Looking at the search terms people use to find my side gives me a pretty good idea about the puzzlements that puzzle the great wide coffee-drinking internet. Today I’ll elucidate what appears to be a common quandry among the search engine-using populace: Latte vs. Macchiato.
The latte, as I’ve said elsewhere, is the “baseline” espresso drink. It consists of espresso, steamed milk, and foam. If you order it “on the rocks”, that’s espresso, cold milk, and ice. If you want it sweet, you have to add something to make it sweet. Nice and simple.
The (espresso) macchiato is simpler ingredient-wise but a little more complicated to make: it consists of a cup full of milk foam with espresso poured in afterward, leaving a brown “mark” on top of the foam where the shots came through. I say it’s more complicated because not only do you put the ingredients in “backwards” from most drinks, but making good milk foam can take practice. Making a whole cup of good foam definitely takes practice. As with the latte, there’s no sweeteners here. It’s usually ordered by the number of shots (single, double, triple, etc) rather than the cup size.
You can order an espresso macchiato iced, but it’s not very common. Usually that’s a cup of ice, with warm milk foam on top, and espresso shots poured over the top. The combination of the warm foam and the ice will get you some weird looks, but if that’s what strikes your fancy then rock your drink however you like.
There’s a third member to this comparison, however, and it’s the much more commonly-ordered macchiato at Starbucks: the caramel macchiato. This is closer to a vanilla/caramel latte than to an espresso macchiato. It’s vanilla flavoring syrup, steamed milk, milk foam, espresso shots poured through the foam, and then a drizzle of caramel sauce poured on top. It’s a macchiato because you’re still “marking” the foam with the espresso (or vice versa), but it’s mostly milk rather than foam. Unlike both the latte and the espresso macchiato, it’s quite sweet. It can also be made “on the rocks”. If you order a caramel macchiato, I highly recommend you stir it well before drinking it so more of the caramel dissolves in the milk.
Which one should you pick? The latte is a solid standby for those who don’t want their drink too sweet but aren’t keen on the taste of nearly-full-strength espresso. The espresso macchiato gives you much more of the full taste of the espresso, with much less milk to water it down (this also makes it the lowest-calorie of the three). The caramel macchiato is a favorite of people who prefer sweet drinks and love the taste of caramel.