Search This Blog


Sunday, May 15, 2011

A Macchiato is NOT a Drink!

Cafe Macchiato or Espresso Macchiato
Every independent coffee shop deals with this dilemma one time or another.  What to do you make when a customer orders a "macchiato?" A macchiato is not a drink, it is a technique. Before I lose some people, allow me to clarify. A macchiato is not a drink, but a Caramel Macchiato is. Ok, I bet now you are really confused. Caramel Macchiato drinkers, have you ever ordered a "macchiato" anywhere other than Starbucks? You most likely had to explain yourself to the pretentious 17 year old know-it-all behind the counter attempting to insult your intelligence. Even worse, the barista feared confrontation, so rather than confirming what you really wanted, the went ahead and made you what you ordered. To your surprise, you were presented with a thimble sized demitasse mug of espresso with an even tinier scoop of foam. Let me set the record straight for good.

Latte Macchiato
Macchiato is an Italian word that means "marked or stained." A Caffe Macchiato or Espresso Macchiato is espresso marked with a dollop of foam. Additionally any espresso drink can be "macchiatoed." Another example of this is a Latte Macchiato. Instead of pouring milk over espresso, the Caffe Latte drink is inverted and espresso is poured over the milk, thus "staining" the foam. To make things even more confusing, Starbucks came up with the Caramel Macchiato. A Caramel Macchiato is actually a Vanilla Latte, except the espresso is poured over the top thus "staining" the foam and the drink is "marked" with caramel drizzle. Also for a limited time, they featured the Marble Mocha Macchiato, which was white chocolate and steamed milk "stained" by espresso and "marked" with dark and white chocolate. Either way you look at it, the Caramel Macchiato happens to be the best selling drink in the US, whether it be from a chain, or the independents that choose to serve them. Most independents argue that the Caramel Macchiato goes against Italian tradition and refuse to put it on their menu or even make it! 

Hot and Iced Caramel Macchiato
So I pose a question to the Baristas out there that work at independents. How do you react when a customer asks for a "Macchiato?" Do you assume that they are like 98% of the american population that really wants a Caramel Macchiato? We all know what assuming does. Any time I assumed, the customer was always a member of that small percentage that really wanted an espresso macchiato. Only in this case I was the only one that looked like the "ass" because the customer actually ordered some-what correctly. Then if you ask if they want a "Starbucks Macchiato" most likely the reaction will be "If I wanted a Starbucks Macchiato, I would have gone to Starbucks!" That's even if they want a Caramel Macchiato. I usually confirm they want a Caramel Macchiato while smiling with my best barista nod. Then when they give me the deer-in-headlights stare, I use that as my opportunity to educate without insulting. 

At Cafe Roche, the Caramel Macchiato is on the menu. What sets it apart from others? It is served with all-natural Routin 1883 Vanilla syrup made from raw cane sugar and Homeland Creamery milk steamed to perfection. The milk foam is "stained" with Moak espresso imported from Italy and "marked" with Gherardelli Caramel Syrup


  1. I currently manage a coffee shop on a college campus and run into this problem probably about once a week. I usually approach it the same way as you, using it as a chance to educate in the brief time that I have with the customer. I have tried both methods of getting around this interaction and have served drinks that people simply raise an eyebrow at and ask me "what IS that?." So I find that it is quicker and easier to simply double check that the customer knows what he/she is actually asking for.

  2. Please post this information at Starbucks, I own a coffee shop and I always laugh and tell customers that all those Starbucks "experts" are going to be in for a big surprise if they ever travel to Italia and ask for a macchiato. I love it when people are brainwashed with the wrong information. There is also a running joke that when the customers come in and ask for a caramel macchiato that each and every person wants extra caramel and there is no such thing as light on the caramel.

  3. THANK YOU for posting this! I discovered the macchiato (espresso) while abroad and I've been sorely disappointed every time I've attempted to order one in the US (not even at Starbucks, I know better than to attempt that!) I knew little about the drink so wasn't sure what to say besides "macchiato" but never got what I expected. At best I get a strong latte. But after some research (and compliments to your blog post) I know now to ask for an espresso macchiato, and just hope they know what I'm talking about. Cheers!

    1. Like most names of coffee drinks in the English speaking world, they are anglicised. I lived in Italy for 7 years. The default for macchiato is an espresso macchiato. Why in the world would anyone think that a macchiato has caramel? I don't understand that. Maybe I just never go to Starbucks...But a macchiato should have some milk and a little froth. Otherwise it is no longer a macchiato but an espresso! I bet no-one has ever heard of that before. It's essentially a cross between a cappuccino and an espresso. It's a specialty of Bari.
      Another one of my pet hates is when people ask for a latte. That's not a coffee drink either. A latte is a glass of milk. I had to laugh when some Australian friends of mine came to Italy and ordered a latte at the bar and were given a glass of milk! In fact, where I lived in Italy no one even knew what a caffè latte was! As described above, they would give me a glass of warm milk with a little froth on top and then pour half a shot of coffee over it! Yuck! I found the only two types of coffee I could order were a cappuccino or an espresso.


  4. Hi Steve,
    You are exactly right! The default for macchiato is an espresso macchiato. It seems common knowledge for those who are familiar with specialty coffee. Unfortunately the average customer (at least in America) has little knowledge of coffee and drink recipes. Other than drip coffee, most are only familiar with the drinks at Starbucks. For a long time, the only macchiato on the menu there has been the Caramel Macchiato. To most consumers it is the only macchiato they know of. This can be frustrating for us indie coffee shops. When a customer orders a macchiato, of course the first thing we think of is to serve them an espresso macchiato! Unfortunately (at least in my experience) 98% of the time, they want a caramel macchiato. This is why clarification is so important. You also have to be careful how you clarify as well. Educate, without insulting. Had there been some clarifications for your friends who ordered a latte, I'm sure they would have had a pleasant experience. I also had a similar experience while skiing in the Austrian Alps. Check out my blog post which is a guide to ordering coffee around the world.

  5. I'm glad I tripped over this article. Partly because otherwise I may not have ever discovered your coffee blog and I definitely like what I've read so far, and partly because this is such a frustrating dilemma when working as a barista.

    Here is what I did when I worked in a cafe:

    "I don't think that's what you really want."

    It's blunt. But that's just how I am and I can say it without coming off like I'm condescending. People are often nervous when they order drinks in cafes because they don't want to be made to feel stupid. And it's sad how many people will order a drink without any knowledge about what it is because they are so worried about snobs. Once a customer realizes that you are on their side, and you want to make them a good drink as much as they want to drink it, they'll relax a little and you can work out something that they will enjoy.

    I've always been bothered by baristas who go for the 'conflict avoidance' method of just making a drink that they know the customer isn't expecting and then nervously handing them the demitasse cup hoping they don't get yelled at.

    Anyway, enjoyed the article.

  6. Very good point Peter! Once a customer sees that you really care about making them the drink they want, they will give you more information about their preferences. This way you can customize a drink specifically for them. Once you make "their drink" perfectly, they will likely come back repeatedly. If you just make them what they ordered, chances are it was not what they really wanted and they will not return. Thanks for the great feedback, I hope you enjoy the rest of the blog.

  7. Said the way it is! Thanks for this great article!

  8. I always tell the customer up front that I want to be sure I am making the drink that they want. "Are you looking for espresso with a touch of foam, or are you thinking more like a latte with lots of milk?"

    Way easier than assuming.