Understanding Your Iced Caramel Macchiato: Stirred? Upside Down?
One of the all-time, most popular Starbucks beverages is the Iced Caramel Macchiato. Starbucks describes it as follows: "We combine our rich, full-bodied espresso with vanilla-flavored syrup, milk and ice, then top it off with caramel drizzle for an oh-so-sweet finish."
The Unmodified Iced Caramel Macchiato:
Here's what the unmodified, beautiful Iced Caramel Macchiato looks like:
The unmodified Iced Caramel Macchiato is built like this: A barista adds vanilla syrup to the cup. (For a Grande size, 16 ounces, it is 3 pumps of syrup. All of my beverages in this article will be the Grande size). Next comes milk and ice. And then the barista pours 2 shots of espresso into the cup (after the vanilla, milk and ice are in the cup). Lastly, the barista takes caramel drizzle (a caramel sauce) and makes a hatch like pattern on the top. The beverage is "marked" by caramel drizzle, hence the use of the word "macchiato". Sometimes people are surprised that the syrup is vanilla, and the only caramel is the drizzle.
Whenever a beverage has the word "macchiato" in it, some ingredient will be last, atop everything else. So an Espresso Macchiato is two shots of espresso with a small dollop of foam atop the espresso shots, finishing the drink. The Espresso is "marked" by the foam.
I have heard it said anecdotally by partners, that the Iced Caramel Macchiato is the most frequently ordered beverage at Starbucks. Media relations at Starbucks told me that it is a "long-standing customer and partner favorite" and that it is "very popular."
The cup marking for an unmodified Iced Caramel Macchiato is just a "CM."
*Upshot: Perfect medley of caramel sweetness, cold milk and espresso.
I received a Facebook message from a barista a while back, just wanting to talk about the Iced Caramel Macchiato. I can't find the message now, but the gist of our conversation was that at her store, the "stirred Iced Caramel Macchiato" is such a popular beverage that she has seen her partners start to do that automatically now. I was surprised. I don't think I've ever seen anyone order a "stirred Iced Caramel Macchiato" so I went to Starbucks and did a little investigating.
The Stirred Iced Caramel Macchiato:
If you order a "stirred" Iced Caramel Macchiato, your barista will build the drink as usual (see the above discussion on building the beverage) and then take a spoon and stir it.
I tried to understand why customers like that. It does give you a more uniform taste to the beverage. Because the unmodified Iced Caramel Macchiato is a layered beverage, you'll take sips where sometime you're tasting more milk and towards the end you might taste more caramel.
I discovered that if you order this beverage stirred, you'll get the least amount of caramel on it, compared to the unmodified or the upside down version. (I'll talk about the upside down version next). The reason you get the least amount of caramel is that when the barista pulls the spoon out of the drink, some of the caramel stays clinging to the spoon and gets removed from the drink. If you order it stirred, you either need to be aware that it has a little less caramel than the unmodified version, or you might want to ask your barista to add a bit back on top after it's stirred.
I asked my neighborhood baristas if they've ever seen anyone order a stirred Iced Caramel Macchiato. Sure enough, this is not that unusual of a modification. I suppose you might order this if you don't enjoy a layered beverage and /or you enjoy a less prominent caramel flavor.
*Upshot: Uniform flavors with the least amount of caramel-ly goodness.
The Upside Down Iced Caramel Macchiato:
The upside down version of the Iced Caramel Macchiato really is a very different beverage from the unmodified version. Since your caramel is on the bottom, it's not "marking" the drink at the end.
Your barista building this version of the beverage is going to start by putting a bunch of caramel at the bottom of the cup. What was last is now first. I asked my barista exactly how she built the drink above and she literally reversed the steps of the unmodified Iced Caramel Macchiato. Caramel drizzle goes on the bottom. Next she added 2 shots of espresso to the cup. After that, she added milk and ice, and lastly she pumped vanilla syrup into the beverage as the final step.
Since all the caramel is on the bottom of the cup, when you take your first sip through the straw, you'll get a glob of caramel or a lot of caramel flavor immediately. Rather than a uniform flavor of the stirred drink, or the layered flavor of the unmodified drink, here you get a lot of caramel in the early stages of your drink, followed by a more milky-sweet-espresso flavor in the finish.
Turns out, this variation is popular too.
*Upshot: A blast of caramel to start your drink followed by milky-espresso deliciousness.
The Extra Caraamel Iced Caramel Macchiato:
My baristas told me that another popular variation of the Iced Caramel Macchiato is with extra caramel. The extra caramel is usually built by the barista drizzling extra caramel all over the inside walls of the cup before beginning the standard build. After lining the cup walls with caramel sauce, the barista then adds, as usual, vanilla syrup, milk and ice, and two shots of espresso. The drink is finished, as usual, with drizzle on top of the drink.
*Upshot: This is for those of you who hope to drown yourself in caramel sauce.
Once in a blue moon, I have seen social media conversations with baristas who get angry or upset over the Extra Caramel Iced Caramel Macchiato. To be clear, I'm not suggesting for a moment that most baristas are like this, but this does come up in Facebook groups and conversations on occasion. It would seem that the angry baristas are generally mad about this drink for one of two reasons. Either, they erroneously believe that no customer should ever get extra caramel because it's too expensive. That's silly. The profit margins of these beverages clearly cover modified versions. It's a 20 billion dollar corporation. Your barista giving you a little extra caramel drizzle is not going to bankrupt Starbucks. And your barista should want you to love your drink. Secondly, some baristas believe that they are the diet-drink-police. This is also super silly. It is true that if you're sedentary and you choose a diet filled with lots of simple carbohydrates, you're probably not doing yourself any favors. However, as treat now and then, it's no more problematic than all those times you enjoy Girl Scout cookies, pizza, greasy Chinese food, Halloween candy, a Blizzard, pancakes at breakfast (all those carbs!), and so many other things that are delicious but not so great in excess.
The bottom line is that you can never look at one beverage and have any clue how healthy the person ordering it is. We are all best off getting some regular exercise, eating lots of whole foods, including fruits and veggies, and limiting simple carbohydrates as much as possible.
I think it's fairly rare that you meet the angry-you-can't-have-extra-caramel-drizzle barista out there, but if you do, please don't let their scowl dissuade you. You probably earned your treat.
Enjoy your Iced Caramel Macchiato however you like it!
(My favorite was the standard, unmodified version).