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A Guide to Caramel Macchiato - Facts, Variations, and Recipe

We’re talking to all you coffee lovers out there. We’re going to ask you a question and it might make you feel uncomfortable. You may not like your own answer. Maybe it will embarrass you. Maybe you’ll feel like you’re admitting something that will shame you within the coffee-loving community. Maybe, just maybe, you’ll start to feel like you’re not a coffee lover at all. That you’re an imposter. But we’re going to ask anyway:

How often do you really think about your coffee order?

We don’t mean thinking in the sense of scanning the menu, saying ‘Hmmm’, and then simply ordering the same thing you get every day. We mean really thinking about it: considering the options, what mood you’re in, what might tickle your fancy at that particular moment. We guess that, if you’re anything like us, your answer to the questions is either ‘rarely’ or ‘never’. 

“Double-shot cappuccino with oat milk, please.” We’ve been saying the same thing for years. It’s become a habit. Second nature. We don’t even realize we’re doing it. Why? Well, because the morning cup of coffee is important. This baby’s supposed to get you through the day. Get it wrong and the whole morning might be ruined! So we play it safe. We order our usual and suddenly what should be a highlight of the day becomes routine. 

You may have guessed, both by the title of this blog and by the introduction, that we’re here to encourage you to rethink your coffee habits. In particular, we want you to consider the splendor, the indulgence, and the pure joy of the caramel macchiato.

What is a macchiato?

what is Macchiato

Coffee purists reading this will no doubt be spitting out their dark roast Colombian blend at such a basic question, but the basics are important! Especially because, as with many coffees, the definition of a macchiato depends on where you are and who you are talking to. 

Unlike a Starbucks caramel macchiato, the original macchiato is very simple. It’s an espresso with a small dash of hot milk. Originating in Italy, the word ‘macchiato’ comes from the Italian for ‘marked’ or ‘stained,’ which refers to the way the milk alters the color of the espresso. The idea of a classic macchiato is to preserve the intensity of flavor that comes with espresso, with just a touch of creaminess from the milk to take the edge off. Importantly, with these classic macchiatos, we’re not talking so much milk as to turn this into a coffee with milk, or a cappuccino. This is still basically an espresso. A shot. Something a busy Italian might quickly drink standing up at a coffee bar before hopping back onto their Vespa with a merry ‘Ciao!’ and zig-zagging off down the road. 

But how does caramel fit into this? That’s a whole other story! 

What is a caramel macchiato?

Now we leave the cobbled streets and crowded coffee bars of Italy and turn our sights to the cluttered menu boards of worldwide cafes and coffee shops. The growth of global cafe culture, different tastes, and the demand for variety led baristas and coffee shop owners to innovate and diversify. For instance, the standard cafe latte is said to have been invented in California in the 1950s. While the less romantically named ‘flat white’ was coined in Australia in 1985. (Bonza!)

This process also saw the adaptation of the traditional macchiato into something rather different: the latte macchiato. Where the classic espresso macchiato contains only a dash of hot milk, the latte macchiato contains (as you might have guessed) a lot more! This is more the kind of thing to expect from a Starbucks caramel macchiato, offering a less intense drink than your straight-up espresso shot coffees, but not quite as milky as a long tall latte. And it’s this best of both worlds approach that makes the macchiato such a versatile coffee.

This versatility is really shown when these milky-espresso hybrid treats come into contact with flavored syrups. And it’s with these syrups that we see the magical transformation of the macchiato into the sweet, indulgent luxury of its glamorous cousin: the caramel macchiato. 

Why choose a caramel macchiato? 

Why swim in a lake? Why climb a hill to watch the sunset? Why listen to your favorite album? OK, so maybe we’re going a bit far here, but our point is that a caramel macchiato is about giving yourself a treat. More than that, it’s a welcome way to mix things up, whatever your usual coffee habits might be!

So what does a caramel macchiato taste like? In essence, we’re talking about the expression and richness of the best espresso with a sweet, milky caramel hit that makes a caramel macchiato as indulgent as it is stimulating. 

Maybe you’re a hardcore espresso, black coffee, no-nonsense kind of coffee drinker? To you, cappuccinos and lattes are a waste of time. Not even coffee. But you still want to enjoy a little sweetness once in a while. Silly as it sounds, a caramel macchiato might be just the thing for you! Not so milky as to overwhelm the espresso shot and with a rich caramel sweetness that perfectly complements the dark richness of espresso, this could be your little treat (as well as our little secret!) Just as the most refined wine drinkers also enjoy sweet sherries, ports, and dessert wines, a caramel macchiato offers even the most hardened black coffee drinker an occasional taste of luxury. 

But what if we tip the scales completely on this question? What about the Latte Loyalists reading this? The Cappuccino Cavaliers? The Flat White Freedom Fighters? Well, the caramel macchiato might just be the perfect way to enjoy a slightly more stimulating, invigorating cup of coffee, but with the familiar sweetness and milkiness that you find in your usual cuppa. Say you’ve had a long night, an early start, and not a wink of sleep. A solid dose of caffeine and sweetness might just give you the pick-me-up you need, but without making you wince. 

