Macchiato vs Cortado: Your Ultimate Guide to These Two Coffee Drinks

macchiato vs cortado

In the macchiato vs cortado comparison, both famous coffee beverages are made with espresso and milk. But that’s where the similarities end. I’m a former barista and coffee expert. And I’m here to explain everything you want to know about the relationship between the macchiato vs cortado.

Ready? Pour yourself a cup of your choice and let’s start comparing and contrasting these two espresso and milk giants.

What’s the Story of Cortado and Macchiato?

The enchanting origins of both Cortado and Macchiato go back to the bustling coffee shops of Spain and Italy. 

Spanish Coffee Culture Led to the Cortado

macchiato vs cortado

The authentic cortado is a Spanish masterpiece, hailing from Spanish coffee culture.

It found its beginnings as an espresso drink designed to cut the bitterness of coffee with equal parts of steamed milk, giving birth to a perfectly balanced cortado coffee.

The Spanish coffee tradition majorly influenced the cortado’s makeup. Espresso and milk combined in equal parts in a cortado is traditionally distinctive. But over time, it’s also become a part of international coffee scenes, too. 

The Macchiato was Born in Italy

macchiato vs cortado

The Italian word macchiato means “marked”, which makes sense when you learn that Italian coffee culture nurtured the creation of the macchiato – a single shot of espresso with a fraction of milk added to accentuate the intense flavor. 

The classic macchiato, or espresso macchiato, is known for delivering a robust coffee flavor with a hint of sweetness from the added foam – a true coffee lover’s delight.

As the global coffee culture evolved, modern coffee shops have spun their takes on these drinks.

The quaint caramel macchiato you enjoy may bear more resemblance to a latte macchiato, and the cortado might carry the richness of a flat white or the foaminess of a cappuccino.

Yet, the allure of traditional cortado and macchiato remains unmatched.

The Whole World Has Embraced Them

Despite their unique identities, both drinks have spread across borders, with coffee houses adapting them based on local preferences and available coffee beans.

The cortado vs macchiato debate isn’t merely about the difference between espresso and milk, but equally complex factors such as the coffee’s body, strength, and the coffee shop’s interpretations.

Cortado Unpacked: What’s in the Cup?

macchiato vs cortado

When brewing a cortado, the espresso shot forms the backbone of this humble coffee drink. Its simplicity lies in 50/50 espresso and steamed milk that harmonize the coffee’s bitterness. 

The first step is the extraction of the espresso shot. The freshly brewed espresso forms the base, providing the cortado with its essential coffee flavor and unique strength. 

Use Steamed Milk—Not Foamed 

In the grand cortado vs. other coffee drinks debate, one notable aspect is its use of steamed milk.

While cappuccinos and lattes sport a generous crown of foamed milk, a cortado eschews foam completely.

The steamed milk, devoid of froth, lends the cortado a denser, creamier texture that highlights the espresso’s notes, making the flavor more pronounced.

Cortado’s Strength and Taste Profile

A well-brewed cortado reveals an effortless balance of acidity and sweetness, with the taste of the espresso standing out prominently. The richness of the espresso and the creaminess of the milk combine beautifully in the cortado, marking the unique espresso and milk ratio.

When gauging the strength of a cortado, it’s essential to consider its small size.

Despite having more milk than a macchiato, the cortado packs in quite the punch. It’s less potent than a straight shot of espresso, yet stronger than milkier options like a latte or flat white.

How to Create the Perfect Cortado at Home

macchiato vs cortado

Creating the perfect cortado at home involves a precise confluence of skill, quality ingredients, and the right tools. 

The key to making the perfect cortado lies in these three essentials:

  1. The quality of beans
  2. The ratio of espresso to milk
  3. The temperature at which the coffee is served

Start with the Coffee Beans – the Soul of Your Cortado.

As this beverage leans heavily on the taste of its coffee component, it is essential to use high-quality, freshly ground coffee beans – arabica is ideal. The grind should be somewhere between fine and medium. The extraction technique is critical. A good-quality espresso machine is recommended to replicate the extraction pressure required. 

macchiato vs cortado

When making the espresso shot, pay careful attention to the brewing time. It should ideally take between 20 to 30 seconds to pull one shot of espresso. The resultant shot should be characteristically dark, rich, and full-bodied, leaving a caramel-colored crema on top, the mark of a well-brewed espresso. 

