Everything you ever wanted to know about Starbucks Macchiatos

One of the things I love most about coffee is discovering the stories behind it. I’m kind of a nerd like that. The Macchiato—its history and evolution—has been my latest obsession. Consider the following the results of my espresso-fueled research.

I’ll start with a fun coffee fact. Did you know Macchiato means “marked” in Italian? This idea of marking a beverage, like with a dot of espresso or a caramel design, has inspired Starbucks to create some delicious drinks.

In its purest form, an Espresso Macchiato begins with our espresso; it’s then marked with a dollop of foam. The bold, rich drink—sometimes referred to simply as a Macchiato within the coffee industry—comes in two sizes: A solo contains one shot of espresso and a doppio has two.

Up next: the Latte Macchiato. This is essentially the inverse of an Espresso Macchiato. Instead of topping the drink with foam, our baristas start with steamed whole milk, and then slowly pour espresso shots over it. The espresso creates a small chestnut-colored circle in the center of the crisp, white microfoam. (An Almondmilk Latte Macchiato is my current go-to drink.)

The Caramel Macchiato debuted in the fall of 1996, back when Starbucks had around 1,000 stores. Hannah Su, a 21-year partner (employee) who developed the iconic drink, said they wanted to create something special to mark Starbucks 25th anniversary.

The first step? “Coming up with a silky, velvety caramel sauce,” Hannah said. Not only did she need to perfect the taste, she also had to make sure the caramel stayed on top of the foam—which proved to be the most challenging part.

She and a handful of fellow partners spent around 10 months working on the beverage, from the first concept to the finished product. They tried out more than 30 different iterations.

“When I got a sign-off on [the Caramel Macchiato], you would not believe how happy I was,” Hannah said.

The initial plan was to offer the Caramel Macchiato for just a few weeks. But it proved to be far more popular than her team could have imagined and has become a menu staple.

“I never thought, honestly, none of us ever thought that it would become such a huge hit,” Hannah said.

Hannah credits the success of the Caramel Macchiato to her dedicated team. Well, that and the fact that “everybody loves caramel.”

“Caramel is like a comfort,” she said.

Building off Hannah’s creation, the Research and Development team continues to innovate around the Macchiato—staying true to the drink’s meaning but experimenting with flavor.

"It’s familiar to people. ... We try to stay to that familiarity but then try to give a variety," said Rosalyn Batingan, Research and Development lab assistant, Espresso and Brewed Coffee.

Iced Cococonutmilk Mocha Macchiato

Inspired by the summer season, the Research and Development team created the Iced Coconutmilk Mocha Macchiato, which was first introduced last July. The refreshing drink features espresso shots poured over coconutmilk and a hint of white chocolate mocha sauce. It’s topped with a caramel crosshatch and a drizzle of mocha sauce, creating swirls of sweet espresso goodness.

If there has been a Coconutmilk Mocha Macchiato-shaped hole in your heart lately, the wait is over. It comes back this month, alongside the new Cinnamon Almondmilk Macchiato. When creating this drink, the team pulled from the flavors of horchata, the creamy, cinnamon-spiced beverage popular in Latin America and Spain. Almondmilk and cinnamon dolce syrup are marked with espresso and finished with a caramel crosshatch and a sprinkle of cinnamon dolce topping. Both drinks are quite tasty hot or iced.

While sampling a Macchiato or four (hey, it’s research), the thing that stood out to me the most is the versatility of these drinks.

“It’s the way that you pour it. It’s the way you layer it. If you did [espresso] first and milk last, it would be different from milk first and [espresso] last…It can make a huge difference in flavor,” Rosalyn said.

Within our Macchiato family, each has certainly made its own mark.

thumbnail for Coffee & Connection: Stories from Starbucks Origin Experience 2024 in Costa Rica

Coffee & Connection: Stories from Starbucks Origin Experience 2024 in Costa Rica