What is a Caramel Macchiato?

It’s no overstatement to say that the caramel macchiato is one of the most delightfully indulgent drinks in the coffee world


It first hit coffee shops in the late 1990s and has become a staple latte drink since. If not for its velvety caramel drizzle that caps the foam, then for the creamy and slightly spicy blend of the milk, caramel, and vanilla. 


But you might be surprised to know that its origins counter how most of us have come to think of the drink.


What is a Macchiato?

Let’s get this out of the way up front: the macchiato is probably not what you think it is. 


In Italy, the macchiato — “stained coffee” or “marked coffee” — is not a large drink or particularly dessert-like. In fact, it’s quite the opposite even compared to its cappuccino and latte brethren. A macchiato is espresso served in a demitasse cup with a very delicate amount of foamed milk added on top to cut the bitterness of the espresso. Think of it like a dry cappuccino with even more focus on the taste of the espresso. 


There is also the “latte macchiato,” which, similarly, is not sweetened except for the natural sugars of the milk. This beverage is hot milk with espresso added on top like an espresso shot would be added to coffee to make a red eye. 


That said, all of these go great with caramel, and there is still a place for the caramel macchiato found in popular culture and that’s hit the zeitgeist by way of specialty shops that know how to perfectly blend the creamy flavors of milk with a drizzle of caramel. 


And, to be fair, the caramel drizzle on top of the drink harkens back to the “marked” meaning of the Italian word—so, despite groans from some coffee purists, there is some rationale behind the drink’s naming convention. 


How to Make a Caramel Macchiato at Home

The homemade caramel macchiato can be a finicky drink to make because, frankly, the caramel makes it easy to become overly sweet. What’s in a caramel macchiato: at its core, it’s steamed milk, a shot of espresso (make it a double if you want more caffeine “oomph”), a touch of vanilla, and caramel sauce. 


To put your own personal spin on the famous caramel macchiato, try this caramel macchiato recipe and have fun tweaking amounts to match your own palate.

  • Prepare materials. You will, of course, need everything required for the coffee or espresso base: a grinder, espresso machine, ceramic mug, and a stainless steel pitcher. For the caramel sauce, grab a small saucepan, heavy cream, brown sugar, and sea salt—the latter of which, we promise, will complement the caramel flavors nicely. Use a wooden spoon for stirring. 
  • Make the sauce. In the small saucepan, add all the ingredients over medium heat and stir thoroughly. Simmer for four minutes until the consistency is thick, and then add in pure vanilla. (A Mexican vanilla works wonders to add a spiced-up kick, if that’s desired. The pure vanilla replaces the syrup sometimes used in commercial shops.) 
  • Blend. Once you’ve made the standard latte using espresso and 2 percent or whole steamed milk, add a tablespoon of the caramel sauce and any desired amount of added sugar. Whipped cream and drizzled caramel are optional. The blending can be done with a simple spoon. 
  • Drink. And enjoy!

Do note that this creation can also be thrown over ice and will taste just as delicious. Caramel macchiato caffeine, it should be noted, is the same as a latte or cappuccino—typically, slightly less than an 8-ounce cup of coffee. 


Whether you like your caramel macchiato hot or iced, there’s no question that it’s delicious regardless of it’s incarnation. If you’re indulging, have one for us, please! Try the classic, smooth style of a caramel macchiato coffee for yourself with Victor Allen’s Coffee.