Espresso vs. Macchiato: Understanding the Differences

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Espresso is made by pushing in pressurized, hot water into fine-grind coffee beans whereas a macchiato is an espresso-based coffee drink with a small amount of milk, usually steamed and foamed.

A lot of the world’s population is hooked on coffee and this I’m hoping is for the right reasons. Nothing can replace an early morning caffeine fix or a late afternoon pick me upper that only coffee can satisfy.

It’s a very versatile drink and can be customized however you like.

Some like drinking strong, bitter coffee without any additives so they opt for an espresso while some like an espresso with a dash of steamed milk – a macchiato.

Both drinks are similar yet different at the same time. Let’s compare and contrast them here.

What’s an espresso?

A clear cup containing espresso.

Espresso is a quick way of making great quality coffee that began in Italy using an espresso machine. Right now it’s consumed worldwide.

An espresso shot is also known as a short black – 30 ml for a single shot and 60 ml for a double.

An espresso is a strong and concentrated version of coffee that’s why it tastes more bitter than standard brewed coffee.

However, the bitterness also depends on multiple factors like the kind of beans and the way they’re roasted, water temperatures, and the extraction time.

If you want a more in-depth look at espresso, check out my post right here.

What’s a macchiato?

A cafè macchiato or also known as an espresso macchiato is a shot of espresso topped with frothed milk. 

The word “macchiato” is an Italian word meaning “stained” because visually, the dark espresso is stained by the milk foam on top.

According to some sources, macchiato was invented as a way to drink espresso into the afternoon.

The other type of macchiato is known as a latte macchiato. It consists of steamed milk that’s stained by a bit of espresso on top and tastes like an espresso-forward version of a cafe latte.

A macchiato is a middle ground between an espresso and a cappuccino. Though it doesn’t pack as much of a punch as an espresso shot, it tends to be stronger than a regular cappuccino.

You can read an article I wrote about macchiato if you’d like to know more about this drink.

A glass containing large serving of  macchiato.

The difference in caffeine content

A macchiato has a bit lesser caffeine than an espresso. Small or medium servings (around 2 oz or 60ml) of macchiato typically has around 80mg of caffeine, while large ones contain about 120mg.

Comparatively, an espresso that contains around an oz of undiluted coffee has 63 mg of caffeine in a single shot. 

Due to its small size, espresso is usually served in a double shot which has roughly about 125 mg of caffeine. 

Difference in taste

Espresso has a strong bitter taste tied to it, similarly, a macchiato also tastes strong and bitter. However, for a macchiato, small amounts of milk are present in the drink, adding a sort of creaminess to the taste that isn’t found in espresso.

Espresso is a highly concentrated and potent beverage made from coffee beans that were fine-grind. Though the process of making an espresso is basic, the taste is greatly influenced by the kind of beans used to make it.

The basic taste of it – heedless of the beans – is bitter and slightly tarty.

It’s bitter of course because there’s no other ingredient but coffee beans and water.

Since espresso is a basic coffee blend, people have found ways to complement it by adding milk, cream, chocolate, or other additives.

Macchiato in its original form is also quite strong and bitter in flavor. 

The espresso flavor is still the main taste since there’s just a small amount of steamed milk or milk foam. This enhances the boldness of the espresso while providing a hint of creaminess for strong coffee aficionados.

If you like the macchiato but have a sweet tooth, Starbucks has made a sweet caramel version of this classic coffee called Caramel Macchiato.

Which is healthier: macchiato or espresso?

We all know that an espresso shot carries many health benefits as it’s served without milk and sugar.

A macchiato also contains espresso benefits but with a dash of foamed milk on top. 

Since a classic macchiato contains a very little volume of milk and no sugar, it’s more or less the same as espresso. The make-or-break deal is the milk that will be added to the macchiato.

Comparing a macchiato and an espresso, espresso wins having more benefits related to health. 

However, if you want the health benefits of espresso but can’t tolerate its bitterness, the macchiato is the healthiest choice among the other espresso-based drinks.

Lattes have the most amount of milk and this equals the highest content of fat, calories, and protein. Cappuccinos use a bit of milk, but still have a good amount of fat, calories, and protein in each serving.

Macchiatos on the other hand have significantly lower calories, fat, and protein as they contain only a splash of milk.

Refer to the following table for a brief nutrient comparison between an espresso and a macchiato.

Nutrient ContentMacchiato (per 100 grams)Espresso (per 100 grams)
Carbohydrates2.7 g1.7 g
Fats0.8 g0.3 g
Proteins1.2 g1 g
Sugar1.6 g0 g
Sodium22 mg14 mg
Calcium43 mg2 mg
Nutrition comparison between a Macchiato and an Espresso.

How to make a macchiato

Ingredients and Equipment you will need:

  • Espresso
  • Foamed milk
  • Coffee machine with steam arm/wand
  • Milk jug
  • Thermometer

Steps to make

  1. First you need to foam a little amount of milk within the milk jug. Remember that we only need milk foam!
  2. Brew a single or double espresso (whichever you prefer) directly into a small espresso glass or cup
  3. Swirl the milk gently to release any large air bubbles. If there are stubborn bubbles give the milk jug a tap at the counter
  4. Now pour a small dollop of milk foam onto the top of your espresso.

If you want to make a homemade macchiato, watch this video.

How to make a macchiato at home

How to make an espresso

The key to having a barista-caliber espresso is to have a quality espresso machine.

There are a lot of espresso machines nowadays that you can purchase either at your favorite superstore or just online. Best if you can find one that allows you to save your chosen presets so it’ll just be one push of a button when you need an espresso.

Ingredients and equipment you will need:

  • Espresso machine
  • Finely ground coffee beans
  • Filtered water
  • A tamp
  • A portafilter
  • An espresso cup

Steps to make

  1. Preheat your espresso machine. Fill it up and run some water without any beans yet.
  2. Fill up your portafilter with finely ground coffee beans. The amount you can put depends on the size of your porta filter but it’s generally around 20g of coffee.
  3. Give your beans a pressured, firm tamp to compress them.
  4. You can twist the portafilter into the machine once it is ready to go. Press the right button for your desired espresso.
  5. Before pressing the brew button, make sure to place an espresso cup catch your espresso.

To sum it all up

Side by side espresso shots.

Espresso is basically pushing in pressurized, hot water into fine-grind coffee beans creating undiluted strong coffee.

A macchiato is an espresso-based coffee drink with a small amount of milk, usually steamed and foamed.

Among the strong-tasting varieties of coffee, an espresso and a macchiato are somewhat similar.

They’re both suitable for maintaining a healthy lifestyle and providing just the right jolt of caffeine.

However, their ingredients and preparation methods differ slightly that causing the difference in their taste and nutrition content.

Now it’s totally up to you to choose which one you prefer. I’ll just make a quick reminder to drink your coffee in moderation to reap its benefits.

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