I was recently reading different peoples takes on what a macchiato is. Am i wrong or does no one know what it is? i thought it was a shot of espresso with a dollop of foam on top. 'Mark' in Italian = mark the espresso with the foam?

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but... the whole milk has to have a little foam to make "una macchia" stay to the top, correct?

J P Maher said:

There's no mystery if you know Italian and you've lived in Italy. In Italian "una marca" is a brand, a make, a company, like FIAT. "Una macchia" is a SPOT, as on a leopard. Drop a spot of whole milk in your espresso and you've got a "caffe' macchiato".

Caffè macchiato is “spotted coffee”, i.e. espresso with a spot of milk. Here’s the story from an Italian site:  Caffè macchiato si ottiene aggiungendo al caffè una «macchia» (ovvero una piccola quantità) di latte. =  Caffè macchiato is obtained by adding to the coffee [espresso] a drop, that is, a little quantity of milk.”  -- On the other hand, coffee [espresso] with a hood of white foam is called cappuccino [hood].  Since whole milk contains fat, its specific density is less than that of coffee, so it will keep floating on top of the espresso, until or unless you mix it with the little spoon, which is seldom found in the American coffee house. – Since Italians do not order “un espresso”, but “un caffè”,  a better translation of “caffè  macchiato”  would be “espresso with a spot of whole, unfoamed milk.”.

http://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caff%C3%A8

http://withfriendship.com/user/Nmicky/caffe-macchiato.php 

So what you are saying is that a little bit of whole milk (unfoamed) will stay on top of the espresso until you mix it in with the spoon?

Anybody ever see this happen? Not sure I have... but then I'm not an Italian. I have a book by one though, and according to him the typical density of arabica espresso at 20 deg-C is 1.020 g/mL. Average Holstein cow whole milk density at 20 deg-C is 1.033 g/mL. That could be why I usually see it sink.

PS, if the coffeehouse you are in doesn't have the little spoons, you ought to skip the macchiato.

J P Maher said:

...Since whole milk contains fat, its specific density is less than that of coffee, so it will keep floating on top of the espresso, until or unless you mix it with the little spoon, which is seldom found in the American coffee house...

After this I'm off for a SPOT of tea (amount, small), not a stain. You're right on the relative densities, all things being equal. But they're not equal. The coffee out of the spigot into a heated cup is ca. 90 degrees C, just under boiling (100 C). The milk is at room temperature. Before the milk sinks, it's on top. The whole point, in any case, of dropping a spot (macchia) of milk into your caffè espresso is not optical effect. "Caffè  macchiato" is  coffee with a spot of milk, for a sweetener.  

http://ask.metafilter.com/146536/A-violation-of-the-second-law-of-c...

The above site has a discussion of the physics of "separator" drinks, poured with intent to achieve diffent colored layers. That means you use transparent glass. Whereas cappuccino can be served in (opaque) cups or transparent glass cups, Caffè  macchiato is not a separator drink and is served in an opaque espressso cup. 
 
J P Maher said:

After this I'm off for a SPOT of tea (amount, small), not a stain. You're right on the relative densities, all things being equal. But they're not equal. The coffee out of the spigot into a heated cup is ca. 90 degrees C, just under boiling (100 C). The milk is at room temperature. Before the milk sinks, it's on top. The whole point, in any case, of dropping a spot (macchia) of milk into your caffè espresso is not optical effect. "Caffè  macchiato" is  coffee with a spot of milk, for a sweetener.  

The original espresso or café' macchiato  is a shot of  espresso with its crema "stained" by just a touch  of hot, foamed milk.  I love it like anything.. :)

Wrong. "Café" is the French word for coffee. The Italian is "caffè". Italians never order "un espresso". English "espresso" is short for Italian "caffè espresso". This is correctly translated "express coffee", that is,  short order, EXPRESSLY for a given customer. "Un caffè macchiato" is NOT a stained coffee if you mean a coloration. "Macchiato" means 'stained' only in the sense 'dirty'.  If your intended meaning is 'marked with color', the right word is TINTO. 

ok, so what your saying is, we shouldn't be calling it macchiato at all? we should be calling it, Un caffe TINTO..? :)  THanks for the input on wording but, i think it is safe to say at this point in history we have two different espresso macchiatos floating around. We have one that is a traditional style (an espresso shot with a touch of steamed milk/microfoam on top) and we also have, what i think is safe to say, an American style espresso macchiato (a double espresso shot that's more like a really stronge mini cappucino) that has developed over the years with amany barista's obsession with the 'latte arts'.

OK, time for everyone to change there menu boards (or screens, which is alot easier, if you are up to date).

I, for one, appreciate the input of a native speaker on the connotation and denotation of the word, but I think it's safe to say that we'll continue to do it however we do it and call it what we want along with a delightful but inaccurate story for the customer.

That's just how it's done here. If you order a macchiato, you're probably lucky to get the mini-cap version. Besides the abomination at starbucks, I've heard of some shops putting a dollop of stiff foam on top of an espresso which just sounds horrifying.

Right you are! More of the same: "Italian beef" is a Chicago sandwich, unknown in Italy. There's no chop-suey in The Middle Kingdom. US sandwich shops peddle "Paninis". In Italy PANINI is a plural form. The singular is UN PANINO".  It's a roll -- 'little bread, little loaf of bread --PANE" cut in 2 lengthwise and filled with prosciutto (air-dried ham), cheese, or both. NOT toasted. And then there's TOAST. In Italy 2 syllables, please -- TOST-E...  It equals a US toasted cheese sandwich. And they have a purpose-built toaster. Our toast is called 'toasted bread --Pane tostato. And PIZZA was unknown in central and northern Italy until the 1960s. (I ws there when it arrived in the Veneto)  You could get it only in southern Italy, France, and that big Italian colony, the USA

Well, language is ever-evolving and complex. What some are getting at is the need for a word to result in a somewhat predictable result when used to order a coffee at a bar.

I prefer to treat the mini-cap thing and traditional macchiato as two separate drinks, but I'm not sure what to call it. Isn't the one-to-one ratio of a double ristretto in a 3z demitasse poured to the top what is referred to often as a cortado in Spain or noisette in France? Is there an Italian equivalent?

Except cortados tend to be served in a glass. BTW, is there any identifiably different characteristic between this style cortado and a gibralter? Sorry, derailing the topic somewhat.

Ok, after revisiting my research on the topic I think the mini-cap thing is different from a cortado and might be more accurately called a macchiatone. Is this correct?

I like this idea of a subtle range of milk drinks: macchiato<macchiatone<cortado/gibralter<cappuccino<latte

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