Caramel Macchiato vs Caramel Latte: What is the Difference?

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Caramel macchiatos and caramel lattes contain similar ingredients but have a few key differences. Many coffee shops offer these two popular drinks, and it can be intimidating to navigate the menu if you do not know the difference between all the different coffee drinks. In this article, we discuss the differences between a caramel latte and a caramel macchiato. We will also provide an overview on the difference between a caramel macchiato and a caffe macchiato. 

The main difference between a caramel latte and a caramel macchiato is that caramel macchiatos contain vanilla flavored syrup in addition to a caramel drizzle on top of the milk, whereas a caramel latte only contains caramel sauce for flavoring. The two drinks also have a different order in which the espresso and steamed milk are added to the cup. In caramel macchiatos, the milk is added first, then the espresso, In a caramel latte, the espresso is added to the cup, and then the milk is poured over the top. 

While these are the main differences between these two drinks, there are many other details you may want to know before ordering either of these drinks. 

Caffe Macchiato vs Latte Macchiato

First, let’s discuss the difference between a caffe macchiato and a latte macchiato. Although similar in name, these two drinks are very different drinks. 

A caffe macchiato is a traditional espresso drink that contains a double shot of espresso, which is topped with a spoonful of milk foam. Macchiato means “stained” in Italian and was named to distinguish a plain black espresso with a “stained” espresso that contained a small amount of milk. 

Also known as an espresso macchiato, a caffe macchiato is a good choice for coffee lovers who want to experience the full flavor of espresso, but also enjoy the creaminess of warm milk. Using only a small dollop of foam allows the strong espresso flavors to have the spotlight, while also mellowing the harshness espresso can sometimes have on the taste buds. 

A latte macchiato contains a larger volume of steamed milk and milk foam. The espresso is then poured over the top of the drink and through the milk foam. This creates a beautifully layered drink in which the steamed milk sits at the bottom of the cup, then the espresso, then the milk foam. 

white mug containing a latte with steamed milk being poured in from a milk carafe.

Caffe Macchiato vs Latte Macchiato: Key differences

A traditional macchiato and a latte macchiato have three key differences. The order that the ingredients are added to the cup, the amount of milk that is added to the drink, and the preparation of the milk. In latte macchiatos, the milk is poured first, then espresso. In a caffe macchiato, the espresso is added to the cup, and is then topped with milk. Latte macchiatos also contain both steamed milk and milk froth, and have an overall greater quantity of milk compared to a caffe macchiato. Caffe macchiatos have less milk overall and only contain a small amount of milk foam on top of the espresso.  

Are Caramel Macchiatos a Latte Macchiato or a Caffe Macchiato?

Caramel macchiatos are a variant of a latte macchiato, and therefore have a high quantity of steamed milk, similar to a caffè latte. The caramel macchiato was popularized by Starbucks in 1996. At the time, the caramel macchiato was meant to be a temporary menu item meant to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the company. It was so popular that it became a permanent item on the Starbucks menu ever since and the company also came out with a similarly named iced macchiato. 

There is a plastic to-go cup that contains a caramel macchiato (the bottom of the drink is mostly milk, and layered on top is the coffee). The cup is sitting on a gray table.
Iced caramel macchiato

What is the Difference Between a Caramel Macchiato and a Caramel Latte?

Latte Macchiato vs Cafe Latte

Now that we have established that a caramel macchiato is a variant of a latte macchiato, you might be wondering what the difference between a latte macchiato and a cafe latte is. These two drinks are very similar, but the main difference lies in the order that the ingredients (i.e. milk and espresso), are added. They also differ in the way they are sweetened. Caramel lattes are sweetened only with sugar, whereas a caramel macchiato contains vanilla syrup and a caramel drizzle. 

In a cafe latte, the espresso is added to the cup first, then steamed milk and milk froth. In contrast, latte macchiatos are made by adding the milk to the cup first, and then pouring the espresso through the milk foam. 

This difference in the order that the milk and espresso are poured into the cup affects both the appearance, and the flavor of the drinks. 

Caramel Latte vs Caramel Macchiato: Appearance

Whether you order a caramel latte, or a caramel macchiato, you will notice both drinks have a lot of visual appeal. 

When a caramel latte is made, the milk is poured over the espresso, allowing some of the crema from the espresso to rise to the top. This creates a perfect canvas to create beautiful latte art, which is best viewed from the top in a wide-bowl mug. Sometimes, caramel lattes are also topped with whipped cream and a caramel drizzle for an extra bit of visual appeal.

In contrast, a caramel macchiato is made by pouring the milk first, and then pouring the espresso through the milk foam. When poured in this manner, the espresso mostly remains above the steamed milk, but below the layer of foam. Caramel is then drizzled over the top of the milk foam. The result is a beautiful layered drink that is best viewed through a clear glass that allows you take in the different macchiato latte layers. 

