Some people I know refuse to “speak Starbucks”. Sure, they have coffee beverages that come in a venti size — even if that literally means “twenty” in Italian (and not as in “twenty trips to the bathroom”). And if you order a latte in Italy, you would get a glass of milk — its literal translation, and not the caffè latte most Americans have come to expect.

But I draw the line at the macchiato — a fine espresso beverage that seems to be greatly misunderstood, underappreciated, and all the more coopted by treacherous impostors. So here’s my dilemma. It’s the dilemma of many an espresso lover I know who, while they want a little steamed milk, actually like the taste of coffee and don’t need a 44-ounce Super Big Gulp® to prove it.

Ordering a European-style cappuccino in North America is a lot harder than it sounds. There’s a continental obsession with large sizes of anything we ingest; the concept of drinking something for taste but not also to quench your thirst is about as American as a sold out David Hasselhoff concert. And since there’s only so much espresso you can drink before you need defibrillator paddles, most coffee places make up the volume with milk.

So if you want something close to a European-style cappuccino, many I know order a macchiato — which, from Italian, literally means “marked” or “spotted” (as with milk). But then I made the horrendous mistake of first walking into a Blenz in downtown Vancouver a few years back and innocently ordering a “macchiato.” In return, I was handed a milkshake-sized beverage in a plastic tub, coated with whipped cream and a lattice-work of caramel.

At first I thought I lost something in translation from American English to the Canadian mother tongue. But then I started to notice similar mutant beverages sold under the name “macchiato” in Seattle, then Northern California, etc. Oh sure, one sure workaround is to order a caffè macchato. (Technically, there is the latte macchiato — milk spotted with coffee.) But that’s just one more foothold of coffee lovers surrendered to the linguistic gymnastics of Corporate Coffee Consumption, Inc.

The macchiato gone all wrong: a window ad in an SF Starbucks, aka the Marble Mocha Macchiato Ritual Roasters' macchiati: an exception to the rule