I only started drinking coffee a few years ago, and the first drink I had was carefully chosen and recommended to me by my sister: a bonafide coffee aficionado. The drink she chose for me was a beautiful, honey-colored iced caramel macchiato. As I sipped it I could feel my inner Italian sit up and take notice. Coffee is amazing!
To this day the caramel macchiato remains at the top of the list for favorite coffee drinks. It’s the perfect mix of sweet, salty, rich, and deeply roasted flavors. The only thing better is making one at home from ingredients that are best quality possible. My recipe tastes as good as anything you can order at your local coffee shop.
Macchiato literally means “marked”, or sometimes “stained”. Sometimes called a latte macchiato, the name refers to stained milk since the espresso is added to the milk, swirling to darken it, and not the other way around. In other words, the emphasis is on the milk. It is a latte, after all.
Even though the caramel macchiato drink takes espresso to make, I have to talk about all my coffee-making nerdery. We own a French press, a single-cup coffee maker, and a stainless steel stovetop espresso maker, sometimes called a mokapot. My favorite is the French press, and my husband’s favorite is the single-cup maker.
The French press is great because you can use it for making coffee, loose tea, homemade infusions, and all kinds of other things. The single-cup maker is just plain simple and quick, and it’s perfect for parties.
But for espresso, I love my stovetop maker! It’s the newest addition to my home coffee bar. You can make espresso-like coffee in a French press, but it’s not the same. So I finally caved and got this espresso maker for my latte-making needs. Like my home cocktail bar, my home coffee bar seems to be consistently growing! I like this particular model pictured above because it is made completely from stainless steel.
Which Coffee and Espresso Should I Get?
As for the coffee itself, do not get confused by all the options! Here are my recommendations: Buy organic, fair trade, shade grown coffees in either decaf if you are like me, or full strength. Buy whole bean coffee for two reasons: 1. so you can grind it fresh and 2. so you can grind it as fine or as coarse as you need. Get a good quality coffee bean grinder and you are good to go!
Also, contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to buy separate beans for coffee or espresso. The same beans can be used, just differently when you grind and prepare them. Espresso needs to be finely ground. Coffee in a French press needs to be as coarse as possible.
What if I Can’t Drink Coffee?
Well, then you need a suitable substitute. Because this caramel macchiato is too good! You can use a coffee substitute like this one, but it does have grains in it for those of you who are truly allergic or on a restricted diet like GAPS. In that case, try a coffee substitute made from dandelion, like this one. Both taste remarkably close to coffee!
And even if you can have coffee, but you don’t like the fact that coffee is acidic for whatever reason, the above coffee substitutes are quite delicious. I have both at my house and use them whenever I get the hankering.
Will You Permit Me a Diversion? I want to rant about health for a quick sec.
Now I still buy iced caramel macchiatos when I am out with friends, or for a special occasion. But I have learned a few things about coffee since that first drink 4 years ago. First, I am really sensitive to caffeine! So I tend to order and prepare my drinks from decaffeinated coffee and espresso. I only trust organic, fair trade companies to decaffeinate their beans. Why?
There are a few methods to decaffeinate coffee and espresso beans. Most methods involve using various solvents to extract the caffeine from the beans. I took chemistry in college, so I am not afraid of chemical reactions nor do I automatically think of glowing, radioactive material when I read about chemical processing, but in the case of coffee bean decaffeination, I do not like what I am reading!
Steaming coffee beans in benzene was one of the early methods called the Roselius method, now known to cause a myriad of health problems. Really? Benzene?! How would this not be a problem to ingest? A known carcinogen, here is the rundown on benzene.
Another more common method these days is to soak the beans for 10 hours in dichloromethane or ethyl acetate, which from a cursory Wikipedia reading anyone can see are both implicated in known human cancers. This is what we want our coffee beans soaked in?
I’m sure someone will argue, “Well yes, but they are rinsed afterwards!” I still don’t trust it. Besides, how do you think those studies came to be? From situations like this! These chemicals get used until problems start to arise. Know your foods. Perhaps one cup of decaf will not give you cancer, specifically. But the cumulative effect of your cup of decaf, the plastics in your house, the pollution in the air, the pesticides in your grocery-store produce: that’s what really causes cancer. But no one source is to blame, so no one is liable or willing to take responsibility. It’s shameful.
So What Method is Safe?
In my opinion, the best and safest method is the Swiss water process where the unroasted beans are repeatedly soaked in hot water and rinsed until the beans are 99.9% caffeine-free. Then the beans are then roasted in the usual way and used as desired. If you do not check with the coffee company who supplies the beans used in your cup of coffee, you may not know what method they use.
When you buy decaf coffee or espresso, make sure to see if the product description says “water process” for the decaffeination process. The decaf coffee I recommend is one example.
- stainless steel stovetop espresso maker OR French press*
- saucepan or milk steamer**
- glass bowl, whisk, Irish coffee mug
*If you use a French press, you will not really be making proper espresso. Espresso is when hot water is forced through tightly packed, finely ground coffee at high pressure. But you can make a functional espresso from really strong coffee in a French press. Use three heaping tablespoons per one cup of boiling water. Brew for 1-3 minutes, then plunge, strain, and pour.
**I call this a cheater steamer, because it doesn’t use real steam. But most of us don’t have access to a steam wand on our fancy-schmancy home coffee maker. So you can use this frother with cold milk or heat up the milk in a saucepan and then froth. I recommend the latter method for flavor. Yum!
Iced Caramel Macchiato
1/4 cup (2 shots) espresso (buy coffee here, decaf here, coffee substitute here and here)
1/8 teaspoon vanilla extract (buy organic extracts here)
whole cane sugar, to taste (buy whole cane sugar here)
3/4 cup half-and-half or whole milk (find raw dairy near you here)
Sweetened Whipped Cream, below
Caramel Sauce, to taste
- Brew the espresso on the stovetop and pour into a glass. Sweeten to taste with the vanilla extract and whole cane sugar and set aside to cool.
- Steam the milk with a steam wand or handheld frother, or scald the milk by heating it in a saucepan over medium heat until just before boiling, as steam rises off the top. Pour the steamed milk into a tall glass. Add the sweetened espresso to “mark” the steamed milk. (Optional: Stir gently to combine; I like to refrain from stirring since it gets mixed when you pour it later.)
- Make the sweetened whipped cream: beat the plain cream in a glass bowl with a whisk until soft peaks form. Add whole cane sugar to taste and whisk together.
- In the bottom of an Irish coffee mug, squeeze or spoon in a tablespoon or so of caramel sauce. Fill the with mug nearly to the top with ice. Pour the espresso & milk mixture over the ice, filling the mug up completely but leaving a little room for the whipped cream.
- Spoon the whipped cream over the top, carefully. Drizzle a little more caramel sauce over the cream. The squeezy bottle makes this very easy to do! Serve immediately with a straw, and drink slowly to take in all the flavors. Yum!