The second critical component of cortado is the milk – this is where you attain the distinct texture of the cortado. You need an equal amount of milk to coffee. The milk should be steamed, not frothed, to retain its dense consistency. As you heat the milk, aim for a temperature between 60-70 degrees Celsius — any hotter, and you risk scalding the milk and spoiling its natural sweetness.

The goal is to achieve a silky, velvety texture that beautifully blends with the intense flavors of the espresso. When you pour the steamed milk into the espresso, do it slowly and steadily, forming a marbled pattern on the surface.

Now, the temperature at which you serve the cortado makes a noticeable difference in the tasting experience. Ideally, a cortado should be served at around 65 degrees Celsius, the optimal temperature for savoring the full-bodied flavor of the beverage. Any hotter, and you could lose the nuances of flavor.

Last but not least, traditional cortados are often served in a glass with a metal ring and a metal wire handle, adding an authentic touch to your homemade cortado experience. 

In summary, crafting the perfect cortado at home involves careful consideration and execution of each step, from choosing the right beans, skillfully making the espresso shot, carefully steaming the milk to achieve the right texture and temperature, and balancing the two key components to serving it in a traditional glass. 

The entire process is a journey, a labor of love that culminates in a delicious cortado that is full of flavor, perfectly balanced, and charmingly presented. Happy brewing. 

What’s the Difference Between Cortado and Macchiato?

Now that we’ve gone over what makes a cortado a cortado, and how to craft one at home, let’s go deeper into how a macchiato is different.

The difference between a cortado and a macchiato lies primarily in their ingredients and the size of the milk foam floating on top.

Both beverages are espresso-based, but the ratio of coffee to milk is what makes them distinctly unique. A cortado is made with equal parts espresso and steamed milk, affording a balanced, mild flavor and reducing the harshness of the pure espresso.

This equality also enables baristas to take advantage of steamed milk to create an impressive display of latte art atop the cortado, which enhances both the visual aesthetic and enjoyment of the drink.

On the other hand, a macchiato, particularly a traditional macchiato, is typically a ‘stained’ or ‘marked’ coffee, featuring a shot of espresso with a small amount of frothed milk or foam dropped on top, making it more robust in flavor compared to a cortado.

The milk’s role in a macchiato is more about tempering espresso’s bitterness than achieving a perfect balance – hence the smaller quantity.

Therefore, when deciding between a macchiato or cortado, it comes down to preferences regarding strength and flavor. If you enjoy a slightly creamier, milkier drink with a balanced taste of coffee, a cortado might be right for you.

However, if you prefer a stronger, bolder flavor shot of espresso, then a macchiato would be the better choice. Undoubtedly, despite the subtle differences, these uniquely tailored espresso drinks each have something special to offer in terms of taste, texture, and temperature, making the coffee experience always exciting and versatile. 

How to Concoct a Creamy Macchiato Coffee at Home

macchiato vs cortado

Achieving the rich, velvety taste of a creamy macchiato at home might seem like a daunting task, but with the correct tips and tools, you can effortlessly master this artful concoction.

Start by gathering all the necessary ingredients: finely ground espresso beans, cold milk of your choice (for a creamier texture, whole milk is recommended), a sweetener (if desired), and a machine to make espresso.

  1. First, prepare the espresso. It should be robust so that it can balance with the creaminess of the milk. A double shot usually suffices.
  2. Once your espresso is ready, the next step is to froth the milk.
  3. Pour the milk into a frother until it’s a little above the halfway point. Turn on the machine until the milk develops a velvety foam.

Remember that achieving the perfect texture requires practice. Gradually heat the milk surface until it’s evenly steamy but not boiling.

Be attentive to the sound: it should resemble a soft whistling. Once heated, swiftly swirl the milk helping to incorporate the foam more thoroughly. Now your assembly starts.

Pour the frothed milk into a cup, then slowly pour the espresso shot in the milk, targeting the middle of the cup. A beautiful layering of coffee and milk should form. Sweeten to taste.

So, voila! You now have a barista-quality creamy macchiato in the comfort of your own home. Sip and enjoy, and keep practicing until you achieve the perfect blend each time. 

Steaming vs Foaming for Macchiato vs Cortado

Milk plays a significant role in coffee preparation, particularly in specialty coffee drinks like the macchiato and cortado. The type of milk preparation used in these beverages can vastly alter their taste, texture, and presentation.


Steamed milk and foamed milk are commonly used in these drinks, however, their usage creates different experiences for the coffee lover.

