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Coffee City

Melissa Allison follows the world's biggest coffee-shop chain and other Seattle caffeine purveyors.

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March 25, 2009 5:07 AM

Starbucks redefines macchiato

Posted by Melissa Allison


Anthony Carroll and Mary Theisen of Starbucks taste new Starbucks ice creams, which include a caramel macchiato flavor.

Ask any coffee connoisseur who doesn't frequent Starbucks what a macchiato is, and you'll get the same answer: Espresso with a dollop of foam.

It's a small drink -- a couple of ounces -- packed with coffee flavor.

Now ask a Starbucks regular, and you're in another world. For them, it's a 16-ounce latte with vanilla and caramel syrups.

The one thing they agree on: "Macchiato" means "marked" or "stained" in Italian.

For traditionalists, espresso is marked with foam. For nouveau cafe drinkers from Starbucks, the foam on a latte is marked with caramel.

The confusion causes headaches outside Starbucks, where customers wanting the little espresso drink are shocked when a sugary latte appears, and vice versa. Baristas have learned to ask whether people want an Italian or an American/Starbucks macchiato.

Furthering the more recent drink's encroachment is Starbucks' new caramel macchiato ice cream, rolling into grocery and convenience stores now. (Story about that here.)

"It's a really popular beverage," said Anthony Carroll, one of Starbucks' managers of green coffee quality.

Regarding the name, he said, "it's just a different expression, I think. There's a very traditional and then an innovative way to describe what macchiato could mean in a beverage."

Starbucks does sell the small, traditional macchiato, but that's not what most of its customers mean when they order one. What does "macchiato" mean to you?


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