Essentially, the idea of a macchiato is to offer the best of both worlds. And the caramel adds a dose of extra magic. Should everyone try a caramel macchiato at least once? Yes! Why? Because we love and depend on our coffee. We also know that we can become too set in our ways. Trying something different, whether you’re a milk-fed latte head, or a hard-wired espresso bro, it’s the best way to make sure we’re getting the most out of our beloved beans and roasts. 

Make your own caramel macchiato! 

Make your own caramel macchiato!

Alright, so, reading this has clearly given you a serious hankering for some of that sweet caramel macchiato action! Now, of course, you can get your caramel macchiato fix by going into town and ordering a Starbucks caramel macchiato. But variety is the (pumpkin) spice of life and part of the fun of exploring a new drink is to explore it in all its variations. So there’s no better way to make sure you get yourself the best macchiato for you than by making it yourself with the handy caramel macchiato recipe below! But where to start?

The Coffee

The Coffee

Listen, folks, we can throw around fancy Italian words all day, and drench our morning Joe in every syrup and caramel under the sun, but the only way to make your caramel macchiato the best it can be is to make sure you make it with great coffee. 

At Portfolio Coffee, not only do we have a huge range of regions, roasts, and blends to choose from, but all our beans are freshly roasted and sourced directly from coffee farms. Not only that, but each variety of Portfolio Coffee is available in multiple forms: whole beans for those who like to grind at home and a variety of ground options depending on how you make your coffee. So it doesn’t matter if you're a French press dude, a Moka pot gal, or an espresso machine kind of person: we have the right coffee grounds for you. 

The Cup

Traditional macchiatos are served in either an espresso cup or demitasse. However, the macchiato we’re planning here is a slightly milkier affair, so you may not have room for the whole thing in a traditional vessel! 

For a touch of elegance to top off your homemade caramel macchiato recipe, you might wish to serve it in a tall glass. This will allow you to enjoy the lovely color contrast of the creamy milk mixing with the rich, dark coffee, set off with the gorgeous caramel drizzle on top. 

Step 1: Shoot your shot!

Now, as a macchiato is an espresso-based coffee, we’re going to assume that if you’re making one at home, you have the means to make an espresso. If you have a machine, then simply set it up and get yourself an espresso shot and we’ll see you at Step 2! 

But if you don’t have an espresso maker and you still want to try making your own caramel macchiato, then we would recommend getting yourself a Moka pot (sometimes also known as an espresso pot). You’ll have definitely seen them: the little metal, kettle-shaped pots that you see on the stoves of Italian cafes and kitchens, and they’re a cheap, easy way of making an authentic espresso. 

Now, as explained above, with your chosen variety of Portfolio Coffee, you can either get whole beans or espresso grounds. If you have chosen the beans, these will need grinding in your coffee grinder. (If you don’t have a coffee grinder, buy the grounds instead!)

So you’ve got your coffee and you’ve got your means for making espresso. If using a Moka pot, fill the boiler with hot water. Place your coffee grounds in the basket and then heat slowly on a medium heat on the stove for around five minutes, until the coffee rises into the top chamber. Once the coffee has filtered through, you’ve got your shot ready to go!

Step 2: Froth that milk

Froth that milk

Get yourself a fluid oz or two of your preferred milk or milk substitute. Most macchiatos are served with foam or frothed milk, so for a fully authentic caramel macchiato at home, you’re going to want to steam your milk. If you have a coffee machine, the chances are that it comes with an attached steam nozzle, with which you can easily froth the milk you’ve set aside for your macchiato. If not, then there are affordable frothers available to do the job. (But if you don’t mind upsetting any nearby purists or Italians, you can always just bypass the frothing process!)

Now, with a traditional macchiato, the usual method is to pour the espresso into the cup and then add a dash of milk. With this version, however, we prefer to begin by pouring the milk into the glass. Then add the espresso shot on top. This should give you the lovely spectacle of watching that dark coffee slowly drip down into the milk. 

Step 3: Caramel 

The crowning glory! The final touch that transforms your regular old macchiato into sumptuously indulgent caramel macchiato. Now when we talk about ‘caramel’, we technically mean caramel syrup. Now there are lots of great syrups available to buy, including ones stored in your favorite coffee shops if you really want to replicate your usual cafe order!

Having said this, you can also make your own caramel syrup relatively easily, simply using sugar, water, and cream. There are lots of recipes to follow online. 

However you get your caramel, once you have it, carefully drizzle it over the top of your macchiato, adding as much or as little as you like!

Step 4: Enjoy!

Enjoy your drink

That’s all there is to it! The outline above is just that— an outline. You can tinker, change and adapt according to your own tastes. But now you’re equipped to make your own delicious caramel macchiato with Portfolio Coffee. Now go forth and embrace the variety and joy of the world of coffee before you order your usual latte or americano again!

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