Caramel Macchiato vs Caramel Latte: Taste

Because caramel macchiatos have vanilla syrup, they have a sweet vanilla flavor that complements the caramel drizzle. When you take a sip of a caramel macchiato, you will taste the sweet caramel flavor and milk foam first because the drizzle of caramel sits on top of the milk foam. Then, as you continue to drink the drink, you will taste the stronger coffee and vanilla flavor. The finished with the creamy texture of the steamed milk.

On the other hand, caramel lattes have caramel syrup mixed directly into the drink without any other sweeteners. This allows the caramel flavor stands out more, which complements the coffee flavor, rather than masking it. Similar to a caramel macchiato, caramel lattes have a lot of milk, resulting in a creamy drink that is slightly richer than that caramel macchiato. This is due to the more complex flavor of the caramel sauce, which penetrates the entire caramel latte, rather than the drizzle of caramel sauce that tops a caramel macchiato. 

Bottom Line: Taste

Both caramel macchiatos and caramel lattes will satisfy coffee drinkers with a sweet tooth. For those looking for a more complex flavor profile, the combination of vanilla syrup and drizzle of caramel sauce in a caramel macchiato could be a great choice. Those who are looking for a more pure caramel flavor are better off ordering a caramel latte. 

What Type of Coffee is Best for a Caramel Macchiato or a Caramel Latte?

There is no single type of coffee that is best for a caramel macchiato or a caramel latte. Dark roast coffee will contrast the sweet flavors and stand out more in flavor compared to lighter roasts. On the other hand, a light roast will be complemented more by the sweet flavors as light roast coffee beans tend to have less bitter and more acidic flavor. Light roasts are usually less harsh in flavor and are a great choice for those who do not enjoy the bitterness of dark roasts as much.

there is a small glass jar in the upper right corner that is tipped on its side, spilling out the coffee beans it contains onto a white marble counter.


What are the Best Milk Alternatives for Caramel Macchiatos and Caramel Lattes?

Although traditionally made, with whole milk form cow’s, there are many great options if you are in need of a vegan, non-dairy milk. The most popular options include:

  • Soy milk
  • Almond milk
  • Coconut milk
  • Oat Milk

The type of vegan milk you choose is a matter of personal preference, but overall soy milk and oat milk work best in milk-based espresso drinks because they have a mild flavor and froth better than other options such as coconut milk. 

Do Caramel Macchiatos or Caramel Lattes have More Caffeine?

Both caramel macchiatos and caramel lattes have a similar caffeine content because both drinks are often made with two shots of espresso. A single espresso shot contains 64 mg of caffeine so a double shot of espresso has 128 mg of caffeine. If you order either of these drinks at your local coffee shop, you can ask how many espresso shots are used in each drink. Keep in mind that the amount of caffeine can vary based on the size of the drink that you order. Oftentimes, larger sizes may contain three shots of espresso, which will naturally increase the caffeine content of these drinks. 

Unlike a mocha, there are no other significant contributors to the caffeine content in either a caramel macchiato or a caramel latte. 

Do Caramel Macchiatos or Caramel Lattes have More Calories?

There are many factors that play into how many calories each drink has, including the amount of milk used, the amount of sweeteners used, whether they contain whipped cream, and the size of the drinks. 

How to Make a Caramel Macchiato without an Espresso Machine

If you do not have an espresso machine, there are several alternative options you can use to get an acceptable substitute. The best option is a moka pot. These stovetop coffee makers use a similar process as an espresso machine to create a rich, strong coffee that is very similar to espresso. Other options include a french press, instant coffee, or pourover coffee. You can even use a drip coffee machine, but the coffee will not be as strong, which is important since you will dilute it with steamed milk.  

Most espresso machines come equipped with a steam wand to steam the milk and create milk froth. While this is a nice convenience, there are alternative options to create milk froth. To create steamed milk without an espresso machine, you can purchase a milk steamer like this one. Alternatively, you can heat your cold milk in either the stove or microwave, and then use either a french press or a handheld milk frother to create the milk foam. 


By now you should understand the difference between a caramel macchiato and a caramel latte. These two popular drinks are similar in the core ingredients of espresso and steamed milk, but differ in the preparation and in that the caramel macchiato is additionally sweetened with vanilla-flavored syrup. While you can’t go wrong with either espresso-based beverage, you may want to go for an iced caramel macchiato in the summertime as this is always a very popular choice in the warmer months. In the cooler months, a caramel latte is a good choice if you are looking for the pure flavor of caramel in your coffee. 

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