Cortado vs Macchiato: Uncovering the Key Differences


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When it comes to espresso-based coffee drinks, the subtle differences between them can be significant for coffee enthusiasts. Two popular options, the cortado and the macchiato, each have their own unique characteristics in terms of milk content, flavor, and presentation.

By understanding the distinctions between cortado and macchiato, you’ll be better equipped to choose the perfect coffee drink for your personal taste preferences, and perhaps even discover a new favorite espresso creation.

In this article, we will explore the differences between these two enticing beverages, diving into their milk types, espresso shots, and overall taste profiles.

Cortado vs Macchiato 1

Key Differences

Flavors and Taste

In terms of flavor, a macchiato has a stronger taste due to the smaller amount of milk used, resulting in a coffee that closely resembles an espresso.

A cortado offers a more balanced flavor as it is made with an equal amount of espresso and milk. This creates a smoother and less intense coffee experience.

Ratios and Sizes

The cortado and macchiato differ not only in taste but also in their ratios and sizes. A macchiato usually contains one or two shots of espresso and a small amount of milk, typically served in a 3 oz cup.

Conversely, a cortado consists of one or two shots of espresso and an equal amount of steamed milk, served in a larger 3-4 oz glass.

Presentation and Variations

While both drinks are espresso-based, the presentation and variations of cortado and macchiato set them apart. Macchiato is often characterized by a small dollop of frothed milk on top of the espresso, giving it a distinct appearance. In addition, a latte macchiato reverses the usual ratio, with more milk than espresso, creating a different taste and presentation.

Cortado however features a more uniform blend of espresso and milk, resulting in a more consistent texture and color. Cortados commonly use ristretto shots, whereas macchiatos employ normale espressos. This distinction contributes to the taste and potency differences between the two drinks.

Cortado Overview

Origins and Background

The Cortado is a popular espresso-based drink that originated in Spain. It has gained widespread popularity in recent years, especially among coffee enthusiasts who appreciate its balanced flavor profile.

Cortado translates to “cut” in Spanish, which signifies that it is a coffee “cut” with equal parts of steamed milk.

Ingredients and Preparation

To make a Cortado, one needs a shot of espresso and an equal amount of steamed milk. The espresso can be a single or a double shot, depending on personal preference. However, it is common for this drink to have two shots of Ristretto as its espresso base.

Steamed milk plays a significant role in the Cortado, as it helps to create a smoother texture and lessens the intensity of the espresso. The milk used is not frothed, which differentiates it from the milk in a Macchiato. Instead, steamed milk is added without froth on top, ensuring that the coffee and milk blend harmoniously.

The Cortado is typically served in a small glass, allowing the consumer to appreciate the contrast between the dark espresso and the lighter steamed milk. This presentation highlights the balance that the Cortado seeks to achieve, making it a delightful coffee experience for those who appreciate both flavor and visual appeal.

Macchiato Overview

Origins and Background

The Macchiato, meaning “stained” or “spotted” in Italian, is an espresso-based drink with a small amount of milk, typically foamed. This coffee drink originated in Italy, where baristas wanted to create a beverage that allowed customers to enjoy the rich taste of espresso with a hint of smoothness from the milk.

Ingredients and Preparation

A Macchiato consists of espresso and a small amount of milk. The espresso comes first, usually a single or double shot, depending on the preference of the drinker. The drink is then topped with a dollop of foamed milk, which creates the signature “stain” or “spot” on the espresso.

Creating the perfect Macchiato is all about balancing the bold flavors of the espresso with the delicate addition of milk. The goal is to maintain the richness of the espresso while adding just enough milk to soften the taste.

The result is a coffee beverage that boasts a strong, intense flavor, with a smooth and creamy finish, making it a favorite among espresso lovers who desire a little extra touch of creaminess in their cup.

How to Choose

difference between Cortado and Macchiato

When deciding between a cortado and a macchiato, it’s important to consider your personal preferences, the occasion, and any food pairings.

Each drink offers unique characteristics, and understanding these differences will help you make the best choice.

Personal Preferences

Start by evaluating your taste preferences. Cortados have a slightly sweeter taste, with a 1:1 ratio of espresso to steamed milk. This lowers the acidity and may be more pleasing to the palate for those who prefer a milder flavor.

On the other hand, a macchiato features a strong espresso flavor with just a dash of milk foam, making it ideal for individuals who enjoy robust coffee profiles.


Consider the occasion when choosing your espresso drink.

  • If you are looking for a small, quick pick-me-up, a macchiato might be the better option due to its stronger, more concentrated flavor.
  • A cortado is a slightly larger beverage, making it perfect for sipping and socializing, or for slowly savoring during a brief break from a busy day.


Finally, think about the food or desserts you plan to enjoy alongside your espresso. The cortado’s milder, sweeter profile may pair well with richer, more indulgent treats like chocolate or caramel-laden pastries.

Meanwhile, the boldness of a macchiato can bring out the flavors in more subtly sweet or savory accompaniments, such as biscotti or fruit tarts.

Find out about all the different types of coffee drinks in our complete guide.

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