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Generally served hot, caramel macchiato can come in a few forms, but always contains espresso and steamed milk with caramel sauce or caramel flavor. It is typically a notably sweet coffee drink that is friendly to the palate of those who seldom drink coffee. This drink is generally one of two things, depending on where the drink is made. It can be a large, hot milky drink with a light coffee flavor and caramel syrup on top, or it can be a small, sweet and concentrated coffee drink not much larger than a shot of espresso. Caramel macchiato can also be made at home with the use of an espresso machine.
The most well-known type of caramel macchiato, which is made at Starbucks™, is what is called a latte macchiato, flavored with vanilla and caramel. Starbucks™ is a chain of coffee shops that originated in in the US in Seattle, Washington, but later grew to have an international presence. Essentially, the difference between the familiar caffe latte and the latte macchiato is that the milk in a latte macchiato is supposed to be added before the espresso, which creates a mark of espresso in the milk foam. The Starbucks™ version of this drink also has several pumps of vanilla syrup and a squiggle of caramel sauce on top of the milky foam. Adding flavored syrup increases the sweetness of the drink and puts another sweet flavor in the mix.
A true caramel macchiato is made with espresso, a special technique used to prepare coffee. Espresso is made by straining pressurized hot water through finely ground roasted coffee beans using an espresso machine. Preparing the ground coffee in this manner produces a concentrated hot liquid that is high in caffeine. This technique also makes the texture of the macchiato foamier than drinks made with drip brewed coffee.
Making caramel macchiato at home requires the use of an espresso machine and ground espresso coffee beans. While the espresso is being extracted from the beans, milk is heated and foamed, then poured into a cup. Sometimes, the milk is flavored with sweet syrup, which can be many flavors, like caramel, vanilla and amaretto. The freshly brewed espresso is poured into the foamed milk, which makes a mark in the foam. A brown caramel sauce, generally made with caramel, sugar and cream, is drizzled onto the foam as an accent.
When an espresso machine is not available, there are some options to make a similar beverage at home. Some packaged beverage manufacturers sell drink mixes designed to simulate the sweet, milky flavor of this coffee beverage. Usually, these come in the form of a powder or a syrup that mixes into heated milk.
Macchiato simply means marked, and its use in reference to coffee can apply to a few different drinks. The well-known caramel macchiato at Starbucks™ differs from the type of caramel macchiato made in many independent Italian-style coffee shops. When ordered in independent coffee shops, the caramel macchiato is usually a caramel flavored caffe macchiato rather than a latte macchiato. This version is made with only a small amount of milk dropped in to mark and foam the espresso.
@Lostnfound -- It's a good thing the macchiatos are so expensive. Otherwise, I'd order one every morning and I'd be so big you couldn't get me through the door! As it is, I get about one a month. Really, that's enough because, as you mentioned, they are very sweet. Nobody needs that much sweet in a drink too often. But if you get an extra shot of espresso, it ups the caffeine content and cuts the sweet a little. And probably makes it the equivalent of a Mountain Dew in being able to wake you up!
Somehow, I suspect they would laugh at us Americans if we went to Rome and ordered one of these (unless we were in Rome, Georgia). Italians chuckle pretty frequently at the American versions of their food.
On the rare occasions I get a caramel macchiato, I order the "skinny" one because the regular is way, way too sweet. Makes my teeth ache.
Going to Italy for real espresso and cappucinos is on my bucket list.