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What Has Starbucks Done to Mah-Kee-Ah-Toh: Macchiato 101

I love macchiato. I love that the milk foam cuts through the acidity of espresso and makes the espresso so yummy and smooth on the tongue.

Hence it annoys me when people have this expectation in mind when they order macchiato in a café.

Here are 5 things you need to know about macchiato.

#1 Macchiato is not coffee
Macchiato is an Italian word which means ‘stained’ or ‘marked’. Just like ‘latte’ which means ‘milk’, they are totally unrelated to coffee when standalone in the vocabulary of Italian word.

#2 Macchiato as seen on coffee menu
When you see ‘macchiato’ on a coffee menu, by default it means ‘caffe macchiato’ or ‘espresso macchiato’, which literally means stained coffee or espresso.

Please do not throw tantrum at your lovely barista when you are served with coffee in a tiny espresso cup – because macchiato is Stained/Macchiato-ed espresso.

A standard macchiato coffee should comprised of single or double shots espresso, with a dollop of milk foam on top of coffee crema which form the white stain. If you are really caffeine deprived, feel free to go for triple or quadruple shots.

#3 History of macchiato
Espresso is extracted under 9 bar pressure that brings out the most complex flavour in coffee, hence is universally described by most coffee drinkers as ‘too strong’.

For easy drinking, some people will request to add a tiny bit of milk into their espresso to reduce the acidity or bitterness. In order to differentiate espresso and espresso with milk, barista stained the milked espresso with some foam, hence ‘caffe macchiato’ is born.

There is no romantic story behind the origin of Macchiato – it is simply operational and driven by the need to avoid mistake.

#4 Latte macchiato
Is simply stained milk (and a rather dumb drink). It is made from frothed milk with thick foam, often sweetened with flavoured syrup, and finished with espresso shot added to the middle of frothed milk surface to form the espresso stain.

I am saying that it is a dumb way of making coffee because:

1. It is going to be an obvious wanna-be after an extremely well known chained café.
2. A god shot espresso will end up being carelessly dumped into a pool of milk.
3. From operation point of view, for the same ingredients-espresso, syrup and milk, it is more time efficient to pull an espresso shot into syrup and topped it with frothed milk. If you have a skilful barista, fancy latte art will be a bonus.
4. Who cares about the stain, really?

#5 Caramel Macchiato
“In our Caramel Macchiato the milk gets marked not once, but twice – first by shots of our signature espresso, and then by our rich caramel sauce. Take off the lid and you should see a dot where the shots were poured through the milk foam, and the rich “cross-hatch” pattern made by our caramel sauce. They’re marks of an expert and unbeatable Macchiato. “ – Starbucks Coffee Company

Now that you get the idea of stain, Starbucks Caramel Macchiato is actually a (dumb) latte macchiato stained with both caramel sauce and espresso shot, and it happens to be the pioneer in introducing the macchiato drinks, i.e. stained drinks.

Why is caramel macchiato so popular that it instills the false idea of MACCHIATO in people’s mind?

Starbucks could easily come up with a good Macchiato recipe and SOP, just like any other standard coffee drinks such as latte, espresso and cappuccino.

However, they know that good macchiato is everywhere and by being ‘good’ macchiato, they are just being boring. Customers can easily switch to other good macchiato everywhere else.

Hence, they invented Caramel Macchiato – something different and new that excites people.

They have fantastic first mover advantage in the market because not many people actually knows what a Mah-kee-ah-toh was back then.

It sounds romantic and Italian-ish (I think?), it triggers people to explore the items, and the ‘cross hatch’ finish was new for a coffee drink.

This reminds me of a Seth Godin quote: Very good….. is bad. Be different.


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