I think this question pertains mostly to the USA.

I travel often and like to stop at local coffee shops. My beverage of choice is a Caffe Macchiato. In the US, there seems to be the issue that a "Macchiato" at Starbucks is something different from an actual Macchiato.

From Wikipedia, this is what I consider a Macchiato:

Caffè macchiato, sometimes called espresso macchiato, is an espresso coffee drink with a small amount of milk, usually foamed. [...] The caffè macchiato has the highest ratio of espresso to milk of any drink made with those ingredients.

I have run into this a few times, even at coffee shops that seem to make a big deal about their coffee knowledge etc. I order a Macchiato, and receive a huge cup with mostly milk and some espresso.

I would like to be clear as to what I want when I order, but I also want to avoid sounding like a jerk if I specify exactly what I want, or sounding dumb if I describe the drink rather than ordering by its name. What is a good way of achieving this?

  • Not sure if that is meant to be your answer, or you're asking me to define for clarification. If this is the answer, it's what I'd like to avoid, because I will always come across as either a jerk (I think the barista is dumb) or dumb myself (don't know what it's actually called). If you're looking for clarification, I will edit my question. – PhilippNagel Feb 28 '17 at 14:29
  • I'd like to know what a "Macchiato" is for you - my definition might be different. So purely a request for clarification. I was in a hurry earlier. – Stephie Feb 28 '17 at 14:35
  • OK, kind of what I figured, I edited my question to add that. Thanks! – PhilippNagel Feb 28 '17 at 14:55
  • The reason I asked is because the problem is similar to ordering a latte. – Stephie Feb 28 '17 at 17:20
  • ""Macchiato" at Starbucks is something different from an actual Macchiato." Well coffee at starbucks is something different from actual coffee. i do not like the way they roast. i try avoid starbucks if i can but when in another country or airport it is only option. My drink of choice is americano so its rather straight forward one would think. except a small is large and a large in something else. i recently ordered a macchiato at starbucks in vietnam and got the disgusting frothy version you describe. best roaster in the world, Kaladi brothers. Anchorage Ak. – Alaska man Mar 2 '17 at 7:45
up vote 8 down vote accepted

The problem with ordering a "Macchiato" is that it's only half of the name of a traditional coffee drink.

"Macchiato" means "stained" or "flecked" and not more.

In Italy, you have either

  • Latte macchiato: *Milk "stained" with coffee (more precisely caffè or espresso) or
  • Espresso macchiato: Espresso (or caffè) "stained" with a spoonful of milk foam.

If you order a "Macciato" without qualifier, you will either get what the chain defines as such (for Starbucks, a lot of milk and foam with one or multiple shots of espresso) or what your barista thinks of first - and that would often be a (latte) macchiato, i.e. a glass of milk and foam with an espresso layer inbetween.

So my recommendation is:

If you want a serving of espresso with a bit of milk, order an espresso macchiato. I just double-checked with the Starbucks US website and yes, they do have espresso macchiato on the menu. Any decent barista from the (self proclaimed) high-end places you mention should be familiar with these terms anyway. The fine difference between "coffee" and "caffè" (see below) might be "lost in translation" and they will be using an espresso machine in 99% of all cases anyway.


Comment re. your Wikipedia link:

Please note the spelling: caffè is not the same as American coffee! The former is what you get when you use a stovetop moka pot, which creates a brew similar (but not identical) to espresso. Both are served in rather small serving units and for coffee drinks used somewhat interchangeably. Espresso shots in a bar or coffee shop, caffè often in a domestic setting (no need for fancy machinery).

  • This is what I thought would be the best approach, but I have even had that request mangled. Hopefully that was just bad luck. Thanks for your answer! – PhilippNagel Mar 2 '17 at 14:24
  • I wanted to follow up, having always ordered an "espresso macchiato" now, and I usually get a follow up question if I want a "traditional" macchiato, which I confirm. So that seems to be another way of stating it. – PhilippNagel Mar 22 at 16:15

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