Espresso is, without a doubt, the strongest form of coffee there is. Its super concentrated brewing process and extremely bold taste deter all but the bravest of coffee aficionados from drinking it straight. For the rest of us mere mortals, there have been several espresso and milk combinations created.
In today’s espresso addicted world, two beverages have become increasingly popular. These two drinks are the macchiato and the latte. While the two are both espresso-based, they have vastly different origins and tastes.
In order to fully grasp the differences between the two, here is a quick breakdown of the basics of making espresso drinks.
Basics of Espresso Beverages
Espresso, as previously stated, is a very concentrated form of coffee. To make espresso, you would use an espresso machine (duh.) An espresso machine is a machine that forces hot, pressurized water through coffee grounds. This process extracts more oils and flavors out of the grounds than normal drip brewing does.
When you make espresso, the result is a coffee so strong that it is served by itself in only 2-4 ounce “shots.” In other beverages, it is combined with other ingredients such as milk.
The use of milk in espresso is one of the most perfect marriages in history. The creamy sweetness of the milk provides the perfect counterpoint to the aggressive bite of espresso coffee. Also, espresso has such a strong flavor that it doesn’t tend to get buried under flavored syrups and milk like regular coffee does.
The milk in espresso beverages is in two forms: steamed and foam. The most commonly used milk is steamed milk. This is essentially milk that is been rapidly heated up by pumping hot air through it using a steam wand attachment on an espresso maker. Almost all espresso beverages use steamed milk.
If you want to start making your own espresso beverages, check out this guide of the best espresso makers: The Absolute Best Commercial Espresso Makers.
What is a Latte?
The lattè is one of the oldest espresso beverages around. It is easy to make and is a mainstay on coffee shop menus around the world. The earliest form of the lattè originated in 17th Century Italy. Its name is a shortened form of the Italian Caffè Latte, which translates to “milk coffee.”
The translation of its name kind of gives away how a latte is made. Even before espresso was invented, mixing coffee and milk was a traditional breakfast beverage in Italy and around the world. Another well-known name for a latte is the Spanish Caffè con Leche.
To make a latte you only need 2 ingredients: espresso, and milk. The brewing process is as follows: pour one shot of espresso into a cup, add steamed milk, and top the drink with a thin layer of foam.
The ratio of espresso to milk is actually how you define most espresso drinks. For a latte, the ratio is mostly half espresso half steamed milk. The foam on top is only a thin layer, and can even be optional.
What is a Macchiato?
If espresso drinks were a family, the macchiato would be the motorcycle riding second cousin. While the lattè has a history steeped in tradition, the macchiato was born almost by accident.
The origin of the macchiato comes from the coffee shop industry. At times, baristas would need to mark the difference between an espresso and an espresso with a dash of milk in it. This is basically what a true macchiato is. Literally translated, the name caffè macchiato means “stained coffee.”
While the lattè is simple to make, the macchiato is even simpler. To make a macchiato, you simply pour a tiny amount of steamed milk into a shot of espresso. This means that the macchiato has the boldest flavor out of all espresso drinks.
Now, there is a slight caveat when trying to order a macchiato. At most coffee shops, you have to specifically order an espresso macchiato to receive a true macchiato. Otherwise, you may end up with a drink that is called a macchiato but is anything but.
The End: Macchiato vs. Latte
So, after reading about the latte and macchiato, you may be asking: “which one is better?” Well, there is no real right or wrong answer. The beautiful thing about coffee is that it all comes down to personal preference.
Maybe you enjoy the creamy smoothness of a caffè latte. Or, your preference is for the hard-hitting boldness of a macchiato. Whatever your choice is, the important thing is that you enjoy it. Oh, that and that you get your caffeine fix of course.