What is a Caramel Macchiato?

Starbucks deserves credit for elevating coffee's popularity around the world, and it's made such a powerful “mark” on cafe culture that the company rewrote the global drink dictionary with its Caramel Macchiato. This lush, dessert-like drink is a latte-style beverage served hot or iced made with milk, vanilla syrup, and topped with espresso and caramel sauce. Starbucks retail locations serve this drink in various sizes between 8oz-24oz.

What's the difference between a Caramel Macchiato and a traditional macchiato?

The traditional definition of a “macchiato” is an espresso with just a small bit of milk or foam (macchiato coming from the Italian, “to mark” or “to stain”). It's about three ounces. Starbucks took some mixologistic license with the term, adding both an “espresso macchiato” (traditional) and a “latte macchiato” to their original menus.

The Caramel Macchiato is essentially a not-too-sweet vanilla latte topped with caramel. The “macchiato” distinction is due to the fact the espresso is layered on top of the milk, as opposed to the Starbucks latte, which does the opposite. This layering is especially noticeable in transparent vessels.  The sweet coffee treat became such a smash sensation that it's what many people think of when they ask for a macchiato in a cafe. When they're given a 3oz drink with no flavored syrups, boy are they surprised!

How was the Caramel Macchiato invented?

The Caramel Macchiato was introduced to Starbucks fans in 1996 when product developer Hannah Su and a small team at Starbucks HQ brainstormed the drink as a way to celebrate Starbucks' 25th anniversary. The drink was developed for nearly a year before debuting as a limited-time menu—that became a “forever” feature.

How many calories are in a Caramel Macchiato?

Depending on options like size, milk fat content, and whether or not whipped cream is added, a typical Caramel Macchiato weighs in between 200-300 calories. (An Espresso Macchiato, by comparison, usually has 25 calories or fewer.)

Can I make my own Caramel Macchiato at home?

Yes! Recipes abound all over the internet to help reproduce the Caramel Macchiato from the comfort of your own home coffee bar. Starbucks' own official recipe is here, and many copycat recipes exist. Each one includes espresso, steamed milk, vanilla syrup (not extract!) and caramel sauce. (Don't have an espresso machine at home? This recipe has some good suggestions on how to brew regular coffee in a method that will approximate espresso.)

What are some variations on the Caramel Macchiato?

Besides the Iced Caramel Macchiato, there are a variety of reimaginations of the beloved Caramel Macchiato, from seasonal treats like the Caramel Snickerdoodle Macchiato and the Caramel Pumpkin Macchiato, and even the Caramel Macchiato Frappuccino!

Of course, the Caramel Macchiato is itself a riff on Starbucks' Latte Macchiato, which has spawned seemingly endless variants like the Starbucks Blonde Honeycomb Macchiato, the Iced Cinnamon Almondmilk Macchiato, the Chestnut Macchiato, the Cloud Macchiato, and of course, for coffee lovers in the Great White North, the Maple Macchiato—but there's no question the Caramel Macchiato is still the fan fave.

Liz Clayton is the associate editor at Sprudge Media Network. Read more Liz Clayton on Sprudge.