiatos are different from other places because most customers add a flavored syrup to the drink. The most common variation ordered here is the caramel macchiato, and according to the Starbucks drinks menu, here’s how it is made:  

"Freshly steamed milk with vanilla-flavored syrup is espresso marked and topped with caramel drizzle for an oh-so-sweet finish."[3] 

If you prefer a more traditional macchiato, order the espresso macchiato instead. 

How does a cappuccino compare to these two popular coffee orders? 

When comparing a latte vs cappuccino vs macchiato, the cappuccino falls somewhere between a latte and macchiato. A cappuccino contains espresso, steamed milk, and milk foam in equal parts, so it contains a higher amount of milk than a macchiato, but not as much as a latte.

Macchiato Vs Latte - Which One Will You Order?

The key difference with a macchiato vs latte is that macchiatos are very espresso-dominant and lattes are very milk-dominant.

They're designed for very different coffee lovers, and the one you order depends entirely on your preferences - do you want an espresso with milk, or does milk with espresso appeal more to you? 

If you're still struggling to choose then why not go for a latte macchiato or a flat white which are sort of in the middle and can give you the best of both worlds.





Caitlin Shaffer

Caitlin Shaffer

Caitlin has always had a passion for writing with years of scribbling short stories and journal entries while simultaneously sipping coffee. When Caitlin isn’t writing, she’s hopping on the first flight to a new destination, preferably one that is known for its coffee. She has had the pleasure of drinking Kopi Luwak in Indonesia, espresso in Italy, and fresh brews in Colombia.

Leave a Comment