How To Distinguish A Macchiato From A Cappuccino? Well, It's Tricky

Between lattes, macchiatos, and cappuccinos, navigating the menu at even the best coffee shops in America can feel pretty daunting. While coffee lovers who enjoy a wide range of drinks might be able to distinguish between drinks on a coffee menu, those who are newer coffee drinkers might be (understandably) confused by the terminology. Many coffee orders have Italian names and such subtle differences between them that confusing them is practically inevitable.

Two similar drinks that continue to puzzle coffee drinkers are the macchiato and the cappuccino. Of course, there are differences between the two — they're two separate drinks, after all — but they tend to look almost the same. Despite their similarities, though, there's a key difference between macchiatos and cappuccinos. They both prominently feature espresso and foamed milk, but the difference between the two is centered on a key ingredient of both: the milk foam. 

Using the differences in milk foam between the two, you'll know which is which — but there's a little bit of a catch as well.

How to tell the difference between a macchiato and a cappuccino

The difference between a macchiato and a cappuccino lies in the foam. Both macchiatos and cappuccinos are made with espresso and foamed milk, but the foam-to-milk ratios between the two drinks are different. Which of the two you order should depend on how much foam you prefer in your drink.

A macchiato has a small dollop of foam on top, while a cappuccino typically has four to five ounces of foam. If you order a cappuccino, your drink won't be completely overtaken by milk foam — cappuccinos contain equal parts espresso, steamed milk, and milk foam. By contrast, macchiatos contain mostly espresso but have a small amount of milk foam on top. If you want the espresso in your drink to stand out, order a macchiato, but if you prefer a more even mixture, opt for a cappuccino instead. 

Now that you know the differences between a macchiato and a cappuccino, ordering coffee might come a lot more easily to you. Now, you'll need to understand the differences between the many types of macchiato drinks.

The different types of macchiato drinks

Identifying macchiatos and cappuccinos as separate drinks may sound as simple as checking the ratios of espresso to foam, but there's a bit more of a complication: There are also different types of macchiatos. Some coffee shops offer both a café (or espresso) macchiato and a latte macchiato.

A café macchiato is a more traditional version of the drink — in Italy, macchiatos are typically made with one espresso shot and a small spot of foam. Some coffee chains Americanize the macchiato by adding two espresso shots instead of one or by pouring espresso over the top of the foamed milk (in Italy, foamed milk traditionally rests on top of the espresso). Others take it a step further by offering a caramel macchiato: a macchiato with caramel on top of the foam.

Of course, like with all foods and drinks, choosing which macchiato you like best, is a matter of personal preference. On some days, the café macchiato might call you, while on other days, the latte macchiato is your best friend. On the other hand, if you're feeling especially adventurous, the caramel macchiato could be just right. No matter your choice, it's just important to make sure you're not confusing them.