Steamed milk is created by introducing steam into cold milk until it reaches the desired temperature. This process not only heats the milk but also adds texture by a slight increase in volume due to partial frothing. The outcome is a velvety milk that’s heated throughout, with small, well-integrated bubbles that lend a rich and creamy texture to the coffee.

Steamed milk in a cortado results in a balanced, smooth beverage with an exquisite mix of the bold flavors of espresso and the creamy nuances of well-steamed milk.

Foamed or Frothed

On the other hand, foamed milk, also known as frothed milk, incorporates more air and results in a more substantial volume increase. This increase results in lighter, frothier milk with larger, more separate bubbles.

In a macchiato, which is an espresso marked with a small amount of foamed milk, the milk serves as a tempering agent to the strong notes of the espresso, as well as a wonderful contrasting texture. The foam rests on top of the espresso and acts as a warm, airy crown that adds a visually appealing contrast and a unique mouthfeel.

Whether it is steamed or foamed, milk brings out different characteristics and dimensions to these coffee beverages, harmonizing or highlighting flavors, and adding richness and complexity to the drink. As such, the art of milk preparation is critical to the quality and enjoyment of these coffee specialties. 

Final Thoughts on Macchiato vs Cortado Coffee

Both these espresso-based coffee beverages traditionally utilize two shots of espresso, but their main distinction lies in the ratio of milk and espresso.

The caffè macchiato is made with strong espresso marked with a splash of frothy milk. This means that coffee lovers looking for the invigorating jolt of espresso coffee would likely favor the macchiato due to its higher espresso concentration.

On the other hand, the cortado, a Spanish-origin beverage whose name translates to “cut,” refers to the double shot of espresso cut with an equal portion of warm milk to soften the robustness of the espresso.

Cortado vs Macchiato FAQs

  1. What is the difference between a macchiato and a cortado, as coffee drinks?

    The main difference between a macchiato and a cortado lies in the coffee-to-milk ratio. A macchiato has the highest coffee content compared to the cortado, making it stronger and less milky. While a macchiato is an espresso topped with a small amount of milk, a cortado is an espresso-based drink made with an equal part of steamed milk, making it a milder coffee drink.

  2. How is a latte different from a macchiato or cortado?

    A latte, flat white, macchiato, and cortado are all coffee drinks made with espresso coffee and milk. However, while a macchiato is a single shot of espresso with just a dot of foamed milk added to the espresso, a latte has much more milk, both steamed and foamy, added to it, hence the milkier, creamier taste compared to the macchiato and cortado.

  3. How does the taste of a macchiato compare to a cortado coffee?

    The taste of a macchiato is stronger and more intense, given that it has a higher ratio of coffee to milk. Contrarily, a cortado coffee is milder, as it has equal parts coffee and milk. The cortado offers a balance between the strong espresso and the creamy milk, making it a popular choice among coffee enthusiasts all around the world.

  4. What does the coffee-to-milk ratio in an iced caramel macchiato look like?

    An iced caramel macchiato, like a traditional hot macchiato, features more coffee than milk. This ensures you can still taste the rich, robust flavors of the finely ground coffee. However, it includes sweet caramel syrup, which adds an extra dimension to the flavor profile and softens the overall coffee taste.

  5. Can I enjoy a cortado or macchiato if I normally drink my espresso without milk?

    Yes, you can. Though both drinks include milk, they’re designed to augment, not hide, the flavor of the espresso. If you’re used to drinking your espresso without milk, these drinks offer a way to experience a different side of the world of coffee without sacrificing the espresso’s taste.

  6. Are there latte art possibilities with a macchiato?

    Yes, there could be latte art on a macchiato, although it is a bit of a challenge due to the small amount of foam on the top. The artistry is usually simpler, but a skilled barista can still create a beautiful design, demonstrating their capability in the craft of latte art.

  7. Which is creamier: a macchiato or a cortado?

    The cortado is creamier than the macchiato as it has a balanced coffee to milk ratio. This allows for a softer, creamier mouthfeel compared to the macchiato, which is heavier on the coffee, making it a less creamy coffee overall.

  8. How did a cappuccino inspire the creation of cortado?

    The cappuccino, with its specific ratios of espresso, steamed milk, and foamed milk, inspired the creation of the cortado, which pursues a different coffee-to-milk ratio. In a cortado, instead of the layered presentation found in cappuccino, equal parts of espresso and steamed milk are combined to create a balanced and less foamy coffee drink compared to cappuccino.

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