How Starbucks' Caramel Brulée Latte Differs From Its Macchiato

Lovers of caramel, beware: You might just get hooked on caramel coffees, especially when exploring the range of possibilities in your cup. That includes both warm and cold creations concocted with deep espresso coffee blends, rich caramel sauces, and smooth or frothy steamed milk. Which direction your drink veers depends on where you buy it and how you order. At Starbucks, there's an unspoken rivalry in the royal caramel family, with the sweet and crave-able caramel brulée latte challenging its stronger, more virulent macchiato cousin for the crown.

The truth is that both drinks are delightful in their own individual ways, and they have more in common than you may think. But before exploring the attributes of each, there's an important distinction to make regarding the macchiato. Starbucks offers two primary macchiato drinks, and one has absolutely nothing to do with caramel. The original European-style Starbucks macchiato is called an espresso macchiato and consists of only the company's Signature Espresso Roast coffee and a mark of steamed milk and foam. The other option, which is arguably more popular, at least to consumers who love sweet coffee drinks, is the caramel macchiato. That's the one we're talking about here. 

The Starbucks caramel macchiato compares side by side with the caramel brulée latte and for good reason. Both are defined by the same bold espresso roast coffee and the luscious creamy taste of rich caramel sauce. But that's where the similarities end, with each beverage carving its own sweet path. 

What is a Starbucks caramel macchiato?

As the name implies, a Starbucks caramel macchiato is, in its simplest definition, a basic macchiato with a major twist of caramel. But it's a bit more involved than just stirring a pump of caramel sauce into a double shot of espresso and steamed milk. It does indeed center on those two ingredients but also includes a sweet vanilla-flavored syrup and a drizzle of caramel. 

For comparison sake, both the caramel macchiato and the caramel brulée latte are available in the popular Starbucks grande size, which is 16 ounces. In that 16-ounce drink size, the caramel macchiato comes with layers of smooth, steamed, 2% milk flavored with three pumps of vanilla syrup. The mixture gets marked with two shots of espresso made with the Signature Espresso Roast coffee beans. Finally, a luscious drizzle of caramel goes on top, which you can customize by requesting a light or extra drizzle. 

Starbucks is gracious enough to provide instructions and tips on making your own espresso macchiato at home. It basically comes down to pouring some vanilla syrup into a mug, frothing milk on the side, and then pouring the frothed milk over the syrup. Next, you'll prepare the number of espresso shots you prefer, and pour them over the steamy frothed milk and vanilla. Finally, just drizzle caramel sauce over the entire mixture. The in-store price for this grande-size caramel macchiato drink comes in at $5.45, with varying added costs for customized additions.  

What is a Starbucks caramel brulée latte?

As for the Starbucks caramel brulée latte, it may contain similar ingredients, but it goes way beyond the relative simplicity of its coffee compatriot, the caramel macchiato. For starters, it features the distinctive flavor and texture of the company's caramel brulée sauce and its accompanying brulée bits topping. Bypassing the sweet vanilla-flavored syrup, or any type of syrup, results in a smoky, toasted-sugar taste that's more pronounced and intense than the caramel macchiato.  

Here's how the caramel brulée latte comes together. Using the same 16-ounce cup as the caramel macchiato, the caramel brulée latte also utilizes steamed, hot 2% milk (unless the customer requests whole milk, breve, heavy cream, or other options). It continues to build with four pumps of caramel brulée sauce and two shots of Signature Espresso Roast coffee. Then comes the defining difference: It's topped with whipped cream and sprinkled with torched caramel brulée bits. 

With this drink, you get a richer, dessert-style beverage compared to the less sugary macchiato drink. The cost for this grande-size caramel brulée latte drink comes in at $5.75, also with varying added costs for customized additions. That's only 30 cents more than the caramel macchiato for the much more specialized brulée ingredients and procedure. 

Cold versions of the Starbucks caramel macchiato and caramel brulée latte

The Starbucks caramel macchiato and the caramel brulée latte do have something in common when it comes to changing the presentation from hot to cold. Both of the caramel-based showcase beverages are served hot and creamy in their original incarnations — but both are equally tasty when ordered cold. 

An iced caramel macchiato in the 16-ounce size comes with exactly the same ingredients in the same quantities as its hot counterpart, which include the 2% milk, full-bodied signature espresso shots, vanilla-flavored milk, and caramel toppings. But it also gets an infusion of ice, which can be a smaller or greater amount, per request. Pretty much the same goes for the iced caramel brulée latte. The ingredient quantities are equal to its cold version, and it still gets the coveted caramel brulée sauce, whipped cream, and crunchy bits of brulée sprinkles. It stands out over the macchiato in that it's also available in a blended Frappuccino cold beverage. 

As for the cost of these iced versions compared to the hot beverages, both the iced caramel macchiato and the iced caramel brulée latte are priced just 20 cents higher than the original hot drinks. That puts them at $5.65 and $5.95, respectively. 

Starbucks' caramel brulée latte is a seasonal offering

The final difference between the two caramel Starbucks drinks is that, unlike the caramel macchiato, the caramel brulée latte is a seasonal drink. It generally returns annually at the beginning of November, along with other seasonal offerings such as the holiday red cups tradition, peppermint mochas, and chestnut praline lattes. That means you can't enjoy this drink year-round like you can the caramel macchiato. 

Many copycat recipes exist for Starbucks caramel brulée latte, but unfortunately, they don't include the inimitable Starbucks brand of caramel brulée sauce. That sauce was available for purchase through the company in 2016, and perhaps other years, in a kit that included a Christmas blend of espresso coffee. Starbucks Stories & News provided recipe suggestions for how to use it in at-home coffee brulée beverages, including a boozy caramel brulée cafe au lait, iced caramel brulée latte, and caramel brulée coffee shake. 

Though the caramel sauce and sprinkle bits are no longer sold by Starbucks, there's a sliver of hope for making a home version of the caramel brulée latte. It comes in the form of crème brûlée Starbucks K-cups for Keurig coffee machines. The cups state rich and custardy notes in ground Arabica